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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Ascension of Jesus and His Present Ministry as High Priest

Don Stewart :: How Did Jesus Leave the Earth?

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How Did Jesus Leave the Earth? (The Ascension)

The Ascension of Jesus and His Present Ministry as High Priest – Question 1

One of the most significant events in the life of Jesus Christ was His ascension into heaven. The Bible teaches that forty days after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven both visibly and bodily. The evidence is as follows.

1. The Testimony of the Gospel of Luke

The only New Testament writer to record the actual act of the ascension of Jesus Christ was Luke. He recorded the ascension in his gospel, as we as in the Book of Acts. In the Gospel of Luke we read the following about what took place:

While he [Jesus] was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. They worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. (Luke 24:51, 52 NLT)

Luke tells us that Jesus was taken into heaven in the presence of His disciples. They were eyewitnesses of His leaving the earth in this miraculous way.

2. The Testimony of the Book of Acts

In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, the writer Luke again records Jesus’ being “taken up” into heaven. He said,

Theophilus, I first wrote to you about all that Jesus did and taught from the very first until he was taken up to heaven. But before he was taken up, he gave orders to the apostles he had chosen with the help of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:1, 2 CEV)

According to Luke, Jesus was “taken up.”

3. Jesus Ascended in Full View of His Disciples

Luke then testifies that Jesus was taken up, or ascended, into heaven in full view of His disciples. We read about this later in the first chapter of the Book of Acts:

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:9-11 NRSV)

Thus, according to Luke, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven full view of His disciples.

4. The Testimony of Peter on the Day of Pentecost

The Scripture also provides further testimony that Jesus ascended to His rightful place next to the Father:

Indeed, the Day of Pentecost occurred some ten days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. On that day, Peter, speaking of King David, said the following to the crowd that had gathered:

He foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Acts 2:31-35 ESV)

This statement of Peter assumes the ascension of Jesus actually occurred. In other words, he confirmed what Luke had written about Jesus’ ascension.

5. Stephen Saw Jesus at God’s Right Hand

Stephen was the first believer put to death for his faith in Christ. As he was dying by stoning, he looked up into heaven and saw Jesus:

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55, 56 NRSV)

Stephen saw Jesus at the right hand, the place of authority, of God the Father. This testified that Jesus ascended and remained in heaven.

Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew does not specifically speak of the ascension of Christ. However the following statement of Jesus assumes the ascension would occur. We read:

Jesus answered him, “Yes, I am. But I can guarantee that from now on you will see the Son of Man in the highest position in heaven. He will be coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64 God’s Word)

This passage assumed Jesus would eventually ascend into heaven without giving any of the details of His ascension.

Mark

There is a question as to whether the last twelve verses of Mark were originally written by him. However, whether original or not, these verses reflect an ancient belief. In Mark 16:19, we find the same verb as in Acts 1:2. Here it is translated, “received up:”

So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. (Mark 16:19 NKJV)

The idea is that Jesus was taken up into heaven to be seated at the right hand, or place of authority, of God the Father.

John

John’s gospel spoke of Jesus’ ascension. Jesus Himself predicted its occurrence. He said the following,

Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? (John 6:62 ESV)

These words of Jesus take for granted that He will ascend into heaven. While John does not record the act of ascension, the assumption in this statement is that He will go back into heaven.

Later in John’s gospel, on the night of His betrayal, Jesus spoke of going away to the house of His Father and then returning. Jesus said,

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. (John 14:3-4 ESV)

The fact that Jesus said that He was going away, to again return, is also consistent with the idea of the ascension into heaven.

In those last words to His disciples before His betrayal, John records that Jesus again emphasized that He was going away. We read the following word:

But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and none of you has asked me where I am going. Instead, you are very sad. But it is actually best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Counselor won’t come. If I do go away, he will come because I will send him to you. (John 16:5-7 NLT)

After He came back from the dead, the Bible records Jesus speaking to Mary Magdalene about ascending to the Father:

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.‘” (John 20:17 NASB)

Without actually recording the ascension, John certainly testified to it.

1 Timothy

First Timothy 3:16 is an ancient Christian creed, or statement of belief. It assumes the ascension of Jesus Christ occurred. This creed reads as follows:

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16 NIV)

The verb translated, “taken up” is the same verb as used in Acts 1:2 where it is also translated, “taken up.” It speaks of His ascension.

Ephesians

Paul speaks of Jesus’ ascension as something that had already happened. He wrote to the Ephesians about this having already occurred:

The same one who came down is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that his rule might fill the entire universe. (Ephesians 4:10 NLT)

The ascension was something which occurred in the past.

He also spoke of Jesus Christ being raised in power. He put it this way:

Then you will have deeper insight. You will know the confidence that he calls you to have and the glorious wealth that God’s people will inherit. You will also know the unlimited greatness of his power as it works with might and strength for us, the believers. He worked with that same power in Christ when he brought him back to life and gave him the highest position in heaven. (Ephesians 1:18-20 God’s Word)

For Jesus to be exalted in heaven, it assumes an ascension-type event.

Philippians

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians about the exaltation of Jesus Christ. He put it in the following way:

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NKJV)

This gives the explanation of what happened when Jesus ascended—God exalted Jesus Christ above everyone else.

1 Peter

The Apostle Peter also spoke of Christ’s ascension. He speaks of Jesus Christ in the following manner:

Christ is now in heaven, where he sits at the right side of God. All angels, authorities, and powers are under his control. (1 Peter 3:22 CEV)

While not specifically mentioning the ascension, this passage certainly assumes it took place.

Hebrews

The writer to the Hebrews understood the ascension as having literally occurred. He wrote the following to his readers:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. (Hebrews 4:14 NRSV)

The fact that Jesus passed through the heavens indicates His ascension.

It also says in Hebrews about Jesus being our “forerunner:”

Where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:20 ESV)

Therefore, we have a number of New Testament writers that directly, or indirectly, testify to Jesus’ ascension. There is no doubt that they believed such an event actually occurred.

Summary – Question 1
How Did Jesus Leave the Earth? (The Ascension)

The Bible says that Jesus Christ left this earth for the last time by ascending into heaven. He did this in full view of His disciples some forty days after He came back from the dead.

The reality of Jesus’ ascension into heaven is testified by a number of New Testament writers. The evidence is as follows.

First, there is the historical narrative of Jesus ascending into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Luke records this in his gospel, as well as in the Book of Acts. He makes it clear that the Lord ascend in full view of the believers.

In addition, the other three gospel writers allude to Jesus’ ascension in a number of ways without specifically mentioning the episode.

On the Day of Pentecost, Simon Peter spoke of Jesus, the risen Lord, ascending into heaven.

Later in the Book of Acts, the martyr Stephen testified to seeing Jesus at the right hand of God the Father.

In three of the letters of the Apostle Paul, he writes of Jesus as being in heaven as well as having been taken up there. Again, the ascension is taught.

In his first letter, Peter wrote of Jesus being at the right hand of the Father. This too assumes the ascension has taken place.

Finally, the writer to the Hebrews also speaks of Jesus having “passed through the heavens.”

Consequently, there are a number of different New Testament references to the ascension of Jesus. To them, it was an actual historical event. Since they treated it as a fact so should we.

How Jesus Left the Earth and What He Does Today (Introduction) ← Prior Section
What Is the Meaning of the Ascension? Next Section →
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