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Why the Ascension and Pentecost Are Essential

Tim Staples

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With his death and resurrection, Jesus completes the great work of our salvation and gives us the perfect sign that he has conquered sin and death. So are the Ascension and Pentecost just add-ons? Apologist Tim Staples says no. They are essentials, and filled with power.


What do the Ascension and Pentecost have to do with the rest of Jesus’ mission? Tim Staples is next.

Cy Kellett:

Hello, and welcome to Focus, the Catholic answers podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host in our new studio digs. I hope you’re enjoying those, if you’re watching. If you’re listening, you can check us out on Facebook or YouTube. See what the new studio situation’s like.

Cy Kellett:

This week, Tim Staples is here with us. And at the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry, he ascends into heaven. And then shortly thereafter, we have the descent of the Holy Spirit, which we celebrate in the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost in the Catholic faith. And there’s an intertwining here of the missions of Jesus and the spirit. Out of love for us, the father sends Jesus, but he also sends the Holy Spirit. And each has their salvific mission on our behalf. And here at the end, they’re intertwined in ways that are a bit mysterious. So, we asked Tim Staples to come by and untwine the mysteries a little bit for us. Here’s what Tim had to say.

Cy Kellett:

Tim Staples, thank you for being here, talking about the Holy Spirit.

Tim Staples:

Great to be with you, my brother.

Cy Kellett:

You are pro Holy Spirit?

Tim Staples:

I am in favor.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. Good. I’m glad we just celebrated, in the Catholic church, the Ascension of Jesus.

Tim Staples:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

And now, coming up is Pentecost, the Feast of Pentecost, which we think of as the descent of the Holy Spirit. There’s a relationship between these two things?

Tim Staples:

Oh boy, there really is. In fact, not long ago, I was talking with Karlo about this. The Ascension and Pentecost are so closely related, the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 5:17 talks about how Christ’s entire life is redemptive, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Tim Staples:

Not just his death on the cross. The Ascension and Pentecost, now, maybe it’s because I’m weird, but this is what I think of, makes me think of everything that Jesus did was salvific. Everything he does now, every breath he takes, every action has, for its end, our salvation.

Tim Staples:

And, again, paragraph 5:17, I’ll give the folks homework, you got to read it. Beautiful. It starts from the incarnation and all through the life of Christ, his ministry and such, how every aspect is redemptive for us. And then it includes in Romans 4:25, it quotes Romans 4:25, “Christ was crucified for our sins. He was raised again for our justification.”

Tim Staples:

So, wait a minute. I get how his life, his ministry, his death on the cross was redemptive for us because it was meritorious. He had to overcome obstacles and such. But when you talk about the resurrection, the ascension and him being established at the right hand of the father in his kingdom, he doesn’t merit anything. Are you with me? He doesn’t merit, but he still saves. And why is that?

Tim Staples:

Pope Saint John Paul, I was reading not long ago, talked about how that, though he does not merit specifically, there is still a certain efficaciousness about all that he does. So, in other words, he brings what he merited to us in salvation so that even now, Hebrews 7:26 says he is able to save all those who come to God through him. So, everything Jesus does now is for our salvation. Maybe not meriting because the time of merit ended when he died. But everything is salvific.

Tim Staples:

Now, how does that relate to the Ascension and to Pentecost? Well, often, people ask the question, Cy, “Why does the Ascension have anything to do with my salvation?” or, “Why does even Pentecost… how does that affect my salvation, because he purchased everything on the cross?” Well, here’s the key. In Ephesians 4:7, scripture says this, oh, this is so good, Cy, “But grace was given to each of us, according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it is said, when he ascended on high, he led a host of captives and he gave gifts to men.”

Tim Staples:

Now, what is it talking about here? When, of course, Christ died, he went down into [fylaki 00:04:46] or Sheol in Hebrew, a holding place, to lead those righteous souls to heaven that could not go until Christ died. Saint Peter describes that in 1st Peter 3:19 when he says that he went down into fylaki, prison, the holding place, proclaimed the truth and led those captives. Now, that’s what Paul’s talking about here. When he ascended on high, he led a host of captives. He gave gifts to men. In saying he ascended, what does it mean, but that he had also descended to the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things. And his gifts were… ” and he lists the five-fold ministry of apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers.

