(This can be used as an Ascension Day sermon)
Scripture Reading: Job 1:1-12 and Revelation 12:1-12
We do not realize, I think, the importance of the ascension both in the plan of redemption and in our own enjoyment of God’s great salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 7 counts the ascension one of those things that is necessary for a Christian to believe and as such we confess it every Lord’s Day. We have a special service to commemorate it every year, and yet we do not seem to understand that the ascension of Christ into heaven is as important as the cross and the resurrection. Without it our salvation is unfinished.
Another indication of the importance of the ascension is found in the Psalms. While there are hardly any passages in the Psalms that speak explicitly of the resurrection of Christ, there are at least five Psalms which have the ascension as their main theme. If you wish to look them up they are Psalms 24, 47, 68, 110 and 132. That’s Psalms 24, 47, 68, 110 and 132 – five Psalms which foretell explicitly and in detail the ascension of Christ.
We have something similar here in Revelation 12, in our text. The cross and resurrection are not mentioned in the summary of Christ’s life and work that is given us here in Revelation 12:5. Instead the whole of His saving work is present in terms of the ascension: “And she (that’s the church of the Old Testament), brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up to God, and to his throne.” He was born and He ascended – that’s the whole of His work according to Revelation 12:5.
We are going to look at the ascension from the viewpoint of what the Heidelberg Catechism calls its profit – its profit for us. That profit is seen here in Revelation 12 in the fact that Christ’s ascension becomes the occasion for war in heaven. The outcome of that war, and therefore also of the ascension of Christ, is that Satan is cast out as the accuser of God’s people. That was the great reason for rejoicing in heaven and ought to be a reason for us to rejoice also.
We call your attention therefore to:
WAR IN HEAVEN
I. The Occasion
II. The Struggle
III. The Outcome
I. THE OCCASION
War in heaven! That’s the result of the ascension here in Revelation 12.
We think of heaven as a place of undisturbed peace, but it was not always so – not at least at the time of Christ’s being caught up to God and to His throne. At the time of the ascension war began in heavenbetween Michael and the elect angels on the one side and the devil and his fallen angels on the other side. That war ended, as we would expect, with victory over Satan, but who can begin to imagine what war in heaven would be like?
We have a hint of how angels fight in Jude, verse 9, where you read of a struggle between Michael the archangel and Satan over the body of Moses. Michael, on that occasion fought against Satan by saying, “The Lord rebuke thee.” Apparently, then, the angels fight with words and not with weapons. Their war with Satan is a war of words! – a war in which the Word of God is their weapon and shield as it is also for us in our war against Satan.
What we should notice, however, is the fact that this battle begins at the time of Christ’s ascension into heaven. When we read in verses 5 through 7: “her child was caught up to God and to his throne ... AND there was war in heaven,” then the idea is that this war is caused by the ascension of Christ. The ascension is the great occasion and reason for this war!
Until the ascension the devil had access to heaven, and nothing could be done to cast him out. But when Christ came into heaven at the time of the ascension, then war is made on Satan and he is cast out, never to return. That’s the reason why all the focus is on the ascension here in Revelation 12. So too, we see that the ascension of Christ is far more important than we might at first think.
To understand its importance here in Revelation 12 there are a number of things we must remember about the ascension. First, we must remember that Christ ascends in His human nature into heaven. As God, He is, of course, everywhere present and cannot be described as ascending or going from one place to another. As man, however, He, like us, is limited to one place and must go from one place to another, as He did when He went from earth to heaven at the time of the ascension. There, in heaven, as man, He stays until the end of all things when, in His human nature He comes again to earth as the great Judge of all.
We emphasize that because we have found that some people of God have the idea that Christ left His human nature behind in the grave when He rose from the dead. He took it on when He was born and became God and man, and put it off again when He arose. That is not only unbiblical but a great error. If Christ risen and ascended is not still like us in all things except sin, then we have now no part in Him.
In the second place, that Christ ascended in His human nature means that He ascended as the one who was crucified and slain for our sins. It is with that in view that Hebrews describes His ascension as His bringing of His blood into the most holy place just like the priest did in the Old Testament. The most holy place is God’s dwelling place in heaven and it is there that Christ brings His blood and comes Himself as the crucified one at the time of the ascension.
In the third place, you must understand that Christ’s ascension is for us. That follows from the fact that He ascends in our nature and as the one who died for our sins. Just as He died on the cross for us and rose again from the dead for us, so He also ascends for us. He had no need to do these things for Himself. It is all for us and for our profit.
