§ 141. THE LAST COMMANDS AND PROMISES OF JESUS.
In the last interview of Jesus with his disciples, which according to Mark and Luke closed with the ascension, the three first Evangelists (the fourth has something similar on the very first interview) represent Jesus as delivering testamentary commands and promises, which referred to the establishment and propagation of the messianic kingdom of earth.
With regard to the commands, Jesus in Luke (xxiv. 47 f.; Acts i. 8) in parting from his disciples appoints them to be witnesses of his messiahship, and charges them to preach repentance and remission of sins in his name from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth. In Mark (xvi. 15 f.) he enjoins them to go into all the world and bring to every creature the glad tidings of the messianic kingdom founded by him; he who believes and is baptized will be saved, he who believeth not, will (in the future messianic judgment) be condemned. In Matthew (xxviii. 19 f.) the disciples are also commissioned to make disciples of all nations panta ta eqnh, and here baptism is not mentioned incidentally merely, as in Mark, but is made the subject of an express command by Jesus, and is besides more precisely described as a baptism in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,eiV to onoma tou patroV kai tou uiou kai tou agiou pneumatoV.
The impediments to the supposition that Jesus delivered to his disciples the express command to carry the announcement of the gospel to the Gentiles, have been already pointed out in an earlier connexion.* But that this more definite form of baptism proceeded from Jesus, is also opposed by the fact, that such an allocation of Father, Son, and Spirit does not elsewhere appear, except as a form
* Vol. II. § 68.
of salutation in apostolic epistles (2 Cor. xiii. 14: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.); while as a more definite form of baptism it is not to be met with throughout the whole New Testament save in the above passage of the first gospel: for in the apostolic epistles and even in the Acts, baptism is designated as a baptizein eiV Criston Ihsoun baptising in Christ Jesus, or in the name of the Lord Jesus, or their equivalent (Rom. vi. 3; Gal. iii. 27; Acts ii. 38, viii. 16, x. 48, xix. 5), and the same threefold reference to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is only found in ecclesiastical writers, as, for example, Justin.* Indeed the formula in Matthew sounds so exactly as if it had been borrowed from the ecclesiastical ritual, that there is no slight probability in the supposition. that it was transferred from thence into the mouth of Jesus. But this does not authorize us to throw the passage out of the text as an interpolation,† since, if everything in the gospels which cannot have happened to Jesus, or which cannot have been done or spoken by him in the manner there described, were to be pronounced foreign to the original text, the interpolations would soon become too numerous. So far it is with justice that others have defended the genuineness of the baptismal formula ; ‡ but their grounds for the assertion that it was delivered in this manner by Jesus himself are insufficient: the two opinions then resolve themselves into a third, namely, that this more definite form of baptism does indeed belong to the original context of the first gospel, but without having been so delivered by Jesus.§ Jesus had, during his life, predicted in divers ways the propagation of his kingdom beyond the limits of the Jewish nation, perhaps also had intimated the introduction of baptism to be his will; and—whether it be the fact that, as we learn in the fourth gospel, the disciples already practised baptism in the life. time of Jesus, or that they first made this rite a sign of reception into the new messianic society after his death,—in any case it was entirely in the manner of the legend to place the injunction to baptize, as well as to go out into all the world, in the mouth of the departing Christ as a last declaration of his will.
The promises which Jesus gives to his adherents in parting from them, are in Matthew, where they are directed exclusively to the eleven, limited simply to the assurance that he, to whom as the exalted Messiah all power was delivered both in heaven and on earth, would be invisibly with them during the present age, aiwn, until at the consummation sunteleia of this term, he should enter into permanent visible communion with them: precisely the expression ol the belief which was formed in the first Christian community, when the equilibrium was recovered after the oscillations caused by the death of Jesus.—In Mark, the last promises of Jesus seem to be gathered from the popular opinion concerning the gifts of the
* Apol. i. 61.
† As is done by Teller, im excurs. 2, ad Burneti I. de fide et offic. Christ. p. 262.
‡ The work of Beckhaus, über die Aechtheit der sog. Taufformel, 1794, met with general approval.
§ Comp. De Wette, exeg. Handb. 1, 1, s. 246.
