9 May 2013

Luke 24:44-53

“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (vv. 50-53)


Today's passage tells the story of the final post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples in Luke's Gospel. Jesus opens their minds to understand Scripture (verse 45), commissions them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness (verse 46), blesses them and then ascends into heaven (verse 50-51). The author of Luke's Gospel will take up the story again at the beginning of the book of Acts, with further post-resurrection appearances over 40 days. It is that tradition of a celebration of Jesus' ascension to heaven 40 days after the Resurrection that gives us the feast kept today by Christians of many traditions.

The Ascension marks the end of Jesus' ministry on earth, and the beginning of the Church's mission. Significantly, Jesus in today's passage is at pains to make clear to his disciples that what is happening is the fulfilment of the law and prophets (verses 44-46). There is no discontinuity with the tradition in which they have been nurtured.

He refers to "… everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms" (v. 44), teaching the disciples to read those Scriptures through the lens of his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. There is an expectation in today's passage that in order to understand the Scripture the disciples' eyes must be "opened" by God's intervention.

Given that Jesus is at pains to link his work with the record of the law and prophets, it is appropriate that the pattern of his ascension follows the pattern of the departure of figures like Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). Though an extraordinary scene, it is not written as a mystical or dreamlike tale: Jesus lifts his hands in blessing, withdraws, and the disciples return to the city with joy.

The tradition is that at the Ascension, Jesus is freed from history and able to be intimately present in all times and places. In the words of Brian Wren's hymn "Christ is alive" (297 in Singing the Faith), Jesus is "no longer bound to distant years in Palestine, but saving, healing, here and now, and touching every place and time".

To Ponder

  • How do you respond to the idea that our eyes must be "opened" to be able to understand Scripture?
  • What does "blessing" mean to you, and when have you experienced it?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.