Yom Aliyyah: Yeshua’s Ascension into the Heavens (Acts 1:9-11)
As I write this, we are in the midst of a season of time in the biblical calendar known in Hebrew as Sefirat HaOmer which translates into English as “the counting of the Omer.” An omer is a biblical measurement for grain equivalent more or less to a sheaf. We can find the biblical commandment to count each day during this season of time in Leviticus 23 verses 15 and 16.
“Then you are to count from the morrow after the Shabbat, from the day that you brought the omer of the wave offering, seven complete Shabbatot (Sabbaths). Until the morrow after the seventh Shabbat you are to count fifty days…”
This period of time connects the first day after the Sabbath of Passover directly to the festival of Shavuot which literally means “weeks” or Pentecost. That first day after the Sabbath of Passover also happened to be the day of the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah! So, there is a direct linkage between the resurrection of Messiah on the day of First Fruits and the day of Shavuot and the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh.
One of the most significant events in biblical and indeed world history took place on the 40th day of Sefirat HaOmer. This would be called in Hebrew Mem B’Omer, mem being the 13th letter of the Hebrew alphabet and having a numerical value of 40. We can also call this day Yom Aliyat Yeshua HaMashiach – יום עליית של ישוע המשיח - literally the day of the ascension of Yeshua the Messiah. We find the account of this amazing event recorded in two places in the Bible. Both of these passages were recorded by Doctor Luke. The first one is found in Luke 24:50-53 and the 2nd place is in Acts 1:9-11 the latter of which we will be examining here. After the Messiah promised his disciples that they would receive power when they would be immersed in the Holy Spirit not many days later, he was taken up into heaven before their eyes. We read:
“After saying all this—while they were watching—He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Acts 1:9
This gives a whole new meaning to the term cloud based…While what is described in this verse is unique in world history and one of the most important events in the Bible, it is not without some interesting parallels in biblical and Jewish history. Specifically, there are two figures who also were taken up into the heavens. I am referring to Enoch and Elijah. This is very important to keep in mind especially when sharing the Good News in a Jewish context. Parts of the New Covenant such as this are often decried as being antithetical to Jewish belief, and yet what we actually see here is a very Jewish fulfillment of prophetic shadow pictures such as Enoch and Elijah, but also direct biblical prophecy. Specifically, this is a literal fulfillment of the vision we find in Daniel Chapter 7 of 1 like a son of man ascending before the throne of the ancient of days and receiving a kingdom that is an eternal Kingdom.
“I was watching in the night visions. Behold, One like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days, and was brought into His presence. Dominion,
glory and sovereignty were given to Him that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will never pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed” – Daniel 7:13, 14
Let’s briefly take a look at the parallels that we see in the stories of Enoch and Elijah and see how they relate to Aliyyat HaMashiach. To begin with there is only a brief and somewhat enigmatic reference to the ascension of Enoch in the Torah found in Genesis 5:24:
“And Enoch continually walked with God—then he was not there, because God took him”
According to the extrabiblical Jewish book of Enoch, what this verse is describing is also an ascension into the heavens. This idea is actually affirmed in the Apostolic writings in the book of Hebrews (aka Messianic Jews):
“By faith Enoch was taken so as not to see death, and he was not found because God took him. For before he was taken, he was commended as pleasing to God” – Hebrews 11:5
Here are a couple of points of interest that we see connecting the story of Enoch with the ascension of Messiah.
the book of Enoch actually draws very heavily on the Daniel 7 passage and also uses the term son of man to describe a messianic figure. Hence the Enoch story is in some way a foreshadowing of the ascension of Yeshua
In the book of Hebrews, the word used to describe Enoch’s ascension is sometimes the English word “translated” but it comes from the Greek word metathesis which implies alteration. The term is still used today in both grammar and chemistry. This is very similar to what we see in the resurrection of Yeshua in that His body was transformed.
The author of Hebrews tells us that “…Enoch was commended as pleasing to God.” Yeshua’s life, ministry and sacrifice was fully pleasing to The Father
In Genesis 5 we find that Enoch was the son of Jared which means to come down, and his own son was named Methuselah which literally means “when he dies it will be sent.” This was a prophetic name because in the year of Methuselah’s death came the flood in the days of Noah. So, this is also prophetic of Messiah as it were coming down (incarnation), going up (ascension) and then a long period of grace until His return and final judgement upon the earth.