Christians, which was current at the period of the composition of this gospel. Of the signs, shmeia, which are here promised to believers in general, the speaking with (new) tongues, lalein glwssaiV (kainaiV) in the sense intended i Cor. xiv., not in the manner described in Acts ii. which is a mythical modification,* actually appeared in the primitive church;. as also the casting out of devils daimonia ekballein; and it may even be conceived that sick persons were cured in a natural manner by faith in the laying on of hands epiqesiV ceirwn by a Christian: on the contrary the taking up of serpents ofeiV airein (comp. Luke x. 19) and the power of drinking poisons with impunity, have never had any existence except in the superstitious belief of the vulgar, and such signs of discipleship would have been the last to which Jesus would have attached any value.—In Luke, the object of the last promise of Jesus is the power from on high dunamiV ex uyouV, which according to the promise of the Father, epaggelia tou patroV, he would send on the apostles, and the impartation of which they were to await in Jerusalem (xxiv. 49); and in Acts i. 5 ff. Jesus more precisely designates this impartation of power as a baptism with the Holy Spirit, pneuma agion, which in a few days. would be granted to the disciples in order to qualify them for, the announcement of the gospel. These passages of Luke, which place the impartation of the Holy Spirit in the days after the ascension, seem to be in contradiction with the statement of the fourth gospel, that Jesus communicated the Holy Spirit to his disciples in the days of his resurrection, nay, on his very first appearance in the circle of the eleven. In John xx. 22 f. we read, that Jesus, appearing among the disciples when the doors were closed, breathed on them and said: Receive ye the Holy Ghost, labete pneuma agion, wherewith he connected the authority to remit and retain sins.
If this were the only passage relating to the impartation of the Spirit, every one would believe that the disciples had it commuicated to them by Jesus when he was personally present among them, and not first after his exaltation to heaven. But in accordance with the harmonizing interest, it has been concluded, first by Theodore of Mopsuestia, and recently by Tholuck,† that the word labete, receive, in John, must be taken in the sense of lhyesqe, ye shall receive, because according to Luke the Holy Spirit was not imparted to the disciples until later, at Pentecost. But as if he wished to preclude, such a wresting of his words, the Jesus of John adds to them the symbolical action of breathing on the disciples, which unmistakably represents the receiving of the Holy Spirit as a present fact,‡ It is true that expositors have found out a way of eluding even this act of breathing, by attributing to it the following signification: as certainly as Jesus now breathes upon them, so certainly
* Comp. Baur, in the Tübinger Zeitschrift für Theologie, Jahrgang 1830, 2, s. 75 ff.
† Comm. z. Joh., S. 332.
‡ Lücke, Comm. z. Joh. 2, s. 686; De Wette, s. 204.
will they at a future time receive the Holy Ghost.* But the act of breathing upon a person is as decided a symbol of a present impartation as the laying on of hands, and as those on whom the apostles laid their hands were immediately filled with the Spirit (Acts viii. 17, xix. 6), so, according to the above narrative, the author of the fourth gospel must have thought that the Apostles on that occasion received the Spirit from Jesus. In order to avoid the necessity of denying, in opposition to the clear meaning of John, that an impartation of the Spirit actually took place immediately after the resurrection, or of coming into contradiction with Luke, who assigns the outpouring of the Spirit to a later period, expositors now ordinarily suppose that the Spirit was granted to the Apostles both at the earlier and the later period, the impartation at Pentecost being only an increasing and perfecting of, the former.† Or more correctly, since Matthew x. 20 speaks of the Spirit of the Father as already sustaining the disciples in their first mission: it is supposed that they were first endowed with some extraordinary power before that mission, in the lifetime of Jesus; that on the occasion in question, shortly after his resurrection, he heightened this power; but that all the fulness of the Spirit was not poured out upon them until Pentecost.‡ What constitutes the distinction between these steps, and especially in what the increase of the gifts of the Spirit consisted in the present instance, is, however, as Michaelis has already remarked, not easy to discern. If in the first instance the apostles were endowed with the power of working miracles (Matt. x. 1, 8) together with the gift of speaking freely (parrhsia) before tribunals (v. 20), it could only be a more correct insight into the spirituality of his kingdom that Jesus communicated to them by breathing on them; but of this they were still destitute immediately before the ascension, when, according to Acts i. 6, they asked whether, with the impartation of the Spirit, within the next few days, would be associated the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. If however it be supposed that each successive impartation of the Spirit conferred no new powers on the disciples, but was merely an addition in measure to that which was already present in all its diversified powers :§ it must still be held surprising that no Evangelist mentions, together with an earlier impartation, a later amplification; but instead of this, besides an incidental mention of the Spirit as enabling the disciples to defend themselves before tribunals, in Luke (xii. 12),—which, since it is not here, as in Matthew, connected with a mission, may be regarded merely as a reference to the time after the later outpouring of the Spirit,—each of the Evangelists mentions only one impartation, and represents this as the first and last. This is, indeed, a clear proof that, to place in juxtaposition three impartations and to regard them as so many different degrees, is only an effort to harmonize
* Less, Auferstehungsgeschichte, s. 281; Kuinöl, in loc.
