Stairway to heaven

There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure.
Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.”

That is not scripture but a quote from Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’; not very theological but quite perceptive. We should want to be sure what this scripture means but sometimes words in scripture have many more than two meanings.

Reading

Acts 1

So I start with a caveat; as with especially anything connected with the subject of heaven, there are many different interpretations. I shall be giving you what I believe from my studies. Others may have a very different take. You will need to make up your own mind as to what you believe.

Acts is written by Luke and as stated continues from his Gospel. In fact Luke 24: 50-51 leads into the story of ascension in Acts 1.

There are other references to ascension in Mark 16:19, Ephesians 1:20 and others.

  • ITEMS DISCUSSED
  • Background to this – relationship between heaven and earth especially in this part of the life of Jesus and how this relates to what Luke says happened.

  • Why Jesus had to ascend.
  • Prophesy for early church.
  • What all of this means to us in 2018.

The disciples as oft the case are confused. They are still thinking of an earthly kingdom now (verse 6) – they still haven’t got it. That is why they need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit which they will receive at Pentecost in 10 days’ time. We too are often confused and also need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus knows where he is going but where did he come from? We believe that he existed eternally as God the Son in Heaven, was born on earth as Yeshua (Hebrew name) , lived and ministered mainly to Jews, was crucified, died, was physically resurrected and then lives on earth for another 40 days. He ascends back to heaven until he will come again to earth (literally God knows when) except for one appearance to Paul (Acts 9) We see from verse 6 that although the disciples have got the promises and the timing wrong, there still are special promises for Israel i.e. Jewish people. They are just not going to be fulfilled at this time.

Ignoring his appearance to Paul, there are ten occasions noted in scripture of appearances of Jesus after the resurrection; four are on that first Sunday so before this one there are only five in 40 days.

Do we think that Is Jesus was wandering around Judea unseen and unnoticed? That would seem unlikely.
We have a clue in that he just suddenly appears as in the Upper Room appearance and disappears again. We also get a preview of Jesus in his heavenly location in glory in the Transfiguration scene

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus.
Luke 9:28-30

Jesus never loses his contact with the heavenly realm but after conquering physical death and being resurrected he seems to have open access to move instantly between the earthly physical world and the heavenly realm (and thus disappear from human sight).

We need to understand that ‘up’ to heaven represented a view based on the original Jewish view of creation but the Old Testament writers knew that God did not just exist ‘up’ in the clouds and the heavens.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead), you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn (the east), if I settle on the far side of the sea (the west),
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139

So God’s spirit is everywhere. The heavenly realm is not miles away in the sky but surrounds and enfolds our universe of space and time. We can also see that the transition in and out of it is sometimes accompanied by an indication of God’s glory (this is the meaning of the reference to ‘clouds’ in the Transfiguration and here in the Ascension and as quoted in a number of Old Testament references to heaven including Daniel Chapter 7 (to which reference is made later).

Why the Ascension?

There is part of the explanation found in John 16

7But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
John 16:7-10

Here the Holy Spirit is an ‘advocate’ (Greek parakletos); a legal term so an advocate as well as comforter. How can those be combined?

Jesus ascension and the following arrival of the Holy Spirit and the destruction of Temple Judaism in AD 70 are the vindication of Jesus. This was a judgment by God about worldly (including religious establishment) values vs. values of Christ. Jesus is found to be righteous, those against him condemned as unrighteous. Jesus was killed as a man by those authorities but now is co regent with the Father (sitting at right hand of the Father). He condemns Satan and his great accomplice death. Both are defeated. So the judgment itself is a comfort and this is the meaning of Daniel 7 and Jesus’ quotes of it.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days (on his throne in heaven) and was led into his presence.
Daniel 7:13

63The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God. 64” ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming (to heaven) on the clouds of heaven.’
Matthew 26:63-64

The Holy Spirit lives in us so Jesus can be with all believers ‘in spirit’ or so we can be baptised in the Spirit which could not happen if he remained physically restricted as a resurrected Jewish Rabbi and earthly Jewish leader when effectively Second Coming would be combined with First. If that had happened there would have been no Gentile Church and I should not be writing this.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:8 &9

God has a plan to rescue as much humanity as possible before Jesus’ return. For this reason necessary for Jesus to ‘ascend’ back into the heavenly realm and for the Holy Spirit to be Jesus living in us.

PROPHESY

After Pentecost the disciples do what they are told and we can see that verse 8 prophesies the growth of the early church: Acts 1-6 Jerusalem, 6-8::3 beyond the city and then 8 and 9 Judea and Samaria and 10 to the Gentiles (us!). This is done by Jesus’ authority and by the power given to disciples by the Holy Spirit. Authority and Power are different. We are given the power by the Holy Spirit to proclaim Jesus’ authority as King.

The Gospel was preached to the then Roman World but now to a much wider world. The Bible has now been translated into 2000 languages but ironically the large group to whom there is probably least evangelism is the Jewish people.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?

We have the promise of Jesus’ return ‘in the same way’. Clouds equal glory as in passages such as Daniel 7 (verse 11). But this is not Daniel 7 fulfilled but actually Daniel 7 in reverse Jesus coming from the heavenly realms to earth as in Revelation 1:7

‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’;

However we are not to sit around just waiting for that to happen. We are to be part of the task force which started with the eleven at the Ascension; we are to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.’
We do this by how we lead our lives: avoiding materialism, corruption and greed as practised by the Religious leaders in Jesus’ time. They were judged unrighteous. We need to work for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, the exploited and there are plenty of those here close to home and further away.

Worship of our God is important but without the right actions is impotent and futile on its own.

6Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isaiah 58 6&7

Naked here means spiritually unclothed rather than physically. We are to provide spiritual support to those poor in spirit (repeated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5) and to carry out the other instructions in the Sermon on the Mount and in passages such as ‘The Sheep and Goats’ in Matthew 25)

  • We were left behind for mission to show God’s love.
  • We need to do that by showing love to people.

16God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
1 John 4:16-21

Loving people is the Greek word agape a sacrificial love and it is not easy to do. We probably all know people who are very unlovable!

However by Jesus ascending and thus delaying the final conclusion of his coming as King of the world to a later Second Coming, we Gentiles have been given the chance work for that day.

That is a great opportunity and privilege but also a great challenge. We need to rise to it!

AMEN


Gordon MackleyPosted on Thursday, 17rd May, 2018 by Gordon Mackley (based on his talk in church on Sunday morning 13th May).

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