The Forty Days leading to the Ascension

Third in the Ascension Series

Forty is a Biblical number—How else could it be described with such magnitude and significance? Its numerous mentions in Scripture draw us to reflect on each event with which it is associated.

We learn in the first chapter of Acts that the Ascension took place after Christ had remained on the earth ‘after his passion’ for 40 days. (Acts 1:3)

On the website, a section on the ‘Meaning of Numbers’ states the following about the number 40:

  • 146 mentions in Scripture
  • the number 40 generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation.
  • Moses lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in the desert before God selected him to lead his people out of slavery.
  • Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, on two separate occasions (Exodus 24:18, 34:1 - 28), receiving God's laws. He sent spies, for 40 days, to investigate the land God promised the Israelites as an inheritance (Numbers 13:25, 14:34).
  • Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years, one for each day of their futile investigation
  • the 40 days and nights of Noah’s flood
  • Jonah warned Nineveh for 40 days
  • Jesus was tempted by the devil during his 40 days in the wilderness
  • others

Would you consider the length of days the Lord remained on the earth before his ascension to be a time of testing, trial or probation for his disciples? Perhaps so, in that it was a special time for them to put away all unbelief and gather their strength and wits and before the start of the gospel ministry in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

Another aspect of the 40-day or year time span is that God is at work to accomplish a particular goal. It is a required length of time for a specific accomplishment.

It was just the right amount of time for Moses to become a patient man after his murder of the Egyptian, and before he is commanded to return to entreat Pharaoh for the release of the Israelites. Forty years reformed his character.

Forty days are needed for Jonah to cry out and convince the Ninevites that God will judge them. It was the effective span of time. One or two weeks would not do.

It took exactly 40 days and nights of flooding for the earth to be covered with waters, to drown all life except for those on the ark.

It would take 40 days for the Lord to work with his disciples before he ascended—

  • It was a slower time —no planes, buses or cars. No electronic communications. All gatherings and discussions would be in person. Only the risen Lord could dematerialize or suddenly appear (Mark 16:14); everyone else had to walk, run or ride on an animal to arrive at a meeting.
  • We are told that both Jesus and the angel at the tomb told the women to advise his disciples to meet him in Galilee, (Mat 28:7, 10) and that they met him at a particular mountain (Mat 28:16) to learn about their future work (Mat 28:19-20). It would be a two or three day walk from Jerusalem to Galilee. (It would seem that this commissioning was repeated for enforced learning with three instances (Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:6-8) being individual versions.)
  • The women who followed Jesus needed assurance that he was alive and was continuing to carry out his Father’s mission. They would be valuable witnesses throughout their villages.
  • The Lord also appeared to many others of his followers such as Cleopas and his companion on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13), and 500 brethren at one time. (1 Cor 15:6) All of these were witnesses who gained assurance, who could testify about his resurrection for any who doubted. This, too, built momentum for the work ahead. These appearances are for all of us— we all need to see in Scripture that the Lord is alive, after dying.
  • It takes time for the human mind to process a crisis event. The Lord understood that his disciples had experienced a trauma and needed time to adjust and heal, and with him present to guide and comfort them, they would get back to normal more quickly.
  • It was necessary for each one of them to recover from the shock and realize a new day of service was at hand. Though they would still daily follow the Lord, he would not remain on the earth, and they would follow him in a new reality. Each had lives, work and kinfolk or families to confer with or to settle in new ways before beginning their new work in the Lord.
  • They saw for themselves that he ate and had flesh as a man, with telltale wounds (Luke 24:39, 42-43). He wanted them to be fully convinced that he was still a man, the same man whom they had known before he died and was buried. He really was alive and well.

Yes, there was much work to do before Christ could ascend to his Father, and our Father (John 20:17). It was the work of a preacher and a friend, teacher, counselor, a brother, a prince of peace, and a prophet.

Worldly wisdom

Job Sees The Light - Thirty-eighth in a series

Hover over the Scripture references to read the verses under discussion

A clap of thunder! The storm that began in Job 36 has come nearer. It frightens Elihu.

Job 37:1-4 NIV

By the word of God divine instructions are conveyed to the mind through the ear, by his works through the eye; but, because those ordinary sights and sounds do not duly affect men, God is pleased sometimes to astonish men by the eye with his lightnings and by the ear with his thunder. It is very probable that at this time, when Elihu was speaking, it thundered and lightened, for he speaks of the phenomena as present; and, God being about to speak (ch. 38:1), these were, as afterwards on Mount Sinai, the proper prefaces to command attention and awe…
Thunder is called the voice of the Lord (Ps. 29:3, etc.), because by it God speaks to the children of men to fear before him, and it should put us in mind of that mighty word by which the world was at first made, which is called thunder. Ps. 104:7, At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away, namely, the waters, when God said, Let them be gathered into one place. - Matthew Henry

Job 37:5-8 NIV Elihu describes how the Lord can bring all activity to a halt by the weather.

