Ascending on the First Lord’s Day

We often get stuck at the crucifixion of Christ, but there is more to the story of Jesus. Jesus has been raised from the dead and Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father. Leo the Great said, “The ascension of Christ is our elevation. Hope for the body is also invited where the glory of the Head preceded us. Let us exult, dearly beloved, with worthy joy and be glad with a holy thanksgiving. Today we not only are established as possessors of paradise, but we have even penetrated the heights of the heavens in Christ.”[1]

The event itself is recorded in Luke 24 and in Acts 1. Stephen saw the ascended Lord at his Father’s right hand in Acts 7. The ascension is vital to the entire narrative of Luke. The Gospel was arranged by Luke to begin with service in the temple and to end with worship in the temple. In the beginning God is worshiped. In the end God is worshipped. In the beginning new life was celebrated. In the end new life is celebrated. In the beginning of the Gospel, Zacharias is the priest serving. In the end of the Gospel, Jesus is the Priest serving. 

What is the significance of Jesus’ ascension? What does Jesus’ ascension mean to us? How should we live based on the ascension? Perhaps we can begin to answer these questions as we study the brief record of Jesus’ ascension in Luke 24:50-53. 

HOW DID LUKE DESCRIBE THE ASCENSION?

LUKE 24:50-53

Divine Leading

            Luke recorded that after the resurrection and post-resurrection appearances Jesus led his disciples out in the vicinity of Bethany and blessed them with uplifted hands (Lk 24:50). It was from Bethany, which means house of obedience, that Jesus set out for the cross and it is from Bethany that Jesus sets off for Heaven. 

The word used for Jesus being “led out” is the same word used in the LXX for the Exodus. Just as God had led Abraham to see the stars so he could understand how richly he would be blessed, just as God the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, and just as the angels led Lot and his family out of Sodom, Jesus led his disciples out to see their redemption, their blessings, and their salvation. 

Before he left his disciples, Jesus pronounced a blessing upon them. “When men bless one another, it is nothing else than praying in behalf of their brethren; but with God it is otherwise, for he does not merely befriend us by wishes, but by a simple act of his will grants what is desirable for us.”[2] “Jesus’ final act in 24:50 before his ascension, “lifting up his hands, he blessed them,” has been interpreted as an allusion to the priestly blessing in Lev. 9:22, “Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down after sacrificing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well-being.”[3] It is also interesting that Luke’s description of the blessing is very similar to what we read in Sirach 50:19-21, “And the people besought the Lord, the most High, by prayer before him that is merciful, till the solemnity of the Lord was ended, and they had finished his service.Then he went down, and lifted up his hands over the whole congregation of the children of Israel, to give the blessing of the Lord with his lips, and to rejoice in his name.And they bowed themselves down to worship the second time, that they might receive a blessing from the most High.”[4]

            Perhaps it is significant that Jesus led the disciples to Bethany for this moment. Bethany was a village on the Mount of Olives. This was just not far from Jerusalem. It was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and Simon the leper. Jesus stayed there often and it was the site of the Olivet Discourse. During the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24, Lk 21, Mk 13), Jesus taught his disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. 

            Jesus led them to this place so that all these themes would be brought to bear on their thinking and reflection of the ascension. The place where they had been and had grown comfortable with the Lord was now the same place at which they would see the Lord ascend away from them. The place where he had taught about the end of the world was the same place at which he had ascended to await his return.[5]

Divine Destination

            The ascension points us to Christ’s heavenly destination. Our Lord does not wait in the intermediate state with the departed saints. Our Savior has ascended to Heaven. In John 14:1-4, Jesus promised that he was going to prepare a place for his people so that we can be where he had been and now is again. This heavenly destination to which Jesus ascended reminds us of the future which awaits God’s people. We can be with him. We can be in glory. 