That war in heaven, then, of which we read here in Revelation 12, begins because Christ came into heaven in our human nature, and as the one who suffered and died and rose again in that human nature for the sins and salvation of His people. It is our victory over Satan.
That does not tell us, though, what this war was all about.
II. THE STRUGGLE
To understand this war in heaven, you and I must believe that in the Old Testament and until the ascension of Christ Satan had access to heaven. Apparently, though he had fallen into sin at the very beginning, he was not barred from entering heaven and could come and go as he pleased.
We learn this from the first two chapters of the book of Job, where we find Satan in heaven twice. Both times he was there when the angels, called the sons of God, came to present themselves before God. Job 2:1 even says that Satan came to present himself before God, just as if he had never fallen away from his first estate.
In heaven, in the Old Testament, Satan functioned as the “accuser of the brethren.” That’s what he is called in Revelation 12:10. He accused them, that verse says, “before our God day and night.” So too, it was as the accuser that he was defeated and cast out of heaven as a result of this heavenly war.
We can find some examples in Scripture of how he accused God’s people. The book of Job finds him accusing Job of serving God for his own profit and not out of the love of God. We also find him acting as the adversary of the saints in Zechariah 3:1. There the prophet Zechariah sees Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
The reason for Satan’s opposition to Joshua, who was high priest at the time of the return from captivity, must be found in Zechariah 3:3, where we read that Joshua was clothed with filthy garments as he stood before the angel of God. Always Satan’s accusations and opposition to God’s people in the Old Testament were based on the fact that they were sinners and did not yet have the white robes of Christ’s righteousness to cover their spiritual nakedness and filthiness.
Of those on earth in the Old Testament Satan could and did say that they did not deserve God’s favor and blessing. Not only were they sinners, but their sins had not been paid for. Of the saints in heaven he could say that they did not deserve to be in heaven because they were still unredeemed sinners. They belong, Satan could say, to me and must come with me to hell. Satan could, with an appearance of right, plead God’s own righteousness and justice against God’s people. “If you are a righteous and just God, as you claim to be, then you cannot bless them on earth and take them to heaven when they die” – so might Satan have argued. “You say you are too pure of eyes to look on wickedness, but that is exactly what you are doing,” Satan could say in the Old Testament. “You say you cannot just overlook sin, but the sins of these people are not paid for. Yet you bless them and take them to heaven when they die.”
Apparently that was what the dispute over the body of Moses was all about. We know from Moses’ appearance with Elijah on the mount of transfiguration that Moses’ body had been raised and brought to heaven after it was buried. The struggle between Michael and Satan over Moses’ body could only have been because Satan was acting as the accuser of Moses and demanding the body of Moses as his own. “Moses,” he probably said, “showed that he belonged to me when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it at Kadesh. He cannot go to heaven.”
This evil work of Satan is reflected in his names. Both the names “Satan” and “Devil” mean “accuser,” “slanderer,” “adversary” and “liar.” It is with that in mind that Revelation 12:9 uses all his names and some other descriptions besides. In the Old Testament he did his evil work as slanderer and adversary even in the presence of God and the saints and angels in heaven.
That Satan functioned in this capacity day and night and did so even in heaven means that until the ascension of Christ heaven was not such a nice place as we might think. Think of being there with your sins yet unpaid for, and hearing the accusations of Satan against you as he repeated all your evil deeds and suggested that you belonged to him and not to God, and must leave heaven and go with him to hell! Think, too, of the fact that in the Old Testament he could do this without being cast out of heaven!
The very fact that he could appear in heaven with his accusations shows that until the ascension of Christ, his accusations had at least the appearance of legitimacy. Though God had promised, atonement had not yet been made. Christ had not yet come as the Redeemer of God’s people and Satan, as you know, was doing everything he could to prevent the coming of Christ.
Perhaps that is the reason why all Michael could do when disputing with him over the body of Moses was say, “The Lord rebuke thee.” God Himself does the same in Zechariah 3:2, but does so on the basis of election, not yet on the basis of atonement and satisfaction for sin. Neither there or in Job does He send Satan and his accusations away.
Satan certainly was right that sin had to be paid for and atonement made. God’s own perfect righteousness demands it. He is not God if sin is not punished and paid for. You may be absolutely sure, every one of you, that if Christ did not die for you and pay for your sins there is no possibility at all that you will ever appear in heaven before God. Even in the Old Testament it was only on the basis of promised redemption that anyone could be blessed by God or come into His righteous presence.
