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Sunday Evening Online - The Rest of the Story: From Resurrection to Ascension

Tom Pennington


Well, good evening and welcome back to another edition of Sunday Evening Online. You're welcome into my study here at home, and I'm looking forward to an informal study with you of some of the things that happened in our Lord's life after the resurrection. First of all, let me just say welcome, and then there are a couple of things I want to mention to you. I had sent an email this past Wednesday. At the request of some folks, I'm going to start a new feature this next week called something like "Commentary over Coffee." On Tuesday morning and Thursday morning at 10 a.m. I'll do a brief, sort of five-minute little devotional as we think about some of the challenges we're facing now in this shelter-in-place time, and some of the challenges that come because of that.

So, I hope you'll plan to join me. It'll be live, again, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, just for about five minutes. And then if you miss it live, we'll post, of course, so you can watch it later. But if you'd like to do that we'd invite you to just think through with us as I'm thinking through some of the challenges that we're facing here in our own family, our own home, and some of the ones that I know you are as well.

So anyway, I invite you to join us for that. I also want to say thank you. A number of folks have expressed their continued prayers for my eyes. I mentioned that, you know, my pressure, my glaucoma pressure, was up and that because of that, they were going to put me on a new drop. That drop wasn't successful and I was going to need surgery. A number of you have asked, "What was the outcome of that appointment?" and the answer is, there was no appointment because it actually was interrupted by the shelter-in-place orders in Dallas. I wasn't able to actually see the doctor. So I'm kind of in a holding pattern and have an appointment scheduled at some point in the future. Just you can pray with me that if the Lord wills, the pressure won't be high, it'll be controlled by this new drop, and won't create any new damage to my eyes. But thank you. I appreciate your concern and your prayers. As in all things we entrust ourselves to the Lord and to His goodness in these things.

Well, let's begin our time together with prayer. You join me as we pray and just ask the Lord's blessing on our time of reflection in His Word together.

Our Father, we are grateful that we can entrust ourselves and our lives and every detail to Your hands. Thank You that the events that have unfolded in our lives are not random or a surprise to You. Rather, they are part of Your great eternal plan of purpose, and that we can find comfort and confidence in the knowledge of who You are and in the knowledge of Your sovereign control. Lord, thank You as well for the positive benefits that we can already see in our lives through these times and the lessons that we're learning about You and about ourselves, about Your Word. Lord, I pray that You would continue to give us added insight into life and into our lives as believers because of the events of this pandemic.

We do pray, Father, for those in our church family who are suffering, those who have recently lost loved ones, not related to the virus, but Lord, we pray for them. That they would know Your comfort and peace. Lord, we pray for those families where they have had family members come down with Covid-19. I pray that You would preserve and protect their help, that You would give them wisdom, give the doctors wisdom. I pray that it's Your will that it wouldn't deteriorate into the more severe forms, that You'd raise them up. Lord, we would pray as well for those in our church family who are feeling the personal hardship because of the situation, whether they have lost their job entirely, been furloughed, or whether they have experienced cutbacks, or financial challenges. Lord we just pray that in all these things You would be enough and that You would meet the needs of Your people day by day.

Lord, we pray for our daily bread, and this time reminds us that that's exactly what You have taught us to ask. So Lord, we thank You for this time we can spend together now in Your Word. I pray that You'd use it for our good as we reflect upon our Lord and we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Well, I do want to do something with you tonight that's kind of been on my heart. You know, as Christians, most of us are very familiar with Passion Week. We have a good sense of all of the events that unfolded during the Passion Week. As a church, we've just been through those days and through the videos that I recorded, as well as our reading. And so, I think many of those things now have coalesced in our minds and we have a good sense of what happened in our Lord's life during those days. But I'm afraid that once you're past the resurrection, once you're past the Sunday morning of the Resurrection Day, many Christians find themselves largely in the dark for what happened in the life of our Lord after that.