Tim Staples:

So, notice, St. Paul’s talking about Christ giving gifts after the ascension. And it’s a bit strange because, wait a minute, how could he give the gifts of apostle, prophet, pastor… because he had already done that. He already gave us the apostles. He had ordained them on Holy Thursday, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Tim Staples:

Luke 22:19, while Jesus was still alive. And we also have, after the resurrection, but before the Ascension, he breaths on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Tim Staples:

So, what’s going on here? Well, this is extremely important, Cy. The reason is because in God’s divine, providential will, his disposition for our salvation, literally nothing is going to happen until after the Ascension and Christ is seated at the right hand of the father. Why? Because he has not come into the fullness of his kingdom yet.

Tim Staples:

Now, of course, he’s the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as we say at Christmas time, right? Jesus Lord-

Cy Kellett:

But there’s something about ascending to the throne that you can even see, like even for an earthly king. Well, as soon as the other king dies, you’re the king.

Tim Staples:

Amen, brother.

Cy Kellett:

But you haven’t taken up your role as the king until all is done.

Tim Staples:

That’s right. So, he is, as we say at Christmas, Jesus Lord at thy birth. In fact, he was the Lord from the instant of his incarnation. However, he’s not fully established in his kingdom and he cannot give the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit that would only come after the Ascension.

Tim Staples:

This is why, by the way, something just popped in my head, that in John 20, Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Stop clinging to me for I have not yet… ” what? Ascended. Why? Because, of course, Mary has that same desire that Peter had on the Mount Of Transfiguration, “Should we build three tabernacles here? We’ve got you here, glorious. Let’s just keep it right here.” And Jesus is saying, “Oh, you knucklehead. I’ve got so much more for you.” In the same way Mary Magdalene is, “I lost you once. I don’t want to lose you again.” And you don’t get it from the text; you get it from Jesus’ words. She’s clinging to him. And he says, “Stop. Because nothing can happen until I ascend, I’m seated at the right hand of the father and I’ve come in the fullness of my kingdom. Then the kingdom, the church can be established on the earth.”

Tim Staples:

And this is why also, of course, Jesus says to the apostles in Acts 1:6, “Tarry in Jerusalem.” Don’t go anywhere. Don’t do anything. Even though they’re already apostles, they already have the power of the Holy Spirit, they don’t have the fullness of that power. And this, by the way, should be a plug for confirmation, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Tim Staples:

The sacrament that also is kind of like, “Is that so important?”

Cy Kellett:

What happens in confirmation? We don’t even understand it. Yeah.

Tim Staples:

We always talk about our baptism and our baptismal promises and such, and we forget that confirmation is necessary for salvation, not in the strict sense that baptism is, but it’s necessarily because we cannot live the calling of the gospel because we’re called to live supernatural lives. We can’t do it without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tim Staples:

And really, that’s what Pentecost is about and why it’s so closely related to the Ascension, because it can’t happen until the Ascension, Jesus is established as King and then he establishes his kingdom in power. And what is fulfilled, of course, is his words from John 7, “He that believes in me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And so, we need to remember at Pentecost how important the power of the Holy Spirit is.

Tim Staples:

If you think about it, Pentecost is very closely related to Shabbat. In fact, in Greek, it’s called Pentecost, the Feast of Shabbat in the Old Testament, which is… actually, “shabbat” in Hebrew means weeks. It’s the feast of weeks. And the reason why they celebrate it is it’s actually the celebration of the spring harvest. It starts two days into Passover, but then it goes seven weeks. And the culmination is the giving of the law to Moses.

Cy Kellett:

Oh. So, we’re supposed to see a kind of prefiguring here.

Tim Staples:

That’s right.

Cy Kellett:

Okay.

Tim Staples:

And if you think about that, how important was the law to the Old Testament?

Cy Kellett:

Oh, this reminds me Jeremiah, right? Or is it as Ezekiel? Where “I’ll write the law upon their hearts.”

Tim Staples:

Amen. Ezekiel 36:24-25. And, of course, the establishing of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12.

Tim Staples:

But here’s the key. I always think at this point of our Lord’s words or St. John, who says, “It’s out of his fullness that we receive grace upon grace. For the law came by Moses, but grace and truth comes by Jesus Christ.” The law was everything in the Old Testament. Hence, you have the celebration of the feast of weeks that culminates in the giving of the law, which was the power and separated the Old Testament people of God from the world. We have something that so far blows that away. It’s related because we too. It’s a feast of weeks, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Tim Staples:

In Easter, seven weeks that culminates in Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to live everything that the core of the law prescribes for us. So, it’s everything for us. In a sense, what… people ask, why is Pentecost, why is Ascension important? It means everything to us because we can do nothing apart from these great feasts. Get ready to celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So, let me ask you one question, and you alluded a bit to this, but I want you to make it clearer.