† Lücke, s. 687.
‡ Vid. ap. Michaelis, Begräbniss- und Auferstehungsgeschichte, s. 268; Olshausen, 2, s. 533.
§ This is Tholuck’s opinion, ut sup.
the gospels by introducing into them what is foreign to the text.
Thus there are in the New Testament three distinct opinions concerning the impartation of the Spirit to the disciples of Jesus; and in two respects they form a climax. As regards the time, Matthew places the impartation the earliest—within the period of the natural life of Jesus; Luke, the latest— in the time after his complete departure from the earth; John in an intermediate position—in the days of the resurrection. As regards the conception of the fact, it is the simplest in Matthew, the least perceptible to the senses, for he has no special and external act of impartation; John already has such a feature, in the act of breathing on the disciples; while with Luke, in the Acts, the gentle breathing has become a violent storm, which shakes the house, and with which other miraculous appearances are united. These two series of gradations stand in opposite relations to historical probability. That the Spirit pneuma, which, whether it be regarded as natural or as supernatural, is in either case the animating power of the messianic idea in its Christian modification, was communicated to the adherents of Jesus so early as Matthew narrates, is contradicted by his own representation, for according to him, that Christian modification—the introduction of the characteristics of suffering and death into the idea of the Messiah,—was not comprehended by the disciples long after the mission described in Matt x.; and as the discourse of instructions there given contains other particulars also, which will only suit later times and circumstances: it is easy to imagine that the promise in question may have been erroneously referred to that earlier period. Only after the death and resurrection of Jesus can we conceive what the New Testament calls the pneuma agion to have been developed in the disciples, and in so far the representation of John stands nearer to reality than that of Matthew; but, as certainly the revolution in the sentiments of the disciples described in the foregoing section, had not taken place so early as two days after the crucifixion: the account of John does not approach so near to the truth as that of Luke, who allows an interval of at least fifty days for the formation of the new opinions in the disciples. The position of the narratives with respect to historical truth is reversed by the other climax. For in proportion as a narrative represents the impartation of a spiritual power as perceptible to the senses, the formation of a sentiment which might spring from natural causes as miraculous, the origin of a faculty which can only have been developed gradu.ally, as instantaneous: in the same proportion does such a narrative diverge from the truth; and in this respect, Matthew would stand at the least distance from the truth, Luke at the greatest. If we therefore recognise in the reprepresentation of the latter the most mature product of tradition, it may be wondered how tradition can have wrought in two opposite ways: receding from
the truth in relation to the determination of the manner and form of the impartation, approaching the truth in relation to the determination of the time. But this is explained as soon as it is considered, that in the changes in the determination of the time, tradition was not guided by critical inquiry after truth—this might well have caused surprise,—but by the same tendency that led to the other alteration, namely, to present the impartation of the Spirit as a single miraculous act. If Jesus was said to have shed the Spirit on his disciples by a special act: it must seem appropriate to assign this act to his state of glorification, and thus either with John to place it after the resurrection, or with Luke after the ascension; indeed the fourth Evangelist expressly remarks that in the lifetime of Jesus, the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (vii. 39).
