Musing on the Ascension and waiting

Yesterday was the anniversary day of the Ascension. The day Jesus returned to Heaven.  He spent forty days on earth after the Resurrection teaching and explaining things to the disciples.  There are a few interactions recorded in scripture of some of the time He spent but most of it was not. Basically, the forty days were spent with Jesus really explaining the meaning of scripture to the disciples in relation to what just happened. He made sure they were on a sure ground of understanding. In the Gospel of Luke he is described as opening their minds to understand scripture. In the book of Acts he is described as teaching them about the Kingdom of God.   Jesus took time to make sure they fully understood and had full knowledge before he returned to heaven. He also gave them instruction to wait.  They were waiting for the power, the Comforter that was promised.  They waited because the knowledge itself was not enough; the power of the Holy Spirit was needed.  So the disciples waited. 

The ascension was definitely a strange day for the disciples. They had to be awe struck as they saw Jesus leave. Acts describes them as just standing there staring. They needed a message from angels to get them moving again and they followed direction.  The emotions had to be raw. There had to be pain of separation. They had forty days of joy and learning and wondering what would happen next.  The learned new insights and really began to fully understand and then Jesus left with instructions to wait.   Since they were all gathered together on Pentecost, I believe they were told how long they had to wait and the importance of the day to come. No it is possible Jesus did not spell it out and they all were together to celebrate the feast. God does often leaves waiting without the details, but I believe Jesus told them enough to know that the coming Feast something important would happen.  So they waited and prayed. Excitement and anxiety building each day for what would come. 

Waiting is difficult.  When waiting on God to act and move in His time is challenges faith. There is the mix of anxiety and excitement.  There are often encroaching doubts and questions.  Especially in relations to be sure of understanding fully what God has shown us.  The time is best spent seeking God, taking time to understand what has gone on, make preparations for what is ahead, but still it is waiting.  Often God works as he did here.  He gives us times of knowledge, learning, and growth. He then has us enter a time of waiting and preparation.  The waiting period serves to let us more deeply grasp what we learned and let it reach a level beyond just knowledge.  Sometimes the waiting is tough, particularly if we are not given specifics of when.  However, knowing the specifics does not make it any easier.  There is always a temptation not to wait, to take matters into own hands and bring about what God promises on our own.  Scripture is filled with examples of such choices.  In the days following the Ascension though we have a picture of faithful waiting. 

Ultimately we are all in an ongoing process of waiting that is undefined. Jesus has left and his return is soon. We have the Holy Spirit to direct and comfort us, to leads us in to the right paths and to build us up and cleanse us.  We have the ongoing work of salvation and sanctification going on in our lives.  Yet, the waiting gets tough.  We live in a world filled with darkness filled with pain and suffering. Each of our lives is touched with pain and sorrow.   We lose focus. The pains, doubts, and anxiety overwhelm us. God’s love and plan is questioned. We easily get distracted and lose focus.  Yet, Jesus is coming soon.   Yet, while he is in Heaven making all preparations, he is still active and he is here.  We have access through the Holy Spirit and He is here. 

So we wait and we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  We are to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  We can rest simply on our knowledge and what is written in God’s word. Yet, the disciples were told to wait for more. We cannot diminish or separate the importance of the Holy Spirit and His empowerment.  For if we are acting simply of our own knowledge are efforts are of self and weak. When we are following the lead of the Holy Spirit and acting at His direction, God moves in powerful ways. Sometimes we are aware and see the result, often it is unseen for we are at the time where each day is a day to grow in faith.  Waiting is really about time to grow and build faith.  In waiting we learn the limits of our faith. In waiting God causes what he has done to grow and take root.  Waiting is a really a Holy time we really struggle to grasp. The ten days that the disciples waited before being empowered by the Holy Spirit were a special, God ordained time.   The time is painful, difficult, and intense but God has a purpose.  When waiting follow the disciples lead and review, worship, pray, and prepare.  Do not retreat into fear and anxiety but look ahead and behind for the time that is coming, what God has in store is glorious.  When Jesus returns there will be no greater day. When God acts in our life in the now, it reflects that greater glory as he moves in deeper maturity and dependency on Him.


5 Responses

  1. Tim,

    I read this entry. It appears you wrote it on May 13, and called the anniversary of the Ascension “yesterday,” which would have been May 12.

    You’re a day off, I’m afraid… unless I’ve misunderstood your post.

    Here’s why, and I’m about to be VERY long-winded…

    There are many traditions about Ascension Day, but traditions don’t mean as much to me as what Scripture actually says. So I investigated the relevant Scriptures, to make sure of my reply.

    First I want to make something clear: I haven’t been to Israel myself yet, so I’m doing my best as someone who’s never been to the land itself.

    Given that caveat, here’s the facts as I understand them:

    First, the location of the Ascension is a matter of some debate because it is not mentioned in every Gospel.

    Matthew offers the Great Commission but does not mention the Ascension. John also does not mention it. Mark mentions the Ascension in summary but not where it takes place.

    So our only clues to the location of His ascension come from the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts. And even though Luke wrote both books, they appear to contradict each other.

    Luke says, in Luke 24:50-51

    [quote]When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.[/quote]

    Meanwhile, Acts says this in Acts 1:9-12

    [quote]After he 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.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[b] from the city.[/quote]

    So we have what APPEARS to be a contradiction… Luke says “the vicinity of Bethany,” but Acts has them returning from “the hill called the Mount of Olives.” This would be disturbing if this indeed was a contradiction.

    However, that’s not the case! You see, Bethany lies on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. That would mean that the Ascension could easily have taken place in “the vicinity of Bethany” and on the Mount of Olives… in fact, it would indicate that it happened on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, in all likelihood, based on this biblical evidence.

    Check this out:

    Now, that site says Jerusalem is located “less than two miles to the west.”

    How does that agree with the Acts passage that says that the walk from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem is “a Sabbath’s day walk” away?

    Well, we know that in the Judaism of Yeshua’s day, travel was often considered work; so significant travel on the Sabbath was generally considered something that ought not be done.

    This is based on Exodus 16:29, which reads, “Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” Jewish tradition later amended this to allow for a half-mile of travel on the Sabbath… because if no one left their house, no one could go to the Temple for services.

    Now, this potentially comes into conflict with the Scriptural facts, too; how can Jerusalem be less than two miles away, yet the Ascension location is also in the vicinity of Bethany on the Mount of Olives, and still be “a Sabbath Day’s walk” from Jerusalem, which would have to be, according to Jewish tradition, less than a half mile.

    Here is where I think we can allow for some leniency in understanding this in light of Jewish tradition. You see, Yeshua came to fill up the commands with meaning, but he also spoke out against the restrictive laws of the Pharisees, which is the movement that became modern-day Judaism.

    Yeshua is the one who said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” So I think Yeshua might have had a more lenient definition of “a Sabbath day’s walk” than most Orthodox rabbis, if only because he would want people to see the true intention of the command… travel for work, travel for self, travel for errands and all such other purposes of travel are to be avoided; but travel to a place of worship? Certainly the command was not to be interpreted so strictly that one could not attend a worship service on a day the L-RD has asked to be set aside for worship of Him, right?

    So, I don’t think we need to let the Jewish tradition of a half-mile over-rule Scripture here. Also, I don’t believe Ascension Day happened on a regular weekly Sabbath (and I’ll prove that in a bit) so the restriction would not strictly come into play here.

    In this particular case, I believe we’re dealing with an idiomatic expression: “a Sabbath’s day walk from the city” does not strictly have to mean “a half-mile from the city.” I think it’s more of a first-century was of saying “a rather short walk.” And less than two miles is not that long a walk, really. After all, I doubt all Israelites lived within a quarter-mile of their nearest house of worship, which they would have to in order to strictly observe the Jewish tradition of a half-mile travel restriction.

    All that to say, I think we can safely assume the Ascension happened on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives in the vicinity of Bethany.

    Others will twist and turn, trying to turn Bethany into Bethphage, in order to place the Ascension point closer to Jerusalem and within the half-mile Sabbath travel restriction. I don’t think it’s necessary to do that, and Scripture does say Bethany, not Bethphage.

    Now, as to the mater of WHEN Yeshua ascended… Acts 1:3B says, “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. ”

    Acts is the only account of the TIMING of the Ascension. It is assumed to be 40 days after his Resurrection, because of the verse above, and then contextually it goes on to relate some of Yeshua’s last commands on “one occasion” and after that is related, the text says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

    So I believe the evidence for the Ascension happening 40 days after the Resurrection is accurate to our best understanding of the Gospel and Acts accounts.

    So when was Ascension Day, and how do we know when to mark its anniversary?

    Well, first we have to know when Yeshua was resurrected… and not by the Greco-Roman calendar, but according to the Jewish calendar.

    Yeshua was resurrected on “the first day of the week.” This was a “morrow after the Sabbath” following Passover, which would mean Yeshua was resurrected on a Sunday following the regular Sabbath on a Passover week. This means he rose on the feast of the first fruits of the barley harvest.

    Now, Jewish tradition can be misleading here; they often count the feast of firstfruits as starting on the day right after Passover, since Passover is a Sabbath itself.

    However, the command for the feast of firstfruits is that it is to occur on the morrow after The Sabbath. The Hebrew indicates a word in the command that means “the regular, weekly Sabbath.” However, many people get led astray when the pay too much attention to the Greek Septuagint, where that same word is translated “weeks” instead of “Sabbath.”

    This gets into a complicated theological argument that would take a while to explain sufficiently, so let me just give you the upshot: the Hebrew original should overrule the Greek translation (Septuagint) when the two are in conflict, period. So even though most Jewish people follow the rabbis, and many Christians and Messianics do as well, there’s a problem with the math if first-fruits begins on any day other than Sunday. Why?

    Because the command is that starting with the feast of first fruits, one is to count off seven sabbaths, and after the 49th day, on the day FOLLOWING the Sabbath, one is to then celebrate Pentecost/Shavuot.

    Trouble is, let’s say Passover falls on a Tuesday. If they call that a Sabbath, the to follow the rabbinic method, firstfruits would be a Wednesday, right? But if you count off seven sabbaths following that, you don’t get to 50 days… and Shavuot/Pentecost is to be 50 days after first fruits.

    So maybe you count out 50 days instead, no matter when Passover (and thus, first fruits, falls)… then it’s always 50 days, right? But part of the command is that Shavuot/Pentecost is to immediately follow the “seventh Sabbath.” And that would mean, in my Tuesday example, that at day 50, you’re back on a Wednesday, so you’re not celebrating it immediately after the Sabbath.

    So, to properly observe both Firstfruit AND Shavuot/Pentecost as commanded in the Hebrew Torah (not the Greek Septuagint), one MUST start with Firstfrutis falling on the first Sunday after Passover, and then conclude with Shavuot/Pentecost falling on the 50th day… a Sunday following the seventh Sabbath.

    Only by doing it this way can the full Biblical command be observed, and we are to observe the Bible itself, not our own traditions, as Yeshua pointed out when he scolded the Pharisees, saying, in Mark 7:9, “And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!'”

    So, Yeshua rose on the firstfruits of the barley harvest. This year, that fell on April 4. (The rabbis would argue for March 31)

    That places Pentecost/Shavuot on Sunday, May 23, the 50th day out. (The rabbis would argue for Wednesday, May 19).

    If Shavuot/Pentecost is the 50th day, and Yeshua ascended on the 40th day, that would place his Ascension on Thursday, May 13. (The rabbinical method would place it on May 9 this year).

    What you wrote is that it happened “yesterday.” You wrote this on May 13. So you appear to be a day off and this day doesn’t match either the Biblical or the rabbinic method. Counting 40 days from the resurrection, one could argue for the rabbinical count (May 9) or the Biblical count (May 13) as ascension day, but no count yields May 12.

    Perhaps you were writing late on May 13 and thought your post would appear on May 14 by the time you were done? I’m not sure.

    But my position would be that it was May 13, because I count the days from firstfruits to Shavuot/Pentecost using the Biblical method.

    I hope, long-winded as this was, that this was helpful and easy to follow.

  2. I wrote this well after midnight on the 13th anticipating it would show being posted on the 14th. Some how my timing is off on “word press” so it posted in the 13th.

  3. Hi Tim & Craig, confession time, it was my fault Craig got going on the exact day. The first time I saw this entry, I thought Ascension Day fell on my birthday, so I PM’ed Craig… It didn’t, so the world is still safe from me… *LOL*

    Tim, I just love your Blog! This latest entry really spoke to me today! My question has to do with recognizing the leading of the Holy Spirit. Is there any way to be sure I’m really hearing from the Holy Spirit and not just doing what I think is “right”? This really matters, because I am at a major turning point in my life. Insights would be very welcome about now.

  4. No it is okay, and I think I fixed my timing issues with WordPress so that doesn’t happen any more. Sounds like need to at least start a forum discussion. I will get back up to posting again here. Had a bit of a bug, up early this AM. actually there may be a blog article to write on the subject as well.

  5. Forum post might be a good idea. I have finally burned myself out for today, so whoever gets there first gets the honor of starting the thread!

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