Jesus’ Death, Resurrection, and Ascensions
Note: The following Post is taken from an upcoming book by Joseph Lenard entitled Mysteries of Jesus’ Life Revealed—His Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascensions. For an overview and complete chapter listing of this fascinating study, click here.
Not One, But Two
It will come as a surprise to most Christians that there were actually two ascensions of Jesus to heaven following His resurrection. Most Christians know about the public ascension of Jesus (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50-51, and Acts 1:9–10), which was witnessed by His disciples 39 days following His resurrection. However, this was actually the second ascension.
Jesus’ first ascension occurred very shortly after his resurrection – on the same day as the resurrection. This first ascension was related to the Feast of the Lord known as First Fruits. Although this Feast is clearly documented and celebrated throughout Scripture, it has been largely forgotten by church tradition.
Why is that? The short answer is that – through the centuries – the church has chosen to de-emphasize it.
In my first book, The Last Shofar! – which I co-authored with Donald Zoller – I presented the case that Jesus will actually fulfill the seven Feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23) as a consequence of His First and Second Comings. The Feasts of the Lord were given by God to Moses, with specific instructions that they were to be celebrated annually by the Jewish people as a foreshadowing of God’s plan of redemption – anticipating the coming of the Messiah and the salvation which He offered. The Spring Feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost) were literally fulfilled by Jesus at His First Coming in the first century during His death, burial, resurrection, and ascensions. The Fall Feasts (Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles) will be literally fulfilled in the future at His Second Coming.
Jesus’ resurrection and His ascensions were the fulfillment of the Spring Feast of First Fruits. Details of how First Fruits relates directly to Jesus’ resurrection and ascensions are covered in Chapter 6 of The Last Shofar! The following sections are taken directly from the book and presented here as background for understanding the two ascensions of Jesus. In particular, the first ascension only makes sense when considered in conjunction with the First Fruits Temple-related ceremonies performed by the priests.
Some background is necessary to fully appreciate this linkage to Jesus.
Background on First Fruits
The purpose of First Fruits was to present as tribute to the Lord the first sheaf (literally the “First Fruits”) of the winter barley harvest. This First Fruit offering was cut each spring following the Passover and Unleavened Bread Feasts from a special barley field located at the base of the Mount of Olives, to the east of the Temple. The cutting was done during the week of Unleavened Bread, at the start of First Fruits, and immediately following the weekly Sabbath (Saturday).
In the Jewish tradition, Saturday evening at sundown was also the beginning of the first day of the week, Sunday. The priest lifted the cut barley sheaf and waved it before the Lord for His acceptance. According to the Talmud, the barley was then processed into fine flour during the night. When morning arrived, the High Priest waved the processed barley during the Temple ceremony. The waving of the barley flour symbolized God’s acceptance of the tribute and His pledge to His people of an abundant harvest – God’s irrevocable blessing upon His people.
As to the order of the resurrection of the righteous, the Apostle Paul tells us that Christ Himself is the First Fruits. As Paul explains, “But each in his own order: Christ the First Fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:23).
Christ rose from the dead, having been lifted up, and cut free from the earth at the same time the barley sheaf of the First Fruits ceremony was lifted up in the field, at the very start of First Fruits on Saturday evening, at the very beginning of the first day of the week, Sunday. This was the fulfillment that Jesus is the First Fruit of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ confirms that, “In Christ shall all be made alive” – God’s irrevocable blessing upon all who believe. As pictured in the Feast, a rich and abundant life is experienced in the resurrected Christ – who is our First Fruits of the resurrection.
There is yet another interesting correlation of the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to the Feast of First Fruits. This involves an explanation of something which is puzzling in the Matthew account: The resurrection of “many holy people” upon the resurrection of Jesus. Matthew states the following:
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:52–53, NKJV)
Richard Booker, author of Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts – Discovering Their Significance to You as a Christian, has offered the following interesting correlation of these additional resurrections – of saints – to First Fruits:
The barley sheaf [group of barley stalks] wave offering consisted of a number of individual barley stalks that had been bundled together. Likewise, when Jesus offered Himself as the First Fruits from the dead, many individual believers were raised with Him. When the time came to harvest the crop, the farmer would go into his field and inspect the First Fruits of the crop. If he accepted the First Fruits, then the rest of the harvest would also be acceptable to him. Since our Heavenly Father has accepted Jesus as the First Fruits from the dead, believers are also acceptable to God through Jesus. He will also raise us from the dead and give us a new resurrected body fitted for eternity.
It is true that Jesus, our First Fruits, is our representative. By presenting Himself to the Father, He consecrated the rest of us to the Father, starting with those “saints” who were raised just after He was resurrected. Paul boldly stated to the Christians in Ephesus:
“He [God] made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). Believers are the human stalks that have been bundled together with Jesus; therefore, “If the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.” (Romans 11:16, NKJV)
Therefore, Jesus Christ completely fulfilled the prophetic message of the Feast of First Fruits. He did this by His resurrection on the very day and hour the Feast was initially observed by Israel – Saturday at sundown, which is also the beginning of the first day of the week, Sunday, on the Jewish calendar. He was raised from the tomb at precisely the time when the priests cut the barley sheaf and raised it heavenly. Appendix II and Appendix III of The Last Shofar! provide additional information regarding the Jewish calendar and the crucifixion week, respectively.
