We have it pretty easy. Not so Christians in other parts of the world. It has been suggested that there has been more persecution of Christians in the last 100 years than in the combined prior 1900 years since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Much of the New Testament was written to Christians under persecution. One of its purposes was to encourage Christians to persevere through this life because a greater life was waiting for them. The resurrection of Jesus, His ascension, and the promise of His return and our translation to glory serve as motivation and comfort in the midst of the tribulations of this life.
Primary and central to Christianity is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. All four Gospels tell the story. The Apostle Paul also emphasized that Jesus was raised from the dead and seen by the disciples, by over 500 believers, and by him as though to one untimely born. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 NASB). Furthermore, Paul maintained that if we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus there is really no point to Christianity. “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (12-14). The resurrection proves the divinity of Jesus (Romans 1:4) and as such His power over sin and death to forgive our sins and grant us eternal life.
Among the things that happen because Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection are His exaltation to the place of highest authority, His advocacy for us before the Father, and His preparing heavenly homes for us. We read of His exaltation in the Letter to the Philippians, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:9-11). 1 John 2:1 reveals His advocacy: “‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…’” Even before His death and resurrection, Jesus told His disciples of His plans for them in heaven. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).
John 14:2 is the filling of a sandwich intended to give the disciples and us courage through the trials and tribulations of this life. The top of the sandwich is v. 1, “‘Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” The promise around this morsel is “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (3). This is the glorious promise of the Gospel. If we believe, if we have faith, if we trust in Jesus and what He as done for us through His death, burial, and resurrection, we will receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. “…for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:23-25). “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17, 18).
What great hope and comfort is ours when we put our faith in Jesus. In this world we will suffer trials and tribulation. We, like the Christians in the rest of the world, may soon suffer persecution because of our faith. We can, however, stand firm in the faith because God has proven His power over sin and death by the resurrection of Jesus, because Jesus is now before the Father pleading our case and preparing a heavenly place for us, and because He has promised that on the last day He will return to take us to be with Him forever in heaven.