Acts 1:9-11 – The Ascension of Jesus

The Ascension of Jesus strikes me as an undervalued event in the teaching of the Protestant church. We do a great job on the death and resurrection of Jesus, especially around Easter, but rarely do we reflect much on the Ascension. There is an “Ascension Sunday” in liturgical calendars, but most Protestant churches do not make too much of the Ascension in our post-Easter worship.

The Ascension of Jesus

It is a bit of a surprise to find out that the Ascension is not found in Matthew or John and only appears in the longer ending of Mark. The last few verses of Luke mention the Ascension in anticipation of the longer telling of the story in Acts 1. The Ascension functions in the story of Luke-Acts the climax of everything Jesus taught about himself and his role as messiah, but also as an anticipation of the direction of the narrative plot of Acts, but also the theology of Acts.

With respect to the narrative development of the book, the message that Jesus is the Messiah will be preached in the next chapter, starting in Jerusalem, but ultimately the message will go to “the ends of the world.” Acts 28 concludes the book with Paul in a synagogue in Rome, still giving witness to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah.

With respect to theology, the Ascension is critically important for Luke’s Christology. As Keener points out, this event is anticipated as early as Luke 9:51 (an allusion to his being “taken up.” This is a rare word (ἀνάλημψις), only used here in the New Testament or the LXX, but it is used for a similar even in the Assumption of Moses and in Testament of Levi 18.3 to describe the rising of a “new priest” who will judge the Earth. This person is “like a star” and he will shall take away all darkness from under heaven, and there shall be peace in all the earth.”

The Ascension is also important for Luke’s view of the future. The departure of Jesus anticipates the way he will return, as the angelic messages state in Acts 1:11. I think that the pattern Luke has in mind here is drawn from Ezekiel 10 and 11. There the prophet sees the Glory of God depart from the temple to the east, stopping on a mountain to the east of the Temple before ascending to heaven (11:22-23). After the Glory of God has departed, Ezekiel is told that there will be no more delay, the city will fall and the long exile will begin.

By describing the Ascension as he does in Acts 1, Luke is calling attention to the fact that Jesus is the Glory of God and that his departure signals the continuation of the long exile of Israel. But like Ezekiel, there is a promise that the Glory of God will return to Israel again and he will “restore the kingdom.”

What are some other ways the Ascension functions as a part of  Luke’s theology of Jesus? Looking ahead in Acts, what else does this important event anticipate?

21 thoughts on “Acts 1:9-11 – The Ascension of Jesus

  1. We often discuss and focus on the future coming back of Christ because of it’s anticipated implications. We interpret that Jesus’ descension means the beginning of end times. Which is controversial, yet is doctrine that many Christians are naturally attracted to talking about. But what about the ascension of Christ? There are some tremendously significant implications that result from this event. Without the ascension there is no descension. This event even impacts some details of what we understand about the descenion; “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 1:11). Also, the ascension enables the Holy Spirit coming to dwell among believers. John 16:7 states, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you”. For the Holy Spirit to come to come down at Pentecost, Jesus first needed to leave. Acknowledging that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is necessary to receive salvation and live a Christian life, the ascension of Jesus Christ is quite the significant event.

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  2. I absolutely love that Jesus is bigger than us. In our current day and age it is so easy to create an individualistic viewpoint on Jesus Christ. When we hear that Jesus died for you, it is true, and yet he is so much more than just that. The fulfillment he was to Israel and the promise he made to return and restore Israel is just incredible. So when Luke uses Jesus’ ascension as a springboard for Acts, it is a reminder that Jesus is not a one and done deal. He is the foundation, the truth to which all of Acts sits on; the truth that we as Christians should all rest on. That is why in V.6 they ask Jesus if he was going to restore the kingdom at that time. The disciples realized that Jesus was the light, the truth, and the fulfillment of Israel. This ascension marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but marks the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the start to the early church. Luke starts Acts well in marking that Jesus is the foundation,and that all the “acts” in this book are only because of Jesus Christ, what he has done, and what he has promised to do in the future. Through these first 11 verses in Acts, Luke lays the groundwork for the entire ministry of the church.