            The ascension also helps us to know what to expect with our own “ascension” to our Heavenly home. Paul said, “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:45). Paul described our “ascension” in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, “We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Paul taught, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

            Luke recorded that the ascension also involved a divine blessing. In this setting, it is important to see this blessing as a divine blessing. When we see Christ blessing (Ἐξήγαγεν) others, this points to the divine bestowal of benefits. Acts 3:26 records how God has blessed his people when he “raised up Jesus.” Peter said, “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Divine Worshiped

            Since Jesus is true God, the disciples worshiped him. Matthew records that the disciples worshiped Jesus before the ascension (Matt 28:17) and after Jesus ascended to Heaven, the disciples worshiped him (Lk 24:52) and they continued to worship God in the temple (Lk 24:53). Jesus seems to be equated with God in these two verses. From the disciples’ worship of Jesus, we learn that he is God and that, following the apostolic example, Christians should worship him today. 

            First, it is important to note how the reception of worship demonstrates the deity of Christ. The Bible forbids the worship of anything but God. God forbade the Israelites from having any God before him (Ex 20:3) and demanded that they should not make any image of him to worship (Ex 20:4-6). In Matthew 4:10, Jesus cited Deuteronomy 6:13 LXX to show that we must “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only serve him.” John, Peter, and Paul all refused worship. The angels in Revelation refused worship. Creatures must not be worshipped. God alone can be and should be worshiped. 

            Therefore, when we see that Jesus was worshiped and received worship, we are being shown that Jesus is true God. The blind man saw fit to worship Christ (Jn 9:39). In Matthew 21:15-16 the children praised Jesus saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Jesus said this was because the Scripture said, “from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise” (Ps 8:2). God commanded the angels to worship Christ (Heb 1:6). Christians should continue to worship Jesus because he is God and because of all the great blessings he has provided for us. 

WHAT DOES JESUS’ ASCENSION MEAN TO ME?

Since Jesus is now in Heaven, we should understand that his work as prophet, priest, and king is Heavenly work. Hebrews 9:23-24 explains, “it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves to be purified with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, so that he might appear in the presence of God for us.” The Greek word used to describe Jesus’ being taken up (ἀνεφέρετο) is also used in connection with sacrifices that are made to God.”

Our Savior made the heavenly sacrifice and continues to minister in Heaven itself. The high pries would enter the model—just a copy—of the heavenly reality once a year. Jesus has entered the real temple—Heaven itself—to offer the perfect sacrifice once and for all. Jesus “remains forever” and “holds his priesthood permanently” (Heb 7:24). Because of his permanent position and residence in Heaven, “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb 7:25). 

Confidence and praise should dominate our days because of Jesus’ ascension. He lives in Heaven. “The motif of an ascent leading to recognition of the divinity of the person involved is found in Hellenism (Sophocles, Oed. Col. 1654; Plutarch, Rom. 27:8f.; Lucian, De Morte Per. 39; see also Jdg. 13:20; Sir. 50:20–22, where the people bow in worship to receive the priestly blessing).”[6] God has descended to us and ascended for us so that we might ascend to him. Luke ended his gospel with the note that “they were continually in the temple praising God.” “The verse supplies a fitting end to the Gospel with praise addressed to God: is Luke suggesting to his readers that this is the appropriate response for them to his story?”[7]

Will we praise God? Will we trust the ascended Christ? Chrysostom noted, “the Lord submits to our sight the promised rewards. He had promised the resurrection of the body; He rose from the dead, and conferred with His disciples for forty days. It is also promised that we shall be caught up in the clouds through the air.”[8]Are we ready to receive God’s promises?


[1] Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 393.

[2] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 392.

[3] David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007), 402.

[4] The Apocrypha: King James Version (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Sir 50:19–21.

[5] “Luke’s statement in 24:51 that Jesus “was carried up into heaven” recalls several OT texts that describe the departure of supernatural figures (Gen. 17:22; 35:13; Judg. 6:21; 13:20; cf. Tob. 12:20–21; 2 Macc. 3:34), especially Gen. 5:24, which relates the translation of Enoch (cf. Sir. 44:16; 49:14; Heb. 11:5). Luke’s description of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:9–11 displays links with the translation of Elijah (2 Kings 2; cf. Sir. 48:9; 1 Macc. 2:58)” (David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament 402). 

[6] I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978), 910.

[7] I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978), 910.

[8] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 3 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1843), 793.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.