Ascensions are a rare occurrence in the bible, there happening is significant! Enoch was the first person to Ascend,1 Genesis makes it clear that it was a Gracious Act of God, not an act of self. It is not until 2 Kings 2, when Elijah and Elisha are walking along the bank of the Jordan when Chariots of fire descend from heaven to take Elijah to be the Lord, that we see another ascension.2 Enoch was taken by an Act of God and through the Grace of God, Elijah was taken as Elisha was left to the task of getting on with the work.
Today, as we consider the Ascension of Jesus Christ and this scene at the beginning of Acts, we see glimpses of both of these passages in our reading. Glimpses that challenge us to consider just who Jesus is, then command us to get on with what Jesus came to do. Ascensions are rare events in the biblical narratives; thus, they mark a significant moment in the Story of God when they happen. Enoch ascends as the last of one who walked with the Lord, then just two generations after sin are so rampant in the world that God needs to act, and there is only one family worth continuing with – Noah. When Elijah ascends on the chariots of fire, he goes, but his work must go on – Elisha is left to carry on the prophetic ministry of Yahweh.
Jesus ascended that Day, and the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit of God, descended to empower and sustain the work that Christ had started – the building of the Kingdom of God and the proclamation of the Gospel. The Ascension of Jesus is not just a moment where we look up in wonder at what God has done; it is a moment where we lookout as we continue the work of the Kingdom in preparation for the time when Jesus will come again. Thus, today we are challenged to consider that while Christ may have ascended, it does not mean he is absent from the world today, no because as He went up, his Holy Spirit came down to empower the Body of Christ to the work of Christ. We are his Body, and like Elisha, we are called to continue the work.
Acts 1:1-11 NIV
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, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  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 from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
REMEMBER ALL THAT JESUS HAS DONE (1-3)
Every author has a reason for writing, which motivates them to tell their story and publish their research. It could be the epic tail of an adventure, a personsonal experience of injustice, or because they believe the world needs to hear about the thing they have experienced. Every author has a reason for writing, and the biblical authors are no different: The overarching reason for the scriptures is for people to know God and be drawn to him. Additionally, each Gospel account of the life of Jesus has a specific reason behind it: John wrote so that we would know of the wonderful things Jesus did “If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”3 Matthew and Mark wrote so that the early Church would have accounts of the person and work of Jesus and that the generations thereafter would know the truth of who He was and What he does.
Everyone writes for a reason, and Luke – the author of Acts – is no different. We find ourselves at the start of his second volume of work, he reminds us that he “ wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven”4 before diving into his account fo the Life of the Early Church. Why? Because the two are not separate works, but the same work in two parts. The Life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ are the foundation on which the Church (His Body) build on and continue: Thus, the ascension marks not the end of the Kingdom work but its transition from the Head to the Body.
Remember the Gospel (2-3)
From the offset, Luke places Jesus at the centre; the first volume was all about what Jesus began to do and teach, the second seeks to communicate what he continues to do and teach through the ministry of the Apostles as they build the foundations for the early church. Lukes point is clear in these first three verses, in all that the church is called to do and empowered to do by the Holy Spirit, they are to remember the Gospel as they live out the Gospel: The ethic, rhythm and way of the Kingdom remember Christ because they replicate Christ. All the Apostles would depend entirely on what Christ had done for them; all we do depends entirely on what Christ has done for us. Additionally, his way is the model for the mission of God and the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Thus, in all we do, we are to remember what Jesus has done for us; we remember all that he started and taught (1), we remember that what we do is not of our own volition; we are called by God through Grace (2) – its a privilege. We rejoice that what we do is not in our own strength but in through the Strength of God the Holy Spirit, and we proclaim that he died and rose again, of which truth there is much proof (3)! This is the foundation of the Kingdom of God and the work of God’s Kingdom.
WAIT FOR WHAT THE FATHER HAS PROMISED (4-5)
Luke recalls one of the many occasions that Jesus appeared and eat with the disciples, a reminder of the normality of Christ; he rose again in bodily form, and during those forty days, he enjoyed the company of the disciples and all they enjoyed. Thus, while eating food, he tells them they are not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the gift the Father has promised – the Holy Spirit. Jerusalem is the place where it all happened; it does not take someone well versed in Scripture to understand the historical importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people or to the ministry and life of Jesus. In Jerusalem, he died, and in Jerusalem, he rose again, and it would be in Jerusalem where the Disciples would wait for the coming Spirit of God. It would be there that the vision of Joel would be fulfilled:
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. “5
The mention of Jerusalem highlights the significance of Joel’s vision of both the coming of the Holy Spirit and of Salvation “on Mount Zion and In Jerusalem.” Yet, more significantly, it reminds us of the connection between the People of God and this new community of Faith branded by Jesus. The Holy Spirit is both the power of God and the deposit of Faith so that the follower of Christ can be assured of their salvation as they walk the way of Jesus. Furthermore, we are reminded here about the sovereignty of God, he who is in control of all things and working out all things for his Glory and good. Just as the Cross was the plan, so too was this moment in Jerusalem. It was in Jerusalem that Salvation would be wrought and empowered. It would be from Jerusalem where salvation would go to the ends of the world as the people of God – the Body of Christ – carried forth the message of Christ by the power of his Holy Spirt. In Luke 24:49, Jesus had promised the Disciples that they would receive power from on high for the work of God, hence here Luke links that power from on high to the coming of the Holy Spirit that will be realised and connected more fully to the passage from Joel in Acts 2.
