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.

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.

ascensionWith 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?

13 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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