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The Ascension of Christ

Published: 4 weeks ago- 21 April 2024
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“Divine history”.1

That’s what the 16th Century Reformer, John Calvin, once called the book of Acts.

Now, I’ve got to confess, I’ve never been too interested in history. When I was in high school, one of my least favourite subjects was history. For whatever reason, Dr. O’Brien, no matter how much he tried, could never get me to sit still. My not so fondest memories were me leaving the classroom and shamefully walking to bell balcony to face an even greater threat to my existence-a teacher named ‘Sarge’. Quite regrettably, history wasn’t my thing.

But whether you’re a history buff or not, the book of Acts isn’t like most history books. It’s not history for history’s sake. No, it’s ‘divine history’ that has been carefully put together to speak into the life and situation of the church.

In roughly 70-80 AD, the early church faced serious uncertainty.

I want you to just picture it for a second.

The Lord Jesus is still absent, he has not returned. The Apostle Paul has been dead for some time now, and other apostles are also passing away. There are less and less believers who are eyewitnesses of the Lord Jesus. And there are more and more believers who have little to no connection to the apostles themselves, giving rise to all manner of false teaching and doctrine. And as if that wasn’t enough, the church was also facing sporadic rejection and persecution from both the Jewish authorities and the Roman Empire. As you could imagine, all these things would’ve raised a bunch of questions for the early church, like: Who are we? Where have we come from? What should we do right now? Where are we going? Leadership transition. False teaching. Persecution. Serious uncertainty.

But, it’s in the midst of all this, that Luke pens his sequel for his avid reader, Theophilus. After reading Luke’s gospel (his first work), Theophilus (who was most likely a financial supporter or a core leader of one of Paul’s churches) begins to read the book of Acts. And what does Theophilus discover as he turns each page? Well, he discovers divine history. Page after page, Theophilus meets the Triune God-Father, Son, and Spirit-who is taking the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. Page after page, Theophilus sees something of who the church is (its identity), what the church should do (its purpose), and where the church is going (its future). It’s this divine history, written and retold by Luke, which speaks into the uncertainty and challenges facing the people of God.

What we’ll discover is that this divine history still speaks today. This term, as we journey through the first half of the book (Acts 1-12), we’ll hear God speak into the midst of our own uncertainty and challenges as a church. We’ll be reminded of who we are, of what we should do, and of where we’re going. The book of Acts will show us our Triune God who is still, even today, taking the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

That brings us to today’s passage.


Whenever Ava and I are on our trampoline in the backyard, I just love that very brief moment where we look into the sky. With our backs to the ground, we look up, we point at stuff, we watch the clouds go by… … and then we quickly revert back to screaming and bouncing.

I don’t know about you, but I can quite easily spend time gazing into the sky. Whether it’s at the beach, by the pool, at the park, or on the trampoline-I’m often drawn to the sky. There’s just something about the clouds, the colours, the warmth, the magnitude of it all-that gives me a sense of perspective. Maybe you experience that as well.

Well this morning/evening, as we look at Acts 1:1-14, I think that Luke is doing a similar kind of thing. He’s trying to give us perspective. He’s trying to show Theophilus (and us), that the ascension of Christ into the clouds is a moment for perspective. That Christ’s ascension gives us a greater perspective on who the apostles were, there and then. And a greater perspective on who we are, here and now. What we’ll discover is that Acts 1:1-14 reminds us that we’re people of the ascended Christ.

Whether you’ve thought much about Jesus’ ascension or not, it’s important for all of us get this. As a lot of people have observed, much of the evangelical church today hasn’t really focused on Christ’s ascension, let alone what it means for us. As we’ve moved away from creeds, confessions, and the church calendar-we’ve kind of forgotten how central the ascension is to who we are.

In his book, The Ascension of Christ, Patrick Schreiner says that when it comes to the ascension of the Lord Jesus, sometimes we can all feel a little bit like the apostles-staring into the sky with confused and stunned looks on our faces.2 In fact, Schreiner gives five reasons why the doctrine of the ascension is so neglected today:

(1) The Bible doesn’t say much about it.

(2) It seems like a bad plan, why would Jesus want to leave us?

(3) The implications are unclear, what’s Jesus’ ascension really mean for us?

(4) The event is abnormal; how did Jesus get to heaven? Was it an astronaut suit or something else?

And (5) we often collapse ‘the ascension’ into ‘the resurrection’ whenever we speak about it.3

His point is that we’ve kind of forgotten how central the ascension is to who we are. Then, Schreiner concludes by saying this:

“Christ’s ascension… … needs better narrative and theological positioning [in the church]. Without it, the story of Christ’s work is incomplete. Without it, other doctrines become misaligned. Without it, our good news is truncated.”.4

So, this morning/evening, let’s take a look at Acts 1:1-14.