And so that's what I want us to do tonight. I want us to consider what I've entitled the "Rest of the Story: From the Resurrection to the Ascension," because our Lord's ministry didn't end with the Resurrection. And I think it's important for us as believers to understand what transpired, because there are so many powerful lessons for us in those days. So let's look at it together. Let me start by just giving you sort of an overall timeline so you understand what transpired.

I'm not going to go through all the arguments and details, but I think you understand that the biblical case is made very strongly that Jesus died on Friday. It's called the Day of Preparation in all the Gospels, and that is Friday and always has been Friday. And so we know that our Lord died then on Friday. And we know that He also died on Passover, the 14th of Nisan. And so when you put that together, then you're left with, well when did Jesus die, what year did He die?

Well, there are only a couple of possibilities. Once you establish that he died on Friday and that Friday was Passover, the 14th of Nisan, then there are only two options. We know that Jesus died during the reign of Pilate, obviously, during his governorship. Pilate was governor over Palestine from 26 to 36 A.D. So it has to fall in that window, those 10 years, 11 years; and during that span of time, only twice did the 14th of Nisan fall on Friday.

One of those is 30 A.D. and the other is 33 A.D. Those are the two primary options that people have for when Jesus died. If it was 30 A.D. as I believe it was, and I'm not going to lay out all the arguments, if you're interested, you can go back and listen to the series I did "An Aerial View of the New Testament" and where I went through, in six messages I went through the New Testament. Part of that, a lot of that was laying out the life of Christ.

But I'm going to start with that assumption that it was in the year 30 A.D. I think you understand Jesus had to have been born before Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. Most likely in 5 or 6 B.C., Jesus was born. We learn from the gospels that He started His ministry when He was about thirty. Do the math, that puts it at about 26 A.D. that, probably in the summer of that year, that Jesus was baptized in the fall, His temptation, and that means you have about a three-and-a-half-year ministry.

That means we land on 30 A.D. So if 30 A.D.'s the right year, we actually can put together the day. If 30 A.D. is the right year, then it was on April 7th that Jesus was crucified and it was on April 9th that He was raised from the dead. It was on May 17th that He ascended, we know that because Acts 1:3 tells us that it was 40 days after the Resurrection when Jesus ascended.

So that puts the Ascension on May 17th and then on May 27th of that year would have been Pentecost, which was 50 days after Passover. And that's recorded in Acts 2:1. So essentially then you have, from the Resurrection to the Ascension, you have 40 days. And then there were 10 days when the disciples were praying in the upper room. And then Pentecost happened in Acts 2. So, 40 days of ministry. What happened during that time?

Well, the main thing and the sort of focus of the Gospel records are on the post-Resurrection appearances. Why is that? Because the appearances of Christ after the Resurrection are actually an essential part of the gospel. In First Corinthians 15, you remember Paul said, 'Let me tell you about the gospel that I received,' (in Galatians, he says he received it directly from the Lord), 'and that I then delivered to you and that you believed,' and he takes the gospel and presents it as four basic propositions.

One of those propositions is, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Secondly, He was buried; thirdly, He was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures. And the fourth proposition is "…and he appeared to many," 1 Corinthians 15. So an essential part of the gospel that we've come to believe is Jesus' post-resurrection appearances. And so that the focus of those 40 days is on those post-resurrection appearances.

Now, it's important to remember and to think about this, most of Jesus' followers didn't believe in the Resurrection because they saw the empty tomb. Now think about that for a moment. The empty tomb is crucial, important, I'm not downplaying that at all. But most of His followers didn't believe because they saw an empty tomb. John was the only exception. You remember John himself says in his gospel that when he saw the empty tomb, he believed. But for most of the followers of Christ, that wasn't true. Most of them came to believe in the Resurrection because, by God's grace, they saw the risen living Christ.

