Luke 24:50-53


The Human Journey Ended (2) – Jesus Withdraws

Luke 24:50-53  -  Jesus Departs for Heaven

50 He led them out almost to Bethany,
lifted up his hands, and blessed them.
51 As he was blessing them,
he parted from them
and was carried up into heaven.

Blessing was the final gesture of the departing Jesus. Despite their failures, slowness of heart, breakdowns of hope and courage, Jesus blessed the disciples. He had not left them alone and unsupported. The power from heaven would be with them.

In the cosmology of the time, heaven was a place, above the vault of the skies and the waters. Luke spoke of Jesus being carried up. However, in the translation from narrative expression to inner meaning, heaven would simply be the experience of resurrected life, beyond categories of place and time.

By means of his appearance stories, Luke had tried to convey a sense of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. The risen Jesus was real. Resurrection was real. He had done this by his account of Jesus inviting the disciples to touch his hands and his feet, and eating in their presence.

Yet there was also difference. Luke had tried to convey also a sense of dissimilarity by depicting a Jesus 

  • who appeared and vanished at will, irrespective of walls or doors
  • who was at first unrecognised by those who knew him intimately. 

Only when enlightened by faith were the disciples able to confess who Jesus was.

He also wanted to differentiate the experiences of the earliest disciples from the kind of faith experiences that later disciples would have. They were to be witnesses to the truth of resurrection, the ones who could provide the meaning to what the later disciples would experience in faith.

So in his narrative Luke allowed a time period of one whole day for the direct experiences of the first disciples. Then Jesus parted from them and was carried up into heaven. It is this risen (and ascended) Jesus that later disciples would learn to know and love.

One Day or Forty Days

In his companion narrative to the Gospel, his Acts of Apostles, Luke would have the risen Christ remaining with the disciples and forming them over a period of what he termed “forty days”. Obviously the detail was quite insignificant to Luke. What mattered was meaning, not documentary accuracy.

His undertaking to Theophilus was not to give an orderly account from the point of view of historical exactness, but to expose him to the meaning of the mission and person of Jesus, so that he might “know the sound foundation of the catechesis you have received”, in this case, that he might know better the meaning of resurrection (1:3-4).

52 They worshipped him
and then returned back to Jerusalem filled with joy.
53 They spent all their time in the Temple blessing God.

Luke’s resurrection narratives had moved from an emphasis on Jesus’ mission to the question of who Jesus really was. The issue had been raised in passing in the earlier narrative, but had not been dealt with in depth. He had spoken of himself as Son of Man, and had generally avoided the title Messiah. Both titles referred more to his mission than to his person.

Now the narrative stated explicitly that the disciples worshipped him. The title Lord used of him not long before now took on added significance. In raising Jesus, God had made him Lord. Without explicitly stating the fact, perhaps Luke intended his readers to see that the sending of the power from on high would be the work not only of God but also of Jesus himself.

They returned to Jerusalem filled with joy.

Early in the story the Baptist leapt with joy in the womb of Elizabeth. Mary's spirit was filled with joy at God her Saviour. Elizabeth’s neighbours had rejoiced with her when her child was eventually born. At the birth of Jesus, the angelic choir brought good news of great joy to the shepherds.

Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit when the disciples returned from their early mission around Galilee.

Now the disciples’ mission to all the nations would begin likewise with great joy, overwhelmed as they were by their insight into the heart of their God. They could not but bless the God who had raised Jesus from the dead.

The disciples spent all their time in the temple. Jesus had exercised his ministry within the confines of Judaism. He had deeply disapproved of how what was once a beautiful system had become exclusive and oppressive. He had criticised the corrupted temple structure and all it represented; yet he continued to work within it. By the time that Luke wrote, the temple had been destroyed. That the disciples worshipped there may have seemed of historical interest, but it had no further meaning.

The narrative had begun with Zechariah in the temple. It finished with the disciples in the temple. It would move on from there. The journey to Jerusalem had finished with crucifixion and with resurrection. It would continue spiritually in the hearts of the Christian community and of every disciple as they moved out to all the nations, translating the message and mission of Jesus to every culture and age.