We find ourselves on the Mount of Olives. Jesus is there with his eleven apostles. It is forty days since he was resurrected.
Unknown to his apostles, in a few minutes he will leave them, dramatically and unexpectedly, by rising into the air and ascending into heaven.
But for the moment, let’s leave them there, on the Mount of Olives, talking together. We will come back to them shortly.
Let’s take a look at what happened to the believers in Christ in Jerusalem in the ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven. These believers were soon to become the very first ecclesia.
They were not even called “Christians” at this stage. That name was to come later when the name was first heard at Antioch. If the believers had a name, it was “The Way”.
Let’s not imagine that an ecclesia in that early time was even remotely like ecclesias today. Their circumstances were totally different to ours. For a start, they had implacable enemies in their fellow Jews. Their ecclesial structure was different. At this early time, they had no New Testament writings and wouldn’t have for many years yet. They lived much more communally than we do.
But their Lord is the same as our Lord. Their hope of the Kingdom was the same as our hope of the Kingdom. Their God is our God.
- How many believers were there in the first few days after Jesus ascended?
- Where did they meet?
- How did they cope with the fact that Jesus was no longer in their midst?
- Just what happened in the first ten days after his ascension?
There was much drama happening in the ecclesia:
- What were these dramatic events?
- What effect did these dramatic events have on the brethren and sisters of this early group of believers in The Way.
Let’s remind ourselves of the background to all this.
Jesus had been resurrected forty days earlier.
We remember the women who came to the tomb. We know that the very first person Jesus appeared to was Mary Magdalene. The other women saw him a little later.
By the end of that first day, all the apostles had heard of his resurrection. They were amazed and bewildered — all at the same time. Some had actually seen him a few hours earlier. What did this mean? Then, as they pondered all this, suddenly, there was Jesus himself — amongst them. They could hardly take it in. Jesus — ALIVE!
The effect of the risen Lord electrified the apostles and the others who were close to Jesus. The next forty days were to be days they would always remember. Days when Jesus came to them at times and explained to them all that the scriptures said about him.
He was not with them all the time. How many times did he come to them? We don’t know. Acts 1:3–4 tells us that “he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days …”
He appeared only to his apostles, not to people in general. It also seems that he stayed with the apostles sometimes in that forty days.
His sole purpose in that forty day period was to prepare the apostles for what lay ahead. He explained to them the scriptures about himself. They talked together about the Kingdom of God.
We know two events involving the appearing of Jesus during those momentous forty days:
- He came to them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and cooked breakfast for the seven disciples who had been fishing all night. There is a fascinating story in that event alone, but that will have to wait for another time.
- Then he appeared to five hundred brethren at once, very likely in Galilee. Five hundred witnesses that Jesus had risen from the dead. What a tremendous witness they would be. Each one of those five hundred men could proclaim to the people they talked to, “I have actually seen and talked to the risen Jesus. I know he is alive.”
We are told nothing about the effect on those who were not his apostles during those forty days. Mary, his mother, Mary Magdalene, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Salome, Joanna, Susanna, Cleopas and Mary, Jesus’ brothers and sisters. They would be as incredulous as the apostles were, but their incredulity soon turned to joy when they realised that their beloved Lord had really risen from the dead! This was a whole new perspective for them to come to grips with.
During these forty days, Jesus had given them a specific and definite instruction:
“And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem …” (Acts 1:4)
Note that he stayed with them. Did he spend a few days and nights with his apostles? The immortal Lord, with them in their homes!
“I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
Before his arrest and crucifixion, he also told them:
“I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever.” (John 14:16)
He told them who this Counselor would be:
“… the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things …” (John 14:26)
So the apostles knew that somehow, sometime, the Holy Spirit would be sent to them. They knew they had to stay in Jerusalem, and they knew they had to stay there until they were “clothed with power (the Holy Spirit) from on high.”
We left Jesus and the apostles on the Mount of Olives. Let’s rejoin them now.
We find that Jesus is telling them to “stay in Jerusalem to wait for his promised Holy Spirit.”
Still the apostles didn’t quite understand. “Lord”, they said, “will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus answered, “It is not for you to know when this will be.” He again brought their focus back to the promise of the Holy Spirit.
“… you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:8)
The Kingdom was not yet. First, you must be endowed with the Holy Spirit.
Now, as we watch and listen on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gives them his final instructions which sets the scene for the task of the apostles. I’m sure that up to this moment, they had no idea that Jesus was about to ascend to heaven.
“… you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The eleven apostles have now been told clearly what to do and what to expect. The Kingdom was not yet. Much had to be done before the Kingdom was established. The apostles had been given three instructions by Jesus:
- Stay in Jerusalem.
- The power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you.
- Through the power of the Spirit, you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth. The gospel of Jesus was not for Israel alone.
As his witnesses, they would tell the world that Jesus is Lord and had risen from death to life. Through him, salvation was offered to all men and women. This in fact was precisely what Peter told a gathering of three thousand men ten days later. But we’ll come back to that.
Jesus now wasted no time. Having given his final instructions to his apostles on the Mount of Olives, we read:
“And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:9–11)
I’m quite sure the apostles would have been absolutely stunned as they watched Jesus rising into the air, higher and higher, until a cloud took him from their sight. Their question, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?”, showed that they had not grasped that he was about to go to his Father in heaven.
So, we find this little group of eleven men standing on the Mount of Olives. But once they had got over their amazement at what had just happened, they were filled with joy (Luke 24:52). We don’t know how long they stayed on the Mount of Olives, but we can be sure that they would stay there a while to talk about this amazing thing that had just happened, and the message of the angels that he would return. Jesus was gone, but there on the mount, he had promised them that he would be with them always (Matthew 28:20).
They knew what they had to do. They were to be his witnesses throughout Israel and beyond. But first, they had to wait in the city so that they could receive the Holy Spirit.
The first ten days
Now, we know that the day of Pentecost was always fifty days after Passover. Jesus was raised to life on the day after Passover. He ascended to heaven forty days after his resurrection. It was therefore ten days between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost.
What happened during these ten days? We know the apostles stayed in Jerusalem as Jesus had told them. They did not go back to Galilee.
We have a record of three events which took place in these ten days.
First, the apostles went back into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. They went straight to the upper room where many of the followers of Jesus were. What a story they had to tell! They told everyone there of his ascension and of the message of the two angels. We can imagine the effect on those present.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about this upper room. For this room was the very room where Jesus and the apostles had eaten the Passover and the last supper. It was to continue as their main Jerusalem meeting place for the Jewish believers for at least the next eight years.
In this room, he had shared bread and wine with them. He had told them here that whenever they did this in the future, it would be in remembrance of him. In this room, Jesus had told Judas to go out and do what he was going to do.
So now, they come back from the Mount of Olives to this upper room.
What was this room? We know it was a large room. Mark 14:15 tells us it was a “large upper room”.
John Wenham in his book, Easter Enigma, points out that the “early Christians seemed to have access to at least one large meeting place in Jerusalem from the time of the last supper to the time of Peter’s escape from prison”.1 It is estimated that this was a period of about 8 years (AD 33-41).
It is likely that this upper room is the same room as is mentioned in Acts 12:12, which was in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. John Mark (Mark) and his family, obviously a wealthy family to have such a large house in Jerusalem, were close friends and followers of Jesus.
So we find that this large upper room is the one that in all probability was the room in which:
- Jesus ate the Passover meal and last supper with his apostles.
- The apostles were gathered on the night of Jesus’ resurrection when he suddenly appeared to them.
- The apostles met with other followers of Jesus after they returned from the Mount of Olives.
- The Holy Spirit was bestowed on the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
- And to which Peter came after his escape from prison (Acts 12:12).
