The Forty Days leading to the Ascension

Third in the Ascension Series

Forty is a Biblical number—How else could it be described with such magnitude and significance? Its numerous mentions in Scripture draw us to reflect on each event with which it is associated.

We learn in the first chapter of Acts that the Ascension took place after Christ had remained on the earth ‘after his passion’ for 40 days. (Acts 1:3)

On the BibleStudy.org website, a section on the ‘Meaning of Numbers’ states the following about the number 40:

  • 146 mentions in Scripture
  • the number 40 generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation.
  • Moses lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in the desert before God selected him to lead his people out of slavery.
  • Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, on two separate occasions (Exodus 24:18, 34:1 - 28), receiving God's laws. He sent spies, for 40 days, to investigate the land God promised the Israelites as an inheritance (Numbers 13:25, 14:34).
  • Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years, one for each day of their futile investigation
  • the 40 days and nights of Noah’s flood
  • Jonah warned Nineveh for 40 days
  • Jesus was tempted by the devil during his 40 days in the wilderness
  • others

Would you consider the length of days the Lord remained on the earth before his ascension to be a time of testing, trial or probation for his disciples? Perhaps so, in that it was a special time for them to put away all unbelief and gather their strength and wits and before the start of the gospel ministry in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

Another aspect of the 40-day or year time span is that God is at work to accomplish a particular goal. It is a required length of time for a specific accomplishment.

It was just the right amount of time for Moses to become a patient man after his murder of the Egyptian, and before he is commanded to return to entreat Pharaoh for the release of the Israelites. Forty years reformed his character.

Forty days are needed for Jonah to cry out and convince the Ninevites that God will judge them. It was the effective span of time. One or two weeks would not do.

It took exactly 40 days and nights of flooding for the earth to be covered with waters, to drown all life except for those on the ark.

It would take 40 days for the Lord to work with his disciples before he ascended—

  • It was a slower time —no planes, buses or cars. No electronic communications. All gatherings and discussions would be in person. Only the risen Lord could dematerialize or suddenly appear (Mark 16:14); everyone else had to walk, run or ride on an animal to arrive at a meeting.
  • We are told that both Jesus and the angel at the tomb told the women to advise his disciples to meet him in Galilee, (Mat 28:7, 10) and that they met him at a particular mountain (Mat 28:16) to learn about their future work (Mat 28:19-20). It would be a two or three day walk from Jerusalem to Galilee. (It would seem that this commissioning was repeated for enforced learning with three instances (Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:6-8) being individual versions.)
  • The women who followed Jesus needed assurance that he was alive and was continuing to carry out his Father’s mission. They would be valuable witnesses throughout their villages.
  • The Lord also appeared to many others of his followers such as Cleopas and his companion on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13), and 500 brethren at one time. (1 Cor 15:6) All of these were witnesses who gained assurance, who could testify about his resurrection for any who doubted. This, too, built momentum for the work ahead. These appearances are for all of us— we all need to see in Scripture that the Lord is alive, after dying.
  • It takes time for the human mind to process a crisis event. The Lord understood that his disciples had experienced a trauma and needed time to adjust and heal, and with him present to guide and comfort them, they would get back to normal more quickly.
  • It was necessary for each one of them to recover from the shock and realize a new day of service was at hand. Though they would still daily follow the Lord, he would not remain on the earth, and they would follow him in a new reality. Each had lives, work and kinfolk or families to confer with or to settle in new ways before beginning their new work in the Lord.
  • They saw for themselves that he ate and had flesh as a man, with telltale wounds (Luke 24:39, 42-43). He wanted them to be fully convinced that he was still a man, the same man whom they had known before he died and was buried. He really was alive and well.

Yes, there was much work to do before Christ could ascend to his Father, and our Father (John 20:17). It was the work of a preacher and a friend, teacher, counselor, a brother, a prince of peace, and a prophet.

In the Ascension we behold the Trinity

Second in the Ascension Series

I recently listened to a podcast that described a new development in the Church called ‘deconstruction.’ Some who have been evangelical Christians have renounced their faith and now are ‘preaching’ the rationale for their apostasy. This is tragic.

In the Fourth Century some were denying the deity of Christ. The Nicene Creed was the very first ‘statement of faith’ written by leaders in a church council. Not all would say that the Nicene Creed is a perfect statement of faith, and not all view creeds as useful. As a layperson, I appreciate the careful wording of this Creed. Any with doubts could meditate on it to gain strength and comfort.

The Nicene Creed states:

  • I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
  • And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
  • Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
  • And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
  • And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

In the Nicene Creed we are reminded of ‘God in three persons, blessed Trinity.’

Though the spectacle of the Ascension focuses our gaze on Christ, upon reflection, we see the Triune God in this wonder and essential Christian doctrine.

In Acts 1, the Lord is explaining to his disciples that they do not need to know the times and seasons relating to when he would restore the kingdom to Israel, but they themselves would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them to become Christ’s witnesses. (Acts 1:7-8)

After this statement, as they looked on, “he was taken up.” (Acts 1:9) Christ ascended, taken up by the Father; he did not ascend by his own initiative. He was taken up to ‘sit at the right hand’ of the Father. (1 Pet 3:22 et al) When he ascended he led captivity captive and gave gifts to men (Eph 4:8), sending the Holy Spirit as he had promised.

Elisha sought a double portion of the Spirit that rested on his mentor Elijah, and he gained that by looking on as Elijah was taken up to heaven. (2 Ki 2:12) Likewise, the disciples looked on as Christ was taken up, and received his Spirit, at Pentecost, to carry out the Great Commission.

We, too, must faithfully look on our Lord and our God. Let us carefully study and consider the doctrine of the Ascension.

When I soar to worlds unknown, see Thee...

First in the Ascension Series

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!— and by that we mean, he is alive; he arose from death.

We do not mean that he ascended. The ascension is a separate event from the resurrection.

The resurrection has to do with conquering death; it assures us that life is eternal; that the extinguished and disintegrated body will be reintegrated with its soul and spirit and revitalized.

The ascension is less of a world-shaking event. Or is it?

What occurred when the Lord was taken up to heaven as we read in the first chapter of Acts and in the gospels?

He did not ‘soar to worlds unknown’* as we will but returned to his heavenly home.

Now, he would sit, and now sits, at the right hand of the Father, but where had he sat before? What is the meaning? What had changed?

A key comfort is that he will return just as the disciples saw him leave. (Acts 1:11)

Today is Ascension Day 2022. Here begins a study about this event that occurred in the spring of 33 or thereabouts, a little less than 2000 years ago.

* Rock of Ages hymn lyric: When I soar to worlds unknown, See Thee on Thy judgment throne…

Attention Readers

Have you visited the Biotech Blog on this website? Find information and resources to help you think about biotech as a Christian.

During the summer of 2017, I explored the topic of kidney donation. Is it right for a society to permit that? To encourage it? What do you think? Read the Live Kidney Donation Series!

Should you sign your driver’s license to be an organ donor? Is cremation OK with God? Do these practices undermine the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection?

Learn more. The conscience cannot function without facts.


Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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