Harmony of the Gospels

 HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS

(12) The Ascension

Scripture: Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24: 50-53


Tom Lowe

12/6/2008

 

The glorious Ascension not only concludes The Gospel of Luke but provides a bridge to Luke’s sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, which begins with the Ascension.  In fact, just as Luke addressed his Gospel to Theophileus by saying, “it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophileus,” he later began the book of Acts by saying, “In my former book, 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” (Acts 1:1, 2).  And then in Acts he greatly expanded on the brief description of the Ascension with which he had concluded His gospel.


Date: 40 days after Christ’s resurrection
Location: Mount of Olives 
Scripture

 

Luke 24.50-53  And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.


Mark 16.19, 20  So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.


LUKE

Luke 24:50 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.

And he led them out as far as to Bethany,   The ascension of Christ occurred forty days after His resurrection, near Bethany; a village on the southeastern slopes of the MOUNT OF OLIVES about two miles east of Jerusalem near the road to Jericho. Bethany was the scene of some of the most important events of Jesus’ ministry. It was the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus and the place where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). During Jesus’ final week, He spent at least one night in Bethany (Matt. 21:17[1]). At Bethany Jesus was anointed by Mary in the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6–13).

We are not told why Jesus chose this spot as His departure point for His return to heaven, but that is where He had certainly done some well-known services for His Father’s glory, and there He entered upon the path to His glory. The garden in which His sufferings began was there, and there He agonized over His coming trials. It was the prophet Zechariah who announced that the Mount of Olives was selected long ago for the place of Christ’s ascension: “His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives …” (Zechariah 14:4). And here, just awhile ago, He began His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

He led the apostles out of Jerusalem as far as to Bethany.

And he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.  What was the farewell He gave them: He lifted up His hands, and blessed (see table 1) them. He probably laid His hands on their heads, since this was the ordinary way in which the paternal blessing was given, See Genesis 48:8-20. He did not go away in displeasure, but in love; He left a blessing behind him; He lifted up His hands, as the high priest did when He blessed the people; see Lev. 9:22[2]. He blessed like a person with authority would; He blessed them like Jacob blessed His sons.

The apostles were now acting as the representatives of the twelve tribes, so that in blessing them He blessed all of His spiritual Israel, and put His Father’s name upon them. And He gave them the assurance of His goodwill, and entrusted them to the protection and guidance of God, in the dangers, trials, and conflicts which they were to meet in a sinful and miserable world. He blessed them the same as Moses blessed the tribes, when He went to be with the Lord, to show that, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

Table 1—Blessed

BLESS, BLESSING — the act of declaring, or wishing, favor and goodness upon others. The blessing is not only the good effect of words; it also has the power to bring them to pass. In the Bible, important persons blessed those with less power or influence. The patriarchs pronounced benefits upon their children, often near their own deaths (Gen. 49:1–28). Even if spoken by mistake, once a blessing was given it could not be taken back (Gen. 27:33).

Leaders often blessed people, especially when getting ready to leave them. These included Moses (Deuteronomy 33), Joshua (22:6–7), and Jesus (Luke 24:50). Equals could bless each other by being friendly (Gen. 12:3). One can also bless God, showing gratitude to Him (Deut. 8:10) in songs of praise (Ps. 103:1–2).

God also blesses people by giving life, riches, fruitfulness, or plenty (Gen. 1:22, 28). His greatest blessing is turning us from evil (Acts 3:25–26) and forgiving our sins (Rom. 4:7–8).

Cases of the opposite of blessing, or cursing, are often cited in the Bible (Deut. 27:11–26). Although the natural reaction to a curse is to curse back, Christians are called to bless—to ask for the person’s benefit (Matt. 5:44).


Luke 24:51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.

And it came to pass, while he blessed them.   How did He leave them: While he was blessing them, he was parted from them? It is not like He was taken away before He had said all He had to say, but His leaving them during His blessing was an indication that His being parted from them did not put an end to His blessing them, because the intercession which He went to heaven to make for all His is a continuation of the blessing. He began to bless them on earth, but He went to heaven to go on with it. Christ was now sending His apostles to preach His gospel to the world, and He gives them His blessing, not for themselves only, but to be conferred in His name upon all that would believe on him through their giving out the word; for in him all the families of the earth were to be blessed

He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.  His ascension (see table 2) was in His physical bodily form, and Acts 1:11 assures us that “this same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Christ’s return will not be of a secret spiritual nature as some cults suppose, but He will return bodily. The bodily presence of Christ himself was not expected to always be in this world.

