In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
When they had gathered together they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,"
When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."(P) The word of the Lord.
All you peoples clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness; for the Lord, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth. (R)
God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the Lord, amid trumpet blasts. Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise. (R)
For king of all the earth is God; sing hymns of praise. God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne. (R)
Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And he put all things beneath Christ's feet and gave him as head over all thing to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.(P) The word of the Lord.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshipped, but some doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with your always, until the end of the age."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
The Feast of the Ascension marks the Christian belief that Jesus ascended into heaven on the fortieth day of Easter. The 40th day after Easter Sunday is always a Thursday, and, therefore, the feast has traditionally been celebrated on Thursdays. But, in some parts of the world, the celebration is transferred to the Sunday following the 40th day, that is, the Seventh Sunday of Easter. In this way, more people can participate. This year, it fell on May 25th but we celebrate it today.
What is ascension? What significance does the Ascension of Jesus Christ hold for our faith?
Much of our Christian beliefs are derived from two sources: Tradition and Scripture. There is no written evidence of celebrating the event until the fourth century, when one of the early church fathers, Augustine of Hippo, preached about it in a sermon. It is widely believed that the feast has been observed since the time of the Apostles, dating back to 68 AD.
There are many references both in the Old and New Testament of the Bible, concerning ascension. Some of these references occur before the event. For example, in Psalms, David foretold the ascension of the Lord when he spoke of the enthronement of the Lord at the right hand of the Father, Psalms (110:1). The Lord Jesus Himself had spoken to His disciples about His ascension. For example, while they struggled to understand Jesus' suffering and death, He told them that He was "going to the Father", John (14:12). While on trial, Jesus had told the High Priest, "From now on, you will see the Son of Man, seated at the right hand of God most powerful, and coming on the clouds of heaven", Matthew (26:64).
While Mary Magdalene was at the tomb weeping, Jesus had told her of His ascension and return to the Father, John (20:17). The apostle Peter, in his sermon at Pentecost and in his first letter to Christian communities, cited David's prediction and asserted the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His ascension to the throne at right hand of God, Acts (2:34-36) and Peter (3:22). However, only the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles have described the event itself, Luke (24:50-53) and Acts (1:9-11). Although there is considerable overlap between these two texts, Luke, probably the author of both books, gives us an inside glimpse at how the events might have occurred.
In the gospel, Luke recounts that Jesus had led his disciples out of the city of Jerusalem to a place near Bethany, and "he raised his hands and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven", Luke (24:50-51). So, as Jesus was blessing his disciples, much like a priest would bless the people, two things occurred. Jesus "parted from them" and "was taken up to heaven."
The word "taken up", or "anaphero" in Greek, means to cause to move from a lower to a higher position. Jesus was "taken up", therefore, means a similar action happened to Jesus. He did not initiate the action of moving. He was lifted up by God to heaven or was "taken up to heaven", Philippians (2:9). What is heaven? Where is it? In the Biblical times, "heaven" was viewed as the abode of God and the angels. It is somewhere up there although not geographically identifiable. Some people say that heaven is just a pictorial representation of a nearness to God and, indeed, as another sphere, another dimension from the earthly, physical dimension that we live in. Jesus' resurrected body had the ability to adapt to both the physical demands of the earth and the spiritual dimension, 1 Corinthians (15:44). So, Jesus was literally bodily lifted up to heaven.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke provides far more details on the event. He begins his account by addressing Theophilus, the same man to whom he earlier wrote the first book, the gospel of Luke. In the gospel he writes: "It seemed right to me to give you, Theophilus, an orderly account, so that your Excellency may know the truth of all you have been taught", Luke (1:3-4). It appears that Luke wanted to help Theophilus, a person of rank, perhaps a Roman officer, know all the truth about Jesus and the church so that his faith would be made strong in Jesus Christ.
Hence, in the opening lines, Luke recalls that he had already "dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up", Acts (1:1). Even though Luke had recounted Jesus' birth, infancy, miracles, teachings and his relationships with his followers in the first book, he is particularly referring, in this instance, to what Jesus did and taught from the time of His resurrection up until His ascension into heaven.
What did Jesus do after His resurrection? For forty days, He appeared to His disciples, encouraging them, instructing them, guiding them, and preparing them for the work that He wanted them to accomplish. All these appearances and instructions were meant to prove that He had a real, physical body, and that He was truly alive. How does Luke describe this fact in his writing?
After resurrection, Jesus left the tomb. He first appeared to Mary Magdalene. Then, He appeared to the two disciples journeying along the road to Emmaus, and with whom He conversed, stayed and dined. He next appeared to the Apostles behind locked doors, eventually revealing himself, inviting them to touch his wounded hands and feet and then opening their minds so they could understand the scriptures. He instructed them to begin their mission in Jerusalem and, thereafter, to spread out to the ends of the earth but, first, they had to remain in Jerusalem until they were given the power of the Spirit. Lastly, he urged them not to worry about the "times or seasons" but simply to carry out their mission of proclaiming the Good News to all nations, Acts (1:7). Even while saying all these, He was lifted up and taken from their sight.
Luke writes, "When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them", Acts (1:9-10). In this verse, Luke mentions three additional elements which are not in his gospel. The first element is that the apostles were "looking on as he was lifted up", and they were "looking intently at the sky as he was going", meaning that they had seen Jesus go up with their own eyes.
The second element is that "a cloud took him from their sight", meaning that Jesus did not disappear from their sight until He reached the cloud which enveloped Him. Up until He reached the clouds, His body had retained the same form that he had before His suffering and death, but when He was taken up into the cloud, they were prevented from seeing him further. The third element is that a pair of angels appeared and announced that the same Jesus would return from heaven in glory in the same way they had seen him go up into heaven, Acts (1:11). Paul confirms that Jesus Himself will come down from heaven, 1 Thessalonians (4:16). Luke concludes His gospel by mentioning that, after the ascension, "the apostles worshipped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and remained in Jerusalem praising God", Luke whilst stating, in the Acts of the Apostles, that the Apostles returned to Jerusalem and awaited the Holy Spirit, Luke (24:53) and Acts (1:12-13).
What is the message for us?
Now, we have been entrusted with the work he had begun in us and for us. Hence, to carry on Jesus' work:
God Bless You!