The Promise of the Holy Spirit
1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and the disciples saw Him go. Luke records the scene when Jesus said goodbye to His disciples: “He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:50–52, italics added). Why “great joy”?
It’s never easy to say goodbye. I remember struggling when we said goodbye to my parents at Glasgow Airport. We were well prepared, and everyone agreed that our move from Britain to the United States was the right thing. But we were leaving our home country, and however well prepared you are to say goodbye, it is never easy when the moment comes.
If our family and friends had thrown a party when our plane left, we would have found that rather strange. So what are we to make of the disciples’ joy when Jesus left them?
The disciples’ joy is all the more strange when we remember how horrified they were when Jesus had spoken about leaving during the Last Supper. Something must have happened so that what they once dreaded now became a cause for celebration. Our aim in this session is to discover what that was.
Lifted into the Cloud
Luke records that when Jesus “was lifted up… a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). When Luke tells us about a cloud, he is not giving a report on the weather conditions in Jerusalem! When God’s people were in the desert, He revealed Himself in a pillar of cloud. Similarly, in the time of Solomon, the cloud of God’s presence came down and filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10–13). When the disciples saw the glory of Jesus in the transfiguration, they heard the voice of God speaking from a cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
Now Luke tells us: “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Could anything be clearer than this? Jesus had come from the Father, and now, having finished His work, He was returning to His Father in heaven.
Adam was expelled from the garden, and all of his children were alienated from God. But Christ was welcomed into heaven, and all His children will be reconciled to God. The first Adam led us all out. The last Adam leads us all in. That’s why the disciples went back to Jerusalem with joy.
An Advocate in Heaven
When Christ ascended into heaven, the disciples knew that He was exactly where they needed Him to be.
Suppose you are in prison on a charge that carries the death penalty if convicted. You need a good attorney, the best you can get.
You find a good attorney, and as you get to know him, you discover that he is not only a skilled lawyer, but also a man of great compassion. His visits to your cell bring you great comfort, and as you build a relationship, you find that you can talk to him about the difficulties of your life.
This is of great value, but what you need most from your attorney is not his comfort in the cell. You need him to defend you in the courtroom.
Our greatest need, as sinners, is not comfort on earth, but defense in heaven. We need an advocate who will plead our case, and “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
Imagine standing in the courtroom of heaven.1 Satan, your accuser, has a case to present against you. The courtroom is filled with angels, who rise as God takes His place as the Judge. Your accuser takes his papers and begins to stride around the court as he presents his case. The sum of it is that you are guilty of sin and that you should be condemned.
He begins by stating that you were born in sin and that your nature is corrupt. He then proceeds to accuse you of particular sins that you committed when you were young. He follows your life story, identifying moments of cowardice, complacency, pride, pettiness, and greed. You cringe as you listen, overwhelmed by a sense of your own shame.
Finally, the accuser clinches his argument by pointing out that even though you professed to be a believer in Christ, your faith was often weak, and you had many doubts. His case is compelling, and you fear that you will be condemned.
Then Jesus steps forward. He takes His brief in hand and begins to argue in your defense. “My client admits that every word spoken by the prosecution is true. We do not contest any of the charges, nor do we claim any mitigating circumstances. My client is guilty as charged.”
But, as He lifts His nail-scarred hands, He says, “I have here a full pardon purchased with My own blood.”
The accuser has no answer to this. His whole case against you crumbles and is thrown out of court. Our defense is that Jesus Christ has died for our sins. They have already been judged at the cross, and once a charge has been dealt with, it cannot be brought again. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
The Continuing Work of Jesus
Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that last impressions make a powerful impact. We remember people as we last saw them. The last glimpse the disciples had of Jesus was with His hands raised to bless them: “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51).
The ascension speaks to us both of the completed work and the continuing work of Jesus. He has completed the work of offering Himself as the sacrifice for sin. There is no more sacrifice to be offered, no more atonement to be made, nothing more that needs to be done to placate the wrath of God and release forgiveness to His people. That work is complete. It is finished!
But Jesus also has a continuing work. As He sits at the right hand of the Father, He continues what He was doing when He ascended, pouring out His blessing on His people. “He always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25), and this work will go on until He returns.
The Promise of His Presence
Jesus ascended into heaven, but He was still with His disciples through the Holy Spirit. This is what Christ was referring to when He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7; see also Acts 1:4-5).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father, and at the same time, He is present in the hearts of believers by the Holy Spirit. The Son of God represents us to the Father, and the Spirit of God represents the Father and the Son to us.
Though we have never seen Jesus, His presence with us through the Holy Spirit is as real as it was when He walked with the disciples. Christ calls us to “go… and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). We are to be his “witnesses… to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And as we go in His name, Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The Promise of His Return
When Jesus ascended, two angelic figures appeared and said to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
God has promised that just as Jesus was snatched up into the cloud, when He returns, we will be caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). What happened to Jesus in His ascension will happen to us when He comes in glory.
Christians are still waiting for the great day when Christ will come again. Every Christian will be part of that day, including those who have already died. Those who are already with the Lord and those who are alive when He comes will be with the Lord forever.
As a believer, you can have great joy today, knowing that your ascended Lord is at the right hand of the Father and that His hands are raised in blessing over you. Through the Holy Spirit, His presence is always with you, empowering you to do all that He calls you to do. And when He comes again, He will take you up into His presence forever.
- When have you had a difficult “goodbye”? What made it so hard?
- Why did the disciples have joy when Jesus left them?
- Respond to the statement: “Our greatest need, as sinners, is not comfort on earth, but defense in heaven.”
- As you think about standing in the courtroom of heaven, what would your defense be?
- What does the ascension of Jesus point forward to?