Today is ascension day. Did you know that? It is not a day much celebrated in the modern evangelical church. Yet on that day an important event happened and we would be wise to examine it.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
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 end of the earth.”
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,
and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. Acts 1:6-12
The first things to know is that this day, the last remnant of Israel’s original idea of Messiah passed away. A fair number of prophecies are about how God will restore Israel, and also that His Messiah will come from the line of David and rule forever. Now bearing in mind the context of their bondage to the Roman invaders, the Jews of the time believed that when the Messiah comes he would overthrow the Romans, blast them out of Israel, then restore the Kingdom.
But that was not Jesus’ purpose at that time. His purpose was to live perfectly, die a substitutionary death on the cross, rise again, and then leave, sending the Holy Spirit. From heaven He will then build His church which He established. This was why for a while He told people He had healed to tell no one. Also, when after feeding the 5000 (plus women and children) He get on a boat. He knows that the people will try and make Him king because He gave them food. And they rush around trying to find Him.
However at the culmination of all the events, after 40 days of showing Himself and teaching post His resurrection, Christ is now returning to Heaven. His disciples, who are all Jews, still assume that He will be restoring the Kingdom of Israel then, in their lifetimes.
And so they ask Him ”Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (vs 6). He gently rebukes them, squashing all of their hopes, saying that it is not for them to know when the Father has ordered by His own authority. He then gives them comfort by promising the the Holy Spirit and commissioning them to be witnesses starting in Jerusalem and stretching to the ends of the world.
The next thing we see is the promise of the Holy Spirit. This is not the first time Jesus promises the Spirit, but it would be one of the most comforting. They would receive power (specifically to be witnesses), when (not if) the Holy Spirit comes. In this passage we also see the commission reaffirmed one last time. The apostles, and every disciple after them, began preaching Christ. Starting in Jerusalem, they scattered to their neighbours, Samaria, and till today, there is not a continent in the world where the Gospel is not heard somewhere. As disciples of Christ ourselves, we also take upon us this commission.
And then the event happens. Christ lifts up and goes up to heaven, in a cloud. The apostles, in obvious awe at what just happened, and probably still a little bemused at having their understanding of the Kingdom completely altered, stand around staring at the sky, two angels appear and tell them that Christ will return in the same way. They then return to Jerusalem to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, which will eventually come at Pentecost.
And that is the story of the ascension. And we still wait for His return. That is maybe the most important lesson from this event. Christians have always, and should always be anticipating and be ready for the return of Christ, something that could happen at any time.
All the Lord’s best to you