What would you identify as the climax and completion of Jesus’ life and ministry? Surprisingly, this is not a trivial question. One of the key differences between John and the synoptic gospels is that, where the synoptics portray the crucifixion as a necessary but incomplete act on the way to the resurrection, John portrays it as the climax and completion of Jesus’ ministry in itself. In place of Jesus’ cry of despair (Matthew 27.46, Mark 15.34), John records a cry of triumph ‘It is finished!’ (John 19.30). The promise of ‘living water’ springing from the belly or side of the one who believed (John 7.38), best understood in reference to the Temple prophecy in Ezekiel 47, is fulfilled in the blood and water from Jesus’ side at his death (John 19.34). No wonder the true testimony of this leads to faith (John 19.35).
But most of the NT would point to the resurrection as the completion. Paul’s theological linking of Jesus’ death and resurrection to our movement into and out of the water of baptism (Romans 6.3–4) suggests that crucifixion and resurrection belong together, and this is evident all through the proclamation of what God has done. This Jesus, whom you crucified, God raised from the dead, Peter tells the Pentecost crowd in Acts 2, and we are witnesses of this. Paul, in Luke’s parallel depiction of his ministry, also talks of ‘Jesus and the resurrection (anastasis)’ (Acts 17.18), so much so that his hearers think that Anastasis is the female consort goddess to the male god Jesus. Paul’s summary of the gospel for the Corinthians is that ‘Christ died for our sins…was buried…and was raised on the third day’ (1 Cor 15.3–4).
Yet most of the New Testament actually sees a third movement as an essential part and completion of Jesus’ work: the Ascension. We might miss this because of our theological tradition, but we often miss it because of our failure to read carefully. In Peter’s Pentecost speech, the climax of what God has done in Jesus is not the resurrection, but Jesus being ‘exalted to the right hand of God’ (Acts 2.33). In support of this, he cites Ps 110, the most cited psalm in the NT(just pause to take that in…), with its imagery of ‘the Lord’ (messiah) taking his seat at the right hand of ‘the Lord’ (Yahweh, the God of Israel).
We can see how important this is, even in Paul’s theology. In his great hymn in Philippians 2 (I am not convinced Paul is citing a pre-existing composition), he actually skips over the resurrection and moves straight from Jesus’ ‘death on the cross’ to his being ‘exalted to the highest place’ (Phil 2.8–9). It is as if the movement from death to life to glory, in resurrection and ascension, are one movement—incidentally, a move that is mirrored in the language of the male child ‘who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron’ being snatched up to God and his throne in Rev 12.5. In John, Jesus makes reference to this by the garden tomb, telling Mary not to hold on to him because he has not yet ascended, and, most intriguingly, the gospel message she is given for the disciples is ‘I am ascending to the Father’ (John 20.17). Luke divides his work into two not on the basis of the resurrection but at the point of the Ascension:
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven… (Acts 1.1–2)(Video) What is the Ascension of Jesus? Why is it important?
So why do we miss the importance of this? It largely comes down to misunderstanding Daniel 7 and its appropriation in the New Testament.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7.13–14).
Although Jesus appropriates the language of ‘one like a son of man’ to refer to himself, in Daniel this is a corporate figure; just as the four beasts earlier in the chapter have been personifications of the four great empires (Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman), this human figure is a personification of God’s own people, currently oppressed and persecuted by the powers that be, but trusting God who will rescue them, bring them into his presence, vindicate them and give them power and authority over those who currently have power over them. A parallel to the visions in the first part of Daniel (the four beasts correspond to the four parts of the statue in Daniel 2), it represents the inversion of power that Mary describes in the Magnificat—’you have scatteredthe proud in the imagination of their hearts’ (Luke 1.51).
