Historical Perspectives on the Doctrine of Christ’s Ascension Part 1: Resurrected and Ascended: The Exalted Jesus -- By: Peter Toon

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 140:559 (Jul 1983)
Article: Historical Perspectives on the Doctrine of Christ’s Ascension Part 1: Resurrected and Ascended: The Exalted Jesus
Author: Peter Toon


Historical Perspectives on the Doctrine of Christ’s Ascension
Part 1:
Resurrected and Ascended: The Exalted Jesus

Peter Toon

[Peter Toon, Director of Post-Ordination Training, The Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, England]

[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, April 12–15, 1983.]

Most Christians pay special attention to the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and many take part in the annual commemoration of these at Easter. However, the same cannot be said of the ascension of Jesus and the annual Ascension Day.1 This is to be regretted, for as Augustine of Hippo once said, the Ascension festival “is that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Saviour had ascended into heaven, his Nativity would have come to nothing…and his Passion would have borne no fruit for us, and his most holy Resurrection would have been useless.”2

The witness of the New Testament to the ascension (and/or exaltation) of Jesus is of three kinds. First is the descriptive material found in Luke-Acts and in the (disputed) long ending of Mark’s Gospel. The latter has this statement: “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 16:19).3 The ending of Luke’s Gospel has a reference to the Ascension; but the text of 24:51 has been transmitted in two forms, a longer and shorter form.4 The shorter form reads, “And it came about that while He was blessing them, He parted from them.” The longer one adds the words “and was carried up into heaven.” The most detailed account of the Ascension is in Acts 1:1–11. This passage refers to Christ’s resurrection appearances occurring over 40 days and concluding with the visible ascent of Jesus from earth into the

cloud. Various attempts have been made to reconcile Luke’s two descriptions of the Ascension.5 Are the differences to be accounted for on the basis that Luke gained more detailed information after writing the Gospel and before writing Acts? Or did Luke have different literary and theological intentions ...

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