So the way that God chose to establish the reality of the Resurrection was through these post-Resurrection appearances. During those 40 days, starting with the day of the Resurrection itself and ending with the Ascension, there were a number of appearances. In fact, I'm going to argue there were three appearances after the Ascension. So all together, post-Resurrection appearances of the resurrected Christ, there are 14 of them. Those appearances were to more than 500 different people, and they happened in at least 10 different locations; some of them in Galilee, some of them in Judea, and some of them even in Syria. And so it's a remarkable way that Jesus demonstrated the reality of the Resurrection. So let's kind of walk through them, since that's the focus of those 40 days. Let's walk through those appearances together. Let's start with Resurrection Sunday itself. On Resurrection Sunday in Jerusalem, there were a number of appearances that the Gospel writers record for us; the first one, of course, was to Mary Magdalene.

All the women show up at the tomb early. Many of them leave to tell the disciples what had happened. Mary Magdalene delays her leaving and the Lord appears to her. It's really a remarkable story, one that that I look forward, at some point, to studying in detail with you. But in the interest of time, just take your Bible and look at John 20:18. This is Mary's profession. "Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord,' and that He said these things to her." Of course, that's recorded earlier in this chapter, but that cuts to the chase. Mary saw the Lord. Mary Magdalene, the one out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons, she had the first privilege of seeing the resurrected Christ.

The second of these 14 appearances was to the other women. Still early in the morning, it's recorded in Matthew 28:9-10. Jesus tells them, 'Go tell the disciples I'm raised. I'll meet them in Galilee.' The third appearance, still on that day, happened in the afternoon, probably mid to late afternoon. It was the two disciples on the Emmaus road; that's recorded in Luke 24. I'm going to come back to that so I won't mention any more about that right now.

The fourth appearance was to Peter. It's recorded in two places; it's recorded in Luke 24:34 and in 1 Corinthians 15:5. The Lord revealed Himself to Peter. Then the fifth appearance, that still happened on that first Resurrection Sunday, was to the 10 apostles, without Judas of course, who at this point had committed suicide, and also without Thomas, who was not with them. It was around eight or nine on Resurrection Sunday. It's recorded in John 20:19 and following.

So that is the Resurrection Day that all five of those appearances happened, on that first Sunday. Now the Gospel record tells us, really nothing happened for a week. So let's fast forward then to a week later. It's eight days later. It's on Sunday evening, eight days after Resurrection Sunday. It's still in Jerusalem and the next appearance happens on that Sunday evening, with the apostles gathered together again, but this time Thomas is with them. And the sixth appearance then was to Thomas and the other disciples. Look at John 20:26.

After eight days (so again, this is Sunday night) His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here with your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see," (this is us) "and yet believed."

Now, Thomas, my namesake, really takes a bad rap. In fact, he's called, often, Doubting Thomas. But the truth is, he didn't respond any differently than the rest of the disciples. He didn't believe until he saw Jesus. And like the other disciples, when he saw the resurrected Lord, he responded in faith exactly as they had. And he does so in the most exalted, beautiful language anywhere in the Gospels. He says, "My Lord," my Kyrios, my Master, and my Theos, "my God."

And so this happens eight days after the resurrection. So between those two days, there's no record of what was happening in the life of Christ and apparently no appearances occurred. And so that takes us then to what happens after that time. Well, about one and a half to two weeks after the Resurrection - eight days, He appears the disciples at night - one and a half to two weeks after the Resurrection, something happens in Galilee.

Jesus and the disciples travel from Jerusalem, not together, separately, and we don't know exactly how Jesus got there. Perhaps He in His glorified body didn't travel in the same way we do. But regardless, they all end up in Galilee. And the seventh appearance is recorded in John 21:1-14. And it's Jesus' appearance to seven of the apostles. They're listed by name. They're in Galilee by the shore, the Sea of Galilee, as they had been fishing, and He prepares breakfast for them.