Baptised in the Holy Spirt
What are they waiting for? Jesus here gives us a taste of the Pentecost moment to come as he uses the language and imagery of John the Baptist, using the already repeated ‘promise of the Holy Spirit.’ The disciples must wait for the coming Holy Spirit of God because until they have been clothed with that power form on high, they cannot fulfil the commission of God. To be baptised in the Holy Spirit was to be empowered by God to witness to Him and make Him known to the ends of the earth. The Spirit of God will come upon the Apostles of God to make know the Message of God. Luke specifically intends to introduce the Apostles in terms of commission and empowerment by the Holy Spirit, yet the truth stands for each disciple of Jesus. To walk the way of Christ requires the power of the Holy Spirit. We are natural people who live out a supernatural life in the most normal of ways: where God has placed us, by Holy Spirit, we live to Known Christ and make Him Known. It is the Holy Spirit who empowered every action of the Kingdom and who directs the movement fo the Kingdom; whether its a conversation about Jesus with a friend having a difficult time, praying for someone in work, or being kind and Christlike in the Shop – all those Kingdom moments are moments empowered by the Holy Spirit whereby word or deed we seek to make Christ known. What does Jesus mean then? John Piper comments helpfully:
“I think when he says you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, he means you will receive extraordinary power for Christ-exalting ministry. That’s what I think he means. You will receive extraordinary power for Christ-exalting ministry”6
Let us as the people of God minister not in our own strength, but by the power of God as we seek to exalt Christ and make Him known in word and deed.
CALLED TO THE MISSION: EMPOWERED FOR THE MISSION (6-8)
We always want to know. Humanity is always obsessed with having all the answer and then never doing anything about it. With all that the disciples have just witnessed, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and now with the promise of the coming Holy Spirit of the Lord: They want to know – Lord, when will you restore the Kingdom to Israel? Yet, as is often with the disciples will they show the beginnings of understanding; they are yet to fully grasp the reality of this New Kingdom. Their asking seems to assume the restoration of what was, not that beginning of something new and beyond the understanding of humanity; they are awaiting the overthrown of Israel’s oppression and the restoration of the Davidic King line, what they are about to witness is something altogether new.
They long for the Kingdom with Jesus Christ as King, yet their longings are still too earthly, still too short of something that will require the work of God. Hence Jesus responds to them, reminding them that it is not their place to know the times or dates for which this will occur. They have the right longing, with the wrong understanding. Thus, as Jesus continues his response in verse eight, we see that the disciples are challenged to put their eyes to that which will be their new concern and the essence of their life – The mission of God. Jesus again points the disciples to the coming of the Holy Spirit, yet, with the additional revelation that the Apostles will witness about him in all Judea, and Samaria and then even to the ends of the earth. The Disciples question seems concerns with scales and plans for the restoration of Isreal; Jesus response to them shows ambivalence to this notion, not because it is important, but because it is no longer to be their primary concern. They and every disciple who will walk after them have been saved and empowered for a purpose: The Kingdom people are a people no longer concerned with our own concerns but with service, as the Apostles would serve to bring the light of Gods Salvation to the end of the Earth.
The Holy Spirit empowers the people of God for a specific purpose – The mission of God to bring Glory to God. As John Piper called it “Christ-exalting ministry.” The Disciples of Christ in every generation are those who have grasped his beauty and wonder and have responded to it, knowing that in him they have all they need and will ever need: thus, a desire to mark him known. The Holy Spirit works in us to make us more like him, pruning from us the desires and concerns of this world by centring our value and vision on the beauty of Jesus. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit works through us to make Jesus Christ all the more beautiful to the world around us; the mission of God is the outworking of the Holy Spirit in us. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, the world around us will see something of that reason in us – Christ will be exalted not only by our actions but by our faithfulness to him. As followers of Jesus, as we walk his way and live for him, we are a people called to mission, yet, (and thankfully) we are a people empowered for mission by the Presence of God the Holy Spirit. Today, let us know our calling and then live it out in the power of the Holy Spirit.
AS HE GOES UP: WE GO OUT (9-11)
The Apostles are unique among all disciples of Jesus because they are witnesses to the things of Jesus; Luke makes clear at this point the uniqueness of their witnessing. As the disciples witnessed the bodily resurrection of Jesus over forty days, so too now Luke makes clear that they are witnesses to his heavenly resurrection (9,10,11). Over the course of the forty days, Jesus had disappeared only to reappear to the disciples at times and places of his choosing, yet, as Luke writes there here, the is clearly implied a finality to his disappearance. No longer will he be seen among humanity until he comes again in judgement. A finality that seems to be added to by the imagery of the clouds.