Tim Staples:

Yes.

Cy Kellett:

When do the apostles receive the Holy Spirit?

Tim Staples:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

This is very confusing.

Tim Staples:

That’s right, that’s right. And it is a good question. And we get it every year here at Catholic Answers. You’re right. I mean, they received the Holy Spirit when they’re ordained in Luke 22:19. “Do this in memory of me.” And that’s, by the way, an infallible teaching of the church. He ordained them, gave them the power to do what he was doing: offering himself for our salvation. He, as we mentioned earlier as well, in John 20, he breaths on them, says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosoever sin you forgive.”

Tim Staples:

So, what’s going on? Well, we believe that the reason is really catechetical in one sense because Jesus did not want to just give everything at once to the apostles. He kind of gives it in segments in order to teach us the power of holy orders and the power of the Holy Spirit as it works in their lives.

Tim Staples:

So, they were ordained. They received the power, definitely there in Luke 22:19. They received power again in John 20. They received power again in Acts 2:4. And, of course, we could see how they were receiving gifts throughout. I mean, immediately john 15:3 comes to mind. “You have already been made clean because you’ve received my word,” he says to the apostles.

Tim Staples:

So, Jesus is like a father teaching his children. He’s bringing them along and he’s empowering them. And what they get at Pentecost is the fullness, where everything comes together. The kingdom is established and there is such an explosion, think about this, Cy, that in the first generation, they basically evangelized the entire known world. I mean, they went from a covenant in the Old Testament that was so turned in on themselves, even though that wasn’t God’s antecedent will, for Israel to turn in on itself, because they were supposed to be a light to the nations.

Cy Kellett:

To the nations. Yeah.

Tim Staples:

Right? But that’s what it became. Israel, just that little piece of carpet over there. It’s, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” It’s Daffy Duck. “Nobody else’s but mine” To, I mean, what an explosion, because these… and remember, we’re talking about apostles here, who, at first, didn’t want to go anywhere except to Israel because that’s what they were used to, and Jesus came not to the [inaudible 00:14:36]. He came first to Israel. And even after Pentecost, the apostles still weren’t going anywhere. They were hanging around. And by the way, Paul too, because when he was converted there in Acts 9, the scripture says, “He went only to the synagogues.” It wouldn’t be until Peter wakes him up by divine direction that they do go out to the world, which is what Jesus had already told them in Matthew 28:19, “Go into all the world. Preach to all nations. The [inaudible 00:15:06], the [inaudible 00:15:06], them. That’s right.” And they’re like, “Uh-uh (negative). We’re not going.”

Tim Staples:

But let me tell you, Cy, this was a revolution as well as a revelation. And when they got it, they exploded all over the world. And what the apostles did could never be matched. We have never matched what they did in one generation. We are always trying to get back to that, man. We need to get back to the apostles. And if we do, you know what’ll happen? The same thing. We’ll change the entire world in one generation.

Cy Kellett:

So, we should pray that God makes our own confirmation fully realized in our life like, “Let me really live the… ”

Tim Staples:

That’s it brother.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Come, Holy Spirit.

Cy Kellett:

The Holy Spirit’s role in our salvation is not secondary. It’s not an add-on. It’s essential to our salvation, although it’s mysterious because we can’t see spirits, of course. We can see and hear and taste and touch and feel Jesus, but we can’t do any of those things with the Holy Spirit. So, it’s mysterious. So, Jesus reveals the role of the Holy Spirit in our salvation. And he does that over time.

Cy Kellett:

At Pentecost, we have the summation of that whole thing, but primarily what we take from all of this is that Jesus has freed us from sin and death so that we can become sons and daughters that live in God. And the Holy Spirit fills us with the power to live as sons and daughters of the living God. So, there’s an essential relationship between the ministry of Jesus, which, in its earthly sense, concludes with the Ascension, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is present all throughout the life of Jesus and continues in this world today.

Cy Kellett:

So, celebrate your confirmation, your chrismation, depending on how you call it, because the coming of the Holy Spirit is no small matter. It’s a big deal. It makes it possible for us to cry out to our father, “Father, Father,” in love.

Cy Kellett:

Tim Staples has been our guests. It’s just great to have Tim back. And we’d love to hear from you. If you want to send us an email, you just send it to [email protected] [email protected]

Cy Kellett:

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Cy Kellett:

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