This week, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord! In honor of this solemnity, Dr. Sri spends time reflecting on the days surrounding the Ascension, and what they could mean for our faith.
Dr. Sri will be speaking on “Men, Women & the Mystery of Love” at the Free virtual LoveLife Conference.
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“All of us have an important role to share the Faith, to lead others closer to Christ, in our words, and in our actions.”
What’s going on in the days leading up to the Ascension?
Jesus Spends 40 Days with the Apostles
“To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.”Acts 1:3
This chapter of the Bible tells us that Jesus stayed with the Apostles for 40 days between his Resurrection and his Ascension into Heaven. But why so long? Why 40 days? This may seem symbolic to us because of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, or the 40 years Israel spent in the desert, but it’s more than that. Just as Jesus spent those days in the desert to prepare himself for his public ministry, Jesus is spending the same amount of time preparing his Apostles for their own ministries. Think of it as an extreme period of training: Jesus is preparing them for life without him, led by the Holy Spirit.
“The Kingdom of Israel“
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’”Acts 1:6
In the days of the apostles, it was taught in Jewish culture that the people of Israel would eventually have a kingdom (see Genesis 17 and Exodus 19:6). The kingdom would be similar to the time of David and Solomon: a kingdom of priests. However, as we can see in Old Testament history, many of the kings and priests, even those chosen by God such as David and Solomon, made horrible decisions and committed grave sins during their rule.
Because of this, God allowed the kingdom to be destroyed in 586 B.C., when the Babylonians invaded. And although the Israelites eventually regained their land and rebuilt, it wasn’t the same, because they were constantly under new tyrannical rulers, such as Rome. However, prophets foretold the restoration and expansion of the kingdom of Israel by a new David, which led the apostles to ask Jesus this question in Acts 1:6.
The apostles are excited about this new kingdom, but Jesus gives them a strange answer:
“He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar′ia and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”Acts 1:7-9
Jesus seems to dodge the question just before ascending into heaven. Which raises the question: What’s this all about?
Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Ends of the Earth
It may seem like Jesus is brushing off the question about the kingdom of Israel, but he actually answered the disciples quite directly. The reason the apostles don’t recognize Christ’s answer is because they don’t have the full context yet.
Picture in your head Jerusalem on a map. Jerusalem is the capital city and center of Judea. Judea is the southern part of where the Israelites live during the time of Jesus. Just north of Judea is a region known as Samaria, where the Samaritans reside. And then there are the ends of the earth, which of course sprawl over the rest of the world.
So, with this knowledge, what is Jesus saying? He’s basically telling the apostles that yes, it’s kingdom time. And not only is it kingdom time, but you will be the harolds of the kingdom, spreading it across the nations! In fact, the places Jesus says in Acts 1:7-9 are the exact order and locations that the apostles will travel in their public ministries. Those verses spoken by Jesus serve as a summary of the entire book of the Acts of the Apostles.
“And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”Acts 1:9
This symbol of the cloud is important for Christ’s answer to the apostles as well, for the cloud symbolizes God’s presence. You may remember that the Israelites were led by the pillar of cloud through the desert in the Old Testament. Or that a cloud overshadowed the Arc of the Covenant where God’s presence dwelled. Or even during the Transfiguration, when a great cloud overshadowed Jesus on the mountain and spoke to those gathered. So when Jesus is taken up by a cloud during his Ascension, it is extremely symbolic.
The Prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”Daniel 7:13-14
The Ascension of our Lord becomes even more powerful when you know the background of the Old Testament. It’s through the Ascension that the prophecy in Daniel 7 is fulfilled. This is another way Jesus answers the apostles’ question about the kingdom of Israel: he shows them through the prophecy they’ve grown up with.
The feast of the Ascension reminds us every year of two things:
- Our own important mission as disciples
- That Jesus is the true king
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.Mark 16:19
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Meet Your Host: Dr. Edward Sri
Dr. Sri is a theologian and the author of several best-selling books. He holds a doctorate from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. A founding leader of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), Dr. Sri currently serves as its vice president of formation. He appears regularly on EWTN and resides in Colorado with his wife, Elizabeth, and their eight children.
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