Our Master Yeshua rose from the dead on the first day of the Omer. He appeared to his apostles “during forty days” (Acts 1:3), after which “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
His disciples saw him ascend on the fortieth day of the Omer, ten days before Shavu’ot. Before he ascended, he told them, “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).
To get the full impact of the story of Yeshua’s ascension, you need to know the story of the ascension of Elijah. At my home community, Beth Immanuel Messianic Synagogue in beautiful, historic Hudson, Wisconsin, (in years when we are not under quarantine), we have several long-standing Ascension Day traditions. On the eve of the fortieth day of the Omer, the men of the community gather for an evening of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and some story-telling and inspirational teaching. In the morning, the community gathers for an early synagogue prayer service. We augment the regular liturgy with a recitation of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120-134). Naturally, we read the story of the ascension of Yeshua (Luke 24:44-54; Acts 1:1-12), but we also read the story of the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18).
When Elijah was about to ascend, he said to his disciple Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.”
Elisha replied, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” By asking for a double portion, Elisha asked to receive the right of firstborn among the disciples of Elijah. According to the Torah, a firstborn son receives a double portion of his father’s inheritance. If a man died and left behind four sons, his inheritance would be divided into five parts. The firstborn son would receive two shares, and the remaining sons one share each.
In the story of the ascension of Elijah, his disciples are called “sons of the prophets.” Elisha asked to be designated the firstborn through the gift of a double portion of the Spirit of God that rested on his master. He wanted to receive a double portion of the Holy Spirit.
Elijah said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.”
Elisha does see Elijah go up as he is taken from him. He sees him ascend in a whirlwind, as if in a chariot of fire. Elijah’s mantle falls behind him. Elisha picks it up and strikes the Jordan River with it, asking, “Where is the God of Elijah?” When the water splits, the other sons of the prophets all exclaim, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha,” and they prostrate themselves before him.
This story explains the significance of Ascension Day and its connection to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit ten days later on the day of Shavu’ot. Before Yeshua ascended, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” and the Holy Spirit had come upon them. He referred to the same Holy Spirit of HaShem that had rested upon him since his immersion in the Jordan River, several years earlier. After his ascension, he intended to bequeath that Spirit to his disciples.
The book of Acts explicitly states that the disciples saw Yeshua ascend, “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And … they were gazing into heaven as he went” (Acts 1:9-10). The meaning is not just to say that the disciples saw the miracle but that they saw Yeshua ascend just as Elisha saw Elijah ascend. By pointing out that the disciples saw the miracle with their own eyes, the writer of the book of Acts wants his readers to realize that Yeshua’s disciples stood to receive a double-portion of the Spirit that had rested upon Yeshua, just as Elisha received a double portion of the Spirit that rested upon Elijah. The eleven disciples who saw him ascend were to receive the firstborn’s share, so to speak.
The disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited as the Master instructed them, and they remained “continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:53) until the day of Shavu’ot when they received the double portion. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
This year, I’m going to miss celebrating Ascension Day with brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, even while “sheltering at home,” we will still mark the fortieth day of the Omer by reading the Psalms of Ascent, the story of the ascension of Yeshua, and the story of the ascension of Elijah. I want to invite the rest of the Messianic Jewish world to join us in doing so as we wait for “this Yeshua, who was taken up from you into heaven” to “come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Let’s observe Ascension Day as the beginning of the last ten days of the count-off to Shavu’ot when we anticipate reliving the miracle of the outpouring of God’s Spirit.
Learn more about the gift of the Holy Spirit—the inheritance of all Yeshua’s disciples, in the FFOZ book Gifts of the Spirit.