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Q&A: Why are the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension important for the disciples and for us?

Jesus finished his work of paying for the sins of the whole world by dying on the cross. But how can we be sure our sins are paid for? On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that the Father had accepted the sacrifice and that we really are at peace with God.

But how can we be sure he rose? This is what makes the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension so important. Often after I accomplish a goal in life, I take some time to relax and bask in the relief. Not Jesus. He was still “working” during those 40 days to accomplish at least three vital tasks for his disciples and for us.

Assurance of resurrection

Jesus’ resurrection proves that all of his promises are true. Acts 1:3 tells us, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” He didn’t appear just once, nor did he just appear to the disciples. This Forward in Christ issue is filled with his appearances. Jesus appeared numerous times to hundreds of people over the course of that 40 days. The apostle Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians about AD 55 and in it stresses that many of the witnesses were still alive and could verify the resurrection (chapter 15).

The Bible even records the doubts of Thomas. Thomas was not there that first Easter evening. But when Jesus appeared the next Sunday, he let Thomas touch his wounds that had now become marks of victory. We not only have eyewitness proof, but hand-witness proof!

That gives us assurance still today! As the hymn writer so beautifully puts it: “He lives to silence all my fears; he lives to wipe away my tears; he lives to calm my troubled heart; he lives all blessings to impart” (Christian Worship 441:5). Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Instruction for mission

Acts 1:3 continues, “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Jesus needed to teach them what the kingdom meant. Just after this verse, we read about the disciples’ misunderstanding. “Then they . . . asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’ ” The disciples likely thought that Jesus was going to make heaven on earth now that he had risen. They were mistaken. Jesus’ kingdom is his rule in the hearts of people. That’s an important lesson for us as well. We should expect ministry on this side of eternity to be a battle. When people reject Jesus, it should not surprise us. When we need to bear a cross for living for Jesus, it should not surprise us. That is why we say we are part of the church militant now, knowing that on the day appointed, we will be ushered into the church triumphant in heaven.

Jesus needed to instruct his disciples that he even can use imperfect people. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night before his crucifixion. Peter cried genuine tears of repentance that night when the rooster crowed and the look of Jesus reminded him what he had done. Did his denials disqualify him for ministry? When Jesus appeared to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus answered that question. He emphatically said to Peter, “Feed my lambs. . . . Take care of my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep. . . . Follow me!” (John 21:15,16,17,19). If he can use a forgiven denier like Peter, he can use us, who have tasted that same sweet forgiveness.

Jesus’ appearances and instruction for ministry over that 40 days gave the disciples confidence for ministry, confidence you can have too!

Finally, Jesus needed to instruct the disciples about their work in his kingdom. Acts 1:8 says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The church’s mission has remained unchanged for the past two thousand years. In fact, you are proof of it. Would you like to meet those in your spiritual family tree? It goes all the way back to the apostles. They told someone, who then told another, who told someone else—all the way to you.

Some of them endured much to share the story of Jesus and his resurrection. The Christian life is hard, but it’s worth it because Jesus promises to acknowledge in heaven all those who acknowledge him here. That’s all the popularity you’ll ever need. Someone once told you about how valuable you are to God, that you are worth the blood of his only Son. You have no reason to worry about any physical need in this life. Now you have confidence. Jesus’ appearances and instruction for ministry over that 40 days gave the disciples confidence for ministry, confidence you can have too!

Confidence for ministry

“I’m glad to see you go.” This would be a strange thing to say to someone you love. No spouse likes to see his or her significant other go off to war. No young child likes to see Mom and Dad leave. No parent likes to be away from their children for a long period of time. That’s just the way we are geared. We don’t want to see those we hold near and dear go. We have come to depend on them!

Wouldn’t you have expected the disciples to feel the same way? Their teacher had inspired them with his words and deeds, producing confidence, hope, and joy. And he wasn’t just their teacher. He was their friend. There was no one they would rather be around. Now he was leaving. He was going home. Wouldn’t you have expected them to beg him to stay like the Emmaus disciples did on Easter evening or Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration? Instead, listen to the final verses of Luke’s gospel: “Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (24:52,53).

What had changed? Jesus had accomplished what he had set out to do during those 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. The disciples had seen the risen Jesus with their own eyes. Jesus had instructed them and given them promises about what they would accomplish. He was finished with his work. He had to ascend into heaven. As Paul says, “[God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:20-22). That means Jesus rules all things for you!

Have a question, ask it here!

Author: David Scharf
Volume 109, Number 04
Issue: April 2022

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This entry is part 16 of 65 in the series question-answer

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