The Ascension of Jesus

The Ascension of Jesus

Luke 24:44-53   Acts 1:1-11 

For forty days after His resurrection, Jesus presented Himself alive to His disciples, by many convincing proofs (Acts 1:3). The result was that the disciples were persuaded beyond any doubt of the physical reality of Christ’s resurrection. This assurance, combined with the power they would receive when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, would propel them across the known world with the gospel.

During this time, the Lord also renewed His teaching ministry with the disciples, Speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). The kingdom of God is that sphere where God rules and reigns. In one sense, it is universal, His sovereignty rules over all (Psalm 103:19). However, it manifests in and through people who submit to and confess the kingship of Jesus Christ and worship Him as King and Lord. The kingdom of God was at hand in the ministry of Jesus (Mark 1:14,15), is within and in the midst of those who believe in Him (Luke 9:1,2) and is proclaimed by those who have experienced its inbreaking power in their lives. When we surrendered our lives to the Lordship of Christ, we were transferred out of the dominion, jurisdiction of darkness and into the kingdom, the rule of Christ (Col 1:13). It is a rule of grace, light, holiness, truth and life.

Kingdom teaching centers on the necessity of the cross and resurrection of Jesus: Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day’ (Luke 24:45-47).

The apostles, as with all the Jews of their generation, were expecting the Messiah to usher in the kingdom of God but did not understand the nature of that kingdom. They were looking for a military solution — a deliverer who would defeat the hated Romans. But the true enemy was not the Roman army. The enemy was sin separating people from God and from His kingdom. The solution was that Messiah would die an atoning death for the sins of the people and thereby remove the separation. His resurrection was proof that His atoning sacrifice was acceptable and that He truly had conquered sin and the death which sin produced. Jesus opened their minds to understand the necessity of the cross and the resurrection.

If the Lord had established the kingdom of God on earth without first reconciling sinners to a holy God, no one could have entered the kingdom. He began His ministry proclaiming, The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). We enter the kingdom by repenting of sin and believing the good news of a Savior who died for our sins and rose from the dead. 

So Jesus concluded His earthly ministry with His disciples by reinforcing their understanding of the foundational message of the kingdom of God and the necessity of the cross and the resurrection. It is important to note that before the Lord sent His disciples out to minister, He taught and summarized primary truths. In order to effectively proclaim the gospel, they needed to understand its content.

We see this in the life of the Apostle Paul. He writes that after his conversion I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood nor did he seek out the apostles but I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus (Gal. 1:15-18). We can assume his season in Arabia was spent studying in solitude and it was there that he received revelation from God before he entered into ministry. Thus it was that later he continually prayed for the churches, as he prayed for the Ephesian church, That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened (Eph. 1:18); and for the Colossian church, That you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9).

Paul exhorted Timothy, Be diligent to show yourself approved to God as a master workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). So with us. If we would consistently and accurately proclaim the gospel, we must study it, understand its content.

We must also live the truth. The teaching ministry of Jesus to His disciples and to His church today is not centered on the memorizing of theological information but in knowing Christ and allowing Him to conform us to Himself so that He can live His life through us. Luke begins the Acts by reminding his readers that he composed an account of All that Jesus began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). Jesus did not merely teach, He was doing the truth, living it.

James exhorts us, But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves (James 1:22). We are to preach the truth and live a life transformed by that truth which testifies in living words the reality of the truth. God does not bless gifts apart from the person who carries the gift. What kind of person does God bless? God blesses the holy life that lives holy truth. Purity of heart determines success in the kingdom of God.

During this time with the disciples, Jesus also established the primary mission of the church, That repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations (Luke 24:47). Christ’s church is involved in many important tasks but there is only one primary mission: we proclaim Jesus, calling people to repent of sin and turn to Christ in faith so that God’s forgiving grace may be poured out into their lives.

The Lord also commissioned the church, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20  also Acts 1:8). 

The commission to make disciples is based on the authority and presence of the Lord who has been raised, Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:21). Having received all authority from the Father, Jesus now invests His church with wisdom, power, authority and anointing and sends the church out to continue His kingdom work. 

Authority, exousia, is the same word Jesus used in Luke 10:19, Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Exousia is jurisdiction, the right to rule, to exercise dominion. Because Jesus exercises Lordship over all other dominions in the universe, He has the right to delegate His rule to His church and He does. Go therefore refers to this fact — because He holds all rulership and because He has delegated his rulership to His disciples, He says, “Go therefore and make disciples.”

Notice that making disciples includes baptism — baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Baptism is an outward sign of the inner work of grace which God accomplishes as a sinner repents and believes the gospel (Matt. 28:19). We are not saved through the act of baptism. Rather, it represents our identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and symbolizes God’s act of cleansing, washing and regeneration.

