Jesus taken up – The Holy Spirit sent down

Please read Acts 1 v 1-14 and then pray; Almighty God, open my mind that I may understand the Scriptures and be empowered to live for the glory of Christ my Saviour and Lord. Amen. (Luke 24:45)

There are two biblical accounts of the ascension of the Lord Jesus into heaven – both were written by Luke. We have heard one being read today from Luke’s second volume – Acts (see above). Now we listen to the account in his gospel from Luke 24. I will read from Luke 24 v 36f (a resurrection piece) because there is a strong theological and historical connection between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus. Through the resurrection Jesus is powerfully vindicated by the Father and then through the ascension Jesus is gloriously exalted by the Father. Read Luke 24 v 36-53.

John Stott in his excellent commentary on Acts writes: “It is certainly appropriate, as we have already seen, that Luke should conclude his first volume and introduce his second with the same event, the ascension of Jesus, since it was both the end of his earthly ministry and the prelude to his continuing ministry from heaven through the Spirit.”

As Luke tells us in the first sentence of Acts, his gospel conveyed to the world what Jesus began to do up until his ascension. Now Acts will reveal what Jesus continued to do through the work of the Spirit in the lives of his chosen apostles and through the life of the growing Church and its Spirit-filled people.

It is fascinating to see the connections between Luke 24: 36-53 and Acts 1: 1-14 and what Luke chooses to deliberately emphasise for the edification and encouragement of his readers. This is where we will begin our thinking today before going on to see the significance and necessity of both the ascension of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit – Jesus being taken up by the Father and the Holy Spirit being sent down by the Father and exalted Son. The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, along with Pentecost, are closely related and bound together.

So here are some important points of connection between Luke 24 and Acts 1.

  • There is a very strong emphasis on the reality and physicality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. In the gospel we here of Jesus telling the disciples that he is not a ghost; he invites them to look closely at his hands and feet, and he eats a piece of fish in their presence. In Acts, Luke speaks of Jesus eating with his disciples and providing many convincing proofs that he was alive. (Luke 24: 37-43, Acts 1:3-4)
  • Both the gospel and Acts highlight the importance of Jesus’ teaching ministry to the disciples over a forty-day period. (Luke 24: 44-45 and Acts 1:3) The teaching focused on the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the reign of God. Jesus was about to take up His reign from heaven.
  • Both the gospel and Acts speak about the disciple’s role as decisive witnesses. They are eye -witnesses of his resurrection and will be witnesses to his ascension. (Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8)
  • Luke’s gospel and Acts specify that the mission to the world will begin in (Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8). Jesus was crucified just outside Jerusalem. Near this city he was buried and resurrected. From here (the Mount of Olives) he will ascend. From Jerusalem – the mission to the ends of the earth will begin. Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit will also take place in Jerusalem in “a few days’ time.” (Acts 2:5)
  • Both Luke and Acts refer to the Spirit’s coming as the promise of the Father. (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). Jesus had spoken before his death about this promise from his Father – the promise of the Spirit of truth. From the beginning of Jesus’s ministry – the future baptism with the Holy Spirit had been spoken of by John the Baptist. But the promise of the Father really stretched back to the Old Testament prophets – prophets like Joel and Ezekiel. (Acts 2:16f)
  • Luke and Acts both stress Jesus’ command for the disciples to wait for the gift of the Spirit in order that they may be clothed with power. They must not leave Jerusalem until the Spirit has clothed and filled them with dunamis. (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5, 8)
  • In Luke and Acts, Luke uses identical wording to describe the ascension of Jesus. Jesus is taken up. (Luke 24:51) In Acts 1, this phrase “taken up” is used by Luke on no fewer than 4 occasions. (Acts 1:2, 9, 11, 22). The least we can say about the ascension is that it involved the taking up of Jesus by the Father.
  • Finally, in both Luke and Acts, we hear of the disciples immediately obeying Jesus by returning to Jerusalem in order to pray and praise and wait. (Luke 24: 52-53, Acts 1: 12-14)

Let us turn our attention for a few moments to the ascension of Jesus. There were forty days between the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension. Forty is a highly significant number throughout the bible, whether it is connected to the great flood at the time of Noah, the time Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving the law, or the number of days Jesus spent in the wilderness before his ministry began. There was a significant forty-day period at the beginning of his ministry on earth as Jesus faced temptation, and a similar forty-day period leading up to the end of his earthly ministry. There is a great symmetry and perfection about God’s ways and God’s timing. Nothing is ever arbitrary within God’s plans. All falls under the counsel of His will. In Acts 1:7, Jesus speaks about the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. The date of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and ascension were set in history by the Father’s authority. So was the date of Pentecost. So was the date of your conversion to Christ, and the date and timing of mine.

Even whilst in the process of speaking a final blessing upon his beloved disciples, Jesus we are told “was taken up” into heaven before their very eyes. Some struggle with the historicity of this story, but the ascension makes perfect sense. Once again, let me quote John Stott who states that “the visible, historical ascension had a readily intelligible purpose. Jesus had no need to take a journey in space, and it is silly of some critics to ridicule his ascension by representing him as the first cosmonaut. No, in the transition from his earthly to his heavenly state, Jesus could perfectly well have vanished, as on other occasions, and “gone to the Father” secretly and invisibly. The reason for a public and visible ascension is surely that he wanted them to know that he had gone for good. During the forty days he had kept appearing, disappearing, and reappearing. But now this interim period was over. This time his departure was final. So, they were not to wait around for his next resurrection appearance. Instead, they were to wait for somebody else, the Holy Spirit (1:4)”.

