He led them out toward Beit-Anyah; then, raising his hands, he said a blessing over them; 51 and as he was blessing them, he withdrew from them (and was carried up into heaven.) 52 (They bowed in worship to him), then returned to Yerushalayim, overflowing with joy. 53 And they spent all their time in the Temple courts, praising God.
The words in parenthesis do not appear in some manuscripts, and may be pious additions by copyists to Luke’s story, to bring it into line with his story of the so-called ascension of Jesus in his “Acts of the Emissaries.”
Luke is keen on marking out special time-sequences in the story of God’s way of blessing the world. He has clearly indicated the division between the ministry, suffering and death of Jesus, and and the time of his resurrection appearances. In this brief ending to his gospel he indicates a division between his resurrection appearances and the time of the Spirit, which is to come, although he narrates this more fully in the book of The Acts. The reader is to understand that Jesus in person will now withdraw from the story so that the Spirit which inspires human beings to share Jesus’ life with God, can take over.
We are not to imagine that these divisions are historical; rather, they are theological, making clear what the followers of Jesus came to believe, when they interpreted the scriptures and their own lives in the light of Jesus life, death and resurrection. The story that Luke tells, of ministry, death, resurrection and ascension is not an account of events in the foreground, such as the actual fate of Jesus’ body, the scattering and regrouping of his disciples, their conviction that Jesus was present to them, bringing forgiveness and new understanding of God, events which may have taken place over months, if not years; for that process Luke substitutes what he believes to be the genuine background of them, Jesus’ modelling God’s forgiveness on the execution stake and his victory over evil in his resurrection on the third day. For Luke these are the facts that matter.
The story which begins in the temple where Zacarias is told that his wife will have a son, is completed in the temple to which God has “returned” in his son Jesus. The praise of God which has resounded in the birth of Jesus and as a response to his ministry, is heard again from the witnesses of his resurrection life. The story of Jesus which recounts events in this world simultaneously recounts the action of the One who is beyond all worlds but wants all creation to enjoy his blessing. Luke says that Jesus makes this blessing real.
Luke stated an intention of setting out the narrative of Jesus in an “orderly” way. His mix of the past of Jesus’ ministry and the present of Jesus’ risen life in his Assemblies, expressed in every story of his gospel, allows readers of all times and places access to to the difference he can make to their lives.