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  3. While reading through Acts 1 I actually paused when I read verse 9-11. I kind of imagined what it would be like to actually witness Jesus coming back from the sky on a white horse robe dipped in blood with his sword. The image of Jesus ascending is hard to imagine without some sort of cartoon imagery coming into my head thinking of him floating or perhaps flying like Peter Pan or Superman. As you have said in your lectures on this before it does seem as though the Apostles that witnessed this even would have been standing there dumbfounded with their mouths open. To see something that amazing and never done before would have been hard to believe even with witnessing it with my own eyes.

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  4. Given that when a Roman Emperors (son of god) died, he ascended to become a god, is it not possible that many new Gentile Christian hearers/readers in the Roman world would compare the ascension of Jesus with this wide-spread belief? That is, the one who has set up a Kingdom counter to Caesar’s kingdom (namely Jesus) had “ascended”—just like an Emperor’s apotheosis? For example, from the Arch of Titus in Rome — Titus is “riding” toward the heavenly realm on the back of an eagle (= apotheosis of Titus?) http://holylandphotos.org/browse.asp?s=1,269,270,403&img=YRMAT09 Or consider coins depicting the comet of Julius Caesar—ascending to become a god.

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    • Yes, this is always a possibility, one problem for “reading Acts” is whether to favor the Jewish background (so the Elijah or Moses ascension to heaven) or Greco-Roman (so the ascension of an emperor). Someone could argue plausibly one way or the other, and Luke certainly has the literary skill to evoke either images in the minds of his readers.

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  5. The Ascension of Jesus to heaven is a key event in the Bible that takes place and as Dr. P Long stated it is one that really does not receive the value and praise that it deserves. I try to think back of times when I was taught about Jesus’s death and resurrection and there are so many teachings on that but after the resurrection I do not remember much being said about the ascension which is the climax event. The ascension is not highlighted enough in teachings and this gives the sense that it is almost not as important. I think that this is so important because it is when Jesus leaves his mission on earth and sends the Holy Spirit as a guide for those left on earth to spread the word to the nations. Being aware that Jesus’s departure is only the beginning is key and that later on we will indeed return for all of the believers. We see later in Acts 1:11 the following: “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”. Thinking about how important Jesus leaving earth is because he gives his followers the Holy Spirt to guide them. According to Jipp he states the following: “without the narration of Jesus’s heavenly ascent the reader could potentially fail to understand how the resurrected Messiah continues to work in Israel” (Jipp, 43). I cannot even imagine my life without the Hold Spirt guiding me through this journey of life. If life is hard enough with God guiding us how much harder is it for those who do not have Him present in their lives. Praise God that Jesus ascended into heaven sitting at the right hand of God!

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  6. The Ascension is something that does not get a lot of attention. Jesus is the high priest, and with that imagery we need to understand what the high priest’s duties were. The high priest was the one who, once a year would enter the holy of holies. In another word, the high priest would be the only one to enter the presence of God, and make atonement for the people. We see that Jesus has ascended and has become the new high priest for those who put their faith in him. He goes before the Father on our behalf. Another important factor about the ascension is that it signifies the leaving of Jesus, and the coming of the “Helper” also known as the Holy Spirit. This is a much anticipated event, and if we fully understand the ascension we can be thankful, and appreciate the fulfillment of prophecy of Jesus leaving and the Holy Spirit coming. Also, the same way in which Jesus was taken up, is the way in which he shall return.

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  7. I agree with you, that the ascension of Christ isn’t talked about nearly as much as the death and resurrection. The ascension of Christ is still very important and, as you mentioned, does anticipate, or leads up to some different things.

    A first thing, and possibly one of the most obvious, is that the ascension needed to take place before Pentecost. Throughout the Gospels Jesus makes mention (or reference) of the sending of the Holy Spirit. John 16:7 is a good example of this, stating that Jesus must go or the Helper will not come.

    A second thing that the ascension signifies is the transition to the Church and Gods interaction with it. Before the ascension, Jesus was in the world, but after, He is replaced by the Holy Spirit. Rather than being among us, God now resides in us, and is described as an advocate, or helper. This, as well as the other events that had occurred, lead up to the opening up of the gospel to both Jew and Greek and the birth of the Church.

    A third thing that the ascension anticipates is the future return of Christ. Acts 1:11 describes His return as the “same way” as He left. Though it may seem obvious, in order for Christ to descend, He must first ascend. Jesus is prophesied to return and rule, and His ascension was part of it.

