The Lord’s Ascent from Galilee

The Lord’s Ascent from Galilee

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

Over the past few weeks we have been focusing our attention on the doctrine of the Lord because our minds are naturally led to think about the Lord and His Divinity as we celebrate the Easter season. And even though we go to more trouble, in a natural way, about Christmas, Easter really is the most important date on the Christian calendar, because it was during His last week on earth, and His few brief post-resurrection appearances, that the whole nature and purpose of His Advent were revealed. It has taken us another two thousand years to begin to see the depth in the truths that He gave to us then.

Having covered His entrance into Jerusalem as a king, His arrest, trial and crucifixion, His resurrection, and His early post-resurrection appearances, it only remains to examine the events surrounding His final ascent into heaven from Galilee.

Our text for today is taken from the book of Acts because it is there that Luke gives the fullest description of the Lord’s actual ascent into heaven, and these are the passages that the Heavenly Doctrines refer to most often in regard to this subject.

The Lord said in John, No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven (3:13). He said this here, and in several other places, because He was trying to teach the disciples, and us, that the Divine Human which had been born from eternity, was also born in time. And He was also teaching that that which had been born in time was the same as that which was glorified. In other words, He was trying to establish the Divine identity of Jesus Christ. He was saying that the aspect of Jehovah that loved to teach and to save men, which is called the Son from eternity, became visible to men in the world when it clothed itself with a physical, human body at a particular place and time, and through the process of conquering in temptation, that body was glorified and taken back to heaven. The Son of Man came down, was known to men in the world, and then ascended into heaven. (See AC 2803:3)

Some people have trouble with the idea that the Lord was born “from eternity” or that the Lord has existed from eternity. In order to understand this idea we need to remember that it was the Lord who spoke through the prophets, and that both for this reason, and the fact that Divine Truth came from Him, He was called the Word “Which was made flesh.” In order for that to be true, He must have pre-existed the flesh. The Word, that is, Jesus Christ from eternity, the Son of Man, stands for all truth in heaven and on earth which comes from the Divine. (See AC 3704:12)

Once the Word had become flesh, once that aspect of the Divine had finited Itself in that particular place and time, It immediately began the process of re-uniting the Human with the Divine. This is what was meant by the Lord when He said that He had come forth from the Father and had come into the world, and that He would be going again to the Father. Another way of putting it would be to say that His coming forth from the Father means that the Divine itself had taken on the Human; His coming into the world means that He was as a human being; and His going again to the Father means that He would unite the Human Essence to the Divine Essence. (See John 6:62, AC 3736)

Like everything else in the Word, these teachings about the nature of the Divine also have their application on other levels, and in other series. For example, the Doctrines teach in the Arcana Coelestia that the ‘Son of man’ denotes the Divine truth in the heavens for this comes down, and therefore ascends, because no one can ascend into heaven unless Divine truth comes down into him from heaven, because the influx is Divine, and not the other way about. (AC 9807:9)

The Lord appeared to the disciples about 12 different times over a period of 40 days after His resurrection. We might note in this connection that 12 represents ‘all the goods and truths of the church’ while 40 stands for a period of temptation which has been successfully overcome. Through His appearances to the disciples He taught them that He was God, and that they should go out into the world and follow His example and His commandments. We know that the two essentials of the church are the acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and earth, and to do good in His name; and so we can see that all the goods and truths of the church were contained in His final instructions to the disciples. We also know that this was time when the Lord was drawing all things concerning His glorification to a conclusion, bringing His 33 years of temptation to a close, and so, symbolically, He appeared 12 times to the disciples over a period of 40 days.

At the end of the 40 days, the Lord met the disciples in Galilee. Luke reports in his gospel that

He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God (Luke 24:50-53).

The disciples had seen Him eat; they had seen Him offer to allow Thomas to touch His wounds, He had walked with them, and talked with them, and they were convinced by this that He was in fact, no longer dead. And yet He had also entered and left rooms where the doors were closed, and had done other things that were very much things that only a spirit could do. And now, in their plain sight, He was carried up into heaven. They were now beginning to understand that He was both God and Man, they could now understand that they had daily walked and talk with and been instructed by Jehovah God Himself, and they were overcome with the joy of their realization. In their newly born and rapidly growing understanding, they were compelled to return to Jerusalem, in spite of the danger that they faced there, and went into the temple to praise God for the blessings they had received.

The Lord ascended to Heaven in their presence specifically to teach them these things, to show them that the body that He had taken on in the world from Mary had been drastically changed, that He had accomplished His goal of glorifying the Human so that He could rise, unlike any man, with His glorified Human.

Our understanding of exactly what happened to His physical body is not complete, but certain spiritual principles and open statements of the Heavenly Doctrines allow us to see the big picture, even if some of the details remain clouded.

