Today is Ascension Day when Christians remember that Christ ascended into the heavenly realm and that he “will come just the same way as you watched him go into heaven” (Acts 1.11). This is important to the church for a couple reasons:
(1) It means that Jesus Christ reigns and rules even now. Yes, he is not visible bodily but that does not mean he has not been enthroned. The Apostle Paul understood the resurrection (and therefore we can assume the ascension) as the inauguration of his kingship (Rom. 1.3-4; Eph. 1.20-23). Christ is now ruling in the power/authority of the Father (cf. Acts 7.55-56). As with King David he has been anointed King though his reign has not come to full fruition. Nevertheless, he is still in control (Mt. 28.18).
(2) It means that Jesus Chrisr will reign and rule fully in the future.
In some sense Christ is present with us now. Our inner being sits with him on thrones (Eph. 2.6) and his “coming” will be merely an “appearing” (1 Jn. 2.28-3.3). Therefore, the Parousia (1 Thess. 4.13-18) is not Jesus Christ coming from outer space, but rather appearing from the heavenly realm (which ancient cosmology placed in the sky somewhere, but this is not essential to the point). If the deacon Stephen could look upward and see Christ it is apparent that this vision puts Jesus not a thousand or ten thousand feet off of the ground (and which way from earth, Jerusalem?) but rather in a realm foreign to our own that was understood to be “upward” at the time of Jesus.
As I understand Ascension Day it is a reminder that the reign of Christ will be made physically present just as he is present in the heavenly realm. As the author of the Apocalypse saw, there is a merging of heaven and earth (Rev. 21). At that time Creation is free from her curse and we are raised from the dead or given new bodies (Rom. 8.18-25; 1 Cor. 15).
It is a reminder that although Christian eschatology can be complex and confusing there is this hope that must remain at the center. If Christ was not raised from the dead we do not have this hope (1 Cor. 15.12-19). But since we profess that he did overcome death we can wait patiently for the day when God is vindicated, death finally and fully overcome, and all things restored. This is what the ascension means to me.
See also: Fr. Ted Bobish quotes Leo the Great on the ascension.