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 (Acts 1:11).

In the ascension He becomes invisible not by a process of spiritualization or translation into deity. What happens is an exchange of place. He was on earth and he went to heaven. He went up from a specific place, the Mount of Olives, less than a mile from Jerusalem in the direction of Bethany. Before he separated from his disciples he blessed them. In an attitude of blessing he leaves the earth and goes up to heaven. Thus he had come, thus he had lived, and thus he now returned. He is himself the content of all the blessings of God, the achiever, the possessor, and the distributor of them all (Eph. 1:3).

The great future belongs to Jesus Christ and to his Church. This is the ultimate meaning of New Testament apocalyptic. Our Lord is the Coming One. When or how he shall come we know not; generations may have to run their course first, and in the end the Advent may be far other than we anticipate. But of one thing we are assured by our Christian faith: beyond the furthest limits of human history there is an age of fuller knowledge, larger power, more splendid achievements, a more perfect life, than the existing order can attain to. No progress of scientific discovery, no changes of social conditions, no system of education or politics or ethical principles, can abolish Pain or Death or Sin; only the faith of Christ can promise that Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more; the first things are passed away … and there shall in no wise enteranything unclean.

The chief thing to which the angels called the attention of the disciples, and ours should be directed, is the certainty of his second coming; for this is an event, which, although an object of dreadful expectation to the unbelieving and impenitent, is fraught with hope and joy to those who love and obey the truth. The person who shall appear, will be “that same Jesus who was taken up into heaven,” clothed with the same nature, sustaining the same relations to us, animated with the same love, and carrying on the same gracious design.… Oh! how joyful the meeting, so long promised, so eagerly expected! It will be the day of the gladness of his heart, to behold around him those for whom he died upon the cross, and has ever since ministered in heaven: it will be a source of ineffable felicity to them, to see him whose glory was the subject of their contemplations in this world, to be taken under his immediate care, to be admitted to the most intimate fellowship with him, and to know that no event shall ever separate them again.

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Why Stand Gazing?

They need not stand gazing up skywards, said the two visitants. “This same Jesus” would indeed come back in the way in which he went—but the implication is that he would not appear again immediately. They had seen him go in cloud and glory; in cloud and glory he would return. But an interval was to elapse between his exaltation and parousia, and in that interval the possession of the Spirit was to be the pledge of the coming consummation of glory. Christ is ascended, but his abiding presence and energy fill the whole book of Acts, and the whole succeeding story of his people on earth.


There was something hard and chilling in the very form of address, “Ye men of Galilee”; not, “Ye satraps of the King of Kings,” nor “Ye captains in the mighty Victor’s host.” So then the glory had departed. They were humble fishermen and peasants still, simple inhabitants of a despised province, doomed to a life of vulgar toil and commonplace cares. A fit introduction this to the rebuke which follows, “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” “Face the stern realities of life at once. You have work to do, which will tax all your energies. There is this tremendous load of sin, under which mankind is sinking, and you are called to remove it; there is this dense cloud of ignorance, which shrouds the heavens from them, and you are charged to scatter it. There is a whole world to be conquered for Christ, and you must conquer it. What matter it to you when he will come—this very moment, tomorrow, next year, centuries hence? Cease to gaze up into heaven. Earth is the scene of your labors now; earth must be the center of your interests.”


According to the system of the Jews, there were three heavens;—the aerial heaven, which is the region of clouds and meteors; the starry heaven, in which the celestial luminaries are fixed; and the heaven of heavens, in which the throne of God is erected. Our Redeemer ascended above the two former, or the visible heavens, and entered into the latter, which is concealed from mortal eyes by an impenetrable veil. Where the highest heaven is seated we cannot tell; but, agreeably to an idea which seems to be natural because it is common, it is said to be above us; and hence his passage to it from this world is called an ascent. It is the place in which the glory of God, which is partially seen in his works, is fully revealed, angels and departed spirits of the just at present reside, and the redeemed, after the resurrection, will have their everlasting habitation.

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In Like Manner

This same Jesus shall come again in his own person, clothed with this glorious body; this same Jesus, who came once to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, will appear a second time without sin. He who came once in disgrace to be judged, will come again in glory to judge. This same Jesus, who has given you a charge, will come again to call you to give account, how you have performed your trust.


Our Lord ascended in human nature. The man Christ Jesus has left the earth, and entered into that invisible region of the universe where God sits on the throne of his majesty. To his followers, it is a source of high consolation to know, that he has not laid aside their nature, but retains it amidst his glory; because they can look up to him with confidence, in the full assurance of his sympathy, and see, in his exaltation, an earnest of their future glory.


Note the significant use of the name “Jesus,”—the name that speaks of his humanity, with all its tenderness and brotherhood. Note the triple recurrence of “heaven.” Note the emphasis laid on the parallel between the manner of departure and of return: “so,” “in like manner”; that is, in clouds (Rev. 1:7), corporeally, visibly. Note that they are not told that they shall see the return, as they have seen the ascension. The angels’ message was not to make them know the times and seasons, but to turn them from vain gazing into an empty heaven to strenuous work and to triumphant hope.


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