The work of discipling continues as the new believer is taught to observe all that Christ has commanded (Matt. 28:20). How do we recognize a true disciple? Jesus said, If you continue (abide) in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine (John 8:31). But how will anyone abide in Christ’s word unless we are taught? So there is no discipling apart from the teaching ministry of the church.

Christ’s commission also included the promise of His presence — Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. However, the manner of His presence would change.

As Jesus concluded this forty day teaching ministry with His disciples, He gathered them together outside Bethany, a little village located on the south-east slope of the Mount of Olives. In these closing moments, the disciples still misunderstood the time, looking for the imminent inbreaking of the visible kingdom of God on earth. They asked, Lord is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6).

Jesus responded that it was not for them to know the time of the coming kingdom. Rather, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:7,8).

There are two important truths in these closing words of Jesus. First, that the disciples would receive an endowment of power from the Father. The word power is dunamis, from which we derive the English words dynamic, dynamo and dynamite. In Luke 24:49, Jesus had commanded the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high. This is repeated in Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.

The source of ministry dynamic for the first generation church was the power of the Holy Spirit and so for us today. Churches may substitute budgets, programs and media campaigns but there is no life changing, world transforming power except through the Holy Spirit. God’s truth must be energized by God’s power.

The other important truth in Jesus’ final words is the command, You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8b). The word witness is martus, one who testifies. So many Christians testified at the cost of their lives that the word martus came to mean one who pours out his or her life for the sake of the truth. The word martyr derives from martus.

Having convinced His disciples of the reality of His resurrection, having taught them and commissioned them, Jesus then blessed them and was lifted up from them into the heavens (Acts 1:9). He had been gradually weaning them from His physical presence but it was necessary that there be a final, physical, visible lifting up of Jesus from the company of the apostles as a way of emphasizing to them that their fellowship with Him from that day would be different, not based on physical presence but on spiritual communion.

The Lord was lifted up in a cloud, surely the shekinah glory of God. The disciples must have been absolutely transfixed by the sight, for they stood there gazing intently into the sky (Acts 1:10). 

As this took place, two angelic messengers promised Christ’s return, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven (Acts 1:10,11). 

Jesus had said that the Son of Man will return, Coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30). The Old Testament prophet Zechariah reveals that when the Messiah returns, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east (Zech. 14:4). Jesus will return in a cloud of glory to the same Mount of Olives from which He ascended to heaven.

Testimony of the Ascension

1. When He ascended on high (Ephesians 4:8)

The Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit applying that Scripture to Jesus. He states the ascension as a matter of prophetic / historical record and feels no need to explain or add to the account. He simply states the fact. Jesus’ ascension is not merely into heaven but far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things (Eph. 4:10). This refers not only to the omnipresence of Christ but to His headship over all things. Not every angelic or human being is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, but He is still Lord and Head of all things.

2. Taken up in glory (I Timothy 3:16)

Paul assures Timothy of the ascension of Jesus. These words, taken up in glory, are believed to be a fragment of an early Christian hymn. The ascension of Jesus was a core belief of the early church and as such, was sung and celebrated.

3. Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession (Hebrews 4:14).

Under the Old Covenant, once a year on the Day of Atonement, the Jewish high priest entered the Holy of Holies in the temple to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. Before he could do this, he first had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins. He then passed through the Holy Place, through the veil and into the Holy of Holies. After sprinkling the blood, he then left immediately, only to return a year later to repeat the ritual.

However, Jesus our greater High Priest did not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself, being sinless. As the perfect High Priest, He offered Himself as the holy, unblemished Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world. Having made a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for all sinners, He passed through the heavens to the place of enthronement.  

4. Who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him (I Ptr. 3:22). 

The Apostle Peter testifies that Jesus risen Christ has not merely ascended into heaven but is at the right hand of God, which is the place of unsurpassed glory, honor and authority. In His enthronement, all angels, powers and authorities have been subjected to Him.  

The Lord indicated that His absence was to be a time of preparation in heaven, I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2). He is moving all of time and history to the fulfillment of His kingdom purpose and has promised to return, 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 (John 14:3). The church is also busy, bearing kingdom witness across the earth, certain of our commission and assured of our Lord’s return.

Jesus promised, Behold, I am coming quickly and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done (Rev. 22:12). His return will be a time of great rejoicing for those who love the Lord for He will establish His kingdom on earth. It will also be a time of accountability, for as He said, My reward is with Me. The Apostle Paul assures us that when our Lord returns, our works will be tested and we will be rewarded based on our faithfulness to the call of Christ (I Cor. 3:13-15   2 Cor. 5:10). 

Knowing that death cannot contain or restrict our Lord nor can any other power in the universe, knowing that He has ascended far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Eph. 1:21), let us then labor for the Master while we still have life and breath, while there is still time and light to serve, for the same Lord who ascended to heaven is coming again in power and in glory.

Study Questions

1. Knowing that Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and on earth and has delegated His authority to His disciples, how does this empower our prayers? 

2. How does this energize our faith?