This post is a follow up on the Second Coming post a few days ago. I asked the question what is the real meaning of “coming on the clouds”? Here I want to relate the saying to the real meaning of the ascension. It is my opinion that too much emphasis is placed on the physical movement of Christ as it is described here, as opposed to the significance of the picture as it is set up for us in the Old Testament.
Acts 1:1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach,
Theophilus is a Greek name which means God lover, or friend of God. It is used one other place in the Bible (the opening of the Gospel of Luke). The first account we believe to be the Gospel of Luke and the author of both Luke and Acts is Luke.
Acts 1:2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.
What Luke is writing for us is a continuation of the historical account he began in the gospel.
“To heaven” is added by the editors of the NASB (that is why it is italicized), the words do not appear the original Greek text. In fact the english translations do not really reflect the emphasis of the passage. The emphasis is on the commanding which took place in the midst of the taking up. Compare with Ephesians 4:8 where it says: “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN” which is a quotation of Psalm 68:18. Ascending in the context of the OT is a response to the victory of battle. A king would ascend the hill of the Lord in celebration of victory and literally throw spoils of war to the cheering crowd hailing him as king and celebrating the victory with him. So the picture is of this act of commanding happening as part of the ascending. It is part of the victory celebration. In fact evangelism is a proclamation of a victory won, not a victory to be won at some point in the future.
The orders that Jesus gave to his disciples would be here referring to the specific commands given in Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21-23; 1 Corinthians 15:6.
Notice the example of Jesus left for us in his submission and cooperation with the Holy Spirit. It sets the tone for the Acts of the Apostles and for the work of the church. Nothing is done without the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.
We are told by the historian of the eyewitnesses to the resurrection, see 1 Corinthians 15. Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples, again Luke wants to include the phrase “by many convincing proofs” to assure the reader that this was not some fly by night sighting, rather a substantive claim to the resurrection.
Jesus appears to the disciples over forty days. The ministry of Jesus is bracketed by events that occur over a forty day period: the temptation, the victory celebration. In these days he explains the nature of the kingdom to them Their full understanding was yet to be nurtured by the coming Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:4 Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me;
The promise is from the Father. Jesus is the messenger.
The promise is the coming of the Spirit. The disciples were not to get out in front of the Holy Spirit, but to wait.
Acts 1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a controversial topic, mostly because it is not viewed in the context of the Bible, but from the context of personal experience. The definition must be determined by the text. We have 7 passages that refer to the baptism (explicitly using the word “baptism”): Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13. We could include Acts 2:1-4 in the list even though it does not use the word “baptism” because Acts 11:16 refers to that event as being the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism consists of 4 elements: Baptizer; Baptizee; the element into which a person is baptized; a purpose for the baptism. So Christian baptism consists of a candidate for baptism, a person (typically the pastor) who performs the baptism; the element of water into which a person is immersed; and the purpose is the identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. So Baptism in the Holy Spirit has these four elements: the repentant sinner is the baptizee; the baptizer is Christ; the element is the Holy Spirit; and the purpose is new birth, entry into the body of Christ. In this passage there is a parallel in grammar between the phrases “with water” and “with the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an initiatory act wherein Christ inducts us into his body. It happens to all believers at the moment of regeneration. It is similar to filling, in fact, it is the first filling of the Holy Spirit. Subsequent fillings are not the baptism as that refers to the initial event.
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
Here is what Robertson says about the question of the disciples:
“as a matter of fact the Messianic kingdom for which they are asking is a political kingdom that would throw off the hated Roman yoke. It is a futuristic present and they are uneasy that Jesus may yet fail to fulfil their hopes. Surely here is proof that the eleven apostles needed the promise of the Father before they began to spread the message of the Risen Christ. They still yearn for a political kingdom for Israel even after faith and hope have come back. They need the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Joh 14-16) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Ac 1:4f.).”
They still misunderstood the implications of the teachings of Jesus, and so sought the physical kingdom of Israel.
Acts 1:7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;
Some things are none of our business.
