6 When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with an account of the Ascension of Jesus and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws in order to become Jesus Followers.
Last Thursday was Ascension Thursday, and today’s reading presents an account of the Ascension of Jesus the Christ.
Even though Acts of the Apostles was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel According to Luke, the Gospel located the Ascension on the Day of Easter (Luke 24:51). Acts, however, says Jesus was “staying with” his disciples for 40 days (1:3-4) – and this has become the traditional period between Easter and the day for observing the Ascension. The Greek word translated as “staying with” (synalizomenos) can also be translated as “eating with” or “being assembled together.”
In both the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian Scriptures, however, the number 40 is a shorthand/euphemism for a long time, similar to phrases such as “I’ll be with you in a minute.” It also conveys the notion of a “suitable amount of time.”
The opening verse of today’s reading shows that the disciples still were expecting an apocalyptic event in which the temporal kingdom of Israel would be restored. This was the same expectation held by the two disciples in the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:21). The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes that the traditional Jewish understanding in the First Century was that the Messiah would restore Israel’s freedom.
Paul’s letters and Mark’s Gospel also contain expectations that the apocalyptic time was coming soon. By the time Luke’s Gospel and Acts were written (85 CE), the Jesus Follower Movement had come to realize that the “Second Coming” (the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God) did not mean restoring the temporal Kingdom of Israel.
Luke portrayed the resurrected Christ as gently disabusing the apostles of their understanding of the Kingdom (v.7) and promising the Holy Spirit would come upon them (v.8). He also told them they would be “witnesses” (martyres in Greek), an important theme in Acts by which believers became living testimony to Jesus’ acts and resurrection. The JANT points out that this verse indicated that redemption was not found in political change but in the bestowing of the Spirit. In that sense, the verse “explained” Jesus’ failure to return by the time of the writing of Luke’s Gospel, a matter of concern to some early Jesus Followers, for example in 1 Thessalonians 5.
According to Luke’s account in Acts, Jesus the Christ then ascended (v.9) to “heaven” from Mount Olivet (also called the Mount of Olives). This area is described as “a sabbath day’s journey” away from Jerusalem (v.12). In the First Century, this was about half a mile – the maximum distance a devout Jew was permitted to walk on the Sabbath (an interpretation of Exodus 16.29). In the Acts story, two men in white robes/angels suddenly appeared to the disciples, just as in Luke 24:4 and John 20:12, two “men in white robes” spoke to the women at the tomb.
Luke likely placed the Ascension at Mount Olivet, the place predicted in Zech.14:4 as where YHWH would appear to bring about the Day of the Lord.
The listing of the 11 disciples (v.13) is the same as in Luke 6:14-16, but in a different order. Other lists of the apostles appear in Matt. 10:2-4 and in Mark 3:16-19 and have variations. Matthew and Mark include Thaddeus and Simon the Cananaean and do not include Simon the Zealot or Judas son of James. John’s Gospel only mentions Peter, Andrew, Phillip, Thomas, Nathanael, and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” – sometimes thought to be John and (by others) Lazarus.
In Luke and Acts, unlike the other Gospels in which the disciples went to Galilee, they remained in Jerusalem in an upper room to await the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. According to Acts 2:1-4, the coming of the Spirit occurred on Pentecost, a celebratory day that was also known as the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) in First Century Judaism. The Feast of Weeks/Pentecost was a festival that celebrated the Spring harvest. In later Rabbinic Judaism it became a celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai.
In John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples when the Resurrected Christ breathed on them in the upper room on Easter Day and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary, the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
In the First Century, it was not uncommon to write something in another person’s name so that the writing would have extra “authority” – particularly when the writer believed he knew what the “authority” (in this case, Peter) would have said.
The First Letter of Peter was likely written in the last quarter of the First Century, long after Peter’s death. It was written in sophisticated Greek (not a style a Galilean fisherman would be able to use) and resembled the form of Paul’s letters. Its focus was not on the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, but on the Resurrection and the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.
Today’s reading emphasized that suffering is witnessing to the truth of the faith of the Christian community as a sharing in Christ’s sufferings (v.12). In terms of the suffering the community was undergoing, The New Oxford Annotated Bible says: “the letter addresses a critical situation in the lives of the addressees who once participated in the social and cultural life of their communities, but since their conversion to Christ have become marginalized and abused. The society to which they once belonged now considers them an unwelcome, even dangerous, sectarian movement.”
The NAOB says that the abuse suffered by the addresses was mostly verbal. Because the letter urged them to be respectful to the authorities (2:13-17), this would indicate that there was as no overt government persecution. The JANT noted that the readers were assured that when Christ returns, those who have suffered for their faith will receive the reward of eternal glory (v.10). It also points out that there was no empire-wide persecution of Christians until the reign of the Emperor Decius around 250 CE.
This letter (4:16) is one of the three places in the Christian Scriptures that refers to Jesus Followers as “Christians” (Christianos in Greek). Acts 11:26 notes that the first use of the term was in Antioch, and the term was used again in Acts 26:28. The JANT notes that the term “Christian” was used in a derogatory way in letters from Pliny the Younger and the Emperor Trajan around 110 CE.
In the omitted verses, the author described himself as an “elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ” (5:1) who urged the “elders among you” to not “lord over those in your charge but be examples to the flock.” (5:3).
The reference to “a roaring lion” is derived from Psalm 22:13 (my enemies “open wide their mouths at me like a ravening and roaring lion”).
1 Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 ”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that an anonymous author wrote the Gospel around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is part of the lengthy Farewell Discourse (13:31-17:26) which The New Oxford Annotated Bible describes as “an interpretation [by the author of the Fourth Gospel] of Jesus’ completed work on earth and his relation both to believers and to the world after his glorification.”
Chapter 17 is presented as Jesus’ final prayer and included a prayer for himself (vv.1-5), a prayer recounting his mission (vv.6-8), a prayer on behalf of the disciples (vv.9-19), and a prayer for “those who will believe in me through their [the disciples] word” (vv.20-26). It emphasized the unity of the Father and Son (on the one hand) with the disciples (on the other).
The phrase “the glory I had in your presence before the world existed” (v.5) is unique Christology found only in the Fourth Gospel and parallels the preexisting LOGOS theology in John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word/Logos”) and in John 8:58 (“Before Abraham was, I am”).
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes that in these verses “the author makes clear that Jesus is much more than a righteous, perfectly obedient, human being, commissioned by God, who has been exalted and glorified ‘in heaven.’ He is instead ‘from God’ in a much more radical sense than his opponents could ever have imagined.”