The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,…
I. THE FACT. Seneca said: "The ascent from earth to heaven is not easy." But Seneca was an atheist, if we may believe his adversaries. The atheist will not receive the witness of men. And Jesus said: "How shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" The difficulties concerning supernaturalism are all difficulties of disbelief. To the mind of the believer there appears nothing that is difficult to Jesus in His miracles. The ascension of Jesus, like the resurrection or birth of Jesus, was only natural supernaturalism. It "was a necessary consequence of the resurrection," as it was the consummation of the series of His redemptive miracles. It was natural with Him; it would have been unnatural with His disciples. The time, the place, the nature, and the witnesses of the ascension will corroborate the supernatural claim. The time was opportune. "After having lived awhile on earth; after having offered His body as a sacrifice for sin; after having been raised from the dead; after having shown Himself alive to His disciples by many infallible proofs, then He led them out as far as Bethany, and in the presence of the whole Church then collected together He was taken up into heaven." Equally interesting, fitting, and convincing was the locality of the ascension. The nature of the ascension is evidence of the fact of the ascension. Jesus simply arose from the earth to go into the heavens. He had brought His body from the grave, and it belonged no more with corruptible things. It was not subject to the conditions or limitations of the earth. To go away was all that remained to be done. There was nowhere else to go but into the heavens. The witnesses of the ascension were not deceived, and could not be deceivers. They were the friends of Jesus. It accorded with their faith to expect that, like Enoch and Elijah, He should be caught up in the air. They were overcome with their sorrow when He was crucified. But now they had returned to Jerusalem with great joy. The angels who had announced His birth and proclaimed His resurrection were present to confirm His ascension. Stephen, when permitted to answer to the accusation of blasphemy in his apology, uttered in the very article of death, said: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." And among his last words were: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And John, from the isle of Patmos, saw in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks the Son of Man, whom he heard saying: "I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." So also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath sent, is a witness. His presence in the hearts of men is the greatest witness. "He shall testify of Me." If Jesus had not ascended the Holy Spirit would not be here.
II. THE DOCTRINE. The ascension of Jesus was essential to the plan and work of redemption. It was necessary to relate again the work which Jesus had come to do in the earth with the world from whence He came. He had accomplished a virtual redemption. He was thenceforth to make it actual. It was prophesied that He would ascend on high, lead captivity captive, and receive gifts for men. He himself had foretold that He should go away. The ascension was the fulfilment of prophecy and the verifiaation of His own words. Without the ascension the world could not have understood Him. It was the explanation of His character and work on the earth. Christianity was triumphant at the ascension. Sin was mastered, death was dead, and man was free. In the ascension of Jesus there was given to all believers the surety of their ascension. The heavens are now the pledge of another advent of the Son of Man.
III. THE RESULTS. There were both direct and indirect results of the ascension. The ascension was the dividing point between the gospel and the apostolic histories. It concluded the one and introduced the other. The peasant becomes a prince. He is given a name which is above every name. He is returned to the honours which He had with the Father before the world was. The last act of Jesus as He ascended was to lift up His hands and bless. In the very sight of Gethsemane and Calvary, "with malice toward none and charity for all," He went away blessing the cruel world which had received Him not, and dispensing gifts not to His friends only, but to the rebellious also. Of the great gift, in which all other gifts are included — the gift of the Holy Ghost which came on all men-we are all witnesses and partakers. The indirect influences of the ascension have been and are multifarious as the intellections and emotions of men. With the ascension the personal element of the Christ who had gone about doing good was taken from the earth, and it no longer excited malefactors to persecute Him. His disciples were exalted with Him. They were raised "into union and fellowship with a higher nature." The Father and the heavenly world were brought nearer and made dearer to the children of men. It is now the aspiration of all Christians to explore with the Son of Man the heavenly spaces.
(J W. Hamilton.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,