Acts 1:9

Monday, 4 October 2021

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Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Acts 1:9

With His instruction and commission to His apostles stated in the previous words, Luke next says, “Now when He had spoken these things.” Luke makes a point of repeating that Jesus had spoken the words of the previous verses –

1:4 – remain in Jerusalem and wait for the Promise of the Father
1:5 – you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit
1:6 – questioned by the apostles concerning the restoration of the kingdom to Israel
1:7 – it is not for you to know the times and the seasons reserved by the Father
1:8 – you shall receive power and you shall be witnesses to Me

The Holy Spirit (the Promise of the Father) would be given. Despite this, with the giving of the Spirit, we do not have a direct connection to all of the infinite knowledge of God. Certain things are withheld at the Father’s prerogative. However, the Holy Spirit will endow the Lord’s people with everything needed to accomplish His purposes, with the main point being to witness to the Person of Jesus Christ.

While focusing on these details of primary importance (even if the Lord spoke with them for an hour about a hundred other subjects), Luke next says, “while they watched.”

In his gospel, Luke notes the following at this time –

“And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.” Luke 24:50-53

The Lord spoke to the apostles (and any others who may have accompanied them), He blessed them, and then “while they watched, He was taken up.” It is of note that none of the apostles “watched” as Jesus was resurrected. The fact that He appeared to them was sufficient evidence that the resurrection had occurred. The four gospels then relay the events surrounding that event in various ways, each highlighting certain aspects of it.

It is also of note that only Luke especially highlights the timing and events surrounding this ascension. Mark’s gospel simply refers to it as if it were commonly known –

“So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.” Mark 16:19, 20

After the ascension, it was and written about by the apostles at various times and in various ways. A couple of them are –

“This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” Acts 2:32, 33

“God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16

The fact that the ascension is simply referred to as an actual occurrence, without any notable highlight apart from Luke’s words, adds a level of credibility that would otherwise not exist. The event happened, it was documented, and then it is taken as an axiom that it occurred.

The taking up of Christ is of the highest importance. Charles Ellicott gives his thoughts on possibilities that may have arisen if Christ did not ascend –

“We may add that there was something like a moral necessity, assuming the Resurrection as a fact, for such a conclusion to our Lord’s work on earth. Two other alternatives may, perhaps, be just imagined as possible: He might, like Lazarus, have lived out His restored life to its appointed term, and then died the common death of all men; but in that case where would have been the victory over death, and the witness that He was the Son of Man? He might have lived on an endless life on earth; but in this case, being such as He was, conflict, persecution, and suffering would have come again and again at every stage, and in each instance a miracle would have been needed to save the suffering from passing on to death, or many deaths must have been followed by many resurrections.”

Ellicott’s thoughts are well stated and what Peter says to Israel in Acts 3 explains Ellicott’s final point quite well –

“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Acts 3:19-21

The redemptive narrative must take its course. There is no need to endlessly speculate on what it would be like if Christ remained, although there is no harm in doing so. God saw the ascension as an integral part of what is necessary for His plans to come about, and so Christ was taken up.

In this, sin is allowed to run its course. Faith, rather than sight, is an essential part of the reception of the gospel. The kingdom promised to Israel is not denied them, but it is withheld until they (as a nation) receive Jesus as their Messiah. And so on. But importantly, Christ gave a personal reason for His going away –

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. 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.” John 16:7

In order for one thing to occur, another must take place. What is promised to come upon the believers cannot happen until Christ ascends. Hence, the ascension of the Lord to the Right hand of God is a fundamental part of the workings of the Triune God. While the Holy Spirit is accomplishing His role at this time, Christ is in heaven performing His many roles before the Father – mediation, advocacy, and so on. With these things considered, the verse finishes with, “and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”

The symbolism goes back to the Old Testament where the Lord is repeatedly said to dwell in a cloud, or even to be taken up in a cloud –

“Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.” Exodus 40:34-38

“The Lord reigns;
Let the earth rejoice;
Let the multitude of isles be glad!
Clouds and darkness surround Him;
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” Psalm 97:1, 2

The ascension of Christ was bodily, and it was visible. At some point, He was taken into the clouds, and He was no longer seen by those who beheld this. But it was another confirmation to them that Jesus is, in fact, the Lord (Yehovah) incarnate. As Paul said to Timothy (see above), He was “Received up in glory.”

Life application: The Lord’s words to the apostles before He was taken up were His final instructions of what was to be known and also accomplished by them. The same instructions applied to Paul as they applied to those who stood watching. And from there, the same message is now carried on by those who have their testimony. There is one Lord and one gospel that is to be carried to the world. There is one church in which this is to occur, despite the countless denominations that divide that church.

The content of Acts, the epistles that are set forth after Acts, and the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation confirm this. The Lord ascended and during the time until He returns, we have a commission to perform. Let us be about the Lord’s business, conveying this message that cannot be believed unless it is first conveyed –

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10:14, 15

Heavenly Father, thank You for the surety we possess in Christ. We have the written testimony of who He is and what He did. The eyewitnesses who recorded those things provide us with the certainty we need to live by faith and not by sight. But, Lord, when our faith is challenged, help us through such times. Help us in our weakness and be with us as we wait for the glory to come. Amen.