The Lord rose with the whole body, unlike any man (Lord 35:9,10). This is the clear and frequent teaching of the Heavenly Doctrines. Yet there are also many passages which speak of how the Lord had put off the human from the mother. He cannot have both put off the human and risen with it. How are we to understand this apparent contradiction?

A possible resolution of this question lies in a passage that speaks in more detail about what it was that the Lord put off:

As men rise again after death, therefore the Lord willed to undergo death and to rise again the third day, but to the end that He might put off every thing human that He had from the mother and might put on the Divine Human; for every thing human that the Lord took from the mother He rejected from Himself by temptations, and finally by death. (AE 899:14)

Since you cannot reject flesh and bones by temptation, something else human that He received from His mother must be meant.

There is not the time to go deeply into the doctrine of heredity at this point, so it must suffice to say that the heredity we receive from our mother is different than that which we receive from our father. The heredity from the father is part of the soul itself, and even though we may conquer an evil from our paternal heredity, it is not removed, but rather encapsulated. The heredity we receive from our mother, being associated with the physical body, is entirely removed through regeneration.

As far as we are concerned as we go about our daily lives, there is no difference between the two types of heredity. The heredity from both of our parents has an equal influence on our lives, the evils there are equally difficult to repent of, and once they are removed by the Lord through the process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration, they are equally gone. So practically, to us, there is no difference.

But for the Lord there was a world of difference. The hereditary evils which He received from Mary could be completely removed, put off, as He conquered them in temptation. This could not have happened with hereditary evils from an earthly father. This is why He had to have been born of a virgin – so that the heredity from His father would be completely pure of evil because His father was God.

This also answers the question of what it was from Mary that He put off as He glorified Himself: He put off the evils of His maternal heredity, He put off the misconceptions and falsities learned in His childhood; while the body, being incapable of harboring evil, was glorified and thus made Divine.

By putting on a Human from the Divine Itself that was in Him, He glorified Himself, that is, made His Human Divine; therefore in the spiritual sense His death and burial do not mean death and burial, but the purification of His Human, and glorification. He taught this when He spoke about the grain of wheat that must first die and be buried in the earth so that it might rise again and bear fruit (See John 12:24). The Lord then gathered His disciples to witness His ascent into heaven because in the spiritual sense ‘To ascend to His Father’ means the uniting of His Human with His Divine, the human from the mother being fully rejected. (See AE 899:14)

While the Lord was careful to ascend into heaven in such a way as to clarify the nature of His mission in the world, He was also preparing the way for His second coming. Recall how Luke described the ascension in the second lesson:

While they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).

As the Lord ascended into heaven and was lost to their view as He entered the clouds, two angels announced to the disciples, and thereby to us, that the Lord would return in the same manner as they had seen Him go, that is, in the Glorified Human, not a physical body, and in the clouds, that is, in the literal sense of the Word.

John tells us that in the beginning “The Word was made flesh … and dwelt among us” (1:1,14), and we see that at the end of His time on earth, He returned to the Word as represented by the clouds of heaven. (See TCR 764:3)

The work that He had set out to do was accomplished. He had been born of a virgin; He had received the temptations from every hell and defeated them with His own power; He had glorified His human; every aspect of His life on earth was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Old Testament; and in the act of fulfilling the prophecy of the Old, He was laying down the prophecy of the New, preparing the way for His return, not in the body, or in the world, but into men’s minds through their understanding of the spiritual sense of the Word. Amen.

First Lesson: Acts 1:1-11

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, {2} until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, {3} to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. {4} And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; {5} “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” {6} Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” {7} And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. {8} “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” {9} Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. {10} And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, {11} who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Amen.

Second Lesson: TCR 764

As the successive states of the church in general and in particular are described in the Word by the four seasons of the year, spring, summer, autumn, and winter, and by the four divisions of the day, morning, noon, evening, and night; and as the present church in Christendom is the night, it follows that the morning, that is, the beginning of a new church, is now at hand. That the successive states of the church are described in the Word by the four states of the light of day, can be seen from the following passages:– An end has come, the end has come; it has dawned for you; behold, it has come! (EZE 7:6)

[2] In these passages “evening” and “night” mean the last time of the church, and “morning” the first. The Lord Himself is also called the morning in the following passage:– “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” (REV 22:16).

Because the Lord is the morning, He arose from the sepulcher early in the morning, being about to begin a new church (MAR 16:2,9)

[3] That it is the Lord’s coming that is to be waited for can be clearly seen from His prediction respecting it in Matthew:– Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the consummation of the age?” (MAT 24:3)

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (MAT 24:29-30)

[4] In the Acts of the Apostles:– Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, Who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (ACT 1:9-11)

In the Apocalypse:– And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to his work. (REV 22:6,7,12)

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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