Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, while a bloodthirsty crowd clamoured for his crucifixion. Pilate simply wanted to release Jesus, but the mob pressure was strong, so he had Jesus flogged as a punishment, hoping that would satisfy the crowd and show that Jesus was helpless. He brought the battered and bloodied Jesus before the mob and said, ‘Behold the man!’
Jesus is the image of God on earth. But he is also the image of man, what humankind is supposed to be. The devil and his powers want to tear down the image of God in man. The evil in the world loves to mock us and say, ‘Look, here is what man is good for. Here is man. Disfigured. Bloodied. His only crown is that of cruel thorns. He is good only for the discard heap.’ How often in our films and stories this is the way humanity is portrayed. We look at image after image of man humiliated. Man in the gutter, searching and groping blindly for meaning, and finding only despair. Man acting like an animal. Man helpless before his lusts. Man violent and destroying. Materialists tell us we are nothing but a speck in an indifferent universe.
This is where the ascension is so important. Jesus is the one man who lived out perfectly the image of God in a human being. The final picture we have of Jesus is not the battered, rejected, disgraced Jesus. It is the triumphant, radiant Jesus ascending into heaven. ‘Behold the man’ must be said not only before the crucifixion. It must be said at the ascension. Look, there is man, man as he was meant to be, going to communion with God. There is man, meant to reign in heaven, restored in glory, the very image of the eternal God. So Pope Benedict taught that to truly understand what people are, you have to look not just where we came from and where we wallow and slop now, you have to consider where we can go in Christ. Our destiny in Jesus is to be in communion, in glory and harmony, in loving dominion over a flourishing earth, restored to a glorious destiny. The ascension is the guarantee, the down payment on all God is going to do to restore his redeemed race. Behold the man! If we are in Christ, we are meant for heaven. We are bound for glory. Our destiny is not the gutter; it is the mansions of the high king where we will live as his sons and daughters.
Based on “Seven Things to Like About the Ascension” by Gerrit Scott Dawson