Acts 1:8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Here is what disciples are to concern themselves with: to be the witnesses of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We see in the book of Acts the fulfillment of these things: the extension of the kingdom of Christ/God throughout the world by the power of the Holy Spirit through the disciples of Jesus.
Acts 1:9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
What does it mean that “a cloud received Him out of their sight”?
There are two facets to be considered here: the physical movement of Jesus; the spiritual and theological significance of the ascension.
That Jesus was physically transported heavenward, that is, into the clouds seems fairly obvious here. The disciples are described as looking up at the sky “while he was going” (v. 10). This is generally where the thinking about the ascension ends for the typical believer. The ascension for most is simply the movement from Jesus from earth to heaven where he is now enjoying glory. Yet the significance of the ascension is not in this physical movement. The physical movement of Jesus cannot be considered the main focus of the event.
The physical aspect of the ascension is more an anthropomorphism than substance. It is a theological statement communicated in a way that we could grasp. It is also surrounded and couched in theological promises and statements that are found in the Old Testament. In one sense it is also an answer to the question of kingdom raised by the disciples in verse 6. The theological significance has to do with the work of Jesus in warfare. If we view his life on earth as his battle, the ascension is his victory parade.
Maybe the most poignant passage of Scripture related to the ascension is Daniel 7:13 -14:
“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
14 “And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
Here the ascension of Jesus is described and in a very interesting twist of the way things usually work, the Old Testament enlightens us with regard to the New Testament. Daniel explains Acts. The ascension of Jesus is more than Jesus moving from heaven to earth. It is Jesus delivering the kingdom to the Father. It is the Father further affirming and validating the cross and redemption. This kingdom is a major theme of Daniel’s vision and prophecies. Look up Daniel 2:19-23, 44-45; 4:3, 34-35; 7:27.
Other passages that link the idea of riding clouds and establishing kingdoms are found in the following:
Psalm 97:1-6: The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; Let the many islands be glad. 2 Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. 3 Fire goes before Him And burns up His adversaries round about. 4 His lightnings lit up the world; The earth saw and trembled. 5 The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. 6 The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen His glory.
Isaiah 19:1: The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; The idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, And the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
Nahum 1:1-3: The oracle of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
2 A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies.
3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.
Psalm 104:1-3: Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
2 Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
3 He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind;
So the passages in the New Testament that link Christ with the clouds speak more to us about his power, majesty, rule and judgment than they do about his physical movement. When these images are used in Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 1:7 they also have both emphases: a physical and a theological. But since the theological emphasis is more important than the physical, there are instances where the expression of the kingdom of Christ is judgment, salvation, and conquest is part of Christ’s “cloudness.” So, as in Isaiah 19:1, where God comes to Egypt in judgment, he executes that judgment without a “physical” appearance. In fact the way God “came to Egypt” was by inciting Egyptians against Egyptians.
So when we are told here that Jesus will come in the same way as you have watched him go into heaven, is it more important to see Jesus come in a physical way, I mean surfing on the clouds or is the passage telling us that he will establish his kingdom, rule over his kingdom and bring judgment upon his opponents? It may not be an “either-or”, it could be a “both-and” but the theological significance is certainly the more important aspect of this coming on the clouds. As you think of the “coming” of Christ you need to add the element of king and kingdom into the mix, and you also need to stop thinking about the future only. Christ is now seated on the throne.
If you have read this far congratulations.
Think about this for a second. We make the same mistake that the disciples make in this context if we reduce the ascension to simple physical movement upward. It seems crazy to me that we still think the path to heaven is up into the sky and through the atmosphere, that Jesus went through the atmosphere on his way to heaven. It leads to people like (I don’t remember, one of those TV guys talking about the end times) saying that heaven has been discovered behind some black hole…seriously. The disciples asked Jesus if he was restoring the kingdom to Israel, when he had already told them his kingdom was not of this world. It is the same mistake literalists are making today, that heaven is a place somewhere in the solar system. It is like saying that Stephen didn’t have a vision, he was looking straight into heaven.
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