Lesson based on Acts 1:3-11:
After Jesus is raised from death, He appears to his disciples. He proves to them that He is alive, and shows them how the Old Testament scriptures point to Him—in the Law, the history books, the Psalms and the Prophets.
Jesus particularly urges His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until God the Father sends them His Holy Spirit. They won’t have the grace or power to preach the gospel unless they are first plunged into the Holy Spirit, just as John the Baptist used to plunge people into water.
They must wait—prayerful and ready—for the Holy Spirit. Once they have received the Spirit they will be able to preach the Gospel not only in Jerusalem, but in the rest of Judea, among their old enemies the Samaritans and to the whole world.
The disciples still misunderstand “the kingdom of God.” They still expect Jesus to declare Himself as a military leader who will defeat the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel. For Jesus, the kingdom of God isn’t a little political state of Israel, but a worldwide spiritual realm. It is everyone who welcomes His gospel. This is the gospel the apostles are to go out and preach. One day this kingdom will be complete, and Jesus will return—but only God the Father knows when that day will be.
Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus finally leaves His disciples. He leads them to the Mount of Olives, less than a mile outside Jerusalem. There, says Luke, “He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” – Luke 1:9.
All the New Testament writers know that Jesus ascended to heaven, but it is only Luke who describes it happening. He says Jesus went up as they looked towards heaven—an event as miraculous and unique as the resurrection itself.
The resurrection and ascension are two parts of the same act by which God the Father raises Jesus to His place in glory. The important idea is not that Jesus “lifted off” like a rocket-ship, but rather, that He was received into the glorious presence of God.
We don’t have to think of Jesus going up like a rocket. He “went up” as He is received into the high and holy presence of God, His Father. He is returning to His heavenly home from which He originally came down to earth from to fulfill His mission.
Luke says that “a cloud received Him out of their sight.” In the Old Testament, the cloud of God’s presence and glory surrounded the tent of meeting in the wilderness (Exodus 40:34). In his Gospel, Luke describes how a bright cloud enveloped Jesus when he met with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:34–35).
The cloud symbolizes but also acts as a shield between God and human beings. It is a sign of His Holy presence. The angels tell the disciples that it is in this kind of “cloud of glory” that Jesus will one day return to take His followers home to be with the Father.