The ascending Jesus is not a godly Enoch who walked with God and was taken by him. Jesus is not merely an amazing prophet like Elijah, whom God swept off to heaven in a chariot of fire. No, this Jesus is one who receives the worship of men and women. This Jesus is God born in the flesh and God raised bodily. Jesus is equal to the Father and the Spirit in power and glory, and at his exalted name we get the privilege to worship, praise, and adore him. This is our good and perfect response to the ascending benediction of Jesus Christ.
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.