Getting the Facts Straight on the Ascension

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Ephesians 1:17-23

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might: which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

Luke 24:46-53

Jesus said to his disciples: “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Contrary to the Marcan and Matthean accounts, which located Jesus’ Ascension in Galilee (Mk 16:7, Mt. 28:7, 16), this Sunday’s gospel reading, Luke, put it in Jerusalem (Lk 24:50-52).

Which gospel account are we supposed to believe? How do we explain this apparent contradiction?

There is no denying that the Bible contains history since “biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history” (Verbum Domini, 42). But the Bible is not a history book. As a result, its texts must be understood “in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective” (VD, 42). In other words, we must find out what it was that the sacred writer intended to say in presenting a certain historical situation.

In the case of Luke, it’s possible that his intention was not to teach us history. Pinpointing the historical location of the Ascension might not be his intention in writing the Ascension story. Most scriptural scholars believe both Luke and Matthew used Mark and Q (a common gospel material long lost) as their common sources. In writing the Ascension story, both authors assumed that the readers already knew from these two sources where it took place. If it actually happened in Galilee, Luke put it in Jerusalem not because he made a mistake but because he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to affirm, from a Christian perspective, the transformation of the Jerusalem Temple.

The historical-literary technique used by Luke to communicate this affirmation was to begin his gospel account in the setting of the Jerusalem Temple (where Zechariah was offering his priestly service), and have it concluded also in the Jerusalem Temple (disciples returned to Jerusalem praising God in the Temple). But this time, with Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension accomplished, the Lucan description conjures up an image of the Jerusalem Temple that was filled with rejoicing and praising of God, an image that points us to the Heavenly Temple of Jerusalem – the ultimate and transformed Temple.

Posted: May 8, 2016

Edmond Lo

As a Catholic speaker, writer and RCIA Catechist, Edmond is very active in promoting and defending the Catholic faith. He has a MBA, a CPA-CMA, and a MTS (Master of Theological Studies) from U.T., St. Augustine's Seminary. Having worked many years as the CFO of a non-profit organization, he retired at 55 to follow his special vocation of evangelization. The activities he conducts include the CMCC Bible Study Program, the Catechism Revisited Program, the FLL Spiritual Formation Program, Living in the Holy Tradition, RCIA, family groups and retreats, etc. Edmond is a member of the FLL Core Team. He writes Sunday Mass reflections regularly for the weekly FLL NewSpiration. His personal blog:

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