Studies in the Book of Acts
The Church Begins in Jerusalem
Promise of the Holy Spirit (1:1-5)
Luke begins this part of his history by reminding readers of his previous book, the Gospel of Luke, and the situation he had described at the end of that book. Jesus suffered and died and was raised from the dead. He appeared to the disciples and gave them a dramatic new understanding of the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27, 45). The Old Testament had not only predicted the Messiah and his suffering, but it also predicted that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (verse 47).
How would this prophecy be fulfilled? Jesus reminded the disciples that they had seen the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies (verse 48) — and in this Jesus implied that the disciples would be involved in fulfilling the biblical prediction about preaching.
How could the disciples preach to all nations? The Gospel of Luke does not tell us. But it tells us that Jesus told the disciples to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (verse 49). What is this power, and what is it for? This is where Acts picks up the story. Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom of God and told them to wait in Jerusalem for a special gift from God (Acts 1:4). “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (verse 5). Luke, the inspired story-teller, is setting the stage for the dramatic events that will soon be narrated.
Jesus ascends to heaven (1:6-11)
The disciples had much to learn! Although Jesus had taught them about God’s kingdom, their final question to Jesus was about the kingdom — but they asked from a Jewish perspective, leaving the Gentiles out of the picture (verse 6). The disciples’ choice of words indicates that they had forgotten about preaching forgiveness to all nations. Instead, they wanted the Messiah to bring glory and power to the Jewish people living in the land of Israel. This had been the Jewish hope for centuries. But the Jewish nation was not yet ready for the leader God had chosen. They rejected him and killed him, and, as Acts shows, most Jews continued to reject him even after his resurrection.
Moreover, a national kingdom was not the kind of kingdom that Jesus wanted his disciples to preach about. So Jesus did not answer their question. Instead, Jesus reminded them of the promise and the prophecy (verse 8), and told them to wait. He states it clearly: The power from God is the Holy Spirit, and the disciples, who were witnesses of Jesus’ ministry, were to carry the message throughout the world.
Jesus had given them a mission, just as he had done twice before (Luke 9:1; 10:1). They were to be a witness for Jesus — to preach about him, his resurrection, and the fact that repentance and forgiveness can be obtained through him.
But the gospel could not go to all the world while Jesus was physically on earth. As long as he remained, he would be the primary preacher and he would be a geographical focus. Jesus wanted to delegate more responsibility to the disciples. He wanted to enable them to be the teachers. He wanted not just for God to be with them, but in them. After God began to live in the disciples, they would be able to go into all the world with the knowledge that God would always be with them, helping them understand the Scriptures and the mission, helping them through physical difficulties, energizing them in their work.
And, to the astonishment of the disciples, Jesus ascended into heaven. Two angels appeared and informed the disciples that Jesus would return. The angels did not say when he would return. The disciples were simply left with the command to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit.
Christ’s answer focuses our thoughts on other people. Instead of dwelling on the physical things we want, we should focus on the spiritual blessings we have already been given, and we should share them with others. We who have been given the Holy Spirit should share the good news of salvation — that people of all nations can become part of the people of God through faith, repentance, forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. We do not need to worry about when Christ will return. We simply need to be doing the mission he has given his people in the meantime.The disciples’ question and Jesus’ answer continue to be relevant today. Many Christians want physical blessings from God’s kingdom. They eagerly pray for Christ to return in their lifetime so he will solve their problems. However, the spiritual blessings that Christ will bring are much more important than the physical blessings. Despite that, it is easy for us physical beings to focus on our physical needs.
The Dedications of Luke and Acts (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2)
Luke began his book, which we call the “Acts of the Apostles” or simply “Acts,” by continuing his story where he ended it in the Gospel. Luke’s Gospel had described Jesus’ work in Galilee, Judea and especially Jerusalem. It ended, as did the other three Gospels, with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Acts continues the story. It describes the growth of the church and the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to important cities of the Roman Empire, and then Rome itself.