Now, the eighth and ninth appearances likely describe the same event. We can't be absolutely sure, but I believe we're talking about one and the same event. The eighth is all of Jesus' disciples meet on a mountain in Galilee. You remember He told the women, 'Tell my disciples to meet Me in Galilee'; and in Matthew 28, in conjunction with the Great Commission, we have not only the 12, not only the 11 surviving disciples, but we have others as well.

How do I know that? Because in Matthew 28 it says that some, when they saw Jesus show up, still doubted. Well, the other disciples had now seen Jesus on three separate occasions, and they were fully convinced of the Resurrection. So the ones that doubted weren't any of the 11. They had to be others of Jesus' disciples. That's what leads me to believe that at the same time, the time of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, you also have the 500 brethren that He appeared to at one time that are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6.

So you have Jesus, you have the 11 disciples or apostles, and then you had the rest of His disciples who gathered in Galilee, and to them He gives the Great Commission. A tenth appearance that happens around the same time is to James, Jesus' half-brother. It's recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:7. And of course, as a result of that, James comes to believe, eventually becomes the leader of the Jerusalem church and writes the letter named James in our New Testament.

So that's about one-and-a-half to two weeks after the Resurrection. Now, what happens then, from about 14 days to the 40 days when Jesus ascends? Well, several things. And they happen, some of them in Galilee, some of them in Judea. Turn to Acts 1, because here Luke explains to us some of what happened during those days. Acts 1:2. It says, let's start at verse 1,

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.

Now watch verse 3. Here's what happens between that appearance in Galilee, the Great Commission, and the meeting with all the disciples. Here's what Jesus was doing until the 40 days were up. "To these…" (that is, to the apostles) "…He also presented himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God."

So during the rest of that period of time, from time to time, we're not told how many times, how often, how long Jesus was with them, but through that period of time, probably more often than is specifically recorded in the Gospel record, Jesus was with the disciples. He was giving them many convincing proofs of His resurrection. He was appearing to them and, He was teaching them. He was speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God, concerning the kingdom over which He now ruled and reigned. And so that was the focus of this time. Really, equipping and preparing the 11 remaining apostles to do the work that He had called them to do and equip them, He's now equipping them, to do.

Now, that summarizes, that one verse summarizes, really, what happens the balance of those 40 days. So now the next major recorded account happens at the end of those 40 days, and it is around the time of the Ascension itself. And that's recorded here in Acts 1, beginning in verse 4 and running down through verse 11. This is what happened at the Ascension. And here you have the eleventh appearance. This is all of the apostles at the time of the Ascension. Jesus obviously commissioned them, promised them the Spirit, and He gave them their mission.

Now, I'm not going to spend a lot of time here, but I want you to see the mission of the church; and that is, to be witnesses, verses 6-8. In verse 6, after He's commissioned them, told them to wait in Jerusalem, verse 4, what the Father promised in Spirit, verse 5, when they come together, (this is at the time of the Ascension) "…They were asking Him, saying, 'Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?'" Now that verse betrays the disciples' misunderstanding. They thought the kingdom, they still had this idea that it was going to be political. "Are you going to restore?" They thought it was going to be national, "to Israel," and they thought it was going to be immediate, "at this time." Christ corrects them in verses 7-8. He, in verse 7, He acknowledges a future kingdom for Israel. He says, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority." He doesn't say, "There is no kingdom for Israel, you completely misunderstood. There's no millennium. It's not going to happen."

No, He says "It is not for you to know the time." But He acknowledges in verse 7 that there is a future kingdom. And then in verse 8, He explains the current kingdom manifestation. His kingdom now is not national and geopolitical, not Israel. That's coming, but for now, it is, notice, spiritual; the Holy Spirit, when He's come. It is international, to the remotest parts of the earth, and it is gradual. It starts with 120 believers gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem and then it spreads like the parable of the leaven in Matthew 13. Verse 9 goes on to say, or record for us, rather, the Ascension itself. What is the Ascension about? Verse 9:

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.

