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God’s Word for You

Acts 1:6-9 a cloud removed him from their sight

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, August 9, 2019

6 So then, when they met together with him, they asked, “Lord, is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.

The Jews of Jesus’ time hoped that the Christ would somehow end the rule of the Romans and return Israel to the kind of kingdom that they had once known under David and Solomon. Some of these hopes were military. Perhaps the disciples thought there might be another way, a way through preaching and teaching, or a way through a single miracle and discourse, or the kind of brilliant theological answer to a challenge that they had seen Jesus accomplish countless times—something that would make the Roman governor declare, “This Jesus is right, and we’ve been in the wrong all this while. I shall march all of our soldiers back to Rome, overthrow Caesar, and let the Jews live in peace under their Messiah on his throne.”

Jesus knew that they still didn’t really understand. They needed a boost, a “wow” moment, and that’s what the coming of the Holy Spirit was going to do for them. So he responds: “It is not for you to know the times (chronous, χρόνους) or seasons (kairous, καιροὺς) that the Father has set.” A chronos is a period of time, often modified in some way, such as the “long time” in Hebrews 4:7 or the “brief moment” of Isaiah 54:7 (LXX). A kairos is sometimes translated “season,” but in the sense of just the right time, when the time is right: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Jesus may also be alluding to the use of these words together in Daniel 2:21, “He changes times and seasons, and sets up kings and deposes them.”

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Rather than worry about what they didn’t know, they were to focus on what they knew with certainty: The gospel of Jesus Christ. Go and preach that, Jesus says. Be my witnesses. What I have proclaimed to you, now you will proclaim. This verse presents the marching orders for his disciples and the outline for the book of Acts. They were going to preach the gospel as his witnesses in three locations, circles or spheres of concentration, for the rest of their generation:

  1. In Jerusalem
  2. In all Judea and Samaria
  3. And to the ends of the earth

In Acts, the gospel is preached in Jerusalem in the beginning chapters (Acts 1:1-8:1). This begins with the ministry of Peter and John, and concludes with Stephen’s trial before the Sanhedrin. In the final moment of this section, Paul is introduced by his former name, Saul (Acts 8:1).

The next part of the book shows the gospel preached in Judea (the “Judah” of the Old Testament) and Samaria, the region just to the north, between Judea and Galilee (Acts 8:2-9:43). Here we see Philip taking the message into Samaria and other places in three brief mission journeys (including to a traveler from Africa), Peter taking the gospel to the coast of Israel, and Paul (still called Saul) converted to faith on the road to Damascus.

The final part of the book (Acts 10:1-28:31) begins in Caesarea with Peter being given a vision about the conclusion of the ceremonial law, and continues with Paul’s missionary work based in Antioch, traveling to Asia Minor and then into Europe, to Greece and to Rome.

9 After he said these things, he was taken up while they watched, and a cloud removed him from their sight.

In simple, clear words, Luke describes the ascension of Jesus. His personal labor in the world was at an end. His disciples were instructed, they were awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, and it was time to return to the Father. Lifting up off the ground, he rose up. A cloud was involved; a phenomenon that was frequently part of the appearances of God the Father in the Old Testament and sometimes in the New. Recall the pillar of cloud that accompanied Israel in the desert, the whirlwind that appeared when Elijah was taken into heaven, and the cloud that surrounded Peter and three of his disciples when he was transfigured.

The Holy Spirit wants us to notice that Jesus rose into heaven while the disciples watched. Why? Couldn’t he simply have disappeared, as he did with the Emmaus disciples and others? Yes. But consider the other two men who were taken up into heaven in their physical bodies. Enoch’s ascension (or assumption) is described this way: “Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away” (Hebrews 11:5). Then when Elijah was taken away, there was a witness: Elisha. But they were separated by chariots of fire and horses as well, and his body was carried up in a whirlwind or tornado. Still, a search was made for his body that lasted three days (2 Kings 2:17). There seems to have been mistrust or disbelief about a man being taken into heaven, and this is seen in Elisha’s rebuke: “Didn’t I tell you not to go?” (2 Kings 2:18). Perhaps it is significant that at three crucial theological moments in the world’s history, the ascension to heaven was displayed physically for mankind: First, just after the death of Adam, when the consequences of sin were fulfilled for all to see, Enoch was taken up (as if God proclaimed: There is an answer to death; there is life in the world to come). Then, when God’s people were split into two kingdoms and the rule of the ten tribes had been torn away from Solomon’s descendants (1 Kings 11:29-32), God showed all his people that the promise of heaven and eternal life was still there; a physical life, given to those with faith like the faith Elijah preached both north and south. And now, of course, Jesus was taken up, the firstfruits of our resurrection and the Lord God himself who will bring us all finally home to heaven when we are raised on the last day.

Now, Jesus was shown to ascend with a motion that was clearly up into a cloud. There is nothing said about him traveling beyond the cloud, but only that the cloud “removed him” (ὑπέλαβεν) from their sight. Jesus had two goals, if we can use that word, with the ascension. The first goal was heaven, the Paradise of the redeemed. This is what he was talking about when he spoke with the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus had of course been there with the thief already in spirit when the two of them died on Calvary, but now he was ascending there physically as we shall one day. Paul said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23), and this was another reference to being in heaven with Jesus.

We need to acknowledge the other goal of the ascension. This was the heavenly majesty, the seat at the right hand of the Father. Mark 16:19: “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” Also 1 Peter 3:22: “[Jesus Christ] who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” He is not “locally” in heaven only, however. “He who ascended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (Ephesians 4:10). Since Jesus fills all things and continues to have the divine attribute of omnipresence, he is not confined, as it were, in a location in heaven, but carries out his promises: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), and of course: “Take it [the bread]; this is my body” (Mark 14:22), and of the cup: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). He is able to be with us always, even in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, because he ascended and fills all things.

He raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above every rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every title that can be mentioned not only in this age but in the one that is coming. He also put all things under his feet and gave him as the head of all things to the church, which is his body—the fullness of him who fills all things in all ways. (Ephesians 1:20-23)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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