Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
Luke records that Jesus was “taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:2) and he depicts the event for us in Acts 1:9-11, where Jesus is “taken up” before the eyes of the apostles. In his letter to Timothy, Paul uses the same Greek verb for “taken up,” lambano, that Luke used in Acts 1:2.
“Taken up to heaven” and “taken up in glory” both refer to the same thing: The Ascension of King Jesus the Messiah to the right hand of the Father. This event, though often neglected by many Christians, is a very important part of the “mystery” about which Paul now writes in his letter to Timothy. And it is from this mystery that we discover the source of “true godliness,” which is the restoration of our God-likeness or God-centeredness; that is, our reconciliation with God.
Though we often think of a mystery as something hidden, every mystery is eventually revealed. In the New Testament, mystery is about what has now been revealed to us in the Lord Jesus. It begins with the Incarnation, when God became a human being and dwelt among us — Jesus “appeared in the flesh.” It finds its completion in the Ascension, when Jesus was “taken up in glory.” Paul describes both aspects in his letter to the followers of Jesus at Philippi.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!It is important to understand that when Jesus was “taken up in glory,” it was by no means a departure from his “appearing in the flesh.” That is, he did not give up any of his humanity but remained fully human as well as fully divine. It is as the God-Man that he ascended to his throne at the right hand of the Father, from which he rules over heaven and earth. This is truly a mystery for us to dwell on: The King of the Universe is both God and man. And in this, God is reconciling all things in heaven and on earth to himself.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Just as in the Incarnation, when the Son of God humbled himself to become human, so also in the Ascension, humanity is glorified with the Lord Jesus. In other words, when he was taken up in glory, we were taken up in glory with him. Paul speaks further of this in his letter to the followers of Jesus at Ephesus:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)Being made “alive with Christ” is about the new resurrection life we have now in him (and which will one day be followed by the resurrection of our physical bodies from the dead). But being “raised up with Christ” is about our participation with the Lord Jesus in his ascension, for we are “seated with him in the heavenly realms.” His ascension is our ascension, his glorification is our glorification and his place at the right hand of the Father has become our place, too.
The great mystery that begins with the Incarnation and ends with the Ascension is the source and substance of the reconciliation of heaven and earth and the new life centered on God.