Between the Resurrection and the Ascension:
What Happened During Those 40 Days?
by Greg Hanson

He walked for 33 years on this planet, but He was only in the public eye for about three and a half. Of those three and a half, a third of what was written about Him concerned only the last week of His life. For Jesus, that final week was the culmination of everything He came to accomplish.

Oh, the Gospels record more than just that final week. We can read about His birth, His dedication at the temple, and about a visit from some wise men from somewhere to the east. We can read about how His family moved to Egypt for a time and about an experience in Jerusalem when He was 12. After that, there’s nothing recorded about Him again until He was baptized at the age of 30.

From there on, though, there’s a fair amount. We can read about how He taught, how He recruited a small group of followers, and how He performed all kinds of miracles such as healings, exorcisms, controlling nature, raising the dead...

Those are the kinds of things He became known for. But is that why Jesus came? Did He come to heal people... to teach... to raise the dead? Certainly those were all important, but Jesus saw those as secondary to His real reason for coming. In John chapter 12, Jesus was talking about His death when He said...

John 12:23-24, 27 (NLT)
Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives...
“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!”

“This is the very reason I came.” Jesus says, “I came to die.” And then over in Matthew, Jesus, referring to Himself, said...

Matthew 20:28 (NLT)
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

He came to give His life. So why were the Gospel writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John so fixated on that last week? Why does that final week make up a third of their writings? Because it’s why Jesus came.

Why isn’t there more about His childhood? Because it’s not the reason Jesus came. We know what we need to know... that Jesus was God in the flesh, His birth was miraculous, He was born without sin, His coming was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, He experienced all of life and understands what we go through... But the Bible doesn’t tell us whether He liked lima beans or who His fourth grade teacher was. That kind of stuff might be interesting trivia, but that’s all it would be. And it would distract us from the core of His mission.

In fact, even after Jesus started His public ministry and started going from town to town, teaching and preaching and healing, we still only get snapshots. Three years, and all we know any details about are... what, maybe a few dozen days? We certainly don’t get a play-by-play of everything He said and did.

Oh, we have His baptism, the Sermon on the Mount, and the feeding of the 5000. We know about His temptation in the desert, the private meeting with Nicodemus, and the raising of Lazarus. You get a smattering of accounts of different events, some of which are included in all four Gospels and some that are only in one of the Gospels.

But what is very clear is that all four focused intensely on that final week.

•    It starts with what we call His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
•    The next day Jesus chased all the money exchangers and merchants out of the temple because they had turned it into a marketplace.
•    The next morning Jesus returned to the temple again, had a confrontation with the Pharisees, and told a few parables revealing the Kingdom of God.
•    During this week, Jesus talked about the Greatest Commandments--loving God and loving others. And He proceeded to call out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.
•    Jesus talked about the future, too. He gave a number of prophesies about His Second Coming and the End Times. He also warned about the coming judgment. We’re actually going to be talking about these kinds of things in a couple weeks.
•    And finally, we read how during that week a woman came to Jesus and anointed Him with expensive perfume... probably worth a year’s salary. The disciples complained about such wastefulness, but Jesus praised the woman for her act of faith.

So that’s the first four days of that final week. And then it gets more intense.

On the Thursday evening, Jesus shared in the Passover meal with His disciples--what we know as His Last Supper. During that time, He washed the feet of His disciples, He used the bread and wine as an object lesson like we discussed here last week, and He talked about how one of those followers would betray Him later that night.

Afterward, Jesus went to the nearby Garden of Gethsemane. While there, Jesus spent considerable time praying. We call it His High Priestly Prayer. Jesus prayed for His followers, He prayed for us, and He prayed for Himself.

Before long, soldiers arrived led by Judas, one of Jesus’ followers. They arrested Jesus and led Him away. Over the next several hours, Jesus went through a series trials. The Pharisees paid off people to tell lies and make false accusations about Jesus, and Jesus was sentenced to death on a cross.