Now, why the Ascension? Why did Jesus ascend into the sky? Well remember, for 40 days He had come and gone, vanishing and reappearing. The Ascension was an intentional way for Him to make the point that He was gone, this time for good. What's this cloud? It's not a cloud like you see outside today. This cloud is almost certainly the glory cloud. He was received into that that blazing, visible representation of the presence of God. There are so many significances of the Ascension, I wish I had time to delineate them all. There were some for Christ, obviously, for Him to appear in the presence of God, to have the glory that He'd known with the Father from the creation of the world or from before creation restored, John 17; for Him to be placed in a place of exaltation, Philippians 2, and a number of other things.

For us, Jesus becomes our High Priest. He now is in heaven as our Advocate and our High Priest interceding for us. He sent the Spirit as a result of His Ascension, He has become the Head of the church, Ephesians 1 says, as a result of that. He's assured us by His presence in heaven that we'll enter heaven, and He's guaranteed that He will come again and receive us unto Himself, even as the angel said at His Ascension. So there's so many ramifications of the Ascension.

But they are sent, after the Ascension, verse 12, they return to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olivet which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And then for 10 days, they prayed together in the upper room, and then Pentecost came with the outpouring of the Spirit. Now, after the Ascension, (I just want to touch on this, I'm going to come back to one of the events that happened before the Ascension), but after the Ascension, there were three additional appearances by the resurrected Christ.

The twelfth appearance was to Stephen. You remember in Acts Chapter 7, he saw Christ standing, this would have been about 31 or 32 A.D. in Jerusalem. The thirteenth appearance of Christ was to Paul, and he appeared to Paul twice. He appeared to him, the most familiar one is on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, he saw the resurrected Christ; that would have been about 32 A.D. But then, he saw him again about 37 years after the Resurrection. It would have been in about 57 A.D. and it's recorded in Acts 23:11. Paul was in Jerusalem. He'd been arrested, and the Lord appeared to him and assured him that he was going to proclaim His name to kings and he was going to represent Him. He didn't need to be afraid. And so that's the 13th appearance to Paul. And then the 14th appearance was a lot later, in about 95 A.D., about 65 years after the resurrection, and it was to the Apostle John on the island of Patmos, recorded in Revelation 1. So those are the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, and that is the focus of what happened between the Resurrection and the Ascension. And again, there were those three that happened after the Ascension.

I want to take you back, and just for a couple of minutes I want you to go back to the Emmaus Road experience. Take your Bible and look at Luke 24. I just want to point out a couple of lessons here that are really profound lessons. You remember the story, that Jesus comes up and starts walking with these two disciples of His who are on the road to Emmaus. We don't know exactly where it was, but we're told it was seven miles from Jerusalem. Apparently, they were headed home after the Passover. They waited until the third day, waited for Jesus to appear, it's near the end of the third day; no Jesus, at least they haven't seen Him, and so they're heading back to their home, and they're walking, talking about all this; and Jesus shows up and begins talking with them.

What are the lessons from this account? I just want to draw these to your attention, just, I hope you'll think about it, meditate on it, go back to the story, that these things have stood out to me over the last week. First of all, we see in the story of the Emmaus road disciples, Jesus' individual care and concern for every disciple. I mean, think about where Jesus could have gone on Resurrection Sunday. He could have gone to the temple in Jerusalem and showed himself to the Sanhedrin. He could have gone to the Praetorium in Jerusalem and talked to Herod and Pilate, justified and vindicated Himself. He could have gone to Rome and shown himself to Tiberius Caesar. But where was He? He was with two unknown disciples on a seven-mile journey home from Jerusalem. Verse 18; all we know about these two people is the village that they were apparently from or at least headed to, Emmaus. We don't even know that village. And we know the name of one of these people was Cleopas; the other one is unnamed, and we don't know if that other one was a male or was perhaps the wife of Cleopas, but regardless, we know nothing apart from this incident. We know nothing else about these two disciples. Luke's the only one to record this account, and it's likely, based on what we learned from Luke earlier in his Gospel, it's likely he investigated this and even interviewed Cleopas. And so what we have here is the fruit of that interview from this story Luke tells.