Jesu ascend because he has said all that he needed to say, and he has done all that he set out to do. It is not that he is abandoning his work, but transitioning it over to the Apostles and all who will follow after him, “The ascension is the moment of spatial realignment in Acts (cf. 1:1–2a), and Acts as a narrative whole cannot be understood without ongoing reference to the heavenly Christ.”7 Thus, Jesus ascends because the time has come for his people to go out. The Disciples have been trained and equipped; now, they must live out all that Jesus has shown them to make him known to the world when they receive the Spirit. Not on their own strength but dependant on him through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
What a moment of must have been and what it must have left them feeling and thinking. When you consider all that they had experienced with Jesus over the last three years, it culminated at that moment as he ascended through the clouds away from them. Hence, we are left with the image of them staring up and waiting. Yet, it is no longer before God again directs their steps as they are met by two men in white who declare that Christ will come again, but this time only to judge the world. The thrust of the declaration is about the imperative of the mission – the Apostles, and all after them have been given their task. Thus, they do not have time to sit about and wait. They will be empowered for the Mission of God, so they must go and receive that Spirit and then live out that which has Christ has called them to. Additionally, when each new person repents of their sin and gives their life to Christ, they join the cause of Christ by the same Spirit. Each of us is called by God, saved by God and then equipped by the Holy Spirit of God to make known the beauty of God in the world.
The Messengers here speak about the finality of the return of Christ. He will come again to judge the earth. As he died and rose, so he will come again – so let us get to the task of the mission with the certainty of the coming Christ and make sure we make him known. Furthermore, much could be written at this point specifically about the ascension of Jesus, but what it does here is act as a mark. To follow Jesus and be his disciple from this point moves from being an act of sight to an act of faith, for all who will join the Apostles in their cause will never have set their eyes upon Jesus, yet, to them, he will be no less real. Additionally, Jesus had to ascend permanently so that the Holy Spirit could descend and mediate his Lordship and rule in the life of all the believers – the Body of Christ. Jesus had to depart permanently so that the Holy Spirit could remain and empower us to the cause of God. Finally, the ascension gives us a glimpse of what is ahead for all who place their trust in Christ, for where he goes, we will follow. Christ ascended in bodily form, making clear that the saving work of humanity is done and that for all who place their trust in him where he dwells with God, so too will they. The Ascension is the validation of the saving work of the Cross. Yet, we do not remain to wait like the disciples; today, like them, we get on with the work of making him Known in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Ascension reminds us (via the messengers) that Jesus will come again, but until he does, the people of God have work to do making him Known. What is the purpose of the Christian life? To witness to the resurrected Jesus who rules and reigns from Heaven, empowered by the same Holy Spirt who empowered his ministry until he comes again. So let’s get on with the work.
CONCLUSION: LET US CONTINUE THE WORK
Much could be said from this passage, and that is often the wonderful thing from the Scriptures that we can come back to it time and time again and hear the same truths applied in different ways and seasons. Yet, today our challenge is clear. In this season of disruption, as we navigate the choppy waters of covid, we exist with one purpose – to make known the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We continue the work that has been ongoing in every faithful generation of the church because the Same Holy Spirit that the Apostles received we have all received. We are commissioned to the mission!
This commission remains true in every season and context of life, now it does not remove from us the difficulties of the moment, in our day this is covid, yet the call remains the same – we tell the world to look to Christ because in him they will find all that they need. All the moment does is highlight the beauty of knowing Jesus all the more as the chaos of this age reveals the folly of trusting in created things and not the creator. Christ has ascended, and Like Elisha to Elijah, we have received the baton and carry on this mission to make known the hope of God that is ours through the cross, to advance the Kingdom of God in this world. A Kingdom that is Spiritual in its nature, international in its citizenship, and gradual in its expansion as we follow the direction of the Holy Spirit to proclaim it in all places to all people. The Holy Spirit comes not as the passive presence of God but the empowering presence – equipping the Body of Christ to continue the work of Christ in the world. We exist to know him and make him known, wherever we are and whatever we face. So today, let us live out the mission that we have been called to, empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit to advance the Kingdom of God, whether it’s through sharing about Jesus with a friend or someone we meet or simply acting out kindness or love because of our faith. Each little moment for the Kingdom is for the King empowered by the Holy Spirit; it is only ours to delight in the mission in the certainty that as he ascended so, he will return. A moment when everything that has been wronged will be made right when all that is broken will be restored, and that when death and sin will be no more. As the Spirit came, so we go so as Disciples of Jesus let us carry on with the mission until he comes again.
- When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus, all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 5:21–24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles. ↩
- As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.
The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., 2 Ki 2:11–12). London: Hodder & Stoughton. ↩
- The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Jn 21:25). London: Hodder & Stoughton.” ↩
- The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Ac 1:1–2). London: Hodder & Stoughton. ↩
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Joe 2:28–32). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles. ↩
- https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-the-baptism-of-the-holy-spirit ↩
- Schnabel, E. J. (2012). Acts (Expanded Digital Edition, Ac 1:9). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. ↩