We’re now into Friday morning. Jesus was stripped and whipped and had a crown of thorns pressed into His skull. He was beaten to the point that He was barely recognizable, and after that the soldiers had Jesus carry a cross through the streets of Jerusalem to a hill called Golgotha. And there, He was nailed to that cross.

We’re told about a few things that happened while Jesus hung there waiting to die. The soldiers gambled for His clothes, Jesus’ mother came to see Him, and Jesus had a conversation with the thieves being crucified on either side of Him.

Finally, Jesus died, His body was taken down from the cross, and He was buried and sealed in a tomb that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea.

That was Friday. For Saturday, there’s nothing written about Jesus. After all, what could there be to write?

But then on the third day... on Sunday morning... well, you know what happened. Some of Jesus’ women followers went to the tomb to attend to the body using some customary spices, but when they arrived the massive stone that had been sealing the tomb was moved and the body was missing.

Before long, people started claiming that they had seen Jesus. And not just individuals, but groups of people. And they didn’t just see Him... He wasn’t just a vision... they talked with Him, they touched Him, they ate with Him. Jesus had actually risen from the dead.

So that’s a quick recap of what the Bible tells us about the life of Jesus, from His birth through to His Resurrection. There’s very little written about His first 30 years, more about the next three but still just selected events, and quite a bit about that final week including His Crucifixion and Resurrection. Which makes sense, since the Crucifixion and Resurrection were the reason He came and the pivotal events in all of history.

If you want to know why the writings are weighted this way, remember this: People at that time were not writing in books. They were writing on scrolls. Therefore, you only had so much space to write. Otherwise, the scrolls would become too big and too hard to handle. You had to choose what you really wanted to write about and what you’d leave out. So the writers chose to write about the most important life events and teachings of Jesus, focusing on that last week. Was there more to write? Sure. But it would all be extraneous, would take up space that was at a premium, and would distract from what was truly important.

The final two sentences in the Gospel of John sum this up nicely...

John 21:25 (NLT)
Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.

Now, we have talked about some other books written about Jesus that are not included in the Bible. Just a few months ago, we spent a lot of time talking about the historical accuracy and value of the New Testament books, their preservation through the centuries, and their reliability for us today. And in the process, we also talked about those other books... those so-called “lost” or suppressed writings... the Gnostic Gospels.

And what we saw was that even though conspiracy theorists like to point to these as other accounts of the life of Jesus that were suppressed by the early Church, what we actually discovered is that there is no historical reliability to these writings.

For example, the earliest one to be written was the Gospel of Thomas, which was written around A.D. 140. That’s almost 110 years after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Do you really think Thomas wrote that? Obviously not. It was a forgery, written by a offshoot cult known as the Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that you attained salvation through a secret knowledge and that the death and Resurrection of Jesus were of little significance.

When we talked about these Gnostic writings, we looked at some of their specific teachings and saw how many of them don’t make any sense, how they are anti-women, how they are fanciful tales including a talking cross and Jesus standing as tall as a mountain. They contain little to nothing of any historical merit.

The New Testament, on the other hand, has been supported time and time again by archaeology, historical facts, and the science of textual criticism. If you want writings you can trust regarding Jesus, read the New Testament. If you read the Gnostic writings to gain an understanding of an early cult and false teachings that still persist today, fine. But don’t read them for any valuable information about Jesus, because it’s not there.

It’d be like reading a Superman comic and believing that the last son of Krypton really flies through the city of Metropolis wearing red and blue tights, fighting super-criminals and bouncing bullets off his chest. The Gnostics Gospels are fables... written about Jesus, yes, but a mythical Jesus. They were fictitious works from the second, third, and even fourth centuries by unknown writers who forged the names of people like Thomas and Peter and Mary in order to make their writings seem more authentic.