Luke was one of the few writers to explain why he wrote his works, and this helps us to know what his purposes were. Knowing his aims makes us better able to understand Acts. To perceive Luke’s aims and what he hoped to accomplish in Acts, we must go back to his dedication at the beginning of his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4). There Luke told us that during his research and gathering of material for Acts he personally and “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (verse 3).
Thus, he could “write an orderly account” of what he knew about the Christian movement. What Luke wrote was not made up out of his own imagination nor based on his personal opinion. Acts was based on information “handed down” to him from “those who from the first were eyewitnesses” (verse 2). This means we can have confidence that what Luke wrote in his Gospel and Acts was correct. However, he felt free to omit information that did not support his purpose.
Luke-Acts was written as a two-part work. This is implied in the first verse of Acts when Luke again addresses Theophilus and speaks of his “former book,” that is, his Gospel (1:1). Luke-Acts is dedicated to an individual, whom Luke calls “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). The phrase means “your excellency,” and could refer to a prominent official in government service. Luke uses the same Greek word to refer to the Roman governors Felix and Festus (23:26; 24:3; 26:25). However, the title was also used as a form of polite address, as a courtesy. It would be something like our “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam,” with which letters are sometimes opened.
Some commentators have also suggested that “Theophilus,” which means “Friend of God” or “Loved of God,” is a symbolic name, meant to represent a class of people, the church perhaps. In this view, Luke would be addressing his work to the “Honored Christian Reader.” More likely, however, Theophilus was a real person, with a name that others also had in ancient times.
It was not uncommon for writers to dedicate their books to distinguished persons. We have the example of the Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37-c.100), who dedicated his two-part work, Against Apion, to an individual named Epaphroditus. Josephus introduced his first volume by addressing him as: “Epaphroditus, most excellent of men” (1:1). [In citations from Josephus, the first number will refer to his book number and the second to the numbers used in the Greek text, which also appear in some English translations.] The second book of Against Apion begins with these words: “By means of the former volume, my most honored Epaphroditus, I have demonstrated our antiquity…” (2:1). Here we see opening words that are strikingly similar to Luke’s dedication.
It would help us to know some things about Theophilus in order to better grasp what Acts is about. We might want to know some of the following: What was the relationship of Theophilus to the church? Was Theophilus new in the faith, or was he interested in becoming a Christian? Did Theophilus live in Rome or in some other city?
Luke’s dedication to his Gospel implies that Theophilus may have been interested in discipleship, or was already a Christian. There, Luke told Theophilus that he wrote Luke-Acts for him, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). F.F. Bruce painted the following fairly reasonable portrait of Theophilus:
It is quite probable that Theophilus was a representative member of the intelligent middle-class public at Rome whom Luke wished to win over to a less prejudiced and more favorable opinion of Christianity than that which was current among them….Theophilus had already learned something about the rise and progress of Christianity, and Luke’s aim was to put him in possession of more accurate information than he already had. [F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Rev. ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 29.]
We would like to know who Theophilus was and the specific questions in his mind. This would help us better understand Luke’s purposes for writing, and how we are to understand the book. We can infer some things about Theophilus, as the above shows, but unfortunately only in a general way. Judging by the content of Acts, Luke wrote to give Theophilus a reliable account of the beginning and growth of Christianity around the Empire. That’s why he chose to describe only limited aspects of the gospel’s progress and the Christian movement’s growth.
However, Luke probably had a much wider readership in view than just Theophilus. The fact that both the Gospel and Acts have survived indicates that the two volumes were copied, widely distributed in the churches, and publicly read. Luke’s approach of writing to a single individual but having a broad reading audience in view was common during the times. We saw that Josephus, for example, wrote his work Against Apion to one individual. Yet, clearly he expected that his defense of the Jewish religion would be widely circulated. Luke must have also expected that his two-volume work would be used to instruct Christians throughout the Roman Empire about the growth of