This interpretation of the opinion of the fourth Evangelist concerning the impartation of the Spirit to the disciples, is attested as the correct one by the fact, that it throws unexpected light on an obscurity in his gospel with respect to which we were previously unable to come to a decision. In relation to the farewell discourses of Jesus, it was not possible to settle the dispute, whether what Jesus there says of his return is to be referred to the days of his resurrection, or to the outpouring of the Spirit, because the description of that return as a seeing again seemed to speak as decidedly for the former, as the observation that in that time they would no longer ask him anything, and. would understand him fully, for the latter: a dispute which is decided in the most welcome manner, if it can be shown to be the opinion of the narrator that the impartation of the Spirit fell in the days of the resurrection.* At first indeed it might be thought, that this impartation, especially as in John it is connected with the formal appointment of his disciples as his envoys, and the communication of the authority to remit and retain sins (comp. Matt, xviii. i8), would have been more appropriate at the close than the commencement of the appearances of the risen Jesus, and in a full assembly of the Apostles than in one from which Thomas was absent; but on this account to suppose with Olshausen that the Evangelist for the sake of brevity merely appends the impartation of the Spirit to the first appearance, though it really belonged to a later interview, is an inadmissible violence; and we must rather allow, that the author of the fourth gospel regarded this first appearance of Jesus as the principal one, and the one eight days later as merely supernumerary in favour of Thomas. The appearance chap. xxi. is also a supplement, which the author, when he wrote his gospel, either had not known, or at least did not recollect.
§ 142. THE SO-CALLED ASCENSION CONSIDERED AS A SUPERNATURAL AND AS A NATURAL EVENT.
The ascension of Jesus is reported to us in the New Testament in three different narratives, which in point of fulness of detail and
* Comp. Weisse, die evang. Geschichte, 2, s. 458.
picturesqueness of description form a progressive series. Mark, who in the last portion of his gospel is in general very brief and abrupt, only says, that after Jesus had spoken to the disciples for the last time, he was received up (anelhfqh) into heaven and sat on the right hand of God (xvi. 19). With scarcely more definiteness it is said in the gospel of Luke that Jesus led his disciples out as far as Bethany, exw ewV eiV Bhqanian, and while he here with uplifted hands gave them his blessing, he was parted from them (diesth), and carried up into heaven (aneferato); whereupon the disciples fell down and worshipped him, and forthwith returned to Jerusalem with great joy (xxiv. 50 ff.). In the introduction to the Acts, Luke gives more ample details concerning this scene. On the mount of Olives, where Jesus delivered to his disciples his last commands and promises, he was taken up before their eyes (ephrqh), and a cloud received him out of their sight. While the disciples were watching him, as he went up into heaven on the cloud, there suddenly stood by them two men in white apparel, who induced them to desist from thus gazing after him by the assurance, that the Jesus now taken from them would come again from heaven in the same manner as he had just ascended into heaven; on which they were satisfied, and returned to Jerusalem (i. 1—12).
The first impression from this narrative is clearly this: that it is intended as a description of a miraculous event, an actual exaltation of Jesus into heaven, as the dwelling-place of God, and an attestation of this by angels ; as orthodox theologians, both ancient and modern, correctly maintain. The only question is, whether they can also help us to surmount the difficulties which stand in our way when we attempt to form a conception of such an event? One main difficulty is this: how can a palpable body, which has still flesh and bones, and eats material food, be qualified for a celestial abode? how can it so far liberate itself from the laws of gravity, as to be capable of an ascent through the air? and how can it be conceived that God gave so preternatural a capability to Jesus by a miracle?* The only possible reply to these questions is, that the grosser elements which the body of Jesus still retained after the resurrection, were removed before the ascension, and only the finest essence of his corporeality, as the integument of the soul, was taken by him into heaven.† But as the disciples who were present at the ascension observed no residuum of his body which he had left behind, this leads either to the above mentioned absurdity of an evaporation of the body of Jesus, or to Olshausen’s process of subtilization which, still incomplete even after the resurrection, was not perfected until the moment of the ascension; a process which must have been conducted with singularly rapid retrograde transitions in these last days, if the body of Jesus, when penetrating into the closed room where
* Gabler, in the neuesten theol. Journal 3, s. 457, and in the Vorrede zu Griesbach’s .opusc. acad. p. xcvi. comp. Kuinöl, in Marc., p. 222.
