(62) He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight – Acts 1:9

Jesus continued to appear to his disciples for forty days after the resurrection and he used this time to get three messages across to them.

First he explained how his life, death and resurrection were a fulfilment of what was written about him “in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). The disciples had grown up with expectations of a warrior Messiah who would throw off Roman rule and establish the nation of Israel as a strong independent nation as in the time of King David. They had resisted Jesus’ talk of needing to suffer and die – most directly when Peter told Jesus that “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22) – and were unable to accept his teaching about going to the cross. Now he “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45) and explained how the Messiah needed to suffer, die and rise from the dead in order to bring in the new covenant of forgiveness for sins in response to people’s repentance.

Secondly Jesus commissioned the disciples to be his witnesses. They had lived alongside him for three years, heard his teaching and seen his miracles. The saw him crucified and buried and now, most importantly, they witnessed his resurrection. The religious leaders knew that the tomb was empty and paid the soldiers who had guarded the tomb to tell people that his disciples had stolen the body while they were asleep – hardly a story that reflected well on their own ability as guards – and this story was widely circulated. But the disciples saw Jesus alive as he appeared to them over the forty days and their testimony was important.

Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to over five hundred people at one time and makes the point that many of them were still alive when he was writing. Indeed, all of the New Testament was written during the lifetime of those who had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. Their contemporaries were unable to challenge the accuracy of their accounts because of the volume of eye witnesses who were still alive. The number who saw Jesus also discredits the idea that people were hallucinating. Individuals can sometimes see things that they want to see, but the disciples were not expecting to see Jesus again and were surprised when they did. Jesus had to overcome their reluctance to believe by eating some fish to prove that he wasn’t a ghost.

Perhaps the most compelling confirmation of the truth of the resurrection was that history tells us that many of the eleven apostles, plus many others, were martyred for their belief in the resurrection. If they had stolen the body and hidden it then surely at least one would have cracked under the threat of death and admitted that the resurrection was a fabricated story? When Peter and John were arrested for “teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2) and brought before the Sanhedrin (the council that had tried Jesus) they were told not to speak about it but Peter and John replied “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

As witnesses Jesus commanded them to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This ‘Great Commission’ was accompanied by a promise that Jesus would be with them always.

The third message that Jesus gave the disciples was that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower them. John the Baptist had said that Jesus would “baptise them in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 3:16) and Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem until they experienced this. He was then “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). Two angels appeared to tell them that Jesus had now been taken up into heaven and his resurrection appearances came to an end. The work that Jesus came to earth to do as a man was complete. But this was not the end of the story.

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