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By Charles H. Welch

ASCENSION. The Greek word anabaino is translated ‘ascend’ ten times and ‘ascend up’ eight times. It occurs altogether 81 times and is translated arise, climb up, come, come up, come up again, enter, go up, grow up, rise up, spring up and, with epi, go upon.



The eight occurrences translated ‘ascend up’

Luke 19:28.

‘Ascending up to Jerusalem’.

John 3:13.

‘No man hath ascended up to heaven’.

John 6:62.

‘What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up’.

Eph. 4:8.

‘When He ascended on high’.

Eph. 4:10.

‘The same also that ascended up far above all heavens’.

Rev. 8:4.

‘The smoke ... ascended up before God’.

Rev. 11:12.

‘They ascended up to heaven in a cloud’.

Rev. 14:11.

‘The smoke of their torment ascendeth up’.

While evangelical believers rightly stress the fundamental place that the Crucifixion, the Burial, the Resurrection and the Coming again of the Saviour must ever occupy, the supreme importance of the Ascension seems to have been missed.

The only gospel of the four that omits the Ascension is Matthew, but this is in harmony with its teaching concerning the kingdom of heaven. Should any think that the Ascension is omitted also from John by the fact that it does not occur in the last chapter, we commend a reading of chapter 20. Not only did the Lord Himself make reference to His approaching death and Resurrection, He also spoke on more than one occasion of His Ascension:

‘No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven’ (John 3:13).

‘The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that He saith, I came down from heaven? ... Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?’ (John 6:41,42,61,62).

Here we touch the most vital subject of the Scriptures, nothing less than the very mystery of godliness. That this is not simply the figurative expression of an enthusiast, turn to 1 Timothy 3:16 and note the opening and closing items, ‘Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh ... received up in glory’. It will be seen by comparing John 6:42 with the Lord’s own answer and this revelation in 1 Timothy 3:16, that the deity of Christ, His assumption of flesh, the finishing of His work, and His resumption of glory are deeply involved. To omit this consummation of the mystery of godliness is to give place to the satanic mystery of iniquity, which with blasphemous pretensions likewise places a ‘man’ upon the throne of deity (2 Thess. 2:3-12).

The Ascension of Christ was the grand testimony of Scripture to the fact that His work was finished:

‘I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do ... and I COME TO THEE’ (John 17:4,11; cf. John 13:3).

The Ascension of Christ is the basis of the believer’s victory during the present conflict:

‘Who is he that condemneth? Is it Christ that died? yea rather, that is risen again, Who is EVEN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD? Who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us’ (Rom. 8:34-37 Author’s translation).

The fact that Christ has ascended enables the believer not only to triumph over such mundane things as famine or nakedness, but ‘death, life, angels, principalities and powers’ also, for Peter declares of Christ that He ‘is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him’ (1 Peter 3:22). The finished work spoken of in John 17 in connection with the Ascension bulks large in the epistle to the Hebrews. In two of the references the mystery of godliness is in view:

‘Hath in these last days spoken unto us in Son ... when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Heb. 1:2,3).

A body hast Thou prepared Me ... this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God’ (Heb. 10:5,12).

In both of these passages the same sequence is observable as in 1 Timothy 3:16, ‘manifest in the flesh ... received up in glory’. Hebrews 8:1 says:

‘Now of the things which we have spoken THIS IS THE SUM (PRINCIPAL THING): we have such an high priest, Who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens’.

Connected with this ascended position is the blessed assurance of an ‘uttermost salvation’:

‘Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them’ (Heb. 7:25).

The key-word of Hebrews is ‘perfect’, and the great exhortation (Heb. 13:20,21) is found in the words of Hebrews 6:1, ‘Let us go on unto perfection’. The word ‘perfect’ is allied to the word ‘end’, and the scriptural conception of perfection is not that which goes by the name of ‘sinless perfection’, but of reaching the end for which one has been saved, as Paul puts it in Philippians 3:12, ‘Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus’. We have said all this because the ‘uttermost salvation’ is that which goes to the full ‘end’ or ‘all the way’, and without the ascended Christ this full salvation would be in jeopardy. While it suffices for Acts 1:9 to say, ‘He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight’, this is not sufficient for the epistle to the Hebrews. That epistle says:

‘Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is PASSED INTO (THROUGH) the heavens ‘ (Heb. 4:14).

‘For such an High Priest became us, Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made HIGHER THAN the heavens’ (Heb. 7:26).

‘For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into HEAVEN ITSELF, now to appear in the presence of God for us’ (Heb. 9:24).

While it may not be possible to fix the date of the epistle to the Hebrews, its very title ‘to the Hebrews’, as well as its references to the people of Israel, tells us that dispensationally it does not belong to a period that is peculiarly Gentile in character. Right through the Acts of the Apostles we see a controversy that necessitates the clear-cut teaching of Hebrews to prevent a Judaized form of Christianity swamping the truth. In Romans and Galatians the opposition comes from the Jew, with his works of law. In the last chapter of the Acts we reach a crisis. Israel in the dispersion act precisely as Israel at home had acted, and there in Acts 28 we witness the removal of that people, ‘until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in’. It does not require a profound knowledge of Scripture to realize that the removal from the scene of such a people as Israel must precipitate a crisis, and involve very drastic changes in God’s dealings with men. It is here where the Ascension of Christ becomes of such fundamental importance. Rejected by Israel, He now rejects Israel, and His claims upon the earthly sphere of God’s purposes are temporarily suspended, being put into force when the ‘mystery of God’ shall be finished (Rev. 10:7), in a yet future day.

We now know, through the revelation given in such epistles as Ephesians and Colossians, that God in His wisdom had fully provided for Israel’s defection, and in direct connection with the ascended Christ He revealed, after Acts 28, in those epistles which are called for convenience ‘The Prison Epistles’ (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy) a mystery or secret which was planned and purposed ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1:4), and ‘before age times’ (2 Tim. 1:9), which mystery concerns a company of believers taken mainly from among the Gentiles, who were ‘chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world’, and made a ‘joint body’ (Eph. 3:6), blessed with all spiritual blessings ‘in heavenly places’ (Eph. 1:3), created as ‘one new man’ (Eph. 2:15), and with no middle wall of partition to perpetuate the distinction between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14). All these blessings are intimately and inseparably connected with the ascended Christ. ‘Heavenly places’, the sphere of these new blessings, is defined as the place where Christ ascended after His Resurrection, ‘far above all principality and power’, etc. (Eph. 1:20,21), and this unique company of believers are told that not only are they ‘raised up together’ but made to ‘sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6). A new ministry, with a definite work in connection with this new company, was given by the ascended Christ:

‘When He ascended up on high, He ... gave gifts unto men ... and He gave some, apostles ... for the edifying of (building up) of the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:8-12).

Parts 6 and 7 of this Analysis will be devoted to DOCTRINE as distinct from DISPENSATIONAL matters. Where the exposition appears to fall short in the Dispensational Section (parts 1 to 5), the reader may find a fuller treatment in parts 6 and 7.