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Ascension Seminar

Acts 1:1-11 – In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood 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 into heaven.”

Background

Between His resurrection and ascension, the Lord Jesus appeared to His followers a number of times over a period of forty days. He not only appeared to these early Christians, but He also spoke with them and instructed them. It was very important for His followers to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He was surely alive. It was also important for them to understand that He would be leaving them shortly, and although they would no longer see Him here on earth, He would return for them in the future. However, in the meantime, the Lord promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and empower them to carry out the instructions He had given them. The Holy Spirit would also be present with them to guide them and teach them and comfort them. (Read John 14-16.)

Ten days after our Lord's ascension, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon these early Christians as the Lord had promised, and the Church was formed. As Dr. Luke wrote "of all that Jesus began to do and teach" in his Gospel (v1), so in the Book of Acts he wrote of all that Jesus continued to do through the Church, His newly formed body on earth.

Doctrinal / Teaching Point

An essential teaching of the Christian faith is the bodily resurrection, ascension and return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

All three aspects of this essential doctrine are taught in Acts 1. Forty days of post-resurrection appearances, in which our Lord was touched and ate, convinced the disciples (including "doubting" Thomas) that Jesus was alive -- bodily! (See Luke 24:36-43.) This resurrected Jesus was no phantom, or merely "the spirit of Jesus" taking on the appearance of a body. No! This was the same Jesus that they had known and followed and with whom they had fellowshipped for three solid years. Certainly after forty days they would have known if the Lord only had a "fake body" after His resurrection. While it's true that our Lord's resurrected body was a glorified body--a body that is eternal--it still was a real material and tangible body.

It was in this body that our Lord ascended into heaven. Our text is clear that Jesus Christ did not leave His body or change His body for His ascension. While He was bodily present and speaking with His disciples, He ascended into heaven. "After He had said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight" (v9). The disciples were witnesses of the bodily ascension of the Lord. The Bible teaches that the ascension of Christ was a bodily ascension.

The two angels appearing as men in white robes not only assured the disciples that Jesus would return, but that He would return bodily. They seemed to belabor this truth when they said, "This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven"(v11). Our Lord is now in heaven, bodily, and He will return to this earth, bodily. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 the apostle Paul emphasizes that when the Lord appeared to him after the ascension it was not a vision of Jesus, but Jesus Himself in His resurrected body--the same material, tangible body in which He appeared to the disciples and to more than 500 brethren at one time. In heaven, all believers will have resurrected bodies. Jesus, "by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body" (Philippians 3:21). Our glorified bodies will not be phantom bodies, but real material and tangible bodies adapted for living forever in heaven with the Lord. Our Lord's bodily presence in heaven now, is a guarantee of this great hope of believers. The Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus is now in heaven bodily and that some day He will return to this earth bodily.

Practical Application

Three principles for evangelism

Besides important doctrine concerning the Person of Christ and His return, Acts 1:1-11 contains practical principles for evangelism. Right before His ascension, the Lord Jesus told His disciples that after the Holy Spirit had come, they were to begin at Jerusalem and be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (v8). The Lord's directive to His disciples then has an application to His disciples now. Certainly the Lord didn't mean that His present-day disciples should follow this directive as a precept, otherwise we would all have to travel to Israel and start our evangelism programs in Jerusalem! However, although we don't follow this command as a precept, we should follow it as a principle. In fact, there are several biblical principles for sharing the gospel that we can draw from this Scripture.

1. Certainly one principle for evangelism here is that world-wide evangelism should be the ultimate goal of every Christian. We may not personally be called to spend our lives evangelizing in another country, but our bottom-line goal should be to help evangelize every person on the face of this earth in whatever way we can—by prayer, financial support for missions, going on short term missions trips, promoting compassion and a vision for the lost people of the world in our churches, encouraging young people to consider missions, and other “from Jerusalem to the world” projects.

2. Another principle for evangelism from Acts 1:8 is that we should consider centering our witness in big cities and letting the gospel ripple out. Jerusalem was a big city in the 1st century. The Lord Jesus knew that after the disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit, they would be more effective in spreading the gospel by starting in Jerusalem. As people from the countryside visited the big city they would hear the gospel and take it home with them. The apostle Paul followed this same principle of missions strategy. In fact, it seems that during Paul's 2 to 3 year stay in the city of Ephesus, the gospel spread out from the big city into the whole surrounding area. "...all who lived in Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). The church at Colossae, about 100 miles away, was probably established at this time. So, while it's certainly not wrong to first evangelize people who live in remote areas, generally the gospel spreads more efficiently and effectively when the cities are evangelized and the gospel naturally ripples out to surrounding small villages and farms.

3. A third principle of evangelism from Acts 1 is to "start in your own back yard." Start evangelizing right now, right where you are! This is your Jerusalem! Don't wait for some "higher call" to a foreign land or to some special ministry. The so-called "higher" call may never come if you're unwilling to obey the Acts 1:8 call to evangelize in your own community--where you live, where you go to school or where you work. In fact, the Lord may be waiting for you to share your faith with unbelievers immediately around you before revealing further plans for your life.

We see that Acts 1:1-11 gives us a few principles for evangelism that come to us from our Lord's last words to His disciples before He ascended to heaven. Let us, the present-day disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, get on with His command to evangelize the world, beginning with Jerusalem.
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