Often we are too quick to jump from Easter to Pentecost. In fact, in many Pentecostal theological traditions, we have lost much by ignoring the historic Christian calendar. For many pastors, there are only three major church Sundays: Christmas, Easter, and Homecoming.
As Chris Maxwell’s excellent series of Pause books teaches, we need to pause after Easter and give attention to the importance of the forty days that Jesus ministered on earth, before His Ascension, as we renew the rightful place of emphasizing Pentecost.
That’s why we need to remember that Pentecost Sunday this year is June 4th, with the Ascension ten days prior on May 25. Jesus’ ascension is described in Mark 16:19, 20; Luke 24:51–53; and Acts 1:4–11. The Apostle Paul alluded to the Ascension in Ephesians 4:8–16 in referring to Christ’s gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
The connection with Pentecost and the IPHC’s focus on Christ’s Kingdom becomes clearer when we recognize the emphasis that St. Luke gave to the period between the resurrection and Pentecost. We first see this in the Gospel of Luke, as Luke focused on what and why Jesus taught (Luke 24:25–32, 44–49). During these forty days, Jesus instructed His disciples: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you…” (Luke 24:44 NKJV).
This means that Jesus repeated much of what He said during His three years of ministry. Jesus named the aspects of His miracles and teachings that needed to be emphasized. He told His followers “… that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44 NKJV).
Jesus taught His Jewish disciples that His ministry was foretold in their Law, prophets, and writings. He showed how He fulfilled these witnesses of God’s divine purpose in the world.
In Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, he began with what Jesus did and taught during these forty days “…until the day in which He was taken up…” (Acts 1:1–2). Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs…” (Acts 1:3).
The reality of Jesus’ physical presence with them during these forty days was clearly affirmed (see Luke 24:36–43). The physically present Jesus, present in the uniqueness of His resurrected body which transcended normal physical laws, taught the disciples on a specific topic: “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3). Jesus’ further teaching on the kingdom of God completed His teaching here on earth.
We know from Jesus’ kingdom parables in Matthew 13 and the parallel in Mark 4 that His teaching about the kingdom of God was often expressed in parables. Some of the parables were explained by Jesus when He first gave them, such as the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and tares (see Matthew 13:18–23; 36–43). But other parables remained mysteries for the disciples to ponder and discuss.
While the Bible does not specifically say, it seems reasonable that during these forty days Jesus further explained these parables as He talked about the kingdom of God. As I’ve pondered these forty days before the Ascension, I’ve found myself imagining Jesus speaking to Matthew, Mark (who though not one of the Twelve, was a disciple), and John, informing them of the emphasis they should take in telling His story for the future.
We know that the Apostle Peter was spiritually restored during these forty days (Luke 22:31, 32; John 21:15–18). No doubt the following days with Jesus were times of refreshing, insight, and affirmation so that Peter went forward without crippling guilt—with the strength that comes from gratitude and humility. The same can be said for Thomas, whose doubt was directly challenged by Jesus (John 20:24–29). No doubt Thomas found a confident faith that enabled him to later move further eastward into India as a missionary of the risen Lord.
These forty days were essential—days we shouldn’t be quick to skip over. During this time, the disciples were in the presence of the risen Lord and the presence of the Holy Spirit. John 20:19–23 described how in the earliest days of His resurrection, Jesus met with the fearful disciples and brought His peace that transformed their fear. He commissioned them to be sent just as He had been sent. He “breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
The presence of the Holy Spirit during these forty days enabled them to learn and discern in an atmosphere charged with divine life. Jesus taught that His power—to bring release from the power of sin—was being transferred to them, His disciples.
The importance of Jesus breathing on them the Holy Spirit in John 20:22 gives further impetus to the meaning of Pentecost in Acts 2. In both instances, the Spirit is present, showing the way of forming the new creation which manifests what it means to be a new community in the world. It is a community in continuity with the promises of Abraham and the covenant community of Israel.
At the close of the forty days, Jesus gathered His disciples together for their closing class. They asked, “Will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
I am changing my mind about their question. I used to think that they asked this question because they still didn’t get it. The more I reflect on the forty days, and the fact that Jesus didn’t reject the question about Israel, only the question about time, I am convinced that Jesus had given instruction into the role of Israel and the promises to the fathers (described more fully later by Paul in Romans 9–11).
The answer to the question was an expansion and fulfillment of Israel’s role to be a light to the nations. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent enabling them to be witnesses of Jesus “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
During those days between Easter and Pentecost, the disciples took an intense post-graduate course in the reality of the risen Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
May we commit ourselves to take the course ourselves through His presence in Word and Spirit.
By Doug Beacham
This article was published in the May 2017 issue of Encourage.