The disciples are daily in the temple blessing God. That is, they wait. They wait for the coming of the Spirit, and they wait for the return of Christ. So also, the ascension gives us the patience to wait for our Lord, and we wait by worshipping and witnessing. The Spirit makes the church witnesses to Christ’s resurrection to all nations.
Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus turned to his disciples, raised his hands, and blessed them.
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:50-53)
This posture and act of Jesus are very distinct ones that we also find in the lives of the Old Testament saints. This act could only be done by one person at one specific time.
This was the act of the priest in the temple to bless the people after worship. After all the sacrifices were performed, the priest would turn to face the people, raise his hands, and pronounce the Lord’s blessing upon the congregation. In Leviticus 9, on the day when Moses and Aaron inaugurated worship in the tabernacle and Aaron finished all the sacrifices, with smoke rising to heaven he raised his hands and blessed the people. The blessing he pronounced was given in Numbers 6, the Aaronic benediction, as it is called:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Num. 6:22-27)
Thus, for Jesus to bless with raised hands, he was showing himself to be a priest. Just as Melchizedek blessed Abraham, so Christ blessed his people as our high priest.
Blessing can be used in several different ways in Scripture.
We find three kinds of blessings in the Bible:
First, we can bless each other. One person says, “May the Lord bless you,” which is essentially a prayer. As we bless another, we are praying that God would do them good.
Second, we can bless God, which is basically an act of praise and thanksgiving. Blessed be the Name of the Lord! This is praising and glorifying the Lord.
Third, the Lord can bless us, which is not a prayer but a decree. The Lord’s blessing is a performative word where he actually puts his love, grace, and mercy on us. In the Aaronic benediction, the priest wasn’t praying; rather, he was a mere channel or conduit for the Lord’s decree of favor.
As it says in Numbers 6, with the benediction the priest was putting God’s name upon his people, which expresses ownership and care. For the Lord to put his name on you means you belong to him as a precious possession. In fact, the benefits of belonging to the Lord are stated in the blessing.
In the Aaronic benediction, there are three acts of God.
In the Aaronic benediction, which is implied in the one Jesus used, there are three acts of God—and three resulting advantages.
The Lord blesses to keep and protect you.
The Lord makes his face shine to be gracious to you.
And the Lord lifts up his face to give you peace.
These facial expressions of God are full of emotion. In the Old Testament, when God is angry at someone for sin, Scripture states that he hides his face from the person. The Lord turns his face from that person in anger to show him or her the back of his head. Yet, by the smoke and blood of sacrifice, the Lord’s frown is turned upside down. His hidden face turns to shine on that person now with a smile.
Children know all too well the angry face of their mom and dad, as well as their happy faces. In the Aaronic benediction, God’s happy face is gleaming at us, and he will protect us, be gracious and merciful to us, and grant us peace. This is what the risen Jesus says to us in the benediction.
Here are eight comforting things to remember about Jesus’ benediction at the ascension:
1. Jesus was garbed in his resurrected glory when giving his benediction.
As both their high priest and their God, Jesus was garbed in his resurrected glory. His shining face beamed upon his disciples as he gave his benediction. This is amazing!
2. Jesus spoke his blessing loud and clear as he ascended to heaven.
In Luke 1, the mute Zechariah couldn’t finish his service with a benediction. Yet here as our true Priest, Jesus speaks his blessing loud and clear. This is what Jesus Christ does to us after every worship service.
After a week of sinning and being a disappointment to our Lord, you would think Jesus would scowl and frown at us in shame. Yet, after being forgiven in worship, our King Jesus sends us off for another week with the happy face of his love and grace. The gospel in worship is wonderful, and the benediction is even better.
Not only did Jesus bestow this blessing on his disciples, he ascended to heaven as he was speaking it. What an image! As Jesus floated upward, slowing vanishing from sight, his disciples still heard him blessing—and for good reason. Our Lord was ascending from Bethany—the place of triumph.