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The Ascension of Jesus
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
50 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: 53 And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
This evangelist omits the solemn meeting between Christ and his disciples in Galilee; but what he said to them there, and at other interviews, he subjoins to what he said to them at the first visit he made them on the evening of the day he rose; and has now nothing more to account for but his ascension into heaven, of which we have a very brief narrative in these verses, in which we are told,
I. How solemnly Christ took leave of his disciples. Christ's design being to reconcile heaven and earth, and to continue a days-man between them, it was necessary that he should lay his hands on them both, and, in order thereunto, that he should pass and repass. He had business to do in both worlds, and accordingly came from heaven to earth in his incarnation, to despatch his business here, and, having finished this, he returned to heaven, to reside there, and negotiate our affairs with the Father. Observe, 1. Whence he ascended: from Bethany, near Jerusalem, adjoining to the mount of Olives. There he had done eminent services for his Father's glory, and there he entered upon his glory. There was the garden in which his sufferings began, there he was in his agony; and Bethany signifies the house of sorrow. Those that would go to heaven must ascend thither from the house of sufferings and sorrow, must go by agonies to their joys. The mount of Olives was pitched upon long since to be the place of Christ's ascension: His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, Zech. xiv. 4. And here it was that awhile ago he began his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, ch. xix. 29. 2. Who were the witnesses of his ascension: He led out his disciples to see him. Probably, it was very early in the morning that he ascended, before people were stirring; for he never showed himself openly to all the people after his resurrection, but only to chosen witnesses. The disciples did not see him rise out of the grace, because his resurrection was capable of being proved by their seeing him alive afterwards; but they saw him ascend into heaven, because they could not otherwise have an ocular demonstration of his ascension. They were led out on purpose to see him ascend, had their eye upon him when he ascended, and were not looking another way. 3. What was the farewell he gave them: He lifted up his hands, and blessed them. He did not go away in displeasure, but in love; he left a blessing behind him; he lifted up his hands, as the high priest did when he blessed the people; see Lev. ix. 22. He blessed as one having authority, commanded the blessing which he had purchased; he blessed them as Jacob blessed his sons. The apostles were now as the representatives of the twelve tribes, so that in blessing them he blessed all his spiritual Israel, and put his Father's name upon them. He blessed them as Jacob blessed his sons, and Moses the tribes, at parting, to show that, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 4. How he left them: While he was blessing them, he was parted from them; not as if he were taken away before he had said all he had to say, but to intimate that his being parted from them did not put an end to his blessing them, for the intercession which he went to heaven to make for all his is a continuation of the blessing. He began to bless them on earth, but he went to heaven to go on with it. Christ was now sending his apostles to preach his gospel to the world, and he gives them his blessing, not for themselves only, but to be conferred in his name upon all that should believe on him through their word; for in him all the families of the earth were to be blessed. 5. How his ascension is described. (1.) He was parted from them, was taken from their head, as Elijah from Elisha's. Note, The dearest friends must part. Those that love us, and pray for us, and instruct us, must be parted form us. The bodily presence of Christ himself was not to be expected always in this world; those that knew him after the flesh must now henceforth know him so no more. (2.) He was carried up into heaven; not by force, but by his own act and deed. As he arose, so he ascended, by his own power, yet attended by angels. There needed no chariot of fire, nor horses of fire; he knew the way, and, being the Lord from heaven, could go back himself. He ascended in a cloud, as the angel in the smoke of Manoah's sacrifice, Judg. xiii. 20.
II. How cheerfully his disciples continued their attendance on him, and on God through him, even now that he was parted from them. 1. They paid their homage to him at his going away, to signify that though he was going into a far country, yet they would continue his loyal subjects, that they were willing to have him reign over them: They worshipped him. v. 52. Note, Christ expects adoration from those that receive blessings from him. He blessed them, in token of gratitude for which they worshipped him. This fresh display of Christ's glory drew from them fresh acknowledgments and adorations of it. They knew that though he was parted form them, yet he could, and did, take notice of their adorations of him; the cloud that received him out of their sight did not put them or their services out of his sight. 2. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy. There they were ordered to continue till the Spirit should be poured out upon them, and thither they went accordingly, though it was into the mouth of danger. Thither they went, and there they staid with great joy. This was a wonderful change, and an effect of the opening of their understandings. When Christ told them that he must leave them sorrow filled their hearts; yet now that they see him go they are filled with joy, being convinced at length that it was expedient for them and for the church that he should go away, to send the Comforter. Note, The glory of Christ is the joy, the exceeding joy, of all true believers, even while they are here in this world; much more will it be so when they go to the new Jerusalem, and find him there in his glory. 3. They abounded in acts of devotion while they were in expectation of the promise of the Father, v. 53. (1.) They attended the temple-service at the hours of prayer. God had not as yet quite forsaken it, and therefore they did not. They were continually in the temple, as their Master was when he was at Jerusalem. The Lord loves the gates of Zion, and so should we. Some think that they had their place of meeting, as disciples, in some of the chambers of the temple which belonged to some Levite that was well affected to them; but others think it is not likely that this either could be concealed from, or would be connived at by, the chief priests and rulers of the temple. (2.) Temple-sacrifices, they knew, were superseded by Christ's sacrifice, but the temple-songs they joined in. Note, While we are waiting for God's promises we must go forth to meet them with our praises. Praising and blessing God is work that is never out of season: and nothing better prepares the mind for the receiving of the Holy Ghost than holy joy and praise. Fears are silenced, sorrows sweetened and allayed, and hopes kept up.
The amen that concludes seems to be added by the church and every believer to the reading of the gospel, signifying an assent to the truths of the gospel, and a hearty concurrence with all the disciples of Christ in praising and blessing God. Amen. Let him be continually praised and blessed.