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Ascension and Return

Christian, tell me why do you say that Jesus "ascended"? What do you mean by that?

Because…With His mission of atonement completed, Jesus physically returned to heaven while the next phase of God’s plan is working out. At God’s perfect time, He will return to finish redeeming His creation.

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:9-11, See also Luke 24:50-53

Just three verses, yet they describe the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. Then they foretell the culmination of all eras. How’s that for conciseness?!

The Setting

The time is about a month after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those forty days would have been very full and exciting. Think about it: Jesus had spent three years preaching about the coming of the kingdom of God, healing people, gathering disciples, and proving that He was the Messiah the Jews had been anticipating for thousands of years. Then, He was killed; all hope was crushed. Then, He was raised; hope was back, and multiplied! But what was to happen now?

Jesus spent that month continuing to build up His disciples. Luke says that He “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)

Side note: I wonder what the rest of Jerusalem and Judea were thinking? Jesus’ followers, instead of mourning their dead leader, were meeting with Him again. No one was camping out at the tomb; no one was sitting the traditional shiva mourning period; everyone was excited and happy. But what about the religious leaders — the Pharisees or the high priests Annas and Caiaphas — who had arranged His execution? Or Pilate, who ordered it, and the Roman soldiers, who carried it out? Did they wonder if, just maybe, they had gotten it wrong? 1 What about folks like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea, secret followers who came out to give Jesus a proper burial? The Bible is frustratingly short on details. My list of questions for when I get to heaven keeps growing!

Good-Bye, For Now

But now the time had come for the fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions that He would go away, leaving His disciples to continue building His kingdom without Him (John 14:1-2, John 14:28-29, John 16:28). Jesus gathered the disciples one last time. He told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit and His power (Acts 1:4-5), and then to set out on their lifelong mission to share the good news (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19-20).

What was a disciple to do after that? Imagine the emotional roller-coaster: Jesus is dead…No, He’s alive…But He’s gone away…Spread the news…But wait for the Holy Spirit first. Whew!

The disciples went back into town, but gathered together “continually devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:12-14). Then they turned to a practical matter: They had lost their twelfth apostle, Judas, and needed to replace him. So they chose another who had been in their company during the entire journey, a man named Matthias, to take Judas’ place.

Remember, even though only the twelve are named as apostles, there were many other un-named disciples who followed Jesus throughout his ministry. The gathering that voted on Matthias included 120 people (Acts 1:15-26).

The Explosion of Power

Then about a week later 2, everything came together. The promised Holy Spirit came in immense power (Acts 2:1-12), and suddenly the disciples were launched into their mission. Starting with Peter’s first sermon, and continuing on throughout the books of Acts, they spread the message that changed history:

Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.

Acts 2:22-24, 36

We are still in the era that started that day, spreading the news and building God’s kingdom, His church. We are not to be just standing there staring up at the sky; we are to be working to prepare for Jesus’ return.

I’ll Be Back….

I know: It’s been 2000 years, and it’s tempting to give up. Is it all just a mirage, a fairy tale, even a lie…and He’s never coming back? Not so! It took almost 2000 years from God’s call to Abraham until Jesus was born in the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants. The prophecies of a coming Savior go even farther back, all the way back to the very first humans in Genesis 3:15. What seems like forever to finite, short-lived humans is just a blink to God (Psalm 90:4).

Jesus’ fulfillment of so many promises — not to mention His resurrection! — is God’s guarantee that He always keeps His word. When He says “I’ll be back”, we can depend on that happening. And when it does, what a day that will be! 3

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, See also 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. Apparently not much, since later they worked to silence the apostles (Acts 5:40).
  2. The Spirit came as they were gathered on the day of Pentecost, which was celebrated 50 days after Passover. Jesus died on Passover, rose three days later, and ascended 40 days later.
  3. For more on Revelation’s depiction of that day, see this article series on the End Times.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture reference links go to, which defaults to another good translation, the New International Version (NIV).  The site has 20 or more translations available for reference.