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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mark 16:19. Luke 24:50–51. Acts 1:1–12]

JESUS having appeared to His apostles many times and spoken to them of the kingdom of God, that is to say, of all that was requisite for the foundation and government of His Church, appeared to them for the last time, on the fortieth day after His Resurrection. He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Ghost, and then He added:

“All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth. As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe. In My name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”

Then He took them out to Mount Olivet, raised up His Hands and blessed them. He began to ascend upward, and soon a cloud hid Him from their sight (Fig. 94). Whilst they stood looking sorrowfully after Him, two angels appeared to them in shining white garments, saying: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen Him going into heaven.”

Hearing these words the apostles fell down and adored God, and returned to Jerusalem with joy1, praising and blessing God.

Many other things which Jesus did are not related in the Gospel; for St. John thinks that if they were all written, the world itself would not be able to contain all the books. But thus much has been written, that we may believe that Jesus is the Son of God; and that, believing, we may have life in His Name.

The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord went up Body and Soul into heaven in the sight of His apostles, by His own power, to take possession of His glory, and to be our Advocate and Mediator in heaven with the Father. He ascended as Man, as Head of the redeemed, and has prepared a dwelling in heaven for all those who follow in His steps (Sixth article of the Creed).

 

Fig. 94. Church on the place from which Christ ascended on Mount Olivet. (Phot. Bonfils.)

The Feast of our Lord’s Ascension, forty days after Easter. On this day after the Gospel at the High Mass the Paschal Candle is put out, as a sign that He who had risen was no longer visible on earth.

The universal dominion of Jesus Christ. All power in heaven and earth is given to our Lord, not only as the only-begotten Son of God, but as Man, for He merited this dominion by His Passion and Death. As God made Man, he is the supreme King and Ruler of this world. He governs it invisibly from heaven, and on the Last Day will return visibly, and in glory, to judge the just and the wicked.

The Divinity of Jesus Christ is shown forth by the fact of His ascending into heaven by His own power, as all the apostles could testify; and is, moreover, proved 1. by Jesus Himself in His discourse prior to His Ascension; for how could He have promised the Holy Ghost, and His own protection to the apostles even to the end of the world; how could He have said: “All power is given to Me in heaven and earth”, unless He had been God? 2. It is proved by the adoration paid to Him by the apostles. They would not have worshipped Jesus, had they not been convinced of His Divinity. 3. It is proved, especially, by the holy Evangelist St. John, who writes in so many words that “Jesus is the Son of God”.

The threefold office of the apostles and their successors. When He left this world, our Lord handed over to His apostles His threefold office. 1. The office, or the right and duty of teaching the Christian faith (“Go ye and teach all nations”). 2. The priestly office, or the right and duty of sanctifying the souls of men by the Christian Sacraments (“baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”). 3. The pastoral office, or the right and duty of guiding and maintaining the faithful in the observance of the commandments (“Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”). Our Lord did not commit this threefold office to the apostles only, but also to their successors, as is to be plainly inferred from the words: “Go and teach all nations”, and: “I am with you all days even unto the end of the world.” The eleven apostles could not themselves have taught all nations, nor were they to live till the end of the world; but their office was to continue after their death, in their successors, the Bishops of the Catholic Church. Hence the prophetical, priestly and royal offices of Christ must continue in the Church till the end of time. This ruling power given to the Church is divine and not subject to any civil or earthly power. Within her own sphere the Church is supreme and independent.

The Church of Christ must necessarily be Catholic or universal. Our Lord said that “all nations” were to be received into the Church by Baptism, and instructed in the Christian life by her. The Church of Christ must therefore be, firstly, universal in place: she must be not a national Church, but a universal Church. Secondly, seeing that she was to be protected by her Divine Founder, for “all days even to the end of the world”, she must be equally Catholic as to duration. Being upheld by our Lord Jesus Christ in all ages, there is no time when she could fall away or decay, for, if she did, our Lord would not be fulfilling His promise to be always with her. All Protestant sects are based upon the false supposition that the Church of Christ has fallen into error and corruption. But according to Christ’s clear promise this can never be. The Church can neither teach nor believe false and corrupt doctrine. The infallible authority of the Church is a fundamental Christian dogma and inseparably connected with the Divinity of Christ.

The necessity of faith. “He that believeth (what the apostles and their successors teach) shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

The necessity of Baptism. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).

Faith alone will not save, for we must also observe the commandments. Our Lord, therefore, says: “Teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

The Most Holy Trinity. The Mystery of the Blessed Trinity is most expressly laid down in the words with which holy Baptism is to be administered. Although three Divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, are enumerated, yet it is in their Name, not in their Names that Baptism is to be administered. The word ‘Name’ being used in the singular is intended to signify that the Being to whom it applies is One God, though in Three Persons.

The prophecies were fulfilled by our Lord’s Ascension into heaven: 1. That of David: “The Lord said to My Lord: Sit Thou at My right hand till I make Thy enemies Thy footstool” (Ps. 109:7). 2. Those of our Lord Himself: “Then you shall see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before” (John 6:63; chapter XXXIV), and: “Hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mat. 26:64; chapter LXXI).

Holy Scripture is not the only source of faith. St. John says in so many words, that all that Jesus did is not contained in the Gospels: and still less do they contain all that He said. During the forty days that passed between His Resurrection and His Ascension our Lord spoke to His apostles about the kingdom of God, but only a small fraction of what He said on these occasions is contained in Holy Scripture. This shows us that the entire Divine revelation through Jesus Christ is only partially contained in the Bible.

APPLICATION. Heaven is our eternal home. There is a place prepared for you there, where you can be for ever with God. Whenever you say: “Our Father who art in heaven”, long ardently for eternal happiness, and make a firm resolution to perform all your duties on earth faithfully, and to avoid sin, so that you may be worthy of heaven.

SECOND SECTION

THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES








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