And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” — Acts 1: 10–11
Bible reading: Later He appeared to the Eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. — Mark 16: 14−19
Let us profess the ascension and return of Jesus.
For many Christians, Ascension Day no longer holds great significance. They do not understand why it is of any importance. As apostolic Christians, it should mean a lot to us because it also refers to a special element of our faith, namely the return of Jesus Christ to take home the bridal congregation.
The disciples as witnesses of the Ascension
According to the account in Acts, Jesus was “taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 9) after He had promised His Apostles the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 8). Jesus had ascended to His Father. Two men in white apparel explained what had just happened to the disciples: this Jesus, who had been taken away from them, would one day return just as He had ascended into heaven.
The disciples were therefore witnesses of Jesus’ ascension. They had accompanied Jesus on His path up to the very end, had fled at the crucifixion, and witnessed His activity as the Risen One. Now they witnessed Jesus Christ ascending to God. Instead of being sad about this parting, jubilation and joy over Jesus’ ascension to the Father is to prevail.
Ascension and return
It was on Ascension Day that the exaltation of Jesus Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection, occurred. As true Man, He now sits at the right hand of God, where He acts as our mediator (Acts 7: 56; 1 Timothy 2: 5). From there He will come again and take to Himself “the firstfruits of the dead and the living, who have hoped for and were prepared for His coming” (Ninth Article of Faith; 1 Thessalonians 4: 16–17). The Ascension and return of Jesus are thus interdependent events. Just as Jesus was taken up in a cloud, He will also return on the clouds. The cloud is a symbol of the presence of God. Belief in the ascension of Jesus Christ also means belief in His return!
Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?
The question of the angels alludes to the fact that the disciples were not meant to simply continue gazing into heaven, but rather get to work and fulfil the commission they had been given. They were given the commission to be witnesses of Jesus “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). They are thus to spread the gospel to all human beings, irrespective of their various origins or traditions.
Being a witness today
Let us also apply the question of the angels to ourselves. We are not supposed to merely stand there looking up into heaven and waiting inactively either! Rather let us profess this gospel to all people. Let us:
- Spread the gospel of Christ joyfully and thereby support the commission of Jesus to the Apostles.
- Profess the promise of His return.
- Show our neighbour the love of Christ and come to the aid of all in both prayer and in deed.
We see—as is already clear from the biblical record—that the ascension and return of Christ belong together!
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Ascension Day, 05 May 2016 at Midrand Congregation.
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