Even the meaning of Enoch in Hebrew is interesting in that it means dedicated and reminds us of the dedication of the altar in Jerusalem, i.e., Hanukkah and therefore speaks of sacrifice.
The second example of an ascension into the heavenly realms found in the biblical record is that of the Prophet Eliyahu or Elijah who famously was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind and by what is described as a fiery chariot. This is described in detail in 2 Kings 2.
With the aliyah of the Prophet Eliyahu into the heavens his anointing was passed to his disciple Elisha. So too the disciples of Yeshua would receive a powerful anointing only after their master head been taken up into the heavens. In fact, we are told that Elisha received a double portion, which is the portion of the firstborn in the Bible.
The Prophet Eliyahu’s ministry is very much linked to that of the days of Messiah. What is taught in the Bible and in Jewish tradition is that just as Elijah went up in the world wind and the chariot, he will come back to be the forerunner Messiah. As you know this is the reason why there is always a place set for Elijah at the Passover table for example.
In 2 Kings 2:15 the prophets declared that “The spirit of Elijah has rested on Elisha.”
It should be noted also that the location of the ascension of the Prophet Elijah is the same geographic area that John was immersing people in the Jordan River.
Luke tells us that as the disciples were still staring up into the heavens after the Messiah disappeared from view, “two men in white clothing” suddenly appeared and stood with them. These are clearly heavenly messengers or angelic beings. This is what they said:
“Men of Galilee, why do you keep standing here staring into heaven? This Yeshua, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:11
The message delivered by these Angels was very brief and to the point and yet filled with a lot of very important information not only for the Apostles but also for us.
Yeshua the Messiah will definitely return to earth. Again, this is similar to the story of Elijah who was taken up to heaven but who was prophesied to return to the earth. Messianic Rabbi Yechiel Zvi Lichtenstein wrote “Just as He was taken up into the clouds (Matthew 24:30; Daniel 7:13 – according to the Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a, this is about the Messiah). Likewise he will return upon the Mount of Olives, just as he was taken up from the Mount of Olives, as it says in Zechariah 14:4 ‘on that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.’”
The phrase this Yeshua used by these angelic beings, indicates very clearly that when Yeshua returns to earth he will still retain his identity as a Jewish man and the son of David.
They also tell us that he will return to earth in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. This is confirmed in several scriptures but especially Revelation 1:7.
So, what does this mean for us today? Before we look at a few practical applications let’s examine some of the theological implications.
As mentioned previously, the ascension of the Messiah into the heavens is actually the fulfillment of biblical Jewish prophecy. We can therefore boldly proclaim this message without feeling shy about it. Though it must be placed carefully in its original context and communicated in a way that will connect with people. It is part of the good News
We are living in a time period of God’s grace and patience. This is the time of the harvest.
The Kingdom of Messiah will fully come when he returns to this earth and sits up on the throne of David in Jerusalem.
Because He has ascended into heaven, He is also interceding for us continually before the throne of grace.
As a colleague of mine, Messianic Rabbi Joel Lieberman points out in his commentary entitled … It was necessary for Yeshua to ascend in such a dramatic way because up until this point He had been appearing and then disappearing for 40 days, but now something different was happening.
In conclusion, here are a few practical points that we can apply to our own lives today:
The way we understand and interpret biblical prophecy should be greatly affected by the revelation that Yeshua is actually returning to the earth as opposed to the idea that we will “die and go to heaven for all eternity…” It changes the way we look at for example John 14:3b where Yeshua says “…that where I am you may also be.”
Just as the angels said to the disciples in Acts 1:10 “Men of Galilee, why do you keep standing here staring into heaven?” so too we are not to remain gazing up into heaven, but we are called to be about the Messiah’s business here on earth.
We all need to receive the power of the Ruach in our lives to be able to effectively reach out to others with the good News. Like Elisha we must press-in to the master in order to receive the anointing.
The double portion is the portion of the firstborn. Yeshua is the first born among many…that includes all who believe in His name and receive Him. The Apostolic prayer of Rabbi Shaul in Ephesians chapter one teaches us that we need to seek greater revelation an understanding of the power of God in our lives.