† Seiler, ap. Kuinöl, ut sup. s. 223.
the disciples were assembled, is to be supposed immaterial; immediately after when Thomas touched him, material; and lastly, in the ascension, again immaterial. The other difficulty lies in the consideration, that according to a just idea of the world, the seat of God and of the blessed, to which Jesus is supposed to have been exalted, is not to be sought for in the upper regions of the air, nor, in general, in any determinate place ;—such a locality could only be assigned to it in the childish, limited conceptions of antiquity. We are well aware that he who would attain to God and the circle of the blessed would make a superfluous circuit, if he thought it necessary for this purpose to soar aloft into the higher regions of the firmament; and the more intimately Jesus was acquainted with God and divine things, the farther certainly would he be from making such a circuit, or from being caused to make it by God.* Thus there would be no other resource than to suppose a divine accommodation to the idea of the world in that age, and to say: God in order to convince the disciples of the return of Jesus into the higher world, although this world is in reality by no means to be sought for in the upper air, nevertheless prepared the spectacle of such an exaltation.† But this is to represent God as theatrically arranging an illusion.
As an attempt to set us free from such difficulties and absurdities, the natural explanation of this narrative must needs be welcome.‡ This distinguishes in the evangelical accounts of the ascension, what was actually beheld, and what was inferred by reasoning. Certainly, when it is said in the Acts: while they beheld, he was taken up, blepontwn autwn ephrqh: the exaltation to heaven seems here to be represented as a fact actually witnessed. But the Rationalists tell us that we are not to understand ephrqh, as signifying an elevation above the earth, but only that Jesus, in order to bless the disciples, drew up his form and thus appeared more elevated to them. They then bring forward the word diesth, he was parted from them, in the conclusion of Luke’s gospel, and interpret it to mean that Jesus in taking leave of his disciples removed himself farther from them. Hereupon, they continue, in the same way as on the mount of Transfiguration, a cloud was interposed between Jesus and the disciples, and together with the numerous olive-trees on the mount, concealed him from their sight; a result which, on the assurance ot two unknown men, they regarded as a reception of Jesus into heaven. But, when Luke in the Acts immediately connects ephrqh with the statement, and a cloud received him, kai nefelh upelaben auton: he implies that the taking up was an introduction to the being received by the cloud; which it would not be if it were a mere drawing up of the body, but only if it were an
* Comp. Paulus, exeg. Handb. 3, b, s. 921; De Wette, Religion und Theologie, s. 161.
† Kern, Hauptthatsachen, Tüb. Zeitschrift, 1836, 3, s. 58, Comp. Steudel (Glaubenslehre, s. 323), who supposes the ascension to have been a vision which God produced in the disciples. Against this comp. my Streitschriften, 1, s. 152 if.
‡ See especially Paulus, ut sup. s. 910 ff. ; L. J. 1, b, s. 318 ff.
exaltation of Jesus above the earth, since only in this case could a cloud float under, carry, and envelop him, which is the idea expressed by upelaben. Again, in the Gospel of Luke, the fact that he was parted from them is represented as something which took place while he blessed them, en tw eulogein auton autouV now no one when pronouncing a benediction on another, will remove from him: whereas it appears very suitable, that Jesus while communicating his blessing to the disciples should be carried upward, and thus, while rising, have continued to extend over them his outstretched hand as a symbol of his blessing. Thus the natural explanation of the disappearance in the cloud falls to the ground of itself; while in the supposition that the two individuals clothed in white apparel were natural men, Paulus only disguises a final and strongly marked essay of the opinion espoused by Bahrdt and Venturini, that several epochs in the life of Jesus, especially after his crucifixion, were brought about by the agency of secret colleagues. And Jesus himself—what, according to this opinion, must we suppose to have become of him after this last separation from his disciples? Shall we, with Bahrdt, dream of an Essene lodge, into which he retired after the completion of his work? and with Brennecke appeal, in proof that Jesus long continued silently to work for the welfare of mankind, to his appearance for the purpose of the conversion of Paul? But, taking the narrative of the Acts as historical, this was connected with circumstances and effects which could be produced by no natural man, even though a member of a secret order. Or shall we with Paulus suppose, that shortly after the last interview the body of Jesus sank beneath the injuries it had received? This could not well have happened in the very next moments after he had appeared still active among his disciples, so that the two men who joined them might have been witnesses of his decease,— who, even admitting this, would not have spoken in accordance with the truth; but if he continued to live for any length of time he must have had the intention to remain for that period in the concealment of a secret society; and to this must then be supposed to belong the two men clothed in white, who, doubtless with his previous sanction, persuaded the disciples that he had ascended into heaven.* But this is a mode of representation, from which in this instance as in every other, a sound judgment must turn away with aversion.
