Essentials of the Ascension

 Acts 1 and Genesis 1 have interesting similarities. Both deal with temple creation. In Genesis God creates heaven and earth to be a temple, and in Acts he creates the church to be a temple.
In Genesis the building process is all about ordering and empowering. God separates dark from light, the water above from the water below, and the water below from land. He fills the sky with lights, the water with fish, and the land with animals, and finally he creates and empowers people to rule the earth. Then on the seventh day God rests. In ancient times gods rested in temples. The temple was built by worshippers and then the god was invited to rest in it. This did not mean they went to sleep, it meant their presence brought order to the temple and its surrounding community. When a god rested there was no more chaos. Genesis is telling us that Israel’s God built the universe as his temple and then brought his order and rule to it.
In Acts 1 God sets up the church as a temple. Again it is about ordering and empowering. The cross is the foundation for God’s temple. Proof that Jesus had risen and conquered sin and death brought order to a disillusioned and scattering group of disciples; Peter was reinstated, Thomas encouraged, the Emmaus pair envisioned, and the brothers of Jesus enlightened. Finally they were all commissioned to represent Jesus and take God’s rule to all the earth. Then on the fiftieth day (Pentecost) the Spirit of God rested in his new temple; the church. This rest brings order, rule and power to the church and their surrounding community.
The Ascension is the primary event that takes place in Acts 1. Before ascending Jesus did the necessary for his church on earth and after it he did the necessary for his church in heaven. Let’s look at four essential things Jesus did to get this new temple living and active.
He demonstrated that he was alive.
Acts 1:3 says Jesus gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. The God-man couldn’t bring his rule and order if he were dead. These appearances were essential to those who would represent him and extend his rule to all nations. Having seen the risen Jesus appear again and again they were convinced that the he was always with them, ordering and empowering their exploits for him.
He cemented his leadership.
Peter denied Jesus at his arrest but before ascending Jesus reinstated him as the primary leader telling him to ‘feed my sheep’ (John 21:17). After the Ascension Peter assumed this leadership; he immediately stood up and called for a completion of the apostolic twelve by finding a replacement for Judas (15). Just as Israel was represented by 12 tribes so the church is represented by 12 apostles. Judas’ replacement had to be someone who was an eye-witness of all Jesus said and did from the time he was baptised by John till he ascended to heaven. Only 2 out of 120 qualified: Joseph and Matthias. The decision between the two equals was made by casting lots. This leadership formed a solid foundation. The world may not be into institutional religion, but it seems that God is.
He commissioned his representatives.
Jesus told his followers to go to the ends of the earth (8). They were to take his rule world-wide just as God’s representatives in Genesis were told to rule all the earth. Straight after Jesus gave this command he ascended into heaven. And while the disciples were still looking ‘intently’ into the sky two angels appeared beside them and ask ‘Why are you looking into the sky?’(10) Were these angels dumb, or were they trying to make a veiled point? Definitely the latter; the angels obviously thought the disciples where involved in a fruitless exercise. I imagine the disciples had been staring at the spot where Jesus had disappeared for some time and they may even have been waiting to see if he was going to come down again. These angels were telling them to forget about when Jesus would return and get on with being obedient. Hello! There is a message in this. Much of the church today is focused on Jesus’ return. Believers pour their time and energy into ‘the signs of the times’ and the date of ‘the rapture’; but Jesus told his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (7). The church is empowered to reach the world but it’s looking into the sky. We are empowered spectators! We watch the performance on the platform at church, we watch the performance on Christian TV, but we are empowered to hit the streets and do the stuff Jesus did. The book of Acts is called Acts because it lists the acts of the early church. They laid a good foundation. May the structure we build on top be of the same quality!
He sent the empowering Spirit.
Jesus said the disciples would receive power when the Spirit came (8). This happened at Pentecost – the ‘50th day’ after Passover. Jesus was sacrificed at Passover and then he continued to appear for 40 days before ascending to heaven. The church then waited 10 days for the Spirit to be poured out. When the Spirit came all of them began to speak in languages of the known world. Was God trying to make another veiled point? Absolutely! He was giving them vivid confirmation that they now had the power to go to all nations. And they did. We are the proof!
Just as God rested on the seventh day in Genesis so his Spirit rested on the fiftieth day in Acts; his order and rule was coming on earth as it is in heaven; new creation had begun.

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