To fully appreciate how the Feast of First Fruits is prophetically fulfilled, it is important to understand the sequence of events that occurred in the pre-dawn hours of the Sunday following Christ’s crucifixion. Combining information from the four Gospel accounts, the following scenario emerges:
“At early dawn” (stated in Luke 24:1) [Mark states, “when the sun had risen” (Mark 16:2); John states, “while it was still dark” (John 20:1)], two women [perhaps three] appeared at the tomb – identified as “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1). From Luke’s account (Luke 23:55–24:2), it appears to be uncertain exactly how many women came to the tomb at this pre-dawn hour; Luke mentions by name at least a third woman, Joanna (Luke 24:10).
As the women approached the tomb, the immediate concern was how they might roll away the stone that had sealed the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid (Mark 16:3). Upon arriving at the tomb, much to their surprise, the stone had already been rolled away. In addition, they also saw an angel who said to them, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5) and told them that the One they were seeking was not in the tomb but had risen. The angel then instructed them to go and inform the other disciples of the things they had seen and heard. Of interest, Luke’s account of this encounter gives the additional information that there were two angels who met the women (Luke 24:4–6). In this case, as in other Gospel accounts, details surrounding the event may vary depending on the writer’s perspective and the emphasis that the Holy Spirit seeks to convey to the reader.
Luke also informs us that the women [at least three] returned to the disciples and told them all the things they had seen and heard. Incredulous as it seems, the disciples did not believe them.
Peter and “. . . the other disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2–3) [presumed to be the disciple John] ran back to the tomb to verify the account of the women. After seeing the evidence of the resurrection, the two disciples believed – however, they saw, but did not fully see! – for “. . . they did not understand the Scripture, that he [Jesus] must be raised from the dead.” Then the disciples “. . . went back to their homes” (John 20:8–10).
At this point in the narrative, it appears that Mary Magdalene remained behind after the rest returned to their homes, weeping over the empty tomb. Then, she encountered the two angels, who inquired as to why she was crying (John 20:11–12). Apparently forgetting the words she heard from her initial encounter with the angel(s) at the tomb earlier that morning, she said, “They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13).
Jesus appeared to Mary and asked the same question, “Why are you weeping?” She gave the same reply, thinking Jesus to be the gardener. When Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” she realized that no stranger could have known her name or have spoken it with the tone of intimacy that Jesus alone used. She, no doubt, fell at His feet in worship and adoration, wanting to touch Him for fear of losing Him yet again.
Specific Background of Jesus’ First Ascension
At this point, Jesus said to Mary, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and (to) my God, and your God,” (John 20:17, KJV). The literal Greek translation is “Jesus said to Her, Do not touch Me, for I have not yet gone up to My Father. But go to My brothers, and say to them, I go up to My Father . . .”
While most theologians refer to ascended as meaning Christ’s ascension to glory 40 days later, we believe that this immediate ascension Jesus was talking about was the fulfillment of the Feast of First Fruits, His ascension as the wave offering of Himself that required acceptance by God as the First Fruits offering to the Father. The evidence related to this initial ascension (the first ascension) is followed in the narrative by Jesus meeting the other women, who apparently were traveling separately from the men, and His greeting them.
The women immediately took hold of His feet, i.e., clasped His feet and worshiped Him – “. . . They came to him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him“(Matthew 28:8–9 NIV). On this occasion, Jesus gave no restriction about touching Him but simply stated, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28:10).
Later, when Jesus was with the disciples, He encouraged Thomas to touch Him so that he might be convinced of the reality of the resurrected Christ who stood before him. He said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see . . .” (Luke 24:39). There was no problem with the disciples touching Him at this time.
At first, all this may seem puzzling. But clearly something had changed between Jesus’ encounter with Mary – who was told not to touch Him – and the encounter Jesus later had with the returning women – who took hold of Him – and still later with Thomas – who was invited by Jesus to touch Him. The “something” we suggest is the first of two ascensions, the purpose of which was to fulfill the requirement of the wave offering of the purified barley – that ceremonial lifting up of the barley by the High Priest in the Temple. This was for God’s acceptance and irrevocable blessing.
Jesus, without notice and fanfare, ascended to the Father to complete what to this point had been prophetically incomplete – the wave offering, the lifting up of the barley offering (Jesus) before God, presenting Himself to the Father as the risen, acceptable First Fruits sacrifice. Shortly after this First Ascension, Jesus returned to earth to fulfill the other requirements which God had placed before Him.
Richard Booker has suggested the following explanation of Jesus’ comment to Mary for her not to touch Him:
“As the barley sheaf could not be touched until it was offered to God, so Jesus, the human sheaf, could not be touched until He offered Himself in the heavenly temple as the First Fruits from the dead.”
Specific Background of Jesus’ Second Ascension
In the second ascension (39 days later, after First Fruits), Jesus publicly ascended back to heaven. Ten days later, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples to empower them to complete His work on earth.
We recognize the challenges inherent in this understanding of the Scripture, but it is our position that when all of Scripture is brought to bear – including prophetic scripture related to the Feasts of the Lord – two ascensions become both the most reasonable and the most consistent conclusion.
Note: In my next Post I offer specific evidence in support of the year AD 30 as the year in which Jesus was crucified.