He was not carried up into heaven by force, but by His own plan and power. As He ascended, He was attended by angels. There was no need for a chariot of fire, or horses of fire; He knew the way, and, since He was the Lord from heaven, He could go back by himself. He ascended in a cloud, as the angel did, who was in the smoke of Manoah’s sacrifice (Judges 13:20[3]).

Probably, it was very early in the morning, before people were stirring, when He ascended, because He never showed himself openly to all the people after His resurrection, but only to chosen witnesses. The disciples did not see him rise out of the grave, because His resurrection was capable of being proved by their seeing him alive afterwards; but they did see him ascend into heaven, because they could not otherwise have a visible demonstration of His ascension. They were led by Christ to the Mount of Olives on purpose, to see him ascend, and when He did, they were watching.

Table 2—ASCENSION OF CHRIST

DEF.— THE DRAMATIC DEPARTURE OF THE RISEN CHRIST FROM HIS EARTHLY, BODILY MINISTRY AMONG HIS FOLLOWERS.

Since His birth in Bethlehem by the miracle of the INCARNATION, Christ had lived physically on earth. But 40 days after the resurrection, His earthly ministry ceased with His ascension into heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50–51; Acts 1:9–11). To a large extent the ascension was for the benefit of Jesus’ followers. They could no longer expect His physical presence. They must now wait for the promised Holy Spirit through whom the work of Jesus would continue.
Jesus’ departure into heaven was a bodily ascension in His resurrection body. Stephen and Paul both reported seeing Jesus in bodily form after His ascension (Acts 7:56; 9:27; 1 Cor. 15:8).

The ascension marked the beginning of Christ’s intercession for His followers at the right hand of God. There He makes continual intercession for all believers (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14; 6:20; 7:25). Although Christ is not physically present with His people today, He is no less concerned for them or less active on their behalf. Christians enjoy peace, hope, and security because Christ is their advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1).

The ascension set in motion the coming of the Holy Spirit with His gifts for believers (John 14:16–18, 26; 16:7–15; Acts 2:23; Eph. 4:11–12). God determined that the presence of Jesus would be replaced by the presence of the Holy Spirit, who could be everywhere at the same time. Jesus’ followers now enjoy the presence of the Spirit and the operation of the Spirit’s gifts through them.

One additional result of the ascension is that Jesus began His heavenly reign at the right hand of the Father (1 Cor. 15:20–28). This reign will last until His SECOND COMING, when He will return to the earth as the reigning Messiah (Acts 3:20–21).

Finally, the ascension of Christ is the pledge of His Second Coming: “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus will return to earth in bodily form just as He ascended into heaven.

 

Luke 24:52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:

And they worshipped him.   Jesus is entitled to worship only because He is Almighty God, the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe, and after His assention His disciples continued their worship of Him as they returned to Jerusalem. It was to signify that despite the fact that He was going into a far country, yet they would continue to be His loyal subjects, and that they were willing to have him reign over them. They knew that though He was parted from them, yet He could, and did, take notice of their adorations of him; the cloud that received him out of their sight did not put them or their services out of His sight.

The word worship does not always denote religious homage. Sometimes it may be used to signify the great respect or adoration of one person for another, as was pointed out by Jesus in Luke 14:10—“But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.” But here it should be pointed out:
1. That they offered this worship to an absent Savior. It was after He left them and had vanished out of their sight. It was therefore an act of religion, and was the first religious homage that was paid to Jesus after He had left the world.
2. If they worshipped an absent Savior—a Savior unseen by the bodily eye, then it is right for us to do it. It was an example which we may and should follow.
3. If worship may be rendered to Jesus, He is divine. (See Exodus 20:4, 5[4]).

And returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  They were ordered to stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit was poured out upon them, and they went there “with great joy”, even though it was into the mouth of danger. And there they waited “with great joy.” This was a wonderful change for them, and it had the effect of opening their understandings. When Christ told them that He must leave them sorrow filled their hearts; however, now that they had seen him go they are filled with joy, being convinced at last that it was expedient for them and for the church that He should go away, to send the Comforter. Note, The glory of Christ is the joy, the exceeding joy, of all true believers, even while they are here in this world; how much more joyful will they be when they go to the new Jerusalem, and find him there in His glory.