§ 143. INSUFFICIENCY OF THE NARRATIVES OF THE ASCENSION. MYTHICAL CONCEPTION OF THOSE NARRATIVES.
Among all the New Testament histories of miracles, the ascension least demanded such an expenditure of perverted acumen, since the attestations to its historical validity are peculiarly weak,—not only to us who, having no risen Jesus, can consequently have no ascended
* Briefe über den Rationalismus, s. 146, Anm. 28.
one, but apart from all prior conclusions and in every point of view. Matthew and John, who according to the common idea were the two eyewitnesses among the Evangelists, do not mention it; it is narrated by Mark and Luke alone, while in the rest of the New Testament writings decided allusions to it are wanting. But this absence of allusions to the ascension in the rest of the New Testament is denied by orthodox expositors. When, say they, Jesus in Matthew (xxvi. 64), declares before the high priest, that hereafter the Son of Man will be seen sitting at the right hand of God: this presupposes an exaltation thither, consequently an ascension; when in John (iii. 13), he says, no one hath ascended into heaven but the Son of Man who came from heaven, and at another time (vi. 62) tells the disciples that they will hereafter see him ascend where he was before; further, when on the morning of the resurrection he declares that he is not yet ascended to his Father, implying that he is about to do so (xx. 17): there could hardly be more explicit allusions to the ascension; again, when the apostles in the Acts so often speak of an exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God (ii. 33, v. 31, comp. vii. 56), and Paul represents him as ascended up far above all heavens anabaV uperanw pantwn twn ouranwn (Ephes. iv. 10), Peter, as gone into heaven poreuqeiV eiV ouranon twn ouranwn (1 Pet. iii. 22): there can be no doubt that they all knew of his ascension.* All these passages, however, with the exception perhaps of John vi. 62, where a SEEING the Son of Man ascend, qewrein anabainanta ton uion tou anqrwpou, is spoken of, contain only in general his exaltation to heaven, without intimating that it was an external, visible fact, that took place in the presence of the disciples. Rather, when we find Paul in 1 Cor. xv. 5 ff. ranking the appearance of Jesus to himself, which occurred long after the alleged ascension, with the Christophanies before this epoch, so entirely without any pause or indication of a distinction: we must doubt, not merely that all the appearances which he enumerates besides his own can have occurred before the ascension,† but whether the Apostle can have had any knowledge at all of an ascension as an external fact which closed the earthly life of Jesus. As to the author of the fourth gospel,—in his metaphorical language, we are not compelled by the word qewrein, any more than by the oyesqe in relation to the angels ascending and descending upon Jesus, i. 52, to ascribe to him a knowledge of the visible ascension of Jesus, of which he gives no intimation at the conclusion of his gospel.
Commentators have, it is true, taken all possible pains to explain the want of a narrative of the ascension in the first and fourth gospels, in a way which may not prove inimical either to the authority of the writings, or to the historical value of the fact. They maintain that the Evangelists who are silent on the subject, held it
* Seiler, ap. Kuinöl, ut sup. s. 221; Olshausen, s. 591 f. Comp. Griesbach, locorum N. T. ad ascensionem Christi in coelum spectantium sylloge. In his opusc. acad. ed. Gabler, vol. 2, 5. 484 ff.
† Schneckenburger, über den Urspr. u. s. f, s. 19.
