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Sermon on the Mount
#112. Ascension (Luke 24:50-53 with Acts 1:9-11)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken (Greek analambano) from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
This is the last lesson in our JesusWalk series -- three final verses in Luke. At first glance they may seem pretty straightforward, but they contain one of the New Testament's only accounts of Jesus' ascension. At the same time we'll consider Luke's other account of the ascension in Acts 1:9-11. I don't know about you, but I've never really studied the ascension in any depth. Let's ponder it -- and its implications for disciples -- this week.
Blessing the Disciples (24:50)
"When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them." (24:50)
Jesus has been leading his band of disciples for three years. Now he leads them out of the city of Jerusalem, down into the Kidron Valley, and up the Mount of Olives to a location near Bethany. They had often been to Bethany. Jesus' friends -- Lazarus, Martha, and Mary -- lived there. But now they come for a different purpose.
Jesus says a few words, reminding them to stay in the Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon them (Acts 1:8). Then he lifts (Greek epairo) his hands and blesses them, much like a priest would bless the people. Two passages illuminate this act:
"Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them" (Leviticus 9:22). God had given Aaron and his descendents a special blessing or benediction (literally "good saying" in Latin) to speak over the people, which begins, "The Lord bless you and keep you...." God's instruction concludes: "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them" (Numbers 6:27).
A second passage which sheds light on Jesus' blessing is from the Apocryphal book of Sirach:
"Then Simon came down and raised his hands
over the whole congregation of Israelites,
to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his lips,
and to glory in his name;
and they bowed down in worship a second time,
to receive the blessing from the Most High." (Sirach 50:20-21; NRSV)
"Blessed" in our passage is the Greek verb eulogeo, "to ask for bestowal of special favor, especially of calling down God's gracious power, bless." We also see blessings by other spiritual leaders upon their final leave-taking -- Jacob (Genesis 49) and Moses (Deuteronomy 33) bless the 12 Tribes. Now Jesus blesses the New Testament equivalent of the 12 Tribes -- the 12 Apostles and their fellow disciples.
Notice how Jesus' hands are used in blessing. When Jesus heals the sick (certainly an act of blessing), he often lays his hands upon the sufferer. When little children come to him, he takes them in his arms, "put his hands on them and blessed them" (Mark 10:16). But when he blesses a group of people, he lifts his hands as if to encompass them all, and offers a blessing. I would love to know the words of blessing Jesus offered on this occasion! (For more on the use of hands in blessing, see my article "Lifting Hands in Worship," Paraclete, Winter 1986, pp. 4-8. www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/hands.htm).
Ascending into Heaven (24:51)
"While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven." (24:51)
While this blessing is taking place, two additional actions are occurring, represented by two verbs. "Left" (NIV) or "was parted" (KJV) translates the Greek verb diistemi, "to move from, separate from, or take leave of, go away, part." The word "taken up" (NIV) or "carried up" (KJV), the Greek verb anaphero, "to cause to move from a lower position to a higher, take, lead, bring up." But two other aspects of this particular verb are interesting: (1) The verb is in the passive voice, which means that this happened to Jesus, he doesn't initiate the action. And (2) the verb is in the imperfect tense, which indicates continued action in the past tense. So Luke is emphasizing the process of the ascension, and might be translated "he was being taken up into heaven." Minor points, yes, but interesting.
Interesting because we have absolutely no clue to what this was really like. Was it some sort of levitation like one of those portable flying devices? We don't know. This is one of those unrepeatable events that can't be studied by comparing it to other examples. The only thing in the Bible remotely close is the ascension of Elijah in a whirlwind and a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). But there's no chariot or whirlwind here.
Why did Jesus rise up to heaven? Is heaven up? Certainly people in Biblical times viewed the heavens as the abode of God. But heaven seems to be more than a geographical or astrographical location. It is another sphere, another dimension from the earthly, physical dimension we live in. While Jesus' resurrection body had the ability to adapt to the physical demands of earth, it was not limited to earth. It could adapt to the spiritual dimension as well (1 Corinthians 15:44).
While many passages allude to the ascension, only two other passages attempt to describe it. The first is in the longer ending of Mark: "After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up (Greek analambano) into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19). However, this does not occur in the earliest texts and is probably a later addition. The other reference is from Luke's pen in Acts 1.
Coming with the Clouds of Heaven (Acts 1:9-11)
"After he said this, he was taken up (Greek epairo, Aorist tense, passive voice) before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." (Acts 1:9)
Here we have three additional elements. First element is that the disciples observe him rising. He doesn't just disappear, but first begins to rise. The Greek verb epairo means, "raise." The second element mentions that a cloud hides him from sight. The third element is a pair of angels who announce, "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
How does Jesus ascend into heaven? Into a cloud. Then how will he return? In a cloud. As Jesus relates the end-time events, he says, "At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27).
Now bear with me, as I explore this a bit further, since in the Luke 21:27 passage Jesus is alluding to the prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man receives great power and glory.
Jesus Entry into the Heavenly Throneroom -- in a Cloud (with Daniel 7:13-14)
Now look at the prophecy in Daniel that Jesus has referred to:
"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 peoples, nations and men 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)
Daniel's vision uses the phrase, "coming with the clouds of heaven." I would ask: Coming where? Does it talk about (1) coming to earth or (2) coming into the presence of the Ancient of Days -- the Father? The latter, I believe. The Son of Man is coming with the clouds of heaven on his way into the presence of the Father.
Perhaps Jesus is, at the moment of his ascension from the disciples, going directly into the presence of the Father's throne room in immediate fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy! Wow! I had never really thought about that before.
