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Virtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ. But as Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The various descriptions in this paragraph of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of Second Temple literature. In fact, this Rider is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.
The Rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12). Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12). In the Greco Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.
Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has “many” crowns, perhaps so many that they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13). Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here. The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3. Finally, a sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a). This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21).
4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.
The rider has several names. First, he is named “Faithful and True,” titles used for Jesus in Rev 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b). Divine beings sometimes have a “secret name” or are not willing to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked. Third, His name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word. Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: “King of kings and Lord of lords” (16). There are a number of ancient references to names being inscribed on the thigh of statues,
The Rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b). That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a). He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b). That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.
Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.
John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.
The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.
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 (May 12, 2013), 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 is only 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?