Thursday

02 June 2011

"While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven." (v. 51)

Background

When writing their accounts of the life of Jesus, the writers of the four Gospels had many choices to make. They had more material that they needed (eg John 21:25) and they wanted to include the particular incidents that would be most relevant to their expected readers. These choices resulted in the variation in style and contents between the four Gospels.

Other choices involved how they were to begin and how they were to end their Gospels. We can gain insights into the ways in which the Holy Spirit guided the minds of the different Gospel writers by examining these important first and last sections of their writings.

Today is Ascension Day and our passage is at the end of Luke's Gospel: a brief record of how the risen Jesus was "carried up into heaven". Luke clearly sees great significance in this event. Despite the fact that he will begin the second volume of his writings (The Acts of the Apostles) with a more detailed description of the same event, Luke clearly feels that his Gospel account of the life of Jesus will be incomplete without also including a record of the ascension here.

There are questions about the apparent discrepancy between the two accounts as to when this event took place. The Gospel account appears to take place on the evening of the first Easter Day while Acts 1:3 speaks of an event taking place some weeks later. However, in both accounts the key issue is that although the resurrection appearances of Jesus are coming to an end, the work of Jesus will now continue in and through the lives of his followers.

In these final verses of his Gospel, Luke explains how the disciples will continue to witness to all that Jesus has done (vv. 47-48), will join together in prayer and worship (vv. 52-53) and will be filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 49) so that the work of the kingdom will continue.

The Ascension marks the end of his Gospel account but, for Luke (and for all followers of Jesus), the story continues...

To Ponder

What do you understand to be the significance of Ascension Day?

The first disciples were told to "stay in the city" until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them (v. 49). What might it mean for you to wait expectantly for God's power today?

Bible notes author: The Revd Chris Blake

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