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  8. When looking at the ascension as a stand-alone event in the life of Jesus and his mission with the disciples, its significance is undeniable. The idea of Jesus delivering the Great Commission to the disciples and others who were gathered before being taken into Heaven before their eyes is an astounding event. However, when looked at in comparison with the surrounding messages, events, teachings, and miracles, I understand why the ascension has been viewed and portrayed the way it has. First of all, the modern Christian has church has fully surrounded itself in the lore and tradition of the death and resurrection of Jesus as being the foundation of our hope. And I see no reason why this should not be the case. In 1 Cor. 15 Paul recounts the importance of the resurrection to our faith, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Next the events of the crucifixion and the resurrection, the ascension is often left out. This is not to say it is not an important event or one that the disciples would have thought was unimportant. However, the miracle of being taken up into Heaven was probably assumed by the disciples. Jesus spoke of His ascension in John 16 saying, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” Surprisingly, the disciples seem to understand the basis of what Jesus says here; although certainly missing the overarching implications of how and when Jesus would have to die. However, the fact remains that the disciples were expecting Jesus to return to Heaven at some point after the resurrection. I believe this expectation changes the perception of the ascension for the disciples. They had been taught that for them to receive the gift of the Spirit, Jesus would have to leave them. The disciples are once again reminded of this truth following the ascension when the two men in white remind the disciples that Jesus will return to the earth (Acts 1:10-11). This exchange serves as a reminder to the disciples that the job on earth is not done. Jesus’ final message to the disciples is the final reason why the ascension is overshadowed, not just in today’s culture, but in the disciples’ written accounts of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ mission on earth was to bring hope to the lost and bring glory to God. Revealing his power through miracles and wondrous acts was an end to this goal. Jesus’ miracles were used to proclaim His message of hope. Therefore, the ascension of Jesus can in a sense be viewed as a miracle. The ascension marks the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s work on earth and serves alongside the message of the great commission. While the ascension is only found in one gospel, the great commission is found in three; with John being the only without it. This is because the ascension was meant to illuminate and give greater importance to the great commission! Jesus’ final message to the people and to his disciples was to go into all the earth, proclaiming God’s glory and salvation. While I do agree that the ascension is an important part of Jesus’ story and ministry, I can see why many disciples chose to feature the great commission over the ascension. While Jesus’ ascension is surely important, it’s importance is found in the fulfillment of the great commission.

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  9. The ascension of Jesus is definitely one of those underrated aspects of Christianity. Growing up in the Presbyterian church honestly I can’t remember a time that it was ever mentioned, even the future regarding revelation was not spoken of. Yes the resurrection gives us hope for the future that Jesus overcame the grave but I think that hope is a huge part of the present tense. When I personally think of the ascension that gives me hope for the future. Acts 1:10-11 states “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.” Through this passage there can be seen the hope that Jesus is coming back. If the story just stopped at Jesus raising from the dead where would the earth and all of its inhabitants go or what would the way in the future look like. Satan is going to be defeated one day and this passage and ascension gives an opportunity for that.

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  10. I agree that the ascension is much over looked. I think the first time I remember hearing teaching on it was actually when I preached on the return of Jesus last year. We focus on the death and resurrection a lot, which undoubtedly is important. But I think that the return after the ascension is equally important. We have peace that as Christians we will get to spend an eternity in Heaven with God. But Jesus’ return gives hope to the world as a whole. A hope that we won’t have to live in the pain of sin and death. In the mean time, we can alleviate that pain by resting in our salvation.

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  11. The ascension of Christ is an event that was predicated and needed to be fulfilled in Christ to fulfill what was prophesied. I thought that it was really intriguing to read about the comparison from Ezekiel. From the writings that we have, we can see that there are similar thought processes between Ezekiel and Luke- that now there will be a long exile of God’s people, the Israelites. However, Jesus Christ being the Glory of God means that there is a hope that will be returning to bring people back into the presence of God. The other aspect of this that was unique is that this event only takes place in two of the gospels briefly, but it is not until Acts that we are given a full extended version of the story. This is an incredible event, and the story would not be complete if He did not ascend, but I feel like the major events are recorded in all of the gospels- the incarnation and resurrection. These are the events that shape our faith; they are the definition of God’s love for us. While it is still relevant that He did ascend back into Heaven, I can understand why it might be over looked.