In taking up the title ‘Son of Man’, Jesus is claiming to fulfil the destiny of Israel—to take on their oppression, but also to experience the vindication from God. This also involves a crucial re-interpretation as well: it is not the empires of this world that are the true oppressors of Israel, but the powers of darkness and their own sin and disobedience. Thus when John the Baptist ‘goes before the Lord to prepare his way’ it is through ‘the forgiveness of all their sins’ (Luke 1.77).
But the key thing to notice in Daniel 7 is the phrase ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’. This is associatednot with anyone’s coming from heaven to earth, but rather the opposite—the exultation of the Son of Man as he comes from the earthto the one seated on the heavenly throne. This is language both distinct from, and opposite to, Paul’s use of ‘coming on the clouds’ in 1 Thess 4.17. This would have been very obvious to Paul’s readers, since he uses quite different language for ‘coming’, the wordparousia meaning ‘royal presence’.
Noticing this difference helps us unravel several key texts in the gospels. In Mark’s account of Jesus’ trial, Jesus says to the High Priest:
You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven (Mark 14.62)
This cannot refer to Jesus’ return to earth (‘second coming’) unless Jesus was deluded about how soon that would happen. But more importantly, it cannot mean this because it is an almost exact quotation from Daniel 7, and refers to Jesus’ (the Son of Man’s) ascending to the throne of God and fulfilling the destiny of Israel. That is why the High Priest considered it blasphemy: in effect, Jesus was crucified because he anticipated his Ascension!
Similarly, Matt 24 makes no sense unless we read it in the light of Daniel 7. Jesus predicts that:
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory… (Matt 24.30)
but then goes on to say, quite solemnly, ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened’ (Matt 24.34). Unless both Jesus and Matthew (and those collecting the canon) were mistaken, this must have already happened—and it did, in the Ascension. Jesus was caught up in the clouds of heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand in glory.
The lectionary reading for Ascension Day is Acts 1.1–11, the fullest account in the New Testament of the moment of Jesus’ ascension. There are a few important things to note about it.
We have already noticed that it is the Ascension which provides Luke with the point of division between ‘all that Jesus began to do and to teach’ and the continuing ministry of the apostles, through which Jesus continues to act and to teach by means of the Holy Spirit. What is striking in this account, though, is that Jesus’ teaching of the apostles ‘whom he had chosen’ can only happen ‘through the Holy Spirit’. Just as Jesus ministered by the Spirit (and after his testing in the desert ‘in the power of the Holy Spirit’, Luke 4.14), so after his resurrection he continues to do so, setting the pattern for the apostles themselves. They cannot continue his ministry until they, too, are ‘clothed with power from on high’ (Acts 1.8).
This is a time ‘after his suffering’ which appears already to be a semi-technical term for his being handed over, beaten, and crucified, his ‘passion’. You might think that his simply being alive was enough to answer any questions the disciples had—yet Luke agrees here with Matthew’s description that ‘some doubted’ (Matt 28.17) in that they need ‘many convincing proofs’.
The language of ‘forty days’ is significant throughout scripture. ‘Forty’ signifies an interim period of waiting, testing, and preparation, including the time the rain fell during the flood (Gen 7.4), the Exodus wanderings (Num 32.13), the periods of Moses’ life (according to Stephen in Acts 7, 23, 30, 36), Elijah at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19.8), Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh (Jonah 3.4)—and so on. It is often the time period between major epochs in the biblical narrative of God’s acts of salvation.
Jesus continues to teach about the ‘kingdom of God’, which continues the central theme of his preaching in the gospels. This would make sense within a Jewish context, where God was thought of as ‘king’ and the eschatological hope was for the manifestation of his reign as king over Israel—and the whole world. But it is striking that as Acts unfolds, and within the writings of Paul that we have, the language of the kingdom takes second place to other language of resurrection and salvation.
The ‘gift which my Father promised’ echoes Johannine language from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, which has been explored in recent lectionary readings. The contrast between the water baptism of John and the Spirit baptism of Jesus picks up the language of John himself from the beginning of Luke’s gospel (Luke 3.16), but this pairing also forms a theme in Acts, where those who believe are both baptised with water and with the Spirit.
The question in Acts 1.6 ‘Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel’ demonstrates the disciples’ continuing, nationalistic, misunderstanding of the meaning of the kingdom—so they really did need those 40 days of teaching! Rather than directly rebuke them, Jesus leads them in a different direction; the Spirit will equip them to be his witnesses ‘to the ends of the earth’. It transpires that this is the meaning of OT eschatological expectation that all nations will be drawn to Jerusalem, not in the physical sense of migration, but in the spiritual sense of being drawn to the Jewish messiah who was crucified and raise there. This becomes crucial at the Council in Acts 15 called to make sense of the ‘gentile mission’, and is reflected in Revelation’s vision of people drawn from every tribe, language, people and nation as the new multi-ethnic Israel of God in Rev 7.9.
Finally, the angel makes an explicit connection between the Ascension and the anticipation of Jesus’ return (never in the NT described as his ‘second coming’, paired with the incarnation, but as his ‘return’, pairing it with the Ascension). We might, on first reading, think that the correlation is being one of the means of travel, so to speak—he will ‘come back in the same way you have seen him go’. But the theological connection is much more significant. Jesus ascends to the throne of God, to sit ‘at his right hand’, exercising the power and authority of God by means of the Spirit. If Jesus is now Lordde jure then one day he must become Lordde facto. He final revelation as Lord of all is the inevitable consequence of his exaltation to the Father now.
If the Ascension is so important in the NT, what does it mean?
- Authority. Jesus is enthroned with the Father. It is because of the Ascension that the lamb who was slain is seated with the one on the throne and shares his worship (Revelation 4). It is in the Ascension that ‘all authority has been given to me’ (Matt 28.18). And this authority means that Stephen is confident that he is held by a higher power, even to the point of death—his final vision is of Jesus ascended in Daniel 7 terms (Acts 7.55–56)
- Humanity. In the incarnation, God entered into human existence. In the Ascension, that humanity is taken up into the presence of God. We have a High Priest interceding for us who is not unable to sympathise with our challenges, dilemmas, suffering and weakness (Heb 4.15–16)
- Responsibility. The Ascension marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; he has now given us responsibility to continue this work, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is not distant or indifferent, but he has delegated.
- Fidelity. Jesus ascending in the clouds to heaven promised that he will return ‘in the same way’ (Acts 1.11). His return is never called the ‘second coming’ in the NT, because it is not paired with his ‘first coming’ (the Incarnation) but with the Ascension. As God has put all things under his feet, one day his authoritydejurewill be an authorityde facto.
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Why is Jesus ascension so important? ›
It shows that Jesus really had overcome death – he wasn't just resurrected to die again, but to live forever. For many Christians, the fact that Jesus' followers witnessed him ascending into the clouds leaves no doubt that Jesus is alive and with God the Father in Heaven, and is no longer limited to living on Earth.What is ascension in the New Testament? ›
Ascension, in Christian belief, the ascent of Jesus Christ into heaven on the 40th day after his Resurrection (Easter being reckoned as the first day).What is the main lesson of the ascension? ›
The Ascension reminds us that our prayer must be patient. Four, for what did they pray? Actually, they didn't pray for something; they prayed for the gift of someone: they begged for the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. And, after nine days of prayer, they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.Why is Jesus resurrection and ascension important? ›
Without the resurrection, Jesus' death would go without divine interpretation and endorsement. The resurrection amounts to the Father's clear signal that Jesus is the powerful Son of God who has conquered death and reigns as Lord of all (Romans 1:4; 4:25).What was the most important part of Jesus life? ›
Thomas Aquinas considered the Transfiguration "the greatest miracle" in that it complemented baptism and showed the perfection of life in Heaven. The Transfiguration is one of the five major milestones in the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus, the others being Baptism, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension.Who saw Jesus ascend into heaven? ›
Forty days after his resurrection, Christ, shrouded in clouds, ascends to Heaven. The climactic event of his time on Earth is witnessed by 11 of his 12 Disciples: Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver, had hanged himself in shame.What does the Bible say about the ascension of Jesus? ›
Luke 24:51: Jesus leads the eleven remaining disciples to Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives, and instructs them to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit: "And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.What Scripture passage is Ascension? ›
John 20:17-31. 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'What is the meaning of he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father? ›
The “right hand” is seen as a place of honor and status throughout the biblical text. When the Bible makes statements that Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, it is affirming that he has equal status to the Father within the Godhead (Hebrews 1:3, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Acts 7:55-56).What is the ascension of Jesus lesson for children? ›
Main Objective: This children's message is meant to remind children that they should joyfully proclaim the news of Christ. Jesus promised to return one day, and assured us that He would send comfort and hope. Meanwhile, our earthly job is to share the love of God with one another.
What happened to the disciples after Jesus Ascension? ›
The Christian Gospels of Mark and Matthew say that, after the Ascension of Jesus, his Apostles "went out and preached everywhere". This is described in Mark 16 verses 19 and 20, and Matthew 28 verses 19 and 20. According to a tradition mentioned by Eusebius, they dispersed to distinct parts of the world.What does the resurrection of Jesus mean to us today? ›
The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that believers are united with Christ. When we believe in Christ, we are united to Him in faith (2 Corinthians 4:14). Union with Christ means that when God looks at us, He does not see our unrighteousness, but the righteousness of Christ.What did Jesus say is most important? ›
When asked which commandment was the most important, Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).What are the two most important things to Jesus? ›
Love God above all else. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."What are the four most important sources of life of Jesus? ›
The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.What did God say before he ascended into heaven? ›
Then just before His Ascension into heaven, the Lord repeated the call: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As members of the Church and disciples of Christ, we must come to terms with this challenge today.How old was Jesus when he ascended into heaven? ›
However, Bond makes the case Jesus died around Passover, between A.D. 29 and 34. Considering Jesus' varying chronology, he was 33 to 40 years old at his time of death.What was the message of the Lord Jesus to the disciples when he ascended into heaven? ›
The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.What does Luke say about the Ascension? ›
However, according to Luke, the ascension is not Jesus' exaltation/assumption; the ascension occurs at the end of the day on which Jesus was raised and taken up to heaven, that is, some fifteen hours after his resurrection and exaltation.What are some quotes about the Ascension? ›
“Nobody could ascend before transfigured.” “Christ is not God, not the saviour of the world, but a mere man, a sinful man and an abominable idol. All who worship him are abominable idolaters and Christ did not rise again from death to life nor did he ascend into heaven.”
What are ascension gifts? ›
The ascension gifts- apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher- are the leadership offices of the Church and are given by the ascended Christ to lead the Church and to perfect and equip the saints.What is the ascension of Jesus called? ›
The Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ (also called the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, Ascension Day, Ascension Thursday, or sometimes Holy Thursday) commemorates the Christian belief of the bodily Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.Who ascended above all the heavens? ›
Following his descent to the grave, Christ ascended to his throne υπεράνω πάντων τών ουρανών [far above all the heavens] (4:10) as the victorious one. This interpretation finds confirmation in the death and resurrection motif in Ephesians 1:20-22, which also occurs elsewhere in the New Testament (cf.Where in the Bible does it say he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty? ›
“Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64; cf. Mk 14 62).Where in the Bible does it say he descended and ascended? ›
ESV He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)What is the short reflection on Ascension? ›
It is in the Ascension that we see Jesus entering fully into the life and glory of God. In the descriptions of Christ after his Resurrection, we are given a hint of what life will be like in Heaven. The prospect of sharing that glory should be the driving force of our lives.How long did Jesus stay with his disciples before he ascended? ›
-- N.G. DEAR N.G.: The Bible clearly states that after His resurrection Jesus repeatedly appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days, and then miraculously ascended into the presence of God. The Bible says, "He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9).What apostle became the leader of the church after Jesus ascended? ›
Given the information supplied by the Gospels, it is not unexpected that Peter should emerge immediately after Jesus' death as the leader of the earliest church. For approximately 15 years after the Resurrection, the figure of Peter dominated the community.What happened to Mary Magdalene after the Ascension? ›
Mary Magdalene's life after the Gospel accounts. According to Eastern tradition, she accompanied St. John the Apostle to Ephesus, where she died and was buried. French tradition spuriously claims that she evangelized Provence (southeastern France) and spent her last 30 years in an Alpine cavern.What is resurrection of Jesus in simple words? ›
The Resurrection of Christ, a central doctrine of Christianity, is based on the belief that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the third day after his Crucifixion and that through his conquering of death all believers will subsequently share in his victory over “sin, death, and the Devil.” The celebration of this ...
