Jesus rose. We hear about it every Easter. We sing songs about it. We even have an Easter Bunny to symbolize the event.
But Christ didn’t just rise from the dead. He ascended to Heaven.
We hear the stories about Peter and John and all the heroes of the New Testament, and they’re unstoppable Christians—fearless and bold. And sometimes we wrongly assume that they just got that way. That Christ died for their sins, and bam! They’re instantly changed! On the contrary, the disciples were actually quite cowardly in their actions after the Resurrection.
It wasn’t until after the Ascension that they were on fire for Christ. So, what happened during the forty days? Something happened.
You’d think that everyone and their brother would want to talk about an event that incredible. But you’d be wrong. And it leaves us with more than a few questions.
Where do you go if you want to understand what happened? Matthew? You won’t find it there. Mark? Kind of, but it’s text that most Bible scholars now accept was not in the earliest version. What about John? Surely good old John would have a lot to say! Not exactly. He talks about Jesus doing miracles, but nowhere in John does he ascend to Heaven.
So how is it that Christians came to believe that Jesus not only rose from the dead, but stuck around forty days before ascending to Heaven? That’s where Luke comes in. Luke is the only Gospel that talks at any length (even though it’s short passages) about Jesus ascending. He does so in both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, which he also authored.
Sprinkled throughout the Bible are references to the Ascension, which tells us that it was something early Christians believed. The Apostle Peter believed it, as did the Apostle Paul, and it’s fair to say that all the other apostles did as well.
So important is the doctrine, that the original statement of belief that most Christians (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) go to—the Nicene Creed—includes it. That means if you belong to any of those groups, you are kind of supposed to believe in the Ascension.
# # #
So, what’s the deal with the Ascension anyway? Shouldn’t this be plastered all over the place? Wouldn’t there have been a giant atomic bomb-sized glorious viewing that you could see all the way from Rome? Why did only believers see it?
First, it is referenced outside the Bible—more on that in later chapters.
Second, we have to consider the nature of Christ. He performed miracles, but that was never his ministry. He didn’t come to Earth to be the flashy miracle guy. His ministry was the way he lived his life.
People frequently say, “If there is a God, then why doesn’t he announce it?” What I often think about this phrase is “Doesn’t he?” Every day, things happen that are beyond science—things that can only be described by the word miraculous. They deeply move us—heck sometimes we even like them on Facebook. But the thing is, miracles are forgotten pretty quickly. You are quicker to forget a miracle than you are a simple kind gesture in a time of need.
And let’s not forget, if God did announce himself, the whole freewill thing would go out the window. If we could walk outside right now, look up and see God up in the sky, then why wouldn’t we believe in him? But unfortunately, on Earth we can’t have that kind of relationship.
So, in answer to that question about why people didn’t see it from miles away, the reason is probably as simple as it was not all that spectacular. Jesus didn’t ride up to Heaven on an atomic bomb with a cowboy hat, shooting out fireworks from his eyeballs. It was more likely a beautifully intimate moment witnessed by those closest to him. It wasn’t meant for the entire Roman Empire to see.
# # #
So, we have this intimate event that only a select few even saw. Great. But why is that event even important?
Close your eyes and take a road trip through history with me; we’re about to get Biblical, so buckle in.
Think back to those early Sunday school stories; the ones about the fall of Eden, Noah, the Tower of Babel, Moses. They’re great stories and even better lessons for history…but they also have a theme. The entire Old Testament has a theme, in fact. God’s people mess up and they fall; God picks them up and they excel; God’s people mess up and they fall; God picks them up and they excel. It’s like a bad broken record. If you’ve ever read the Old Testament from cover to cover, you probably asked yourself at least fifty times, “Seriously, what’s wrong with these people? Why can’t they just listen to God?!”
The Jewish people were privileged in the sense that they knew no matter how badly they screwed up, God would eventually rescue them, and all would be well again. They expected it. The prophets predicting a Messiah who would rule over them should really not be all that surprising—of course God would send someone to rescue them. They had messed up, and the kingdom God had given them with David had been taken away, so of course a new king from David’s line would come and rescue them. That’s just the way God did things—God’s redemption was just as predictable as Israel’s sin.
The Ascension is the fulfillment of this promise. When Jesus left Earth, he created a new kingdom in the line of David in Heaven. This pattern of God’s people sinning, and God’s people being redeemed could finally be resolved once and for all.
Lots of men and women have been raised from the dead; the Resurrection of Christ is really nothing special. Sure, it’s an amazing, unexplained feat that can only be attributed to divine intervention, but pause for a moment and ask: what’s so special about the Resurrection? Christ raised dead people; so did his disciples. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing that he rose from the dead, but if that in itself is enough to worship a person, shouldn’t we also be praying to people like Lazarus?
The amazing thing about the Resurrection is not the act, but the act that followed—the theology that feels more like a footnote in history: The Ascension. Which leaves us with a very important question to ask: If it’s so important, then why is it only mentioned in the Gospel of Luke? Why isn’t the Ascension mentioned more often in the Gospels?
First, let’s consider dates. More than likely, Luke and John were the last Gospels written, which means they had more time to digest things. The Resurrection, by human standards, is more fascinating to tell, and there’s a chance that the early writers of the Gospel hadn’t quite considered the significance of what happened.
Let’s also considered the missing fragment of Mark; it cuts off in a very unusual place. Most scholars agree that the ending in place was not by the original author…but most scholars also believe where it cuts off isn’t the original ending. So, what are we left with? The most popular theory is that while the added text isn’t completely Mark, it isn’t completely not Mark either. What does that mean? It means there’s a very strong chance that the original version of Mark did mention the Ascension—just not quite like the translator wrote it—perhaps with different syntax, but the same meaning.
The most important thing to remember about the Gospels is they were written with an audience in mind. Think about Abraham Lincoln; there have been over 15,000 books written about him. How can people still make money writing about Lincoln? Easy…they write about him from different angles that people haven’t considered. Some biographers will spend little or no time writing about Lincoln’s death because that’s not what their book is about. So, when we think about why the Gospels each wrote different accounts of the post-Resurrection, it’s because each one was writing for a different purpose.
# # #
The Resurrection was great. I believe in it. I believe it was miraculous. But I don’t believe that Christ is Lord because he rose from the dead.
There’s more written about Christ’s ministry before his death than the events that happened after his Resurrection, but when we look at Ascension, we begin to see that there’s power in small details. We begin to see that something happened after the Resurrection—something happened to transform the lives of believers and make them more than followers.
The problem with the Resurrection of Christ is as believers we have a tendency to believe in the miracle and not the theology. When we look at what happened after the Resurrection, and further at the Ascension of Christ, we begin to see what happened to transform the followers—and in seeing this we might just be transformed ourselves.
Something did indeed happen during the forty days; why didn’t God spend more time revealing? That’s something that we will not know on Earth. But when we look at what he does reveal in the Ascension, we begin to see that Jesus was not done teaching; and as we begin to understand these teachings, we will be transformed ourselves.
 Fun fact about Easter Bunnies—people used to believe that they were hermaphrodites (i.e., they could reproduce without having sex). You know who else could do that? The Virgin Mary! Hence, the Easter Bunny was born.
 1 Peter 3:13-22
 Ephesians 4:8-10
 See Appendix A for a more complete list of Ascension references.
 Even if you don’t have the slightest idea about what it is or means.
 Don’t worry, we’ll stick to Sunday school stories.
 Lazarus, for those who need a reminder, came back to life after being dead for four days after Jesus came and woke him up.