The Hebrew writer tells us in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (All quotations from the English Standard Version of the Bible)
We might think that the “joy set before him” is directly connected to his being seated at the right hand of God once he ascended to heaven, and that probably is a factor. Perhaps, however, we should consider other possible reasons that there was joy to look forward to beyond the cross.
One possible reason for the Lord’s joy beyond the cross is the opportunity to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of Truth, to his people. As Jesus was instructing his disciples regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit, he stated in John 16:7, “…it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” It pleased the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to his people, in whom, still today, we have the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14)
It might also be said that it pleased the Lord to be in the position to be the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). He himself said that He was the only way to the Father (John 14:6). If we would come to the Father, we can only do it in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). Going to the cross, being raised on the third day, and ascending to the Father placed Jesus in position to be that mediator between God and man.
Lastly, there was joy beyond the cross because it is through the cross that we are able to repent of our sins and be saved. Jesus, in three parables in Luke 15, noted how much joy there is in heaven whenever a sinner repents of his sin and turns to God. He even states in Luke 15:7 that there is “more joy in heaven over on sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Jesus is seated on his throne at the right hand of God. He is awaiting the coming day when we can be with him where he is (John 14:3) (another possible reason for joy, knowing that the day is coming). But until that day, there is joy in heaven knowing that the path to the Father is clear. One who believes in Christ must confess that belief (Rom. 10:9-10), repent of sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins, after which he will receive the promised Holy Spirit, (Acts 2:38) which Christ sent as our Helper. And each time that happens, there is great rejoicing in Heaven.