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40 Days Later | Reflections on Pentecost

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 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.’
Acts 1:9-11


 

Depending on your church tradition, the ascension will either be a key date in your calendar, or it will pass you by completely.

Taking places 40 days after Easter, the ascension (sadly) doesn’t elicit a UK bank holiday, and the account of it only takes up seven short verses in the Bible – three in Acts and four in Luke’s Gospel. Despite this, its ramifications echo throughout Scripture and into our lives today.

So why is it so significant? What does it mean? In a recent blog post, New Testament scholar Ian Paul reflects on the importance of the ascension.

The ascension shows that all authority has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18); he has been enthroned with the Father. This authority means that Stephen is confident that he is held in a higher power, even to the point of death (Acts 7:55-56). Because of the ascension, we, too, can have this confidence, no matter what we may face in our daily lives.

In the ascension, Christ’s humanity is taken up into the presence of God. We know that in the incarnation, God entered into human existence and now that human existence – Jesus himself – is seated at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf. And even more than that, as he intercedes, his humanity means that he is able to sympathise with all the challenges we face, all the difficult decision we have to make, and any suffering we experience.

While the ascension marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, his words in Acts 1:4-8 make clear that he has now given us the responsibility to carry on his work. And, as we will see as we continue to read through Acts, he empowers us to do so by his Holy Spirit. Jesus is not distant, nor is he indifferent. We ‘will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes’. Jesus has delegated his work to us, and has given us the means by which to do it.

So whether or not you celebrated or even acknowledged the ascension, its significance remains. Jesus’ authority is confirmed, and his humanity takes its place with the Father. His return is promised but, until then, the ascension cements our responsibility, in our daily lives, to continue Jesus’ work, to be his witnesses ‘to the ends of the earth’.

Nell Goddard

The substance of this post was adapted, with permission, from Ian Paul’s blog entry on the ascension. You can read the full article here.

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Author

Nell Goddard

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