The question some may ask is “Why did they have this great joy?” Shouldn’t they have mourned the loss of a true Friend? They knew better.  They had lost nothing and had gained much.  Among the reasons for their great joy may well have been the following:
a. They had had Jesus with them for a while.  They were going to have him with them forever, namely, in the spirit.  That was, in fact, a promise he had made to them (Matthew 28: 20[5]).
b. They knew, therefore, that they had been commissioned to carry out a great task, the spread of the gospel, and that they were about to receive the power to shoulder it.
c. They had received the promise of his glorious return at the end of the age (Acts 1:11[6]).
d. Shouldn't we also add this reason for their great joy, namely, that they rejoiced in his joy, in his exultation?

For the next ten days, they spent a lot of time in the temple praising and blessing God. Luke’s Gospel opened with devout believers at the temple, praying for the long-expected Messiah. It closes at the same place with devout believers praising and blessing God for answered prayer and for accomplished redemption. The Gospel of Luke begins by announcing good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people (Luke 2:10[7]), and it ends with disciples who are filled with great joy.

Luke 24:53 And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

And were continually in the temple.   They attended the temple-service at the hours of prayer. They were continually in the temple, as their Master was when He was at Jerusalem, until the day of Pentecost-that is, about ten days after Christ’s assention. See Acts 2:1-47.  The temple was one of the first meeting places for this new religion. Some think that they made a few of the chambers of the temple, which belonged to a Levite who was a secrete disciple, their meeting place; but others think it is not likely that this could be concealed from, or would be connived at by, the chief priests and rulers of the temple.

Praising and blessing God.   Primarily for the full proof that the Messiah had come; had redeemed them, and had ascended to heaven. "Thus the days of their mourning were ended." They were filled with happiness at the assurance of redemption, and expressed what every Christian should feel—fullness of joy at the glad tidings that a Savior has died, and risen, and ascended to God. And they had an earnest desire to offer-up prayers and thanksgivings to the God of grace for His mercy to a lost and ruined world.

Note: While we are waiting for God’s promises we must go forth to meet them with our praises. Praising and blessing God is work that is never out of season: and nothing better prepares the mind for the receiving of the Holy Ghost than holy joy and praise. Fears are silenced, sorrows sweetened and allayed, and hopes kept up.

Amen.  The amen that concludes Luke’s gospel seems to be added by the church and every believer to the reading of the gospel, signifying an assent to the truths of the gospel, and a hearty agreement with all the disciples of Christ in praising and blessing God. Amen. Let him be continually praised and blessed.

 

MARK

MARK IS MORE CONCISE THAN ANY OF THE OTHER EVANGELISTS. IN MOST INSTANCES HIS ACCOUNT COINCIDES WITH LUKE'S, THOUGH HE HAS ADDED SOME CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LUKE HAD OMITTED.

Mark 16:19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven.  I don’t believe that any of the gospel writers has told us everything that our Lord said as He bid farewell to His apostles. We do know that He commissioned them to take the gospel to the world. He also instructed them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come to them. And then, after the Lord finished speaking, He was taken up into heaven in a cloud, there to appear in the presence of God for us. (See Acts 1:9[8]). He did not fade away from sight, but a cloud came as a veil between him and the eyes of the gazing disciples.

Note: The cloud that “hid” him was the Shekinah, a visible representation of the pleasure and presence of God.  This was the same luminous presence that Moses had encountered on Sinai when God covered him and he saw its afterglow.  It was the same cloud that traveled before Israel by day and appeared as a pillar of fire at night.  It was the cloud that lay over the tabernacle and filled the temple.  It was the glorious cloud that Ezekiel saw depart over the east gate.  It was the same shimmering presence that surrounded Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration when his face shone forth like the sun.

The disciples remained transfixed as the Shekinah moved further away. They were looking 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).

And sat on the right hand of God.  Jesus’ earthly ministry was completed. He came into the world for the specific purpose of redeeming humankind from the curse of sin through His own death on the cross. Jesus had told His disciples while debating with the members of the Sanhedrin, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Take the highest position in heaven until I put your enemies under your control’” (Mark 12:36). Jesus clearly knew His rightful place with His Father. Even before His death, He knew His final appointment would return Him to the very throne from which He was sent into the world.

Forty days after His resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. This is the place of honor and of power.

We are not to suppose that God has hands, or that Jesus sits in any particular direction from God. This phrase was a figure of speech that would have been understood by the apostles to mean that He was exalted to a place of honor and power in the heavens. It was revered as the place of the highest honor to be seated at the right hand of a prince. So, to be seated at the right hand of God, means only that Jesus is exalted to the highest honor in the universe. “Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:20-22).