More recently, in the 1800s, Joseph Smith wrote in the Book of Mormon about how Jesus came and appeared to North American native tribes following His Resurrection. But again, that’s not something that really happened, there’s no historical support for this, and it’s just a bizarre tale told by someone centuries after the fact with no first-hand knowledge. Nor has there ever been a language known as Reformed Egyptian from which Joseph Smith claimed he got his information. So you understand, you have to be careful about what you accept as Truth and what you reject. Don’t base it on your curiosity, or because it sounds good, or because it makes for an interesting story. Believe something because it’s true and because it is supported by the evidence.

Now, all of that is basically an introduction to what we’re going to talk about for the rest of our time. This is week two in our “You Asked for It” series, and I was asked to talk about the 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus. There’s a forty-day period of time there that we don’t tend to talk about a whole lot, but the Bible does record some details about those days. Is there an overwhelming amount of information? No, not really. There’s some, but not a lot. So let’s start there...

Why Isn’t There More Written about the 40 Days Between the Resurrection and Ascension?

Well, a few reasons, really. First...

1.    The Crucifixion and Resurrection were the primary reasons Jesus came and the focus of the biographies about Him.

As we’ve already talked about, those forty days aren’t that important compared to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. All of Christianity and all of history are hinged on that weekend. The post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus served primarily to verify the Resurrection.

2.    Jesus didn’t introduce anything new after His Resurrection; He reviewed what He had already taught.

It wasn’t as if Jesus was revealing some huge new Truths; He was just reviewing what He had already been teaching for the past three and a half years. Particularly in the days leading up to His death, Jesus had talked a lot about His Crucifixion and Resurrection and everything they would mean. He talked about the future and how we can anticipate His Second Coming. He talked about the Holy Spirit, and He talked about the events of the End Times... the good and the bad.

So Jesus had already covered all that; the time after the Resurrection was used to remind His followers about what He had already said.

And the third reason is… are you ready? This is really profound…

3.    There aren’t more writings because no one wrote them.

Well, duh, but why? Why didn’t anyone write more about these 40 days? Well, let’s talk about the Gospels again. The Gospels all tell the story of Jesus, climaxing with the Resurrection. The only one that even mentions the Ascension when Jesus returned to Heaven was Luke, although some manuscripts of Mark also seem to mention it. Essentially, the four Gospels conclude rather quickly after the Resurrection.

So what’s the next book after the Gospels? It’s the book of Acts. Acts was written by Luke, so the first chapter kind of picks up where the Gospel of Luke ended. But it has a different focus. It’s not another biography of Jesus; it’s the record of the coming of the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Early Church. In fact, it only records Jesus speaking twice in that first chapter. Both times He’s reiterating His promise to send the Holy Spirit, and then Luke goes straight to the Ascension and Jesus is gone. Only nine verses to recap Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, His teachings, and His Ascension. That’s it. Those are the verses we read earlier this morning.

As for the Gnostic writings and the Book of Mormon or any other text, they were written centuries later as fictional accounts and don’t contain any legitimate information about those 40 days. So don’t turn to them as a source of truth.

So no, there’s not an overwhelming amount of information written about those forty days. But there is some, and in your notes you’ll find a list of His post-Resurrection appearances. There’s about a dozen of them, although sometimes it’s difficult to tell when the different writers are talking about the same appearance and when they are talking about different appearances. Either way, though, it’d be inaccurate to say that the Bible ignores those forty days. A dozen is actually a fair amount. Some of these appearances are covered in detail, others are just mentioned in passing. But Jesus certainly got around and the writers certainly pointed that out.

The Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus:

•    To the Women bearing spices (Matthew 28:8-10)
•    To the eleven disciples and gives the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-18)
•    To Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18)
•    To Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5)
•    To two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-31)
•    To ten of the disciples without Thomas (Luke 24:35-49; John 20:19-23)
•    To the eleven including Thomas while eating (Mark 16:14, John 20:26-29)
•    To more than 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6)
•    To James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
•    To seven disciples while fishing (John 21:1-23)
•    To the disciples while eating promising the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5)
•    At the Ascension (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:6-9)

Plus, there are a few non-physical appearances even after the Ascension... such as when He spoke to Paul through a blinding light on the road to Damascus, and to Peter and later to John in visions. But let’s focus on the twelve listed. What was Jesus trying to communicate through them?

