The Ascension. 1:6-11

From chapter 1 through to 5, Luke deals with the birth of the Christian church. In chapter 1 he covers the period from Jesus' crucifixion leading up to the Day of Pentecost (50 days from the first Sunday after the Passover). After a prologue, v1-5, Luke narrates the ascension, v6-11, and then the events in the upper room prior to the day of Pentecost.

The passage

v6-7. The disciples dream of the day when the nation of Israel will be reestablished as it was in the days of Solomon. They dream of themselves as the chief executives in the new kingdom, cf. Mk.10:35ff. Yet, the future state of the nation Israel is not their worry. It remains in the sovereign will of God, cf. Mk.13:32. In fact, Jesus is non committal over Israel's future, although he knows only too well that things are about to be put right; Israel will soon be judged. As for the timing of that coming day, it is not for the disciples to know. Their focus must be on a spiritual kingdom "not of this world".

v8. The special task given the apostles by Christ is to proclaim the gospel, the message of God's sovereign grace in Christ. Christ's kingdom is realized when this message is proclaimed, heard, and acted on in repentance. They must proclaim this message from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (for Luke this probably means Rome). To carry on this work, the work Christ himself was engaged in, they will be "anointed" as Christ was anointed. They will receive an empowering of the Holy Spirit to enable them to carry out the work of witness-bearing.

v9. After speaking with his disciples, a cloud surrounds Jesus and he disappears from their sight. This cloud is a reminder of the transfiguration and represents the Shekhinah-glory - the sign of God's presence. The day of Ascension is celebrated in the Church Year 40 days after Easter. On this day we celebrate Christ's entry into glory and the taking up of his heavenly reign at the right hand of the Father.

v10. The disciples naturally look upward for Jesus, seeing he was leaving the earth. When the cloud clears, two angelic messengers stand before them. Being "dressed in white" and "in dazzling apparel", is the usual fashion statement for angelic visitors, Lk.24:4.

v11. The angels, following their prime directive, convey a message to the disciples: Jesus now leaves in cloud and glory and his coming will be in like manner - in the same resurrection body, in the cloud of the Shekhinah-glory. New Testament scholars are divided on what "coming", the angels are referring to. Is this Jesus' coming as the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost, his coming to earth in the last day, or his coming with his saints to the Ancient of Days. What is clear from the ascension is that Jesus has "ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things", Eph.4:10. So, the apostles hurry back to Jerusalem to wait for the promised anointing.

Servants of the glorious King

I do love stain glass windows and when it comes to the ascension of Jesus, they can be spectacular. Of course, most of them follow the Superman line, "Up, up, and away", but it's not quite clear what actually happens when the cloud envelops Jesus. Anyway, on Ascension Day we remember that Christ is our reigning king, bringing all things into subjection to himself, and that we are his servants to this end.

Like the disciples, it's very easy to become focused on irrelevant issues. The disciples were still interested in the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Little did they know that the political state of Israel was about to succumb to Roman power. So also for us, matters of churchmanship, denominational doctrines, social justice issues, church growth, church/state relations...... and the like, all pale before a far greater purpose - to be his witnesses everywhere.

There is a sense where the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are examples of this witness. They tell the story of the Christ; they proclaim him saviour and Lord. This then was the task of the disciples, to testify to Jesus, to proclaim the gospel, and we thank them for their service.

Today, we have the honour of carrying this message to our broken world. There will be times when we can do it personally, but most often we will do it in the support of our local church and its outreach programs, missionary societies, the Bible Society, and the like. We must be ready, willing and able to speak for Jesus, and work to support others in this task.

It is important to add that the disciples were not left to undertake this task in their own power. "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you", then "you will be my witnesses." The gift of the Spirit is a blessing for all believers, and he will support us in our daily service to Jesus.

So, like the sower, let us sow.


In what way does Christ's ascension impinge on us today?