Short Meditations on the Ascension: 15. Return
Acts 1:12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.
We noted this verse before, indicating how Jesus had led the disciples along this walk outside Jerusalem to the place of solitude and memories where he would leave them. Now he has gone, now they retrace their steps. They have just witnessed one of the strangest sights in Scripture (there are a number) and we are left wondering how they must have felt.
But we don’t need to wonder long but simply go back to Luke’s Gospel where we read, “Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Lk 24:52) The sight of their Lord ascending evoked worship in them. They had witnessed him performing miracles, healing thousands, even raising people from the dead, they had experienced him returning from the dead and now they see this body that they know so well simply ascend before their very eyes – and they worship him. This is indeed the unique Son of God and he is returning home!
But then he’s gone and the angels pull them out of their worshipping reverie and they realise they have a world to return to. As they go their worship is no doubt eclipsed by chatter of what they have just witnessed and the wonder of it now evokes joy – no, great joy! For a moment, questions about the future are lost in the wonder and strangeness of what they have just witnessed.
Acts 1 records, “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying.” (Acts 1:13) and then, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” (Acts 1:14) but when we return to the Gospel we find something strange: “And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” (Lk 24:53) The reality seems to be that they split their time between praying together in the Upper Room and in the temple precincts. Initially the band who return to the upper room is fairly small but soon we find, “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)”. (Acts 1:15) Various of Jesus followers clearly banded together under the leadership of the eleven and it is probable that with such a number the most convenient place to gather was in the outer courts of the temple. Already their courage has started to return (nothing like it will be when the Spirit comes) as the effect of the ascension remains with them.
The ascension marked the end of one phase of God’s strategy and the beginning of an interim, short phase before the Spirit comes. But it is a crucial marker as Jesus changed his location to rule over the world (in the midst of his enemies Psa 110:1,2) beside his Father. There he remains until it is time for him to return. Remain alert!