The ascension of Christ brings an end to that evil work of Satan. Instead of merely rebuking him, war is waged against him once Christ has ascended, and as the accuser of the brethren he is defeated and banished forever from heaven. A loud voice announces his defeat with the words: “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ” (verse 10).
That raises the question, however, why it is the ascension of Christ that marks the beginning of this war and downfall of our accuser.
III. THE OUTCOME
To understand the place and importance of the ascension in the work of redemption, you must understand that the ascension is a finishing up and a crown of what Christ began on the cross. There He fully paid for sin, but several things had to follow.
The resurrection had to follow as God’s seal on the work of Christ. Christ said on the cross, “It is finished.” God, as righteous Judge, says “It is finished” in the resurrection, accepting and approving Christ’s work.
In the ascension God takes matters one step further. In the ascension Christ Himself comes into the most holy place, into God’s heavenly presence and presents Himself and His blood to God there. In the ascension, therefore, God is not only approving Christ’s work, but giving Him His reward as the perfect and obedient servant of Jehovah.
That the ascension, like the resurrection, is an act of God as Judge and Rewarder, is evident from Revelation 12:5, where the ascension is described as something that is done to Christ. It is also, you understand, an act of Christ Himself, just like the resurrection. When the Bible wants to emphasize that it says, “He ascended.” Sometimes, though, the ascension is presented as an act of God and as something done to Christ. That is the case here in Revelation 12:5. “The child,” we read, “was caught up to God and to His throne.”
That is Scripture’s way of saying that God was doing this to Christ as the reward for His perfect devotion and obedience. In the ascension God brought Him to heaven and gave Him there all the blessings of heaven, peace, eternal bliss, fellowship with God, victory, and life eternal.
Christ receives those things in His human nature. As God He does not need them, but as man He had been earthly, humbled, made in the likeness of sinful flesh, humiliated and suffering. In the ascension that all changes. He receives glory and honor and power and victory in His human nature because in that human nature He had paid for the sins that He had taken as His own.
In receiving all this as the reward of His work, however, He receives it on our behalf. All the blessings of heaven that He receives as the reward of His finished work He receives not only for Himself but for us.
Christ not only ascends to heaven to receive these blessings and rewards for us but to give them to us. We see that here in Revelation 12. As soon as He receives the victory over Satan it is immediately given to us in that Satan is cast out and his lying and slanderous accusations forever banished from heaven. How could he remain in heaven as accuser of the brethren when Christ their elder brother comes there with the blood of atonement? How could he be heard when Christ is at the right hand of God making intercession for God’s people on the basis of His own blood and righteousness?
When Christ’s blood is brought into the most holy place and sprinkled on the mercy seat there is no longer even the appearance of any legitimacy to Satan’s accusations and opposition. This is what the Word of God has in mind in Romans 8:33, 34; “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”
Though Satan continues to accuse and oppose here on earth, none of his lies ever again come to God or are heard in heaven. The Heidelberg Catechism very beautifully reminds us of this in Lord’s Day 23 where it teaches that even when my own conscience (with Satan’s prompting) accuses me that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, before God it is nonetheless the case that it is as if I never had nor had committed any sin.
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches these same things in the Lord’s Days on the ascension and exaltation to God’s right hand, Lord’s Day 18 and 19. In heaven, the Catechism says, He defends and preserves me against all my enemies, not only my enemies here on earth, but against that great adversary, who until Christ ascended and sat down at God’s right hand, was able to accuse me even in heaven.
If you see that, beloved saints, then you know why the ascension is one of those things that must be believed by Christians. Then you know why it is celebrated in so many Psalms. Then you will yourselves believe in the ascension and rejoice with the church over the war in heaven and over Satan’s defeat in that war.
Remember, then, the words of Psalter #420 and see their fulfilment in the ascension of Christ, and rejoice in His ascension with the church in heaven and the church here on earth:
God shall arise and by His might put all His enemies to flight
With shame and consternation.
His haters, haughty though they be, shall at His august presence flee
In utter desolation;
For when Jehovah shall appear, He shall consume afar and near,
All those that evil cherish.
As smoke before His dreadful ire, as wax is molten by the fire,
So shall the wicked perish.
The Lord is great, His might untold, His chariots thousand thousand fold,
His armies ne’er confounded.
Among them God with joy displays the glory that in Moses’ days
Mount Sinai surrounded.
When Thou, O Lord, in glory bright, ascendedst in the heavenly height
Our captive bonds to sever,
Rich gifts from those who did rebel Thou didst receive that men might dwell
With Thee, O Lord, forever.
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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