The Ascension In Luke-Acts -- By: John F. Maile

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 37:1 (NA 1986)
Article: The Ascension In Luke-Acts
Author: John F. Maile

The Ascension In Luke-Acts

John F. Maile

The Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1985

‘Theologically and empirically the Ascension of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of the New Testament.’1 If these words, with which Brian Donne closes his recent study of the significance of the ascension of Jesus in the NT, are true of the NT as a whole, an even stronger statement could be made in respect of the ascension in Luke-Acts. If we may assume for one moment that Luke 24:50–53 and Acts 1:9–11 are descriptions of the same incident, Luke has chosen to present the ascension twice, as the culmination and climax of his gospel and as the most striking element in the introduction to his second volume.2 That in so doing he provides the only description in the NT of a visible ascension of Jesus imparts to these two short narratives an importance out of all proportion to their length; and by using these ascension accounts to form the link between his two volumes Luke would seem to indicate their significance for a proper understanding of his theology and purpose. When one considers the crucial nature of this event for Luke it is perhaps surprising to note the relative brevity with which many commentators deal with these sections of Luke and Acts.3 Equally noteworthy is the

scarcity of major works devoted to the ascension in general and its place in Luke-Acts in particular. While there has been a reasonable flow of articles and short studies, the last fifty years has seen only two major investigations: V. Larranaga’s admittedly exhaustive treatment, and that of G. Lohfink, which, whatever one’s response to some of his conclusions, must be considered the definitive modern study of the ascension in the NT, and in Luke-Acts especially.4 To neglect Luke’s ascension accounts is almost certainly to run the risk of missing some of his most important emphases. It is not possible here, of course, to attempt anything like an exhaustive study; attention will be focussed on three issues in particular which could be expressed by means of the three interrogatives, what? when? and why? That is, what is Luke actually describing in his ascension narratives; how are the ‘forty days’ of Acts 1:3 to be understood; and what significance does Luke attach to the ascension event?

Some Preliminary Considerations

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