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  12. I’ve never thought before about how much the ascension of Jesus into heaven gets glossed over, but I would agree with that statement. I can’t recall sermons or any teaching relating to the topic so the idea that the ascension is symbolic is new and fascinating. First, if the ascension of Christ is indeed a call back to Ezekiel 10 and 11, then it would make sense that Jesus would ascend into heaven from the Mount of Olives as God’s glory ascended into heaven from the top of a mountain. Another detail that I noticed was that in Acts 1:9, a cloud took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples. Polhill mentions in his notes on Acts 1, that clouds have been associated with God’s presence in the past (2081). This is seen in examples such as leading the Israelites through the wilderness in the book of Exodus. These would be actions that the Hebrew men who had studied the scriptures from an early age would recognize. This also then is yet another final earthly claim that Jesus has to being God if it was somehow still not evident to anyone witnessing these events.
    Second, if the ascensions of Jesus is parallel to the ascension of God’s glory, then it would make sense to think that it was indeed a symbol of Jesus leaving the world in an exile like state as Israel had been until His return. I see this going further though as we look forward to the return of Christ. Looking ahead, we know that in the end, the ascension could also symbolize how the people of God will rise to be with Him in heaven. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, both the living and the dead who are in Christ will be caught up in the clouds to meet with the Lord and be with him forever. If the clouds symbolize God’s glory then, when Christ returns, all of those who belong to Christ may be caught up in God’s glory and ascend into heaven just as Jesus did from the Mount of Olives.

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  13. Long describes the Ascension of Jesus as an “undervalued event in the teaching of the Protestant church. As one who came to know Christ at the age of 26, I have always had a child-like fascination about the story of Jesus’ ascension. I am intrigued by the fact that Jesus did not die again, but he left the earth by being “taken up before their very eyes” while being hidden from the disciples by a cloud. I imagine it being something like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the good witch Glinda leaves Munchkin Land in a pink bubble that floats upward as the Lollipop Guild and the Lullaby League gaze up towards the sky.
    As a Children’s Church teacher for many years in our church, I often taught during the month of April which included lessons on Jesus’ death and resurrection. While these lessons are foundational to our faith and salvation as believers, my personal favorite lesson to teach was the week AFTER Easter. I always brought a helium balloon for each child in the class. After reading Acts 1:6-11, we would go outside and release the balloons. We talked about how the disciples “were looking intently up into the sky as he was going” (NIV) or “gazing into heaven as he went” (ESV) as we watched our balloons float up to the sky. We wondered what the disciples must have been feeling and saying as their friend, someone they loved dearly, was going up to heaven. We watched the balloons until they were out of sight and covered by the clouds. I hope this lesson is memorable for all the children I taught in Children’s Church when they read Acts 1:6-11 as adults.

    What images come to your mind when you think of Jesus’ ascension?

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  14. Something I did not even think much about until engaging with this particular blog post is the fact that the protestant modern church ‘undervalues’ the ascension to some level in comparison to the death and resurrection. I think that some of this has to do with the fact that the death and resurrection is related to salvation and the topic of the ascension is not a salvation issue as far as I am aware. I do find it very interesting that the ascension is overlooked a lot in the church because it is a large part of Jesus being Messiah, as well as a focal point in the book of Acts. I wish I had more to say about the ascension of Jesus Christ, but honestly, I feel that the Church in general does not touch on this rare topic as much as they should, leaving me and plenty of others feeling uneducated. I am looking forward to the further readings on the book of Acts so I can be more educated on the ascension, and the promise of the Holy Spirit when Christ ascended mentioned first in Acts 1:1-5. As far as the ascension goes in anticipation of other future events, I would think that the ascension would be important in order for Christs second coming as well, as Acts 1:11 states clearly that He “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

