It was finished at the ascension.
The undeniable hope of the King of kings dying and rising and ascending for his people.
I made the statement in a recent sermon that the functional life of some Christians is born out of an erroneous notion that Jesus’s last words on the cross were, “There, now you do the rest.” But, of course, that’s not at all what Jesus said. His words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The work of redemption was done in him and by him and through him — and he left nothing undone. His blood covers all. That, I think, is one of the most important aspects of Jesus’s work on the cross. The fact that in his final moments, Jesus attests to the completion of his divine errand. The mission was accomplished, which means for everyone afterwards that faith is the belief in something already accomplished, already finished.
This is the beauty of faith and, furthermore, the wonder of representing the Redeemer as his reconciled ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:19–20). As we live in the world as God’s called out sons and daughters, we do so as his emissaries, his heralds. We don’t pick up Jesus’s mantle in order to make some effectual. We merely proclaim the almighty power of Jesus’s effectual work on the cross. This distinction is incredibly important, I’d say, since the implication that Jesus’s work is only partially done inherently means that the work which brings in the kingdom of heaven is left to us. But that’s not true. We don’t bring in the kingdom, we call attention to a kingdom that’s coming, whether we like it or not. It’s in that sense, then, that we don’t “pick up the mantle” left behind after Jesus ascended into glory. Our calling is simpler than that — namely, to disseminate the good news of a finished salvation for all who would believe.
Such is what Rev. Alexander Maclaren is getting at in his sermon, “The Translation of Elijah and the Ascension of Christ,” in which he juxtaposes the scene of Elijah’s whirlwind departure into heaven from 2 Kings 2 and Jesus’s paradigmatic ascension into glory from Luke 24. As both “ascensions” are compared and contrasted, what’s left is an undeniable hope in the King of kings, who died, rose again, and ascended on high for his people. Listen as Maclaren gets to the heart of his point:
We turn to Christ’s ascension, and there we meet with nothing analogous to this transference of office. No mantle falling from His shoulders lights on any of that group, none are hailed as His successors. What He has done bears and needs no repetition whilst time shall roll, whilst eternity shall last. His work is unique: “the help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself.” His Ascension completed the witness of heaven, begun at His resurrection, that “He has offered once sacrifice for sins, forever.” He has left no unfinished work which another may perfect. He has done no work which another may do again for new generations. He has spoken all truth, and none may add to His words. He has fulfilled all righteousness, and none may better His pattern. He has borne all the world’s sin, and no time can waste the power of that sacrifice, nor any man add to its absolute sufficiency. This King of men wears a crown to which there is no heir. This Priest has a priesthood which passes to no other. This “Prophet” does “live forever.” The world sees all other guides and helpers pass away, and every man’s work is caught up by other hands and carried on after he drops it, and the short memories and short gratitudes of men turn to the rising sun; but one Name remains undimmed by distance, and one work remains unapproached and unapproachable, and one Man remains whose office none other can hold, whose bow none but He can bend, whose mantle none can wear. Christ has ascended up on high and left a finished work for all men to trust, for no man to continue. (2:2.327–28)
Faith trusts in that finished work, and entrusts its life to the awesome power demonstrated both on a ratty Roman cross and an empty Roman tomb. And, to be sure, we are reminded that that awesome power is the same power that “carried up into heaven” our blessed Redeemer (Luke 24:51). And, what’s more, that power and might of the Lord Jesus assures us that there will be a day when we, too, are translated into glory, to be with our beautiful Savior forever and ever. “One day He’s coming: O glorious day!” (J. Wilbur Chapman, 1910).
Grace and peace, friends.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944).