In each of these instances, a large room was required to hold the number of people involved. It was unlikely that the early followers of Jesus had access to more than one large room, so it is likely that this large upper room in the house of Mark’s parents is the same room mentioned in all of the above events.
This room then, was the principal meeting place of this first group of believers, who were to form the nucleus of the first ecclesia in Jerusalem. Let’s see who was in the room when the apostles came back to it from the Mount of Olives:
Acts 1:13–14 records that those present (as well as the eleven apostles) were:
- Mary, the mother of Jesus
- The brothers of Jesus (the Greek here suggests that his sisters may also have been present).
- The women
This was a very closely bound group. The women would be those who had been very close to Jesus, given that Mary and her sons, the brothers of Jesus, were there.
My guess is that the women would have included those who were at the empty tomb of Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Salome (Jesus’ aunt), Mary (wife of Cleopas and Jesus’ aunt), Joanna and probably Susanna.
Then came the eleven disciples. This was quite a select little group. Every one of those present had been very close to Jesus.
Altogether, there were about nineteen people, including the apostles, in the upper room. Acts tells us that these nineteen people devoted themselves to prayer, there and then in the upper room. Jesus was no longer with them in person. This was a brand new experience for them.
This brings us to the second event in these ten days. Within a day or two, there were about one hundred and twenty of Jesus’ followers gathered together — again probably at the house of Mark and his family.
“In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty) …” (Acts 1:15)
We therefore know there were at least about one hundred and twenty believers in Jerusalem a matter of two or three days after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.
At this point, the believers looked to Peter and the apostles for leadership. Peter was accepted as the predominant brother. It was always Peter who took the initiative (Acts 2:14; 15:6–7).
This is an interesting characteristic found in all of the first century ecclesias. The ecclesial structure consisted of a leader — a bishop or overseer, and deacons (sometimes called elders) whose job it was to provide leadership and guidance within each ecclesia.
For example, we find that James, the brother of Jesus, was bishop of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13–21; 21:18). Paul instructed Timothy and Titus on the characteristics and personal qualities required of bishops and deacons.
The appointment of bishops and deacons in the very early ecclesias, both in Jerusalem and elsewhere, was a practice dating back to the days just after Jesus’ ascension, when Peter was in effect the bishop, and the apostles did the work of deacons.
The position of Bishop was very different from the Bishops in today’s churches. Bishops in the early part of the first century were very much part of the ecclesia, and probably were involved with only one ecclesia, not several. They provided spiritual and administrative leadership of the ecclesia, along with deacons or elders. We see this in Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus in instructing them in the formation of ecclesias.
Today, as we know, Bishops have a strong administrative and ceremonial role. They are part of the upper hierarchy of the church, whereas in the first century, Bishops were much closer to their ecclesial flocks.
Let’s return to the meeting in Jerusalem. The purpose of this meeting of one hundred and twenty believers was to elect a twelfth apostle to replace Judas who by now had committed suicide. Matthias was chosen.
A few days later, ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the third event occurred which was to profoundly affect the apostles and all of the early believers in Jerusalem. This event was the promised bestowal of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This was what Jesus had promised.
The Holy Spirit
We go to what was very likely the same upper room where the twelve apostles are gathered together, ten days after Jesus’ ascension. It is the day of Pentecost. The twelve apostles of Jesus, including the new apostle, Matthias, are seated in this room.
Suddenly, a sound like a rushing wind filled the house in which they were sitting. The apostles were startled. Even more so when they saw tongues of fire appear and rest on each of them.
Then something equally strange happened. They all began to speak in different languages. The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and it was this that enabled them to speak in different languages.
People outside the room also heard this sound like a rushing, mighty wind. “What’s happening?”, they cried as they rushed into the room where the apostles sat.
There they saw and heard a remarkable thing. Twelve men, each with fire resting upon them, and all of them speaking in different languages. Not only that, but the men who had rushed into the room recognised these languages as their own language. These men came from all over the Middle East, from as far away as Rome, as well as Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Crete.