This is a three-part drama.
- Jesus ascending from earth to heaven (Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9-11).
- Jesus entering the heavenly throneroom as the exalted Son of God and receiving all authority, where "from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of God" (Luke 22:69)
- Jesus returning in a cloud at his Second Coming "with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27).
Is your head spinning yet? Mine is. But re-read the passages again and connect the dots. Perhaps you'll see what I see.
The Ascension of Jesus as Jesus' Exaltation
Let's examine the two portions of Jesus' ascension:
- Jesus ascends into heaven from the Mount of Olives
- In heaven Jesus is exalted by the Father.
A number of New Testament passages mention the ascension (without describing it):
- "As the time approached for him to be taken up (analempsis) to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51).
- "But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God" (Luke 22:69).
- "Jesus said, 'Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned (Greek anabaino, "ascended") to the Father' " (John 20:17).
- "... Christ Jesus, who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Romans 8:34).
- "This is why it says: 'When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men' " (Ephesians 4:8-10, quoting Psalm 68:18; see also Romans 10:6).
- "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow..." (Philippians 2:9-10).
- "He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up (Greek analambano) in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16).
- "After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven" (Hebrews 1:3).
- "We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God" (Hebrews 4:14).
- "[This hope] enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf" (Hebrews 6:19).
- "He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence" (Hebrews 9:24).
- "... Who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand -- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him" (1 Peter 3:22; cf. Psalm 110:1).
In John's Gospel this is referred to as Jesus' glorification:
- "Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified" (John 7:39).
- Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him" (John 12:16).
- "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (John 12:23)
- "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once" (John 13:31-32)
- "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (John 17:5).
As Jesus ascends from the earth into heaven, he is ascending directly into the presence of the Almighty Father. As the Son of Man he appears before the Ancient of Days to receive an unshakable Kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14), reinstatement of his former glory (John 17:5), of which he had voluntarily "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7). Now it is fully restored.
From man's viewpoint the ascension is the phenomenon of a man rising into the sky. From the angel's viewpoint, the ascension is the Son of Man returning home to great power and glory.
As the Apostles Creed puts it: "The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead."
Great Joy (24:52-53)
Imagine yourself being one of the disciples observing this from earth's perspective. You are in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, receive his last command (wait in Jerusalem) and his last blessing. And as his hands are raised in that final blessing he ascends until a cloud hides him from site. You are overcome. Observe the four ways the disciples react to the ascension in these verses:
"Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." (24:52-53)
- Worship . You may not have noticed, but for the first time in Luke's Gospel, Jesus is worshipped. Though doubting Thomas worships in John's Gospel with the words "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). "Worshiped" in our passage is the Greek verb proskuneo. This word designates "to express in attitude or gesture one's complete dependence on or submission to a higher authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully."
- Joy . The disciples also respond with "great joy!" Rather than sadness at his departing, they are overcome with exhilaration.
- Praise . The disciples' third reaction that Luke mentions is praise in the temple courts. "Praising" is the same Greek verb eulogeo which we saw in verses 50 and 51, where the context required a translation of "call down God's gracious power, bless." Here, directed toward God, it the context requires the meaning, "to speak well of, praise, extol."
- Obedience . Finally, the disciples respond by remaining in Jerusalem, during the day in the temple courts. When, about a week later, the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, their obedient waiting is rewarded with the power and presence of the Spirit.
The Return of Jesus in the Clouds (Acts 1:11)
The Gospel of Luke concludes with joy, victory, and anticipation. In Luke's account in Acts, as Jesus disappears from sight, two angels stand beside them with an explanation:
"They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.' " (Acts 1:10-11)
He has ascended into heaven to be glorified. But here is the promise that he will return in glory "in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" -- that is, in the clouds. Now we recall Jesus' prophecy:
"For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done" (Matthew 16:27).
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30).
Jesus' ascension "in the clouds" is an indicator and precursor of his return.
Lessons for Disciples
- While Jesus' physical presence is gone, his blessing upon his followers remains.
- They respond in worship, great joy, obedience, and praise.
- Jesus disappears into the clouds, but angels declare his return in the same way.
We have traced Jesus' life and ministry from the beginnings up to this conclusion. Jesus is alive. He ascends on high and is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father. Now his followers now await the Spirit with joy and expectation. And the Jesus' ministry of setting the captive free and preaching good news to the poor is about to be released in a very needy, hungry world. And until he comes, we will be continue this ministry he has begun in us. Come soon, Lord Jesus.
Jesus, put within my heart afresh that joy and exhilaration in you, that joyful heart that is my possession as your follower. And give me the firmness and boldness to spread the joy until you come. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.
"He lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven." (Luke 24:50-51)
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- What was Jesus' last act before he ascended? (24:50-51).
- What hides Jesus from the disciples' view? (Acts 1:9).
- Extra Credit. How do clouds relate to Daniel's prophecy of the Son of Man? (Daniel 7:13-14).
- What happens to Jesus when he ascends to his Father's presence in heaven? (Philippians 2:5-11)
- How do Jesus' disciples respond to his ascension? (24:52)
- What is the content of the angels' promise at Jesus' ascension? (Acts 1:10-11)
Common Abbreviations www.jesuswalk.com/faq/abbreviations.htm
- BDAG 408.
- BDAG 245.
- BDAG 75.
- Kevin N. Giles, "Ascension," DJG, pp. 46-50. David E. Holwerda, "Ascension," ISBE 1:310-313.
- BDAG 882-883.
- BDAG 407-408.
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- Names and Titles of God
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- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
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- Sermon on the Mount
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