Acts of the Apostles 1:1–11; Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:1923; Luke 24:46–53
No back-up plan
Jesus gave to his followers the task of completing his work by sharing the Good News with the rest of the world.
There’s an ancient legend about the ascension of Jesus into heaven. According to the legend, when Jesus reached heaven, his body still showed the wounds of his crucifixion. His hands and feet still bore the prints from the nails. His side bore the mark from the spear. His back bore the stripes from the whip, and his head bore the wounds from the thorns. When the people in heaven saw these marks, they fell on their knees before Jesus.
They were astounded to see how much he had suffered. Then the angel Gabriel rose up and said to Jesus:
“Lord, how greatly you suffered on earth! Do all the people on earth know and appreciate how much you went through for them and how much you love them?’’
Jesus replied: “Oh, no! Only a handful of people in Palestine know that. The rest haven’t even heard of me. They don’t know who I am. They don’t know how much I suffered, and how much I love them.’’
Gabriel was shocked to hear this. Then he said to Jesus: “How will all the rest of the people on earth ever learn about your suffering and your love?’’
Jesus said: “Just before I left, I told Peter, James, and John, and a few of their friends, to tell the rest of the world for me. “They’ll tell as many people as they can. Those people, in turn, will tell other people. In that way the whole world will eventually learn about my love for them.’’
Gabriel looked even more confused now. He knew how fickle people are. He knew how forgetful they are. He knew how prone to doubt they are. So he turned to Jesus and said: “But, Lord, what if Peter, James, and John grow tired or frustrated? What if they forget about you? What if they begin to have doubts about you? “And even if none of these things happen, what if the people they tell become frustrated? What if they forget? What if they begin to have doubts about you? “Didn’t you take these things into account? Don’t you have a back-up plan—just in case?’’
Jesus answered: “I did take all these things into account, but I decided against a back-up plan. This is the only plan I have. “I’m counting on Peter, James, and John not to let me down. I’m counting on the people they tell not to let me down.’’
Twenty centuries later, Jesus still has no other plan. He counted on Peter, James, and John, and they didn’t let him down. He counted on the people they told, and they didn’t let him down. And now Jesus counts on us.
Although the place of the Ascension is not distinctly stated, it would appear from the Acts that it was Mount Olivet. Since after the Ascension the disciples are described as returning to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, within a Sabbath day's journey.
Tradition has consecrated this site as the Mount of Ascension and Christian piety has memorialized the event by erecting over the site a basilica. St. Helena built the first memorial, which was destroyed by the Persians in 614, rebuilt in the eighth century, to be destroyed again, but rebuilt a second time by the crusaders. This the Moslems also destroyed, leaving only the octagonal structure which encloses the stone said to bear the imprint of the feet of Christ, that is now used as an oratory.
Not only is the fact of the Ascension related in the passages of Scripture cited above, but it is also elsewhere predicted and spoken of as an established fact. Thus, in John 6:63, Christ asks the Jews: "If then you shall see the son of Man ascend up where He was before?" and 20:17, He says to Mary Magdalene: "Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God." Again, in Ephesians 4:8-10, and in Timothy 3:16, the Ascension of Christ is spoken of as an accepted fact.
The language used by the Evangelists to describe the Ascension must be interpreted according to usage. To say that He was taken up or that He ascended, does not necessarily imply that they locate heaven directly above the earth; no more than the words "sitting on the right hand of God" mean that this is His actual posture. In disappearing from their view "He was raised up and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9), and entering into glory He dwells with the Father in the honour and power denoted by the scripture phrase.