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The Ascension

9 He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

The Ascension was in the vicinity of Bethany (Luke 24:50) on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12), a short distance east of Jerusalem. This is the only account in the New Testament of what the apostles actually saw when Jesus ascended.

Jesus being taken up and hidden from their sight made it clear that the apostles must not expect him to establish a political kingdom with visible glory. It brought home to them that they must wait for the promised Spirit to empower them for their mission task. It signaled that Jesus would no longer appear and disappear as he had been doing during the 40 days since his resurrection.

The apostles did not see the resurrection, but they saw Jesus alive afterward. They did see the Ascension, but from now on Jesus would be hidden from their sight.

The sudden appearance of the “two men,” the description of their clothing, and the fact that they had a message from God made it clear that they were angels. The description is similar to that in Luke 24:4, where the angels appear to Peter and John at Jesus’ empty tomb. Angels are spirits, but at times they assumed human form to communicate with people.

The apostles kept straining to see Jesus after the cloud hid him from their sight. The angels’ question reminded them that they had a mission to carry out and that they must not spend their lives gazing at the sky. Jesus will be returning, and there is work to do before that.

The angels’ words are also an answer to the disciples’ question about the kingdom (verse 6). The disciples would be workers in God’s kingdom of grace, bringing his gracious rule into people’s lives. The perfect fulfillment of that kingdom will occur when Jesus returns visibly.

The heaven to which Jesus ascended is not the realm of astronomers, the sky with its stars and planets. It is not a place where he is confined or to which he has retired. It is the state of glory in which he who shares our humanity enjoys all the power and glory that he had with the Father from eternity. God “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:20-23). He fills the whole universe (Ephesians 4:10).

Our Savior did not retire when he ascended to heaven. He has not deserted us. He is involved and he is in charge. The apostles’ acts and the church’s work in every generation are his doing. This work is not only done for him; it is done by him.

He will return from heaven visibly, say the angels.

Look, he is coming with the clouds,

and every eye will see him,

even those who pierced him;

and all the peoples of the earth will

mourn because of him.

So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

The-Peoples-Bible-ActsFrom The People's Bible: Acts, by Richard D. Balge ©1988 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Main article image credit: Adina Voicu, Pixabay (used under Creative Commons CC0)