On the evening of His passion, Jesus promised His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3). And He kept His word.

He immediately went to prepare a place for us, drinking from the cup of sorrow in our place in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:42; 1 Corinthians 11:26); He prepared a place for us, suffering the hell of mockery, scourging and crucifixion, under an unjust condemnation; He died, was buried, was raised and ascended in our place, so that through all this He could prepare a place for us and open a way to God for us sinners and mortals.

Forty days after the Resurrection, the Ascension of the Lord took place, celebrated today by Orthodox and Catholic believers alike. Jesus was “raptured” to the heavenly throne, where He was seated “at the right hand of the Father” as the legitimate ruler of the whole world, including His active and indifferent adversaries. Christ’s ascension was not an act of flight; He could have defended Himself with a word or a look (see Matthew 26:53; John 18:6). The ascension of Jesus was not an abandonment of our world, which was not worthy of His efforts.

Christ ascended to prepare a place for us. He did not go to heaven in order to forget us, even if the last two millennia on earth seem to be the cynical argument of a neglect that frightens us. He solemnly promised that He would return in the same generation (Matthew 16:26-27; 24:34), but just as solemnly promised that His return would not take place until “this gospel of the kingdom” had been preached to all the nations “as a testimony”, and only “then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). That is why He added “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,” but only the Father (Matthew 24:36).

Before His Passion, Jesus spoke of the future of the Church in parables that suggest a longer time of waiting: the wicked servant interprets the longer time as a careless delay on the part of the master (Matthew 24:48); the bridegroom in the parable of the virgins delayed so long that all of them, even the wise ones, fell asleep (Matthew 25:5), and the bridegroom came unexpectedly at midnight, “like a thief”. The farmer, who had gone to a distant country and entrusted his wealth to his servants for the best management, returned “after a long time” (Matthew 25:19).

Just a few hours before the Ascension, Jesus was asked by His disciples if the time had finally come for His coronation as the Messiah, the rightful King of Israel. Jesus replied that the determination of that time was God’s business, not a matter of human research. Jesus then repeated to them what their task was: to preach this gospel of the kingdom to the whole world, beginning in Jerusalem and then in ever more distant concentric circles—Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

In the first century the Gospel reached the whole of the Eastern Empire, mainly through the synagogues in the cities, including Rome and some places in the West. In the 300s, Christianity was still small in the West. The Germanic north and the Slavic east became Christian late in the Middle Ages. The Gospel that is not shared with others in love is altered to the degree of mystical materialism. Many such Christianisations of peoples were under the threat of sword. And it was also under threat that counterfeit Christianity was preserved in Europe for many centuries. The century of the Reformation did not expand Christianity either, but only revived and partially restored it in Western lands.

The idea of universal Christian mission resurfaced around 1800, spawning missionary societies and Bible societies, and awakening church interest in evangelism in India, China, Africa, and many other places. The Christian church has been built up and torn down, from the outside as well as from the inside. Modern secularism tends to stifle the gospel completely. But despite the warning that we cannot know “that day and hour”, we have a duty to know the main prophetic signs, found in the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation, which tell us that the time is near. To use the image from the parable of Jesus, midnight has already come. Are we waiting for a deeper moral darkness?

After Christ’s ascension, His disciples, of whom only eleven remained, were comforted by the angels with the repetition of the promise: this same Jesus will return in the same way as He ascended to heaven—visibly, in a cloud. Christ ascended, not for Himself, but for us, to secure our place. He will soon return and surprise the world, which will be preoccupied with a universal religious order in His name, but against His plans. The ascended Christ is returning and we will have to give Him an account of our stewardship of life. Whoever believes in the Ascension of Christ implicitly believes in the Parousia, which has been almost forgotten by Christianity, a sign that it is indeed time for it to be fulfilled!

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