Christians observe the festival of the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven on the fortieth day from the Easter Sunday. This annual festival falls on Thursdays. Unfortunately, many Christians appear not to be serious about the observance of this day; and in fact they become oblivious to this one of the most important of Christian festivals. That so happens partly because this event took place on Thursday, and not on the most widely known Sunday in the week. And partly because we tend to give greatest importance to the other Christian occasions, like Christmas, Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem (on what is popularly known as the Palm Sunday), Good Friday, the day when Jesus died and the day on which Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
According to the Gospel recorded by Dr. Luke Jesus ascended to heaven in unspeakable glory and honour. He is seated at the right hand of God. The Ascension Day in the Christian calendar is of paramount significance for committed believers in Christ. This event confirms all what Jesus accomplished for the salvation of mankind from sin. Committed believers observe this day with great solemnity and spiritual intentionality. There is not much merry-making or usual festivities with which this day is observed as they are on Christmas day or Easter Sunday.
After his resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples for forty consecutive days in bodily form in many places and in diverse circumstances to testify to and to assure them that he is resurrected as he had told them before his death. Luke described this extraordinary phenomenon in the Gospel that is known as ‘The gospel according to St. Luke’ and also in its sequel, titled ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ (popularly known as the book of Acts), which is the first book on Church history ever written. The last paragraph of the Luke’s gospel has the first narrative in brief and in Acts 1: 9-11. Both these particular sections in the New Testament are quoted as ready references for honourable readers below:
“When he had let them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Luke 24: 50-53). It is highly interesting to note that Luke begins with an event concerning prayer at the Jerusalem temple (Luke 1:8), and he concludes the same with the theme of prayer at the temple (Luke 24: 53).
In Acts we have: “After he (Jesus) said this, he was taken up before their (disciples) very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking up intently into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white 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 to heaven.” It is of great importance to note that Jesus promised his disciples for sending the Holy Spirit for them so that they become empowered by God to boldly preach the gospel throughout the world. This coming down of the Holy Spirit on the first disciples of Jesus happened empowering them to preach the gospel took on the Day of Pentecost, i.e. on the 50th day after the resurrection of Jesus. So that is to mean that the festival of Pentecost is on the 50th day after the resurrection, i.e. after 10 days after the Ascension day. One of the results of the ascension is the great event of the Pentecost, which is popularly reckoned by Christians as the birthday of the Church since the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and as such they gained divine power enabling them to preach the good news as a result of which the Church was founded eventually.
The phenomena of the ascension of Jesus to God the Father, the pouring down of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ immediate followers for the proclamation of the Good News of Christ are too great events to be discussed in an article as this one. But please let me briefly mention below some of the meanings of the Ascension:
1. The Ascension testifies to the completion of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He accomplished his mission of man’s salvation by his vicarious death for sinful mankind and as such he went back to his sender, i.e. God the Father. This shows that he successfully finished his earthly work and as such it was time for him to return to his sender. So he went back to his heavenly abode, to his eternal glory that he shares with the Father. It is perhaps worthwhile to mention the last two of his great seven utterances from the Cross which was used to kill him. They are: “It is finished” (John 19:30), meaning that his work is done! and “ Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), 2. This was the clearest symbol of his exaltation to his being in oneness with the Father who is pleased with all he had done in his mission. 3. Jesus is our High Priest and thus our Mediator. Jesus intercedes for us with the Father for our wellbeing in this world. 4. The ascension shows how he will return to the earth when he does as it is stated in Luke 1:1, etc. scriptures. 5. Jesus ascended back to heaven to prepare places for his followers as it is said clearly in the Gospel according to St. John (John 14:1-3).
The writer is a Christian theology teacher and church leader