To Elihu the weather in all its glory is the glory of God, and God stops people from their work so they can see it. … Is not the whole book of Job about men who have been stopped from their work? It is about an enormous work stoppage, an enormous inconvenience that has fallen out of the sky and forced five busy people to drop everything they were doing and to turn for a while to a more important task. (- Mason -ref)

Job 37:9-13 NIV God is in control of the weather to effect his purposes; at least, up until the present generation he was. Today, we have learned of HAARP and cloud seeding. Elihu wold not have known of these.

Job 37:14-20 NIV Though Elihu has forgotten, Job has considered the works of the Lord. Did he not say:
He stretches out the north over the void
and hangs the earth on nothing.
He binds up the waters in his thick clouds,
and the cloud is not split open under them.
He covers the face of the full moon
and spreads over it his cloud. (Job 26:7-9)
the thunder of his power who can understand? (Job 26:14b)
A single-minded focus or personal agenda can prevent a full recollection of related conversation.

It was not that Job had no awe of the Almighty when he pled for answers. Yet he did address God directly and ask for a hearing:
Withdraw your hand far from me,
and let not dread of you terrify me.
Then call, and I will answer;
or let me speak, and you reply to me.
How many are my iniquities and my sins?
Make me know my transgression and my sin.
Why do you hide your face
and count me as your enemy? (Job 13:21-24)

Job 37:21-24 NIV Though Elihu seems to be centered on God, his real focus is on Job. He describes a supernatural type of disturbance in the heavenlies but does not believe that God would condescend to man’s cry for understanding of his ways. Elihu does not realize that God himself is drawing near. His ending statement is that God will not regard the one who is conceited, namely, Job.

But who is wise in their own conceit? Is it Job, or is it Elihu?

In his great wisdom, Elihu does not know that God desires close communion and friendship with his own. He desires a relationship and to converse with us.

Elihu’s wisdom is worldly, defining a foundation for a faith in a God, but not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Our God is not a legalist

Job Sees The Light - Thirty-sixth in a series

Hover over the Scripture references to read the verses under discussion

Job 35:1-3 NIV In any lengthy proceeding it is easy to lose track. That is why meetings have secretaries, trials have court recorders, and cities have newspaper archives.

The liar can forget what he earlier insisted on, and the honest person may forget the good things he has said. Who can keep track of all our words? Only God.

In Chapter 35, Elihu accuses Job of believing himself to be more righteous than God.

When Job said, What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him? (Job 21:15) he was parroting what the unrighteous say, in effect, when they explain why they behave badly.

For himself, Job understood he was not a perfect man: If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. (Job 9:20) He was confused as to why God put him in his trial (Job 10:15), and he defended his integrity (Job 27:6), but did he ever say there was no reason under heaven to practice good behavior and do right? No.

Elihu believed that Job’s words taken as a whole implied that the Lord was unjust. Some will agree with Elihu, and others will say they heard Job crying out for answers, which we all must do when we are in a trial.

Elihu frowned on Job’s desperate moaning. Stop crying out to God on the basis of your own righteousness — as though your good behavior should merit God’s answer!

Yes, Job had felt that God loved him and heard his prayers because he carefully followed God's ways. Elihu will now explain why that way of thinking is all wrong.

Job 35:4-8 NIV First, why should man assume God is in any way affected by his behavior? He is not! Ones bad or good behavior affects only other people.

Elihu's concept of God is flawed.

If it is true that because God is so great and so high, the innocence or guilt of a petty human being is a matter of profound indifference to his Maker, on the ground that it can bring Him neither gain nor loss, we are landed, we see at once, on a very gloomy shore. We reach a conclusion fatal to all religion. - Bradley (ref)

Next, Elihu denies that God will have regard for the prideful man.

Job 35:9-14 NIV Prideful people like Job do not cry out in praise to God, crediting him for man’s unique capabilities and thankful for his divine watchcare. Therefore God does not answer nor even regard them, and much less will he regard Job who has set God on his own timetable.

Perhaps the best thing we can point out about Elihu's insights is that they are not true. Thank heavens the Lord hears the prayers of the prideful who belong to him. True, he will discipline us, but he will not forsake us.

Job 35:15-16 NIV Elihu, the dogmatist, is waiting for God to lower the boom on Job, and when he does, that will shut Job up.

Some may say that God is like Elihu –or vice versa– in that he promised: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mat 12:36-37) In the context of the passage, however, “careless” is defined as those words spoken by legalists who reject Christ.

Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, except for the blasphemy against the Spirit (Mat 12:31) Imagine! EVERY sin and blasphemy except one. God is NOT legalistic. God is love.