either unnecessary, or impossible, to narrate the ascension. They held it unnecessary, say these expositors, either intrinsically, from the minor importance of the event; * or extrinsically, on the consideration that it was generally known as a part of the evangelical tradition ; † John in particular supposed it to be known from Mark and Luke ; ‡ or lastly, both Matthew and John omitted it as not belonging to the earthly life of Jesus, to the description of which their writings were exclusively devoted.§ But we must contend, on the contrary, that the life of Jesus, especially that enigmatical life which he led after his return from the grave, absolutely required such a close as the ascension. Whether it were generally known or not, whether it were important or unimportant, —the simple æsthetic interest which dictates even to an uncultivated author, that a narrative should be wound up with a conclusion, must have led every evangelical writer who knew of the ascension to mention it, though it were but summarily at the end of his history, in order to avoid the strange impression left by the first gospel and still more by the fourth, as narratives losing themselves in vague obscurity. Hence our apologists resort to the supposition that the first and fourth Evangelists held it impossible to give an account of the ascension of Jesus, because the eyewitnesses, however long they might gaze after him, could still only see him hovering in the air and encircled by the cloud, not entering heaven and taking his place on the right hand of God.|| But in the ideas of the ancient world, to which heaven was nearer than to us, an entrance into the clouds was in itself a real ascent into heaven, as we see from the stories of Romulus and Elijah.
Thus it is undeniable that the above Evangelists were ignorant of the ascension : but the conclusion of the most recent criticism, that this ignorance is a reproach to the first Evangelist as a sign of his unapostolic character,¶ is the less in place here, because the event in question is rendered suspicious not merely by the silence of two Evangelists, but also by the want of agreement between those who narrate it. Mark is at variance with Luke, nay, Luke is at variance with himself. In the account of the former, it appears as if Jesus had ascended into heaven immediately from the meal in which he appeared to the eleven, consequently from out of a house in Jerusalem ; for the phrases: he appeared with the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them—and he said—So then after the Lord had spoken unto than he was received up into heaven, etc., have an immediate dependence
* Olshausen, s. 593 f.
† Even Fritzsche, weary at the conclusion of his labour, writes in Matth., p. 835 Matthæus Jesu in coelum abitum non commemoravit, quippe nemini ignotum.
‡ Michaelis, ut sup. 352.
§ The treatise: Warum haben nicht alle Evangelisten die Himmelfahrt Jesu ausdrücklich miterzählt? in Flatt’s Magazin, 8, s. 67.
|| The above-named Treatise in Flatt’s Magazin.
¶ Schneckenburger, ut sup. 5. 19 f.
on each other, and it is only by violence that a change of place or a distinction of time can be introduced.* Now an ascent into heaven directly out of a room is certainly not easy to imagine; hence Luke represents it as taking place in the open air. In his gospel he makes Jesus immediately before his ascension, lead out his disciples as far as Bethany ewV eiV Bhqanian, but in the Acts he places the scene on the mount called Olivet oroV to kaloumenon elaiwna; this, however, cannot be imputed to him as a contradiction, since Bethany lay in the neighbourhood of the mount of Olives.† But there is a more important divergency in his statement of time; for in his gospel, as in Mark, we are left to infer that the ascension took place on the same day with the resurrection: whereas in the Acts it is expressly remarked, that the two events were separated by an interval of forty days. It has already been remarked that the latter determination of time must have come to the knowledge of Luke in the interim between the composition of the gospel and that of the Acts. The more numerous the narratives of appearances of the risen Jesus, and the more various the places to which they were assigned: the less would the short space of a day suffice for his life on earth after the resurrection; while the determination of the lengthened period which had become necessary to forty days precisely, had its foundation in the part which this number is known to have played in the Jewish, and already in the Christian legend. The people of Israel were forty years in the wilderness; Moses was forty days on mount Sinai; he and Elias fasted forty days; and Jesus himself previous to the temptation remained the same length of time without nourishment in the wilderness. As, then, all these mysterious intermediate states and periods of transition were determined by the number forty: this number presented itself as especially appropriate for the determination of the mysterious interval between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.‡
As regards the description of the event itself; it might be thought admissible to ascribe the silence of Mark, and of Luke in his gospel, concerning the cloud and the angels, purely to the brevity of their narratives; but since Luke at the close of his gospel narrates circumstantially enough the conduct of the disciples—how they fell down and worshipped the ascended Jesus, and returned to the city with great joy: so he would doubtless have pointed out the information communicated to them by angels as the immediate source of their joy, had he known anything of such a particular at the time when he composed his first writing. Hence this feature seems rather to have been gradually formed in tradition, in order to render due honour to this last point also in the life of Jesus, and to present a confirmation of the insufficient testimony of men as to his exaltation into heaven by the mouth of two heavenly witnesses.
* As by Kuinõl, p. 208 f. 217.
