Ascension: When Jesus took his throne.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 May

If we figure Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 wasn’t an estimate, but a literal 40 days, on Thursday, 15 May 33, this happened.

Acts 1.6-9 KJV
6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

I usually translate ἐπήρθη/epírthi, which the KJV renders “he was taken up,” as “he was raptured.” ’Cause that’s what happened. He got raptured into heaven.

From there Jesus ascended (from the Latin ascendere, “to climb”) to the Father’s throne—to sit at his right hand, Ac 2.33, 7.55-56 both in service and in judgment. We figure Jesus’s ascension took place the very same day he was raptured, so that’s when Christians have historically celebrated it: 40 days after Easter, and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday.

Some of us figure ascension celebrates Jesus’s rapture. And yeah, we can celebrate that too… but the way more important thing is Jesus taking his throne. When we say our Lord reigns, you realize his reign began at some point. Wasn’t when he died, and defeated sin and death; wasn’t when he rose from the dead, and proved he defeated sin and death. It’s when he took his throne. It’s his ascension day. Which we observe today.

He’s coming back, y’know.

Sometimes nitpickers like to point out the word “rapture” isn’t in the bible—and depending on your translation, they’re entirely right. It’s not in the KJV, fr’instance. But whether you wanna use the term “rapture” or not for Jesus going up to heaven, that is what happened.

And just as Jesus was being raptured, just as Jesus’s followers were watching it happen, two guys had this to say about it:

Acts 1.6-9 KJV
10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Luke calls these guys “two men,” and historically Christians have taught these are angels. Doesn’t matter their species. The Holy Spirit had informed them, so they informed Jesus’s students, our Lord is returning. That’s the message the apostles passed along to the first Christians, and the first Christians to us.

Those who say there’s no second coming, or who claim it’s not a literal second coming—Jesus is only gonna reign in our hearts, from heaven, but he’s never gonna return to the earth to take it over—these men said otherwise. “He will come back in the same way you saw him go into the sky.“ Ac 1.11

But, y’know, grander. Consistent with how Daniel of Babylon described his vision of the Son of Man coming with the heavenly clouds. Da 7.13 Sounds like he’ll visibly appear in the sky… so that’s the idea many Pharisees of Jesus’s day had about how Messiah’d show up to seize power: Not showing up in a caravan from the Galilee, but bursting from the heavenly plane to the earthly plane, ripping a hole in the heavens large enough to see God through.

In any event we Christians teach much the same thing: The sky will go black, Messiah will appear in it, and everybody will see it.

Since Christians (heck, humans) tend to be a bit literal-minded, tradition has it when Jesus returns, he’ll land on the very same mountain he ascended from. That’d be Mt. Olivet, Ac 1.12 also called the Mount of Olives. The Jews also have a tradition that Messiah comes to that mountain, which is why they’ve put a massive cemetery there: If Messiah’s gonna raise the dead, may as well put your family members in a convenient spot so he can raise them!

At the same time, we who are Jesus’s followers will likewise get raptured to join him:

1 Thessalonians 4.16-18 KJV
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

From there, Jesus and his new entourage of several billion Christians and angels will march to Jerusalem, and claim his city. And his world.

Observing the day.

So yeah, Christians still observe Ascension on the 40th day after Easter, which’ll always fall on a Thursday. Sometimes we’ll call it the Feast of the Ascension, Ascension Thursday, Holy Thursday, or Ascension Day.

The Sunday after—the last Sunday of Easter, and the Sunday before Pentecost—becomes Ascension Sunday. Since many churches don’t have a Thursday service, they hold off their Ascension stuff till then. Since Orthodox churches use a different calendar than western churches, their Easter is often a week later, which means their Ascension and Pentecost are too.

Feasting or fasting vary from church to church. After all, we’re sad Jesus had to leave, but sitting at the Father’s right hand is a very big deal. So there’s a little rejoicing, a little lamenting; it’s bittersweet.

And of course lots of churches observe it with, “It’s what day?… Oh, that’s a Catholic thing.” Although you know if they invented the holiday, they’d definitely treat it like the big deal it is.