Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter Sunday, has been celebrated by the church from the early centuries AD – with good reason.
According to Luke, Jesus had presented Himself alive from the dead “by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3.
Christ is arisen!
They would have been unforgettable experiences for the disciples, seeing and hearing Jesus in His resurrection body, unmistakable proof that He had completely conquered sin and Satan, and death itself. Just like the two disciples who walked with Him on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), their hearts must have burned with excitement and wonder. He appeared to them in the upper room on the first Easter Sunday, and a week later, Thomas had the opportunity to touch the resurrection body of Jesus that bore the marks of His crucifixion, evidence that He had died to sin, once for all. (John 20:19-29)
There was no doubt whatsoever. Jesus Christ was arisen from the dead. Everything He had prophesied about Himself was true. For 33 years He had been on earth as a human being with a nature like ours, had been tempted in every way just like us and, by dying to sin and His own will, He had overcome Satan who had the power of death, completed a way through the flesh which we can follow, and presented Himself as a spotless sacrifice to God – a perfect atonement for the sins of mankind. Satan could no longer accuse anybody to God, because the debt was paid in full. (Colossians 2:13-14) Moreover, He encouraged them to stay in Jerusalem because very soon they would also receive power to overcome and be His witnesses through the Holy Spirit, whom He would send them from heaven.
Jesus returns to His Father in heaven
But to do that He first had to return to heaven, and take His rightful place at the right hand of the Father. That took place near Bethany on the Mount of Olives. (Luke 24:50) That was a glorious open-air meeting. With the farewell promise that He would not leave His disciples alone, but through the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Helper, the Teacher of Righteousness, He would be with them always, even to the end of the age. (John 16:7, Matthew 28: 18-20) Jesus was taken up before their eyes “and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
I think had we been there we might also have stood there in silent farewell, gazing steadfastly up into heaven. But God has work for us to do, and He sent two angels to give the disciples their marching orders, “‘This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem … and all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” Acts 1:9-14. These 120 people were the first fruits of the church, and it was given to them to lay the foundations of God’s temple on earth, made from living stones who follow Jesus on the way that He made for us.
The temple is completed
Now in these days God is adding the top stone to the building, disciples who with one accord are being built together as a holy temple in the Lord, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:14-22) When this work has been completed, then will come the rapture, our Ascension Day, when the faithful disciples who are also first fruits to God and the Lamb, will be raised up to meet Him in the clouds.
And when He returns and sets foot on the Mount of Olives again on His white horse, King of kings and Lord of Lords, He who is Faithful and True, His disciples will be with Him, and together they will cleanse the earth from all evil and unrighteousness. (Zechariah 14:4-5, Revelation 19:11-21)
Yes, Ascension Day is a day worth celebrating. At one time it was a public holiday when people could go to church and worship God and Jesus, even though they may not have understood fully its significance. But the spirit of antichrist is working to replace religious holidays by secular holidays, intending to change times (Daniel 7:25), and for many people Ascension Day is just another day. May as many as possible gain understanding about its special significance in God’s glorious plan of salvation for mankind.