What Was Jesus Communicating Through His Post-Resurrection Appearances?

1.    That He had really risen from the dead.

This is the biggie. This is the point He was trying to get across. He had told them He’d be back, but they either didn’t understand Him or didn’t believe Him. Even when He appeared to them in person, His followers still had doubts. And if you read through those post-Resurrection appearances, it’s amazing how many of them are all about Jesus proving to His followers that they weren’t seeing thing; He was really alive.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)
During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.

“In many ways?” Okay, so what were these “many way”? Well, look at this passage...

Luke 24:38-43 (NLT)
“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.

Well that’s weird. Isn’t it? What a strange thing to include... they watched Jesus eat a piece of fish. Big whoop. What was going on here? Jesus was showing just how real He was. They talked with Jesus, they touched Him, and they even watched Him eat. He wasn’t just a vision, He wasn’t a ghost, they weren’t just dreaming--He was really alive.

2.    That His followers would carry His message to the world.

In Luke 24, Jesus talked about how His Resurrection was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies which proves that He really is the Messiah and not just some imposter. He goes on and says...

Luke 24:47 (NLT)
“It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of [the Messiah’s] name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’”

Then in Matthew 28, right at the end of the book, Jesus said...

Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus had already talked about these kinds of things, but He used the time after His Resurrection to remind His followers that they would take His message to the world. And then later, Paul again reminded us of that fact...

2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (NLT)
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

This is the message of the Church. It’s the main reason the Church exists. It’s why we exist. The Church was not designed just to be a social club or to just be a place to sing songs, drink coffee, read a few verses, and listen to some guy talk. The mission of the Church is primarily to take the message of forgiveness to the world, starting in our own homes and neighbourhoods. Everything we do here should be aimed toward equipping us to be the best ambassadors for Christ that we can possibly be.

3.    That the Holy Spirit would empower and guide us.

Jesus entrusted us with quite a bit of responsibility when He gave us the mission of taking His message to the world, but He didn’t leave us on our own to do it. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to live with us and to guide us and to empower us. Just moments before the Ascension, Jesus told His followers...

Acts 1:8 (NLT)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Now isn’t that just the kind of boss you’d want? The kind that will tell you, “Listen, I have an important assignment for you. It’s not just busy-work; it’s essential. And I’m going to trust you with it. I don’t have a plan B, you’re it. I’m counting on you... and I’m going to give you everything you need to be successful. I’m going to equip you, I’m going to empower you to get the job done.” Isn’t that the kind of boss you’d want?

Well, that’s what Jesus did. He told His followers and He tells us by extension, “I’ve got a job for you. And it’s an important job. I want you to take my message to the world. Every single person is destined for either Heaven or Hell; I want you to show them the way to Heaven. I want you to point them toward Me. I don’t have any back-up plan; you’re it. I’m counting on you. But don’t worry; I’m not going to leave you on your own. I’m going to send the Holy Spirit to you, and He’s going to empower and enable you to get the job done. He’ll make you the best ambassador for me that you can possibly be.”

And so, on the Day of Pentecost, just ten days after the Ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit... just as He promised before the Crucifixion and just as He promised again in the days following the Resurrection and just before the Ascension. And today, the Holy Spirit works in the life of every Christ-follower. He convicts us, He teaches us, He opens our eyes and minds to spiritual things, He guides us, and He enables us to fulfill God’s calling on our lives.

You know, there’s not a lot of stuff written about those forty days. And maybe that’s a good thing. Because without having a whole lot to wade through, we can see what Jesus was trying to communicate. “Look. I’m here. I’m really alive. This proves that I am who I said I am. And I have a mission for you. I want you to take my message of forgiveness and life to everyone everywhere. But don’t worry, I’m going to help you do it. I’m going to empower you by giving you the Holy Spirit. He’ll help you and guide you.”

And that’s a pretty amazing thing, don’t you think?


Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson