Having spent some months considering the burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we now move on to the next great event: His ascension into heaven, and what results from it. It is interesting to observe the terms the writers use for His ascension.
In Acts 1:10 we read that the disciples “looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up.” This draws our attention to the obvious, but important fact, that He was no longer with them; He was going. For well over 30 years He had been physically, bodily, on this earth. For the latter part of this period they had constantly been with Him; but no more. From this day forward, their lives would never be the same. During the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension, He had spoken many things to prepare them for this day. Yet we are not surprised to read they “looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up.” They did not want to miss their last glimpse of Him. Many of us have lingered an extra moment at a grave side, taken one last look at the coffin about to be covered with earth, turned our back, and walked away, with a heavy heart. It was not so for that company, which “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52, KJV). Why? In part, at least, because they had the glad assurance which came from the message of the angels, still ringing in their ears: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go” (Acts 1:11, KJV). And, for us, too, this is a source of unspeakable joy: the very fact that He has gone means that He is coming again. He is coming to the air for us: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3, KJV). And, afterwards, He is coming to the earth with us – “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints” (1Thes 3:13, KJV). His own people, and this world, have certainly not seen the last of Him. Praise His name!
Four times in Acts 1 we read these words in connection with His ascension, but on three of the four (vv2, 11, 22) it is the phrase elsewhere translated “received up” (see later). The remaining one is found in verse 9, and this is its only occurrence in connection with the ascension: “While they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” In the great majority of its occurrences in the New Testament it is translated “lifted up.” W. E. Vine indicates the word can mean “to raise up, to lift, to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised, physically,” or “to take away what is attached to anything, to remove.” Both are relevant to this great event. He Who in grace and humility had deigned to live on this sinful earth, was detached and taken up from it; raised up from it, and carried away. Here was an exodus entirely befitting Him; how dignified and orderly! Sometimes when we hear of the death of a believer and the circumstances of that death, the comment is made, “It was a nice way to go.” But the best way of all to go was the way He went. And, amazing thought, if we are still alive when He comes, this is how we will go: lifted up, separated from our attachment to this earth, taken up, by Himself, to meet Him in the air, and to be forever with Himself.
The following words are recorded in Luke 24:51: “And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” This term, “carried up,” is derived from a word meaning “to bear,” and, quoting again from the ever-helpful W. E. Vine, it “is used of ‘leading persons to a higher place,’ and, in this respect, of the Lord’s ascension, Luke 24:51.” Thus, while the previous term (“taken up”) would draw our attention to where He was taken from, this phrase brings our thoughts to where He has arrived, and it surely is “a higher place.” A few short weeks previously He had been elevated by wicked hands on a cross of shame, but now He is borne up in glorious exaltation. What a joy to our hearts, to think that He is “higher than the heavens” (Heb 7:26, KJV). More on that next month, in His will.
As noted above, this is the word translated “taken up” three times in Acts 1, and it is also used in Mark 16:19: “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” To quote Vine one last time, it means “to take to oneself, receive.” Here, surely, we have the reception granted to Him when He arrived back in heaven.
How different this was to the attitude toward Him of the citizens of Jerusalem. “Away with Him” they had cried (John 19:15, KJV). Now the rejection of earth is answered by the reception of heaven. What a contrast there is between His departure from earth and His arrival in heaven. A small group of His own stood on a hill outside a city to see Him off, but what a vast congregation eagerly received Him as He arrived home!
Without doubt, all in heaven welcomed Him on His glorious return; yet there was One, supreme above all others, Who “took Him to Himself” with unsurpassed pleasure and joy, His Father. We can scarcely even begin to envisage the joy of this event. We can do no better than quote those majestic words of Paul: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1Tim 3:16, KJV).