This was yet another fulfilment of one of the key promises of Jesus to his followers. If you study John’s gospel and what it reveals about Jesus’s teaching just before his death, he begins to use ascension language as part of his promises to his disciples. Jesus had talked about “leaving this world,” “going to the Father,” “returning to the place and to the glory” from which he had come. In John 13 where Jesus washes the disciple’s feet whilst being conscious that his death is near – John writes;

Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. (John 13:1)

When the resurrected Jesus met Mary Magdalene, he said this to her;

Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

How would Jesus go or return to the Father? Luke alone tells us what happened. Just as the Father raised his Son from death, so the Father took Jesus back up into heaven. Jesus lifted his hands to bless the disciples on the Mount of Olives, and the Father lifted Jesus back into His presence and glory symbolised by the arrival of the cloud. Enoch and Elijah had been “taken” by God according to the OT. Now God the Father, lifted his Son and took Him back into His presence and into His heavenly glory.

We are told that the disciples witnessed the coming of a cloud which hid Jesus from their sight. This must have been the cloud of God’s awesome presence and glory often mentioned in OT. This is the cloud that came down when Jesus was transfigured. This time it comes to transport Him – to take him into heaven where he would be seated at the right-hand side of His Father having completed the work of salvation.

What is undeniably stressed by Luke is that the ascension is something that the disciples witnessed with their own eyes. They saw Jesus ascend. They saw the cloud. Then they saw Jesus no more. He had disappeared from their sight. For Luke, this is history – as historical as the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

After he had 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.” (Acts 1: 9-11)

Acts will emphasise again and again that these disciples were eye-witnesses of the story they were to tell to the world. So, for example in Acts 5:30-32 the apostle Peter alongside the others boldly proclaims;

The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead-whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him (ascension) to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of THESE THINGS, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

Our faith today is built upon this reliable historical eye-witness testimony which is also endorsed and powerfully affirmed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth testifies to this truth. The Holy Spirit richly blesses the gospel of Jesus Christ – the gospel that unashamedly announces his miraculous birth, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and present exaltation and reign. Our Lord reigns! The Holy Spirit is witness to this! It had all been overseen and witnessed by the Spirit of God! By repenting of our sins, we can know forgiveness and reconciliation to God, peace with God now and forever, and receive the most precious gift of the Holy Spirit who brings new life. (Acts 2:38, 3:19)

Everything Luke writes he writes as a historian. Luke is a historian of the highest order. Why would he insert something “mythological” into an historical account of the earliest years of Church history? He was only interested in truth and facts built on credible eye-witness testimony. As he begins his gospel he writes;

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. (1:1)

This is why the ascension of the Lord Jesus has always been part of the precious historic creeds of the universal Church. Christians testify and proclaim as truth that Jesus rose, ascended, and now sits enthroned on high as Lord of all. As Christians, we too can acclaim with the apostle Paul;

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus very knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 9-11)

The ascension saw Jesus being exalted and enthroned and worshipped. He is our King and our Great High Priest! He is the author and perfector of our saving faith! Jesus commissioned his disciples and his church before he ascended. He said they were to take his gospel to the nations. All power and authority were Christ’s. Now it was almost time for his disciples to go to the nations with the good news. They were eager to go – but they had to hold back and wait just a little longer.

This leads us to the One who was now to come downthe Holy Spirit! Until Jesus had triumphantly ascended to take up His throne in heaven, until he had been installed as King forever (Psalm 2:6) – the Spirit could not come down to lead the mission to all nations on earth through the lives of the apostles and the Church.

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Jesus had to go, before the Spirit could come and fill each disciple with power and with a knowledge and a living experience of the His presence. The Spirit’s job was to be Jesus’ empowering and encouraging presence with the disciples as they took up the great and mighty task of taking the gospel to every nation. This task demanded power and supernatural strength and gifts. The Spirit would come down upon them and provide for each of his chosen ones.

There was a ten-day waiting period. This was a period of waiting prayer – waiting upon God – preparing to receive the promise of the Father and the Son. This is the period we are in now in the Church year; that time gap between the ascension of the Lord Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit in power.

The clear message of Luke in Acts is that disciples can go nowhere and do nothing without being clothed and filled and baptised with the Holy Spirit. This is a message for us now. For three years the disciples had Jesus alongside them, leading and teaching them. Now the Holy Spirit would come upon them and live within them. The Spirit would empower them to preach and bear witness and bring healing to the nations. The Spirit would be all that Jesus had been, but He would actually come and live within each one of them, to change and empower them.

Do we understand that the most important resource for the Church and for the Christian is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit? This is really all that matters – that all our efforts – whether they be preaching, teaching, serving, caring, praying, campaigning – must all be empowered by the Spirit. Nothing is more important than our knowledge of the Spirit’s power and strength. This is my greatest need as a Church leader, and it is Christchurch’s greatest need as a Church fellowship. To be ever filled and driven by the Spirit. In these important days for the life and future of the Church in our floundering and broken nation, let us prioritise waiting prayer; let us bid the Holy Spirit, “Come.” Oh, how desperately we need to be freshly anointed and filled with the blessed Holy Spirit!

Come Spirit of the living God and shake us and empower us to do the work of the Kingdom. Jesus taught his disciples that we must keep on asking, seeking, and knocking on the door of heaven for the gift of the Spirit. (Luke 11: 9-13) This is an ongoing need because there will always be fresh challenges, dangers, and barriers to the spreading of the gospel. When faced with threats and intimidation a few weeks after Pentecost, the apostles earnestly prayed to God – they sought God and after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken – and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31) The Holy Spirit brings boldness and eradicates fear. This is what the Church needs right now – the Holy Spirit providing and empowering bold and brave Christian witness. May it be so within our lives to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Revd Peter J Clarkson (21.5.23)