May 13, 2013
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #I: Introduction to the Beginning of the Church, Acts 1.1-1.26
 Subtopic A: The Lord Prepares the Disciples (1.1-11)
      


Lesson I.A.3: The Ascension and Predicted Return
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1.9-11


Acts 1.9-11 (KJV)

9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

 

Commentary

9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

And when he had spoken these things,
“When he had spoken these things,” and had said all that he had to say, and having left instructions with them with regard to the proclamation of the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then to the entire world; and after He had promised them the full power of the Holy Spirit, with whom he would govern his church (even though he would be absent in body), he blessed them, according to Luke 24:50—“And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them”—and then He left them.

while they beheld,
It is specifically stated that “while they were looking He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”  Luke describes the episode just as it was told to him: “And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen” (Luke 24:50-53; KJV). It is critical that he added “while they beheld” when he retold the story in this letter written to Theophilus. If this detail were omitted, it could be concluded that He disappeared while His disciples were looking in another direction. But now we know they saw Him ascend and disappear with their own eyes. Elijah, who rode to heaven, in a fiery chariot, told his followers, “…If thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so” (2 Kings 2:10; KJV). SEEING IS BELIEVING!

he was taken up;
He was gradually taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. We have here the report of Christ's ascending on high, not extracted or withdrawn, as Elijah was, with a chariot of fire and horses of fire, but Christ ascended to heaven, just as he rose from the grave, purely by his own power; his body is now, as the bodies of the saints will be at the resurrection, a spiritual body, and raised in power and incorruption. He began his ascension while the disciples watched, and kept Him in sight until He disappeared into the clouds. They could not be deceived, because they kept their eyes on Him; it is likely that he did not fly swiftly up, but moved slowly upwards. There are seven observations that should be made about this most remarkable event.

Observe, 1. Who and what it was that ascended. It was the same one that descended; Jesus Christ, in his divine nature as God, and in his human nature as man. Both His body and soul ascended.
Observe, 2. The place He ascended from. It was Mount Olivet, the very place where he began his sad trek to the cross. There is where his heart began to be sad, but here it is made glad.
Perhaps we can learn from this that God can make the very places where we face trouble and torment (such as sick-beds, prisons, strange countries), to become places of comfort and triumphant joy, when he pleases.
Observe, 3. The place He ascended to. He ascended into heaven; the third heaven, that is, where the throne of God resides; the place where the blessed live eternally. Consequently, he is said to ascend far above all heavens; that is, above the atmosphere and starry heavens which we see, into the highest heavens; to the place where he was before, which is how he expressed it in John 6:62—“What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?”
Observe, 4. The time when our Lord ascended. It happened forty days after his resurrection. What great love Christ has for His church, for Him to not go immediately to posses the unspeakable glory that awaited him; but he would wait until he had settled all things for the good of His church. Here is a good pattern to imitate; to put God and our religion ahead of our own desires.
Observe, 5. The manner of Christ’s ascention up into heaven. He ascended by his own divine power, “Whilst they looked stedfastly, he went up.” It is true, the angels were there with Him, but they did not assist Him. Elijah went to heaven in a chariot of fire, but he was taken up, he could not carry himself up: but Christ did not need a chariot, because He is the author of life and motion.
1. He ascended magnificently; a cloud was prepared as a royal chariot, to carry up this King of glory to his royal throne: “A cloud received him out of their sight.”
2. He ascended generously, showering gifts upon his church; “When he ascended up on high, he gave gifts to men, prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.”
Observe, 6. The witnesses of our Lord's ascension. Elijah had only one witness of his rapture into heaven, but Christ had the exclusive company of his disciples. The number of witnesses was about an hundred and twenty. Those who had been witnesses of his humiliation, are now witnesses of his glorious ascension.
Observe, 7. The cause and reasons why he ascended. Primarily, because, if He had he not ascended, he could not have been inaugurated and installed in the glory he now enjoys above. If He had ascended, he could not intercede on our behalf, as He does now. If He had not ascended into heaven, we could never have entered heaven. Moreover, if He had not ascended the Comforter would not have come.


and a cloud received him out of their sight.
Not a cloud like we see in the sky above, but something having the appearance of a cloud, and accompanied by angels. It was not placed there out of necessity, but as a symbol of His majesty. Our Lord ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, at or near the place where he had been apprehended and bound, and from there he had been led away like a felon to be put on trial for his life. He was insulted, scourged, and condemned to crucifixion. Now He ascends in triumph from the same mountain into a place and state worthy of his innocence and infinite dignity.

He vanished out of their sight, in a cloud, either a thick cloud, because God said that he would dwell in the thick darkness or a bright cloud, to signify the splendor of his glorious body. It was a bright cloud that overshadowed him in his transfiguration—“While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt 17:5; KJV)—and that is probably what His disciples saw. This cloud received him, and it was probably when He had gone about as far from the earth as the clouds generally are, yet it was not a billowing wide-spreading cloud such as we commonly see, but one designed just to enclose him. Now he made the clouds his chariot—“Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind” (Psalms 104:3; KJV). The Old Testament reveals that God often came down in a cloud, and went up in one.


This was the last time Jesus was seen. The eyes of a great many witnesses followed him into the cloud and, if we want to know what became of Him after that, all we have to do is read Daniel 7:13, which describes a vision the Prophet had—“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.” Daniel saw the Son of Man come “among the clouds of heaven” to the Ancient One. Daniel watched as God the Son drew near to God the Father. “Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and on the cloud sat someone who was like the Son of Man. He had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand” (Revelation 14:14). “A white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man” is evidently the Lord Jesus Christ.

10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up,


Christ ascended gradually in order to bolster the faith, and delight the eyes and minds of His disciples. The spectators who observed our Lord's ascension were thrilled by the wonder and spectacle of the experience. As He slowly disappeared into the sky, surrounded by a cloud (of Shekinah glory?), they continued “looking up stedfastly to heaven,” longer, perhaps, than would be expected for even this remarkable occasion, but why did they do it?
1. Perhaps they hoped that Christ would immediately come back to them to restore the kingdom to Israel, and they could not believe they would not see Him again in this life. They still greatly desired to have his bodily presence with them though He told them that it was expedient for them that he should go away. Or, they watch the place where He disappeared, because they thought he might be dropped to earth, like the sons of the prophets thought concerning Elijah (See 2 Kings 2:16); and if it happened they would have Him with them again.
2. Perhaps they expected to see some change occur in the heavens since Christ had gone from them; that either the sun should be ashamed or the moon confounded—“Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign...” (Isaiah 24:23; KJV), and they are being out-shone by His luster; or, perhaps,  they thought that the sun would show some sign of joy and triumph; or perhaps they hoped to get a glimpse of the glory of the invisible heavens, when they opened to receive him. Christ had told them that hereafter they should see heaven opened—“And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1.51; RSV)—and why shouldn’t they expect it now? This is a promise Jesus made to Nathanael, that because of his faith, he would see greater things than these. Jesus described these greater things by referring to the Old Testament story concerning Jacob’s ladder (Gen 28). Christ Himself was to be the Ladder between God and man since He was the Son of God (John 1:49) and the Son of man (John 1:51).


Why did Jesus ascend this way, or rather, why did He ascend at all? He certainly could have simply “vanished” and went to the Father’s presence in a secret sort of way. But by the ascension, Jesus wanted His followers to know that He was gone for good, because, He appeared and reappeared during the forty days after the resurrection. Remember Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 16:7 : It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. Now the disciples could know that that promise would be fulfilled.

behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
Two angels appeared to them in human form, like they did when He was resurrected—“And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments” (Luke 24:4; KJV)—and they brought them a timely message from God. There was a world of angels ready to greet our Redeemer, now that he made His public entry into the Jerusalem above. We may assume these two were sent to the disciples to show how much Christ was concerned for His church on earth. They appeared as two men in (bright and glittering) white apparel, to serve Christ by ministering to his servants on earth. Their white garments were a symbol of rare and exceptional dignity. God meant for their appearance to distinguish them from the common people, so that the disciples would listen to them.

11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Which also said,
Since Christ's resurrection had been honored with the appearance of angels, it is natural to expect that his ascension into heaven would receive a similar honor. The angels spoke of our Lord's coming to judge the world at the last day, a description of which he himself had given in his life-time: “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels” (Matthew 16:27).

Ye men of Galilee,
The angels said to them “Ye men of Galilee, etc.” I do not believe the angels used this phrase in an offensive and uncomplimentary way, as if they meant to berate the apostles for their dullness. In my opinion, it was intended to make them more attentive; that men, whom they had never seen before, knew about them. And it also served to curb their curiosity: “You men of Galilee, why stand you gazing up into heaven?” He calls them “men of Galilee,” to bring to their memory the rock out of which they were hewn. Christ had given them a great honor by making them his ambassadors but they must remember that they are men, earthen vessels, and men of Galilee, illiterate men, looked upon with contempt.

why stand ye gazing up into heaven?
But if they were being criticized for looking at the heavens, it was without a cause, since the Scriptures often tell us to do so. Besides, where else should they seek for Christ than in heaven; the place where they just watched Him go? The angels did not have a problem with them gazing at the heavens; but they did not condone their desire to see Christ, when the cloud which was put between them and him keep them from seeing him with their bodily senses.  Secondly, they disapproved of their desire for Him to return immediately to them, when Christ desired to remain in heaven until the time he would come to judge the world. Perhaps the lesson we may learn from this is that we must not seek Christ either in heaven or upon the earth, except by faith. We may be like the disciples in this respect, we often are astonished by the wonder and splendor of His works, but we seldom think about why He does something.

Now, this is what they said, "Why stand you here, like Galileans, rude and unsophisticated men, gazing up into heaven? What do you expect to see? You have seen all that you were called together to see, so why do you look for more? Why stand you gazing, like men who are frightened and bewildered, like men who are amazed and at their wits' end?" Christ's disciples should never simply stand and gaze, because they have a sure rule to go by (the Gospel), and a sure foundation to build upon (Christ).

this same Jesus,
Their Master had often told them about this, and the angels are sent at this time to bring it to their remembrance, "This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, and whom you are looking for in the heavens, wishing you had him with you again, is not gone forever because God has selected the time in which He will come in like manner, as you have seen him go, and you must not expect him back until that chosen day." "This same Jesus will come again, clothed with a glorious body, this same Jesus, who came once to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, will appear a second time without sin—“For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb 9:26-28; KJV). He came the first time in disgrace to be judged; He will come again in glory to judge. The same Jesus who has given you your commission will come again to call you to account for how you have performed your duty, he, and not another"—“Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another…” (Job 19:27; KJV).

which is taken up from you into heaven,
Christ was taken up into heaven; therefore it was foolishly for them to desire to have him with them upon the earth. The next phrase concerns his second coming, and is added for a consolation.

When they said that Christ is taken up into heaven, they may have wanted us contemplate the great distance of the place. I concede that this word heaven is interpreted various ways; sometimes it is used for the air, sometimes for the whole universe of heavenly spheres, sometimes for the glorious kingdom of God, where the majesty of God is present in power and glory. In Ephesians, Paul places Christ above all heavens—“And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church” (Eph 1:22; KJV)—because he is above all the world, and has the most important room in that place of blessed immortality, because he is more excellent than all the angels—“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:15; KJV). It is evident that the heaven where Christ was received is separate from the world of men; therefore it follows by necessity, that if He is in heaven, He is outside (beyond) the world.

The angels’ intent was to recall the apostles from desiring the bodily presence of Christ, because He will not come again until he comes to judge the world. Christ must abide in heaven until that time; therefore, desiring his presence before then is condemned as absurd and perverse.

shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven
Jesus will return just like He left: physically, visibly, in a cloud, by his own power, with a similar majesty, accompanied by angels, and with the same soul and body, and to the Mount of Olives. He will come on the last day to judge the world, but no one knows the time or the date, except our Almighty God. His eminent return should lead every man to continue in the faithful discharge of his appropriate duties, so that when the Savior appears he may be ready to meet with Him, and he can lift up his head with joy, knowing that his eternal redemption has come. Consider these heavenly verses:
• Matt 26:64 (KJV) “Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” “Coming in the clouds of heaven” means you shall see the sign from heaven which you have so often demanded; the Messiah returning and He is the sign, with great glory, to destroy your cities, and to judge the world.
•  1 Thess 4.16; (RSV) “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Here is a description of the Rapture (not the Second Coming). He will descend from heaven “with a shout.” That is the voice of command. It is the same voice which He used when He stood at the tomb of Lazarus and said, “Lazarus, come forth” (see John 11:43). “The voice of the archangel:” Notice that this is not an angel, but the voice of one. It is Christ’s voice that will be like the voice of an archangel. It is the quality of His voice, the majesty and the authority of it. “The trump of God.” is not a trumpet; rather it is His voice that will be like a trumpet. Can we be sure of this? In Revelation 1:10, John, who was exiled to the Isle of Patmos, wrote, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” He turned to see who it was, and he saw the glorified Christ. It is the voice of the glorified Christ that is like the sound of a trumpet. That ought to get rid of all this foolishness about Gabriel blowing his horn or blowing a trumpet. I don’t think Gabriel even owns a trumpet, but if he has one, he won’t need to blow it. The Lord Jesus is not going to need the help of Gabriel.

As I have said before, this phrase is our consolation for all the sorrow which we might envision, because of Christ’s absence; it is completely taken away when we hear that He shall return again. Therefore, while we look forward to Christ’s Coming we must control the unrelenting desires of our flesh, and be patient in all our adversities; and, last but not least, must let thoughts of His return refresh our weariness. But He will give comfort only to the faithful, which believe that Christ is their Redeemer. As for the wicked, it will bring them nothing but dread, horror, and great fearfulness. And regardless of how much they may scoff’ and jest when as they hear of his coming, they will be compelled to behold him sitting upon His throne, and hear Him say, “I never knew you.”

 

 

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