Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Promise

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 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 1:9-11  NKJV
How old were you when you first understood the importance of making a promise?  When I was young it was “cross your heart” but when my daughters were young it was “pinky swear”, which involved making a promise while locking little fingers with each other.  I never did get where that came from but it was cute and as a good father I did a lot of pinky swearing! 

I think it’s hard for us comprehend exactly what went through the minds of the disciples as they experienced the ups and downs of their relationship with Jesus.  Making the decision to leave all they knew and to follow Him was certainly a life-changing event.  As they followed Him during His ministry they slowly began to believe that He was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah.  Try to imagine what they thought when finally coming to that conclusion they had to watch Him be crucified on the cross; confusion, disappointment, disbelief? Then they experienced the greatest joy imaginable to see Him reappear as the resurrected Christ standing in their midst and explaining all that He had previously told them.

So I think it’s probably safe to say they had no idea that He was about to leave them again when He leads them on a walk to Bethany on the Mount of Olives and begins to teach them just as He had been doing for the past forty days.  I think that is probably a safe conclusion based on their question to Him that day.

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"   Acts 1:6  NKJV
My thought is that although at this time they probably had a good idea of the plan, the one thing they were not aware of was the timing!  So Jesus goes on to explain that there was one more thing that needed to be accomplished before the kingdom could come.

And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  Acts 1:7-8  NKJV
Then as they were probably trying to digest what He had just said, we are told He was lifted up out of their sight into Heaven!  When I read this account the part that touches me is in verse ten where it says that they “looked steadfastly toward heaven”. I just bet they did.  Do you really think they were expecting this?  I think it’s safe to say their thoughts were somewhere between “are you kidding me?” and “now what?”, not to mention a few of them thinking “come back!”.

Yet fortunately for them and for us there were two men there, most certainly angels, who gave us the promise that we are all waiting so patiently to see fulfilled.

This [same] Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."    (v.11)
So the promise is that Jesus will return in the same way that these disciples saw Him leave, and that is with clouds. The Greek word for cloud used in this passage is nephele, and is also used of the cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness.  This certainly leads us to consider that these were not ordinary clouds, but quote possibly the Shekinah glory or the radiant presence of God the Father which dwelt among His people both in leading them out of bondage, and also resting in the Holy of Holies in the temple.  The picture here then is of the Father reaching down and welcoming His Son back to His seat at the right hand of God.

The same word for cloud is used to refer to both future returns of Jesus, both at the rapture of the Church,
Then we who are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  1 Thessalonians 4:17  NKJV

and His Second Coming when He returns to the Mount of Olives at the conclusion of the tribulation.

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.   Revelation 1:7  NKJV
It is this promise which we so look forward to, waiting and watching for Jesus to return in the clouds to take us to be with Him forever, which motivates us to live “expectantly” knowing that this world is not our home.  I also think it important to notice what this promise motivated the disciples to do after they watched Jesus disappear.

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James [the son] of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas [the son] of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.  Acts 1:12-14  NKJV
I find myself using the word for “supplication” a lot lately, as it is defined as “entreating” towards God.  I wonder how many of us are entreating Jesus to return for His Church?  Is our hope in the glory of spending eternity with our God, or are we so caught up in this world and the temporary pleasures it provides that our thoughts are not on Jesus return?  My hope is that we all can take a lesson from the disciples and look to the heavens for the return of our Savior, and pray without ceasing that His coming for us will be soon.  He left this earth forty days after His resurrection, so how wonderful would it be if His return “in like manner” also meant on the same day He left?

Keep watching.