As these men listened in awe, they heard the apostles speaking about the mighty works of God in these various languages.
This outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the beginning of a new era in terms of the Spirit’s involvement with mankind. It marked the beginning of the spread of Christianity throughout the world.
After Pentecost, everything was different. Life would never be the same again for the twelve apostles, or for anyone else who came in touch with this dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus who was seated at God’s right hand, and yet present in their midst through the Spirit.
Jesus had told the apostles that this would happen, although they didn’t know when or just how it would happen.
Let’s look at a few of the passages in which Jesus told them that this remarkable event would happen. We have seen some of these already, but here is a fuller picture of what he told his apostles:
“And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
“… he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father … before many days you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4–5)
“And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.” (John 14:16–17)
“… the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things.” (John 14:26)
“… if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
This bestowal of the Holy Spirit was a major event for these very early Jerusalem believers. It changed their lives.
From these words of Jesus, we therefore know:
- The Holy Spirit was promised by God.
- The apostles would receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
- They would be witnesses for Jesus throughout Israel and the world.
- The Counselor (Holy Spirit) would be with them for ever (John 14:16–17).
- Only those who are followers of Jesus would receive the Spirit. People who don’t know Jesus will not receive the Spirit.
- The Spirit would dwell with them.
- The Spirit would teach them all things.
- The Counselor would not come unless Jesus went away.
Peter’s address to the three thousand men gathered there that day was remarkable. Under the influence of the Spirit, Peter’s understanding was now complete. There was no question now (as there had been ten days before) of the Kingdom being established now.
He powerfully and unequivocally told them that Jesus had been dead, buried and was now alive:
“This Jesus … you crucified and killed … but God raised him up… and of that we all are witnesses. Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:23–24,36)
This powerful statement became the platform from then on of the early believers. They knew and preached that Jesus had risen from the dead.
On that day, three thousand were baptised. They were Jews from other countries, and they went back to their countries changed men.
The effect of this event must have charged the Jerusalem believers with a surge of spiritual strength they had not known before. Yes, Jesus had gone to heaven to be with his Father, but through the Spirit, he was still working with them and was with them in their hearts.
Well, we have thought about the first ten days of the lives of the Jerusalem believers after Jesus left them and ascended to heaven.
Yet, he was still with them through the Spirit. Jesus was with them as the spread of Christianity flowed out from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria and beyond Israel to the rest of the world.
He guided and blessed them. God gave him absolute power and authority to do this. In the first and twenty-first century, Jesus operates with that power and authority in the lives of all his followers and ecclesias. There are three quotes, one from Jesus himself, and two from Paul, which confirm this:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
“… he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church …” (Ephesians 1:20–22)
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord …” (Philippians 2:9–11)
Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, he has been guiding his ecclesias and his people. He is with us always:
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
After the day of Pentecost, other dramatic events followed quickly. Each of them had a galvanising and electrifying effect on the believers in Jerusalem. Every believer was on tip-toe with excitement because they belonged to the risen Lord, and, through the Spirit, he was causing huge things to happen:
- The healing of the lame man at the temple.
- The arrest of Peter and John.
- The election of the seven to attend to the welfare needs of the early believers.
- Stephen’s death.
- Paul’s conversion
- The resurrection of Tabitha at Joppa
- The gospel was preached to the Gentiles in Caesarea. The first Gentile ecclesia was established there.
- The spread of the gospel to Antioch.
Within a year, Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus had happened and the Christian message began to be spread to Gentile hearers.
In the next five chapters, we will go with these early believers and watch as the gospel of the Lord Jesus takes root both in Jerusalem and more widely in Israel, and beyond. But we will also see that these early believers were called upon to display courage to the uttermost as they remained loyal to their Lord.
- John Wenham, Easter Enigma, The Paternoster Press, 1992, page 47. ↩