1a. Christ’s ascension isn’t the end (v1-2)

In the opening sentence of Acts, Luke reminds Theophilus that this is a two-volume series-which means that this isn’t the end. As Theophilus opens yet another volume of Luke’s work, he’s reminded that whilst the Lord Jesus has ascended into heaven, this wasn’t the end of Jesus’ ministry.

“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. (Acts 1:1-2)

Here Luke explains to Theophilus the purpose of his work. He says that volume one (his Gospel) was all about what Jesus “began to do”, from his incarnation to his ascension. But just by saying this, Luke seems to be implying that volume two (Acts) is about what Jesus will continue to do, from his ascension onwards.5 As other people have said, volume one is about Jesus’ earthly ministry and volume two is about Jesus’ heavenly ministry.6 In fact, if you were put both Luke and Acts together, the ascension of Christ would sit at the very centre of the story-at the heart of the book.7

Christ’s ascension isn’t the end.

1b. Christ’s ascension is central for the promise of the Spirit (v3-5)

Following this brief introduction, Luke then turns Theophilus’ attention to Jesus’ teaching. In verses 3-5, Luke reminds Theophilus that Christ’s ascension is central for the promise of the Spirit.

Following Jesus’ death, the apostles see that Jesus is “alive” and well. And over a period of “forty days”, the Lord Jesus spoke to the apostles about “the kingdom of God”. In verse 4, Luke highlights one particular occasion when they were eating together on the Mount of Olives (cf. Acts 1:12). Jesus said to them:

“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.” (Acts 1:4-5)

Here the risen Christ speaks of the momentous news of the Father’s “promise”. A promise, foretold throughout the Old Testament, that God would restore his wayward and corrupt kingdom through the outpouring of the Spirit. In places like Isaiah 44, Ezekiel 36, and Joel 2, Israel’s spiritual barrenness is promised to be restored by the Spirit’s outpouring.8 So, the Lord Jesus commands the apostles not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait. To wait until they’re “baptised” or “immersed” in the Spirit, which would cleanse them and empower them.9

You see, even though the apostles will experience Christ’s absence, the Father has promised to send the Spirit. But it’s only once the Son ascends, that the Spirit will be poured out.

The ascension of Christ is central for the promise of the Spirit.

1c. Christ’s ascension is central to the mission (v6-8)

Then, following Jesus’ teaching about the Spirit, Luke turns Theophilus’ attention to the mission of the apostles. In verses 6-8, Luke reminds Theophilus that the ascension of Christ is also central to the mission.

As soon as the apostles hear that the promised Spirit will come in a matter of days, they (quite naturally!) want some clarification. The apostles gather around the Lord Jesus and ask him:

“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

Since the promise of the Spirit was part and parcel with the kingdom’s restoration, the apostles ask Jesus when all this will take place.10 Will you act now, Jesus? Will you immediately complete this restoration? When will this happen? How will this happen? It’s a fair question.

And, as we hear next, the Lord Jesus doesn’t really deny it.

“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.” (Acts 1:7-8)

Here the Lord Jesus diverts the apostles. He diverts their focus away from the “times” and “dates” of the kingdom’s restoration… … to the mission of the kingdom’s restoration. By using a collection of phrases about the ‘suffering servant’ from the book of Isaiah, the Lord Jesus commissions the apostles. He sends them to be like the suffering servant. The suffering servant whom the Spirit “comes upon” (cf. Isaiah 32:15); and whom will be the Lord’s “witness” (cf. Isaiah 43:10-12); and who will witness “to the ends of the earth” (cf. Isaiah 49:6). It’s as if Jesus were saying: “Don’t worry about times and dates, worry about the mission!” “You’re going to be my Spirit-empowered witnesses”.11 After the Lord Jesus ascends, the apostles will be suffering servants, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth in the power of the Spirit.

As Theophilus will turn each page in this volume, he’ll discover this very thing-he’ll see God’s kingdom slowly being restored. It will start with the Eleven, as the circle of Apostles is finally restored to Twelve with the addition of Matthias, just a few verses later (cf. Acts 1:12-26). It will then continue with the One Hundred and Twenty believers, who’ll receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-4). Then he’ll see the church grow to thousands in Jerusalem as whole households repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of their sins (cf. Acts 2:41). Then he’ll see the church do life together: meeting with one another, praying for one another, breaking bread with one another, caring for one another (cf. Acts 2:42-47). He’ll see people come to God, be healed, and receive times of “refreshing in the Lord” (cf. Acts 3:19). He’ll see the enemies of the church, repent and be saved (cf. Acts 9). And Theophilus will even see his own countrymen, people of Roman status and wealth, be filled with the promised Spirit and included into the kingdom (cf. Acts 11). You see, Theophilus will soon read about the spread of this Spirit-empowered servant community who witness to the ascended Christ.

The ascension of Christ is central to the mission.

1d. It’s central to the return of Christ (v9-14)

Finally, in verses 9-14, Luke shifts Theophilus’ attention just one more time. This time he focuses on what we’ve all been waiting for-the ascension itself. In this scene, we’re reminded that Christ’s ascension is also central to his return.

After the apostles are commissioned, the risen Christ ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father in glory. In verse 9, we hear that:

“After Jesus said [these things], he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9)

As the apostles look into the sky, the Lord Jesus is “taken up” higher and higher, until he is covered by a “cloud”. Here, Luke uses words and imagery which resemble stories from the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus is “taken up” to heaven like the prophet Elijah before he poured out his Spirit on Elisha (cf. 2 Kings 2:9-15). And the Lord Jesus also enters a “cloud”, something which was representative of God’s presence and glory in the Exodus (cf. Exodus 16:10). You see, these Old Testament echoes are a reminder that this isn’t just a disappearing act… this isn’t an entry into oblivion. No, Luke is showing Theophilus (and us) that the divine Son who lived, died, and rose-is also the one who ascended into the very presence and glory of the Father (cf. Luke 24:26). That the Lord Jesus was once here… … on earth. But now, he is not here… … and is reigning in heaven. He has entered into another dimension of reality, a heavenly one.

And as the apostles continue to witness this extraordinary scene and look up into the sky, two men suddenly appear.

“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.” (Acts 1:11).

Just like at the transfiguration (cf. Luke 9:30) and the empty tomb (cf. Luke 24:4) in Luke’s first volume, two men appear dressed in white. They’ve come from God to tell the apostles what all this means. And it’s quite simple: “Get your head out of the clouds!” “He’s gone!” “But he’s coming back!”. The apostles are being reminded and encouraged that God’s restoration of his kingdom has begun… and when Christ returns, it will be complete. This isn’t the end… … no this is the beginning of the end. And some day, the end will come… when Christ does.12 This is a promise, a pledge, that the ascended Christ will come again in glory just as he left.

The ascension of Christ is central to the return of Christ.

Then Luke concludes the whole scene with the eleven apostles obediently making their way back to Jerusalem to join with the other believers. Waiting, praying, and restored until the day when they’re all baptised in the Spirit.

“Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:12-14)


As Theophilus turned each page, I wonder what he thought? As he read this opening chapter, what do you think came into his mind? How do you think it might have impacted him? His heart? His life? His situation?

And, I wonder, this morning/evening-how might Christ’s ascension shape our perspective? How will it shape us-who we are as a church, here and now?

2a. People of the Ascended Christ

Well, it’s a reminder that you and I are people of the risen and ascended Christ. At the end of the day, that’s how we’re to perceive ourselves and that’s how we’re to perceive everything in the world around us. When any one of us is faced with uncertainty-we believe “Christ is on the throne”. When any one of us is faced with trials, sufferings, or persecutions-we believe “Christ is on the throne”. When our world is falling apart because of the reality of sin and evil-we believe “Christ is on the throne”. No matter where we are or what we’re going through, we are the church of the ascended Christ. We have a Lord, who died for us, who rose for, and who has ascended for us.

2b. Servants of the Ascended Christ

Since we are people of the ascended Christ, we’re also to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Whilst we’re certainly not the apostles (and won’t be able to do what the apostles did), we still have a similar purpose. Our purpose, as the church, is to be a “servant community” who witnesses about the ascended Lord.13 By the indwelling of the Spirit, we’re to speak of Christ. We’re to be a community which is moving outward, not inward, taking the gospel to every nook and cranny. We’re to be a church whose priority is being mini-suffering servants to our friends, to our family, to our neighbours, to our work-colleagues, and beyond. You see, no matter who we are, we’re the people of the ascended Christ, that means we’re to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.


You see, Acts 1:1-14 should give us a great deal of perspective. We’re people of the ascended Christ. This morning/evening, I want to leave you with these wonderful lyrics which capture so much of Christ’s exultation and glory.

Christ exalted is our song
Our anthem through eternity
Praises rise and wake the dawn
Heralding His majesty
Christ without a rival reigns
Over all creation
Name above all other names
Enthroned in adoration”

Christ exalted is our song
Buried but in vict’ry raised
The keys of death and life belong
To the Firstborn from the grave
Glory, glory to the King
Crowned with countless praises
Christ exalted we will sing
Throughout unending ages”

1 Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 27030.

2 Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ, 4.

3 Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ, 3-7.

4 Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ, 7.

5 Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, 100.

7 Donne, Christ Ascended, 67.

8 Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, 106.

9 Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, 106.

10 Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, 108.

11 Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, 107.

12 Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 114.

13 Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, 111.

14 Christ Exalted is Our Song by Sovereign Grace Music