Open Up the Heavens (1): The Prophetic Vision of the Psalms

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God...And he told them, ‘Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!’” - Acts 7:55-56 (NLT)

These reflections have been brewing for about four years now. In 2005 I wrote a song called “King of Glory” that began my journey into and fascination with the doctrine of the ascension. I have been so profoundly impacted by the doctrine and implications of the ascension for several reasons.

First, I think the doctrine of the ascension is a highly neglected doctrine in our current day and age although it is a prominent theme throughout the Scriptures. It is not a doctrine with which most Christians have studied, heard, or read about to the same degree as Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.

Secondly, a robust doctrine of the ascension causes us to think seriously about present spiritual realities. I think this has been one of the most profound implications for me personally. The doctrine of the ascension has caused me to think deeply about what Jesus is doing right now! It has literally shaped and formed the way I think about and pray to Christ. A robust belief in a glorified, bodily Jesus at the right hand of the Father has also led me to a more robust doctrine of heaven. Furthermore, a strong belief in an ascended Jesus in a real place called heaven has allowed me to see the economy of the Trinity and, thus, understand more clearly the nature and role of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us for ministry here on earth. These are truly holy things. The ascended Jesus, heaven, and the Holy Spirit are the present spiritual realities to which the doctrine of the ascension leads us, and they have profound implications upon our worship.

Thirdly, the doctrine of the ascension forces us to believe, with childlike faith, in these present realities that are unseen. It takes nothing short of simple childlike faith to really believe that Jesus is in some way and in some sense at the right hand of the Father, in a real place called heaven. Such childlike faith allows us to takes risks here on earth because we know our true citizenship is in heaven.

When I began meditating on Psalm 24 when I was writing the song “King of Glory,” I stumbled upon a very interesting commentary. The author stated that, regarding Christ’s ascension, the disciples saw his “going.” However, Psalm 24 is like a prophetic window into his heavenly “arriving.” Wow, I had never understood that psalm text in that way before that moment. Suddenly the language, “Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up you ancient doors” made so much more sense.
In one sense the psalmist is describing the ascent of a conquering king bringing his subjects to his kingly palace. But in another sense, this passage is speaking prophetically and is describing the heavenly doors through which the true King of glory would one day enter. Having accomplished his earthly mission, the Son would return home, bearing scars in his hands and side. A heavenly host of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven singing together in a chorus of praise would usher him in.

There is precedence for such an interpretation of the psalms. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter stands up before the crowd and gives a sermon on the events taking place. After quoting from Psalm 16 Peter states:

"You can be sure that the patriarch David wasn’t referring to himself, for he died and was buried, and his tomb is still here among us. But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne. David was looking into the future and speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection. He was saying that God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave" (Acts 2:29-31, emphasis mine).

If the apostle Peter understood Psalm 16 to be a prophetic vision of Jesus’ resurrection, then we have firm ground to stand upon in understanding Psalm 24 as a prophetic vision of Jesus’ ascension.
In the next post we will look at the ascension as the center of Luke's writings.


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