Summary: What is the significance of the Ascension?
The Ascension of Jesus
In the previous passage, we have a record of the last earthly meeting of his disciples which came at the end of a forty day period after the resurrection. There were many appearances of Jesus during this time in both Galilee and Jerusalem. At one time there were 500 people at one time which witnessed that Jesus was alive according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. These appearances included allowing the disciples to touch Jesus and see that he was really alive and not a ghost. He ate with them as well. Obviously, there was something different about this in that he appeared to them in the midst of a locked room. But it was a body, nevertheless. This gives us a clue as to what life in heaven will be like. As Paul notes, it will be in a glorified body. It also appears that we will eat and drink with Jesus. The resurrection is not some sort of soulish existence apart from a body.
We also saw that Jesus probably has one more lunch with his disciples before the ascension. It may have been a reminder of the first communion in which He promised that he would sup with them once more in the Kingdom of God. He used this last occasion to teach them one more time before He left. The church had to be sure of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension as well as to have confidence that He would come back for them when the Father was ready.
Teaching the kingdom of God was Jesus’ primary activity on earth, not His miracles and healings. He wanted the disciples to understand that the Old Testament promises of Christ were the first proof of the reality of the Kingdom. This is not to say that the miracles and other proofs are not important. But the disciples needed to know that God is sovereign and had this whole matter planned well in advance as well as that He perfectly executed this plan. This ability of God to deliver on His promises is the sure foundation of faith. The disciples were going to face much hostility. They needed to be sure.
Jesus’ last words were those of commission. After telling the disciples to put their trust in God’s provision to bring the Kingdom according to the timing and means He had set, Jesus told them that they were to go everywhere to tell people about Him, to continue Jesus’ mission of doing and teaching. The first fruit of true faith is to obey the gospel.
Exposition of the Text
The text says that after He had charged the disciples that He was taken up into heaven. There was great brightness, clouds, and the appearance of two shining men (angels). This should have reminded Peter, James and John of the transfiguration as well as the two angels who appeared to Mary at the tomb. In the transfiguration, it was Moses and Elijah who appeared and witnessed to the “exodus” Jesus was about to encounter in Jerusalem. The two angels at the tomb witnessed to Mark the good news of the resurrection which they were to proclaim to the unbelieving disciples. This time, it is the apostles who are called to continue in this mission of witness.
Instead of falling asleep like they did at the transfiguration, they continued to gaze upward at the spectacle. While it was Jesus’ time to return to the Father, it was not the apostle’s time. Instead, they were about to get to work proclaiming what they had seen and heard to an unbelieving world. The angels at each side of Jesus told them to stop gazing upward. All would be OK. Jesus would come back at the end of time in the same way they witnessed His ascension. They were instead to return to Jerusalem and await further orders and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
The Ascension is pretty much a forgotten event in today’s evangelical church. Some of the “high” churches still celebrate the Ascension as a Christian Holy Day, but the Evangelicals tend to think it of only minor importance. This is a big mistake. If we understand Luke and Acts belonging together, then the Ascension is at the very center of Luke and Acts. In ancient literature, a technique called chiasm is often used. The most important point occurs at the middle, not the end of the document. In Luke, the transfiguration is at the center which is a special preview of the kingdom to Peter, James, and John. So the Kingdom of God is at center of the gospel. The fact that it tells of Jesus’ coming passion shows that this is also center of the message. The Kingdom of God is as brilliantly displayed on the cross as much as it is in the glorious splendor we see at the Ascension. The center of the Book of Acts is in chapter 15, which is the Jerusalem Council in which Gentile Christians were formally welcomed alongside Jewish believers in Christ. So each of these books have a central point in and of themselves. But when taken together, it is the Ascension, not the resurrection which is front and center. As important as Good Friday and Easter are, it is the Ascension which is actually the central event. The Word who had become flesh was not returning to the Father from whom He came.