posted on May, 29 2014 @ 04:40 PM
Today is marked as Ascension Day in the church calendar.
It counts as one of the major landmarks of the year.
When I was in primary school (a Church of England school in a very High Church parish); they used to observe the occasion by taking us to a service in
the nearby church, and then giving us the rest of the day off.
However, the New Testament gives us two different ways of understanding when “the Ascension” took place.
We can take Luke’s version or we can take John’s version.
The practice of celebrating the Ascension at this time is based upon the account in Acts.
Luke tells how Jesus kept company with the disciples for forty days.
Therefore the calculation of Ascension Day allows exactly forty days from Easter, counting Easter Day itself as the first.
They had been talking on Mt. Olivet; then “as they were looking on, he was lifted up [EPERTHE] and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Acts ch1
In the version of the story at the end of Luke’s gospel, the event seems to take place on Easter Day, soon after his first meeting with the
Though we could also take Luke ch24 vv44-49 as a brief summary of his discourse over the forty days mentioned in Acts.
He took them out to Bethany, then “he parted from them and was carried up [ANEPHERETO] into heaven”.
However, Luke does not use the word “ascend”.
To be exact, he doesn’t use the Greek word- ANABAINO- which gets translated as “ascend”.
That word is found in John ch20 v17, part of John’s description of a scene on Easter Day.
Jesus warns Mary Magdalene not to embrace him, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father”.
Then he tells her to take a message to the other disciples; “I am ascending to my Father and your Father”.
The implication of this verse is that the Ascension takes place on the same day.
Let’s take first the evidence of his encounter with Thomas, a week later.
Thomas had said that he would not believe in the Resurrection unless he was able to touch the marks in the body of Jesus.
Therefore Jesus challenged him and invited him to make the test.
There’s no suggestion that Thomas really took up this offer, but the invitation was there all the same.
Now Mary Magdalen had been forbidden to do this.
Even though “Do not touch me” is sometimes translated as “Do not cling to me”, it isn’t easy to see any real difference between what was
being offered to Thomas and what was denied to Mary.
The most natural explanation is that the circumstances had changed.
When Jesus spoke to Mary, the Ascension was “not yet”.
Whereas when Jesus spoke to Thomas, the Ascension was a completed event, so the objection no longer applied.
The next piece of evidence is the wording of the message to the disciples.
“I am ascending” is in the present tense, not the future tense.
It implies that the event is imminent, perhaps even beginning already.
But the most telling point is the very fact that the message was sent at all.
Jesus would be meeting the rest of his disciples in the evening.
Therefore there was no need to send them a message about “ascending to the Father” unless the event was taking place in the interval.
If he was expecting to ascend at a later time, he could have told them so himself, when he saw them.
The conclusion must be that the meeting with Mary Magdalen was even more unique than we thought.
It wasn’t just the first of the “Resurrection appearances” of Jesus; it was also the only Resurrection appearance to take place before
All the others were temporary “descents” (or self-projections) and re-ascents.
This conclusion supplies an answer to the question which used to puzzle me about Luke’s version of the timetable;
Where exactly was Jesus supposed to be located between Resurrection appearances?
The puzzle is resolved if he was making a fresh descent each time from his place with his Father.
That explanation also fits the way that he makes his appearance.
Although the common statement is that the risen Jesus “walks through walls”, nothing in the gospels shows him doing anything of the kind.
He arrives suddenly. One moment the disciples are on their own; the next instant, he stands amongst them.
He departs suddenly. One moment he’s in their company; the next instant, he has gone.
It seems that his arrival comes direct from another place.
One might almost say that he “beams down”, like the crew of Star Trek, or “materialises”, like the Tardis, and returns in the same way.
The scene found in Acts, then, is less “the Ascension”, as a unique event, than the last of the re-ascensions.
The episode is taking place to make the point that this phase of the church’s life is coming to an end. There will be no more “Resurrection
Paul thought his experience was a late exception (“last of all”), but he regarded it as an unusual and undeserved privilege.
So if we were following more closely the account in John, we would not be celebrating this day as Ascension Day.
We would be celebrating Easter as “Resurrection Day” and “Ascension Day” rolled into one.