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The Transfiguration - Raphael (1520)

Luke notes that in his former book, he wrote about all the acts Jesus did until the day he was crucified and taken up to heaven. After his crucifixion, Jesus presented himself to the disciples and gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive.

Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of forty days. On one occasion, he was eating with them when he said,

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Ascension of Christ - Benvenuto Tisi (about 1515)The disciples asked him, “Are you about to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus said to them,

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samara, and to the ends of the earth.”

After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up to the sky as he was going when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. They said,

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking to 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.”

What the story means to us today

A Christian’s obligation to witness

Luke begins Acts with a theme present throughout the book – a Christian is obligated to witness. The disciples were tasked with witnessing to gentiles, to spread God’s new testament message throughout the world. They were told:

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“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Witnessing is one of the most important tasks a Christian faces. It’s no wonder the concept of witnessing appears at least thirty-nine times in Acts. And where do we witness? Everywhere. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus told the disciples,

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

This same task was presented to all Christians in 2 Corinthians 5:20:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Just as Jesus tasked the disciples to witness, the Bible makes it clear that Christians are under the same obligation.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Addressing the book of Acts to Theophilus

In the first verse, Luke addresses Theophilus, just as he does in Luke 1:3.

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven.”

Theophilus is addressed as “most excellent”, a term usually reserved for Roman governors and other highly placed Roman officials. However, the term could also be used as a form of polite address for any person. Historical evidence shows the practice of dedicating books to distinguished persons was common in Luke’s day. Although Theophilus’ identity has been lost to history, evidence suggests he was a person of influence, possibly a church leader.

Christ appears to the disciples over a period of 40 days

The Ascension of Christ - Artist unknownLuke says Jesus “appeared to them over a period of forty days”. This implies that Jesus was not present every hour of the day as many may think, but rather, he appeared to the group of disciples at intervals, likely when the disciples needed support or Jesus had a specific message to deliver.

God’s game plan in this regard is pretty clear. Upon his death, Jesus and his leadership was taken from the disciples – they were effectively leaderless. During the forty days following Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples have a trial period where they can test “going it alone” without their precious leader and mentor. Periodically, Jesus appears and assists before ultimately being taken up to heaven for good. During this time, Jesus was able to validate his resurrection, explain the Old Testament’s relation to his resurrection, expound key points that the disciples may have been unclear about, and emphasize the disciple’s obligation to continue the Christian ministry that Jesus began. Throughout the New Testament we will see that ultimately, the plan worked perfectly. The disciples maintained their belief to the point of death and as a result, Christianity spread throughout the entire world.

Jesus ascension into heaven and the foretelling of his return

Luke’s description of Christ’s ascension into heaven is brief, almost uneventful. There is no lead-up to the event, no mention of where it occurred, nor an elaborate description of the mechanism that returned Jesus to heaven. Luke says simply, “He was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight”. Luke deemphasizes Jesus’ ascension because more important was Jesus’ return. This is made clear through angel’s message that closes the introductory chapter: “Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go.”

The gift God promised – the Holy Spirit

Jesus instructs the disciples to stay in Jerusalem. He tells them, “Wait for the gift that my Father promised. In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

We see the Holy Spirit, God’s ethereal presence that guides mankind, mentioned throughout the Bible. God has already promised the gift of his “spirit” in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 36:26, God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you”. In Ezekiel 36:27, God reiterates, “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees”. In Joel 2:28, God tells us, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days”. This gift of God’s Spirit is what Jesus told the disciples they should stay in Jerusalem and wait for.

The science and history behind the story

The duration of time the disciples wait for the Holy Spirit blessing

The Ascension of Christ - Benjamin West (about 1800)Jesus tells the disciples, “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit”. There is enough information in these verses to determine that the disciples received the promised blessing ten days later.

Jesus’ ascension occurs forty days after Passover (the day Jesus was crucified). Luke mentions that the Festival of Weeks, or the Pentecost, was taking place when the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Festival of Weeks takes place fifty days after the Passover. Since we know Jesus was taken into heaven just after having spoken these words, and that he had already spent forty days on earth after his resurrection, we can conclude that the disciples waited for ten days after Jesus’ departure for the gift of the Holy Spirit (50 – 40 = 10).

Notes on Biblical translation

Jesus taken “into heaven”

In these translations, various lines in this section include the explanation that Jesus was taken “into heaven”. For instance, “he was taken up into heaven”. The words “into heaven” have been added in some instances. The original translations read “he was taken up” with “into heaven” assumed from the context and added to provide clarity. The translation is further complicated by the original Greek word for heaven. The original Greek could be translated as “sky” or “heaven”. Thus, the verses could also read “Jesus was taken up into the sky”.

Bible Text

NIV

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “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.”

The Ascension of Christ - Artist unknownThe New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

1:1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 1:2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 1:3 To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God. 1:4 While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. 1:5 For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

1:6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 1:7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” 1:9 After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight. 1:10 As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them 1:11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

The Ascension of Christ - Artist unknownThe New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

1–5 1 Dear Theophilus, in the first volume of this book I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good-bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together, he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but “must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.”

6 When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?”

7–8 He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”

9–11 These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

1 THE former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be kbaptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. 6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive ppower, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 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.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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