Where was Jesus between his death and resurrection? ›
Based on the wording in 1 Peter, there's an argument that Jesus spent the weekend between His death and Resurrection in Hell preaching to the souls who were already there, giving them a chance at the forgiveness available through His sacrifice not previously available before His death.What is Jesus ascension? ›
The ascension literally means that Jesus ascended, or was taken up, to Heaven . This is significant as it shows that he has returned to Heaven after completing his mission on Earth. Christians believe that Jesus is in Heaven with God, until He decides to send Jesus to Earth for the final judgement.What is the ascension according to Luke? ›
He has Jesus taken up to heaven at the moment of his resurrection. However, according to Luke, the ascension is not Jesus' exaltation/assumption; the ascension occurs at the end of the day on which Jesus was raised and taken up to heaven, that is, some fifteen hours after his resurrection and exaltation.How did Jesus ascend into heaven? ›
We see the story of the ascension in Luke 24:44-53. After Jesus appears to his disciples and instructs them, he leads them out, and lifts up his hands to bless them, like a priest. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up “into heaven.”How many days are there between Ascension and Pentecost? ›
Jesus' ascension also signified the completion of his time on earth, celebrated 10 days before the Feast of Pentecost - the coming of the Holy Spirit.What happened to the disciples after Jesus ascension? ›
The Christian Gospels of Mark and Matthew say that, after the Ascension of Jesus, his Apostles "went out and preached everywhere". This is described in Mark 16 verses 19 and 20, and Matthew 28 verses 19 and 20. According to a tradition mentioned by Eusebius, they dispersed to distinct parts of the world.How old was Jesus when he ascended? ›
Considering Jesus' varying chronology, he was 33 to 40 years old at his time of death.How is the Ascension described in Mark 16 19? ›
All power and authority were given to Jesus at His arrival into heaven. The ascended Jesus reigns with the sovereign authority of God. Jesus had prayed in His high priestly prayer, "Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began." That prayer was answered in the ascension.What do Christians believe about the Ascension? ›
Christians believe that after he rose from the dead, Jesus did not die a second time. Instead, 40 days after his resurrection , Jesus left the Earth by being taken up, body and soul, to Heaven to re-join God the Father.How long did Jesus stay before he ascended into heaven? ›
-- N.G. DEAR N.G.: The Bible clearly states that after His resurrection Jesus repeatedly appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days, and then miraculously ascended into the presence of God. The Bible says, "He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9).
Why did Jesus ascend after 40 days? ›
Jesus Love For Peter, the Disciple who Denied Him
Another reason Jesus stayed on earth for 40 days after His resurrection instead of ascending immediately into heaven was to encourage Peter. During Jesus' trial, Peter denied Jesus three times.
It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and other disciples following the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2), and it marks the beginning of the Christian church's mission to the world.Is Pentecost and ascension the same? ›
This has been traditionally called the "birthday" of the Church , that day when "all were filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:4) Pentecost occurs ten days after the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ....