One Ascension?

Published 9:45 pm Saturday, April 20, 2024

By R.A. Mathews

To me, it’s odd, but I will let you decide.

The Day of Ascension is Thursday, May 9, which celebrates Jesus’ return to His heavenly Father. Odd because it’s 39 days after Easter, but Jesus ascended 40 days after Easter, which falls on Friday. Here’s the passage:

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“…He was taken up to heaven … appearing to (the disciples) over a period of forty days and speaking of things regarding the kingdom of God … And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were watching, and a cloud took Him up, out of their sight … Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.” (Acts 1:1-12).

Luke’s 40 days end on a Friday, which was also the Jewish Sabbath. When Luke says “a Sabbath day’s journey,” he assures the reader that the apostles walked no farther than what was allowed for the Sabbath, which was three-quarters of a mile. 

The much bigger odd thing to me is that the church only acknowledges one Ascension. As I said, I’ll let you decide if there’s another. The following scene from Mark’s Gospel happens the evening after Jesus’ resurrection.

“…He appeared to the eleven disciples themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reprimanded them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen from the dead … So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God”  (Mark 16:14-19).

Luke describes this Easter Day event in greater detail, beginning with a man who joined two of Jesus’ disciples as they walked toward the village of Emmaus that afternoon.

The man ate dinner with them, and they abruptly realized it was Jesus. The Lord disappeared, and the two hurried back to Jerusalem that night to tell the disciples. That’s when Jesus appeared to all of them. He then ascended. Here’s the passage:

“Now that same day two of (the disciples) were going to a village called Emmaus …  As they talked … Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him … As they approached the village … they urged him … to stay with them.

“When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and … then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight …  

“And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together…

“Now while they were telling these things, Jesus Himself suddenly stood in their midst … He showed them His hands and His feet…

“Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures … 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 parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:13-51).

In both passages, it looks like an Easter Day Ascension. Or did Mark and Luke write of the Easter dinner and merge that with the Ascension 40 days later? 

Carefully read Luke’s passages and you’ll have your answer. Remember, Luke made a point to state that the disciples only traveled a Sabbath’s journey, which was three-quarters of a mile. Scripture tells us Bethany was much farther.

“Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia away… ” (John 11:18).

The NASB footnote defines fifteen stadia as “Possibly 2 miles or 3 km.” Moreover, Bethany is now called Al-Eizariya, which is also 2 miles or 3 km from Jerusalem.  

The Mt. of Olivet ascension and the Bethany ascension appear to be two separate events, on separate days, and in separate places?

Scripture points to a third ascension, which is a discussion for another day.

To me, it’s odd that the church doesn’t acknowledge the Easter Ascension, but read the passages again and you decide. Let me know your thoughts.

I believe Jesus longed to see His Father and went to Him soon after the Resurrection. I would believe that if nothing was written of His ascension.

Read Scripture. Read it with prayer and the Holy Spirit. Also read it with your heart. 

Next week: Why did Jesus lead His disciples to Bethany, an obscure village?

The Rev. Mathews (BA, MDiv, JD) is a newspaper faith columnist and the author of Emerald Coast: The Vendetta. Write to her at (Just one t in Mathews)

Copyright © 2024 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.