Mark 16:20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

And they went forth, and preached every where.  In obedience to His command, the disciples went forth like flaming fires, preaching the gospel and winning men to the Savior. They worked diligently for him; they went forth, and preached every where far and near. Although the doctrine they preached was spiritual and heavenly, it was directly contrary to the spirit and intellect of the world. It met with an abundance of opposition, and was utterly lacking of any worldly support, yet the preachers of the gospel of Christ were neither afraid nor ashamed; they were so industrious in spreading the gospel, that within a few years it went forth into the ends of the earth. “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18). The Acts of the Apostles is the history of their preaching. It should be studied to see how the Apostles understood and preached the Commission of the Lord. The Commission of Christ is to His Church; its field is the world; its work is to preach the gospel; its congregation embraces every creature; its offer is a free and full salvation; the conditions of salvation are faith in Christ, and obedience to him; the consequence of rejecting Christ's salvation is eternal condemnation.

The Lord working with them, and confirming[9]  the word with signs following. Amen.  This co-operation between the Lord and His apostles was twofold, internal and external. Internally, it illuminated their minds, convincing them of the truth, and bolstering them in it. Externally, it conveyed their word to the souls that heard it, by the actions of the Holy Ghost; convincing them of sin, righteousness, and judgment; justifying them by His blood, and sanctifying them by His Spirit. Still today, this co-operation with God is indispensably necessary, because without it no man can be a successful preacher; and no soul can be saved.

The power of the Lord was with them, and the evidence of it was that the promised signs accompanied their preaching, confirming the word they spoke. “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Hebrews 2:4). God Himself authenticated the message by signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Signs were those miracles of the Lord and of the apostles which signified spiritual truths. For example, the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1–14) formed the basis of the discourse on the Bread of Life which followed (John 6:25–59). Wonders were miracles which were intended to arouse amazement in the spectators; the raising of Lazarus illustrates this (John 11:1–44). Miracles were any displays of supernatural power which breach the laws of nature. Gifts of the Holy Spirit were special enablements given to men to speak and act in a manner that was completely beyond their natural abilities.

The purpose of all these miracles was to attest to the truth of the gospel, especially to the Jewish people, who traditionally asked for some sign before they would believe. There is some evidence that the need of confirmatory miracles ceased when the New Testament became available in written form. But it is impossible to prove conclusively that the Holy Spirit never duplicates these miracles in other ages.

So, it is a fact that God used miracles at the hands of the apostles to get peoples attention, but also to serve as the man of God’s credentials, that is, it was proof that he was who he said he was. The phrase “with signs following” has another meaning for us to consider. It also refers to what followed the preaching of the gospel—the reformation of the world, the destruction of idolatry, the conversion of sinners, the comfort of saints; and these signs still follow it.

 

It is Finished

Here the narrative ends—with Christ in heaven, with a few committed disciples on earth burdened for world evangelization and giving themselves entirely to it, and with results of eternal consequences.

We are entrusted with the Great Commission in our generation. Our task is to reach every person with the gospel. One-half of all the people who have ever lived are living today. As the population explodes, the task increases. But the method is always the same —devoted disciples with unlimited love for Christ who count no sacrifice too great for Him.

The will of God is the evangelization of the world. What are we doing about it?

 

________________________Scripture Reference_______________________________

  [1]And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there. 

  [2]“And Aaron lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them…”

  [3]For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.

  [4]“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” Not only the worship of idols but their manufacture is forbidden. This includes pictures, images, and statues used in worship.

  [5]“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” They would not go forth alone or unaided. In all their service and travel, they would know the companionship of the Son of God. 

  [6]“Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Here we have a clear promise of the Lord’s Second Advent to set up His kingdom on the earth. It is not the Rapture, but the coming to reign that is in view.

  [7]And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

  [8]And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

  [9]Confirming the word means showing it to be the word of God, or a revelation from heaven.

Do you have any questions or comments?

 The years of preretirement can be challenging. Sometimes there is a feeling of being caught between the retirees and the “younger” generation. Ironically, though, this can be one of the most rewarding stages of life. The Japanese seem to understand this reality because they classify fifty-five to retirement as the “age of fruition.” It can be a time of reaping the rewards of earlier work while using the wisdom of experience to be extremely productive.

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