Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology, The

Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology, The

Spencer, F Scott

A. W. ZWIEP, The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology (NovTSup 87; Leiden/New York/Cologne: Brill, 1997). Pp. xiii + 291. NLG 176, I10.

In this revision of a dissertation supervised by J. D. G. Dunn at the University of Durham, Zwiep undertakes a thorough examination of the ascension traditions in Luke and Acts, with particular attention to establishing a proper first-century context of understanding and to clarifying the peculiar Lucan perspective on the ascension within early Christian thought.

Following the lead of G. Lohfink, Z. classifies the ascension stories in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-II form-critically as accounts of “rapture” (Entrickung) depicting the dramatic physical assumption of a venerable figure into the heavenly realm, from the viewpoint of earth-bound witnesses, rather than the mysterious journey of the soul through the heavenly realm, with the traveler’s outlook. Parallel reports of rapture abound in ancient Hebrew and Hellenistic literature, but Z. locates the primary matrix for Luke’s conceptualization in the OT and other early Jewish writings-pertaining not only to the classic canonical examples of Enoch and Elijah but also to later, intertestamental, final raptures of these and of other biblical figures such as Moses, Ezra, and Baruch. Elijah’s experience, especially, mirrors that of Jesus in Acts I, for in both there is a nexus between ascending to heaven and anointing earthly successors with a dynamic portion of the Spirit (2 Kgs 2:9-14; Acts 1:5, 8-1 I). Ezra and Baruch, with the teaching preceding their assumptions, notably match Jesus’ forty-day period of farewell (4 Ezra 14:1-48; 2 Bar 76:1-5; Acts 1:3). Finally, as these raptured Jewish heroes are typically preserved in some exalted heavenly state where they anticipate a climactic return to earth at the end of the age, so the ascended, exalted Lucan Jesus awaits his glorious parousia (Acts 1:11; 3:20-21).

Zwiep then positions Lucan christology within the spectrum of NT correlations of Jesus’ resurrection, exaltation, and ascension. Although on the surface Luke’s forty-day interval between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension appears most closely aligned with the longer ending of Mark, Z. detects a more variegated and distinctive Lucan presentation. On the one hand, Luke retains (from his sources) the primitive kerygma conjoining Jesus’ physical resurrection and heavenly exaltation in one key moment of the history of salvation (Acts 2:32-36; 5:31; 13:30-37; cf. Luke 22:69; 23:42-43; 24:26). In this framework, Jesus’ ascension-coterminous with his resurrection and exaltation-is implicitly conceived as a type of journey to heavenly enthronement at the right hand of God, from which station he returns to earth over forty days to prove himself alive and provide farewell instructions to the apostles. On the other hand, the dramatic “taking up” to heaven which follows in Acts 1:9-11 emerges as another, different type of ascension. The already exalted Lucan Jesus now undergoes a final, observable rapture and awaits his future, climactic parousia which will take place “in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (1:11).

Zwiep argues that the purpose of Luke’s “christology of rapture” was to address the eschatological conundrum of the delay of the parousia. Jesus’ rapture to heaven in the manner of distant heroes from Israel’s past (Enoch, Elijah and others)– whose long-awaited return to earth was incorporated into Jewish apocalyptic hope-provided an apologetic framework for interpreting Jesus’ postponed parousia. Moreover, the preceding forty-day catechism legitimated the apostles as official tradents of the kerygma from the past, “middle” era of the history of salvation (Jesus’ lifetime) to the current, extended period of the church.

The strengths of this investigation include a comprehensive history of research on the Lucan ascension narratives (Z. compiles a very useful list of some 400 studies on the ascension from 1900 to 1996), a careful nuancing of language and events related to ascension, and a thorough, judicious handling of relevant Jewish traditions of assumption. Somewhat less convincing is the supposed tendentious connection between the Lucan Jesus’ rapture-ascension and delayed parousia. For this Z. builds heavily on H. Conzelmann’s rigid periodization of Lucan history of salvation with assumed “early catholicism” structuring the church until Jesus returns. That the risen Jesus prepares his followers to continue his Spirit-guided mission in his absence by instructing them for forty days seems obvious (Jesus himself commenced his earthly mission with a Spirit-led, forty-day period of scriptural reflection [Luke 4:1-14]). That the Sitz im Leben of this scenario, however, involves a perplexed Lucan community wrestling with the problem of the Parousieverzogerung is much more speculative.

E Scott Spencer, Wingate University, Wingate, NC 28174

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Oct 1998

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