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  15. To start, now that I have read more about the Ascension of Jesus, I find it surprising that it is not nearly, if at all, celebrated or remarked in the modern church today as a significant event in Biblical/ Christian history. The Ascension of Jesus back into Heaven is remarkable in many ways and it makes sense that Luke would include this in his theological narrative. At the end of his 40 days of reappearing from the dead, Jesus was “lifted up” (Acts 1:9) and carried away by a cloud, still remaining in his human body, leaving behind the Holy Spirit on earth to continue his ministry (Polhil 2081). Not only did Jesus need to ascend back into heaven to fulfill the prophecies, but he needed to do this so that one day he could return and restore his kingdom on earth. After Jesus had ascended into heaven, he did not leave his follower with nothing to help them along the way. As I stated before, he left behind the Holy Spirit to dwell among believers and continue to minister to others the gift of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, and the promise of redemption through Christ. By ascending into Heaven, back with the Father, and giving the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, Jesus gives the promise and anticipation of his cosmically proportioned redemption.

    References:

    Crossway Bibles. (2016). Esv Study Bible: English Standard Version.

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    • We protestants are usually oblivious to the historic liturgical calendar and rarely (if ever) celebrate Ascension Sunday (May 13 this year if you want to start…)

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  16. I found myself nodding along while reading this blog post because I thought it odd that I really have no idea when the ascension took place. We celebrate Palm Sunday or the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, all of which are very significant to the story of redemption and Jesus. However, we may acknowledge the ascension happened, but rarely do we celebrate it or revere it as we would one of these other days. Part of my own theory for this is that it simply is not mentioned very much and so then by the church its not given its celebration. This is in contrast to the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection which are mentioned in all four gospels and make up a larger portion of each respectably. The ascension seems to be the connection point between the gospels, specifically Luke, and Acts. The Ascension takes place rather quickly in the book and it sets up the rest of the book. The story of Jesus does not end with the Gospels but is propelled into the rest of the story of scripture. The Ascension isn’t just important to the story told of the present day and of redemption but of future and has an eschatological significance. Looking ahead to just in Acts 2, we see the coming of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus tells the apostles to wait for in Acts 1. To answer your last question, the ascension anticipates the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

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  17. The ascension of Jesus is without a doubt one of the most optimistic moments in the entirety of Scripture. While it sometimes seems to be merely glimpsed upon when examining the entirety of the gospel and Christ’s life, it gives us a wonderful glimpse of the eternal hope that only Christ can give. I absolutely agree that this event is not talked about enough- and it’s significance absolutely demands that it be talked about more. When the two white-robed men acknowledge the men of Galilee about their seemingly aimless staring up to heaven, I say that we as believers in today’s modern society are not that different from those men looking upon when Jesus initially ascended. Quite often, upon examination of the current status of our world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and simply ask “Why haven’t you come yet, Jesus?” In other words, we are simply standing there, staring aimlessly into the sky waiting for Jesus to return. Yet just like the men of Galilee, we must answer the same question they were asked: why? Why do we stare into heaven when we already know He is coming? Knowing this promise of his return, we must do everything we can now to be his disciples and His witnesses, instead of standing still, staring, and waiting. What good is the life-changing power of the gospel if he keeps it to ourselves? Knowing that Christ is returning, this eternal hope must give us a sense of URGENCY, an urgency to live not in fear but live in anticipation that results in action- and lives being saved for Christ.

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  18. I agree that the ascension of Christ is undervalued and not discussed in the church as much as it should be. I don’t remember ever talking about it my church at all, since the focus is mostly on Christ’s death and resurrection. However, the ascension is something that is also significant, as it was a prophecy fulfilled by Christ to expand God’s kingdom. The ascension of Christ has great significance in the church. The ascension has significance because it anticipates Pentecost, at which believers would have the Holy Spirit dwell within them. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells his disciples that the Holy Spirit will dwell within them and enable them to be witnesses for Christ and expand His kingdom. The Holy Spirit provides us with the words to say and leads us to act in ways towards others that reflects Christ and act as a witness for Him. Jesus has not yet returned to Earth because God wants to give more time to be a witness for Him and expand His kingdom, and having the Holy Spirit within us enables us to testify for Him. Without the ascension and Pentecost, we would not have the Holy Spirit to teach, help, and guide us as we strive to expand His kingdom and influence those around us to follow Christ. The ascension placed Jesus at the right hand of God and provides us with hope that he will one day return to restore His kingdom. Until then, the Holy Spirit will continue to work through us as we expand His kingdom.

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