† Nevertheless comp. De Wette On the Acts, i. 12.
‡ Vid. Vol. i., § 56, and the authors there cited. The reference to a reckoning in Daniel, in Paulus, exeg. Handb. 3, b. s. 923, appears to me too artificial.
As, according to this, those who knew of an ascension of Jesus, had by no means the same idea of its particular circumstances: there must have been in general two different modes of conceiving the close of the life of Jesus; some regarding it as a visible ascension, others not so.* When Matthew makes Jesus before the tributial of the high priest predict his exaltation to the right hand of the divine power (xxvi. 64), and after his resurrection declare that now all power is given to him in heaven and earth (xxviii. 18); and nevertheless has nothing of a visible ascension, but on the contrary puts into the mouth of Jesus the assurance: I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world, (v. 20): it is evident that the latent idea, on which his representation is founded, is that Jesus, doubtless immediately on his resurrection, ascended invisibly to the Father, though at the same time remaining invisibly with his followers; and that out of this concealment he, as often as he found it expedient, revealed himself in Christophanies. The same view is to be discerned in the Apostle Paul, when in i Cor. xv. he undistinguishingly places the appearance to himself of the Christ already ascended into heaven, in one series with the earlier Christophanies; and also the author of the fourth gospel and the rest of the New Testament writers only presuppose what must necessarily be presupposed according to the messianic passage: Sit thou at my right hand, Ps. cx. 1 : that Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God; without deciding anything as to the manner of the exaltation, or representing to themselves the ascension as a visible one. The imagination of the primitive Christians must however have felt a strong temptation to depict this exaltation as a brilliant spectacle. When it was once concluded that the Messiah Jesus had arrived at so exalted a position, it would appear desirable to gaze after him, as it were, on his way thither. If it was expected, in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel, that his future return from heaven would be a visible descent in the clouds : this would naturally suggest that his departure to heaven should be represented as a visible ascent on a cloud; and when Luke makes the two white-apparelled angels, who joined the disciples after the removal of Jesus, say: this same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1. 11): we need only take the converse of this declaration in order to have before us the genesis of the conception of the ascension of Jesus; for the mode of conclusion was this: as Jesus will at some future time return from heaven in the clouds, so he must surely have departed thither † in the same manner.
Compared with these primary incentives, the Old Testament
* On this subject comp. especially Ammon, Ascensus J. C., in coelum historia biblica. In his opusc. nov. p. 43 ff. Fortbildung des Christenth. 2, I, s. 13 ff.; also Kaiser, bibl. Theol. 1, s. 13 ff.; de Wette, exeg. Handb. 1, 1, s. 247; Weisse, die evang. Gesch. 2, p. 375 ff.
† This is also Hase’s opinion, L. J. § 150.
precedents which the ascension of Jesus has in the translation of Enoch (Gen. v. 24; comp. Wis. xliv. 16, xlix. 16; Heb. xi. 5), and especially in the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings ii. 11 ; comp. Wis. xlviii. 9 ; 1 Macc. ii. 58), together with the Grecian and Roman apotheoses of Hercules and Romulus, recede into the background. Apart from the question whether the latter were known to the second and third Evangelists; the statement relative to Enoch is too vague; while the chariot and horses of fire that transported Elijah were not adapted to the milder spirit of Christ. Instead of this the enveloping cloud and the removal while holding a farewell conversation, may appear to have been borrowed from the later representation of the removal of Moses, which however in other particulars has considerable divergencies from that of Jesus.* Perhaps also one trait in the narrative of the Acts may be explained out of the history of Elijah. When this prophet, before his translation, is entreated by his servant Elisha that he will bequeath him a double measure of his spirit: Elijah attaches to the concession of this boon the condition : if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so; whence we might perhaps gather the reason why Luke (Acts i. 9) lays stress on the fact that the disciples beheld Jesus as he went up (blepontwn autwn ephrqh): namely, because, according to the arrative concerning Elijah, this was necessary, if the disciples were to receive the spirit of their master.
* Joseph. Antiq. iv., viii. 48, it is said of Moses: And as he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on a sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, alhtough he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God. Philo, however, vita Mosis, opp. ed. Mangey, vol. ii. p. 179, makes the soul only of Moses ascend into heaven.
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