And so it's really an amazing account of the personal care of Jesus for two essentially anonymous disciples. It's just because He loved them that He came. But why exactly? That brings me to the second lesson we learned from this account, and that is Jesus' personal commitment not to lose one of His disciples. If you look at verses 19-24, you learn that these disciples, you know, as they explain what's happened, Jesus says "What's happened?" And Cleopas in verse 18 says, "Really? I mean, are you the only guy who hasn't heard what's gone on in Jerusalem over the last week, over this last week?" Jesus says, "What things?" And they go on to explain it. But look at verse 21. He says,

…We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the woman had said; but (notice the end of verse 24) Him they did not see.

So these two disciples had heard all this, seen all this; they waited around Jerusalem, but they had not heard that Jesus had actually been seen, and so they're confused. Their faith is floundering to some extent.

They had believed that Jesus was the Messiah; they had become His followers. But their faith had been rocked by His death. Jesus came to them on that afternoon of the Resurrection in order to preserve their faith and to protect them spiritually, because He had promised the Father. You remember, John makes it clear that He wouldn't lose a single one of the ones the Father had given Him. He prayed for Peter that his faith wouldn't fail, and here He shows up with Cleopas and whoever the other person was of this twosome, in order to preserve their faith, to protect them.

I just want to assure you, Jesus does the same thing individually and personally with every believer today. Through His Spirit and through His Word, He preserves and protects what He has begun in our lives. He's not going to lose anyone that is His. No one is able, He said in John 10, to snatch them out of My hand.

There's a third lesson, I'll leave you with this, in this great story, and that is, Jesus' primary resource for strengthening the faith of His disciples is the Scripture. That's what we see in Jesus' interaction with these two people. Notice verse 25:

And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory? Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Wouldn't you have loved to have been there for that? But even to think that, in some ways, is to miss the point. I mean, think of all that Jesus could have shared with them that is not in Scripture. He's the eternal Son of God. Think of all the things that aren't in the Bible that Jesus knew and could have shared with them; all the new insights He could have brought, all the fresh revelation that He could have bestowed upon them. He could have made this appearance about His glorified body. He could have revealed Himself and made it about His body. Instead, for several hours, He didn't even reveal to them who He was; instead he just talked through the Scripture. I want you to think about that, and I want you to think about the implications of that for us. I don't think it's an accident that this last major record in Luke's Gospel is about two disciples who, ultimately, are not instructed by seeing what they know to be the resurrected Christ, but by hearing the Scripture taught and explained by someone they don't know.

You see, ultimately Jesus' primary resource for strengthening the faith of His disciples is not some vision of Him, it's not a post-resurrection appearance as wonderful and glorious as that is, it's Scripture. And don't we have the same two problems they had? We don't truly believe what we know from Scripture, verse 25, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken," and we don't actually know what the Scripture teaches; verses 26-27, He then explains to them the Scripture. This, brothers and sisters, is what we need. This is what Christ would do if He were here. It's what He does through those He's gifted in His church to help us understand the truth, and the Holy Spirit He's given each of us as we study the Scripture. I hope you won't discount the resource you have in the Scripture itself. Well, let's pray together.

Father, thank you for this time. I pray that You would take Your Word, take what we have reflected on tonight, and make it live in our hearts. Lord Jesus, thank You that You care for each of us individually and that You will hold us fast; that You will preserve us, protect us, and You will not lose a single one of us, but present us faultless in the presence of the Father with exceeding joy. We thank You for the resource You've given us in the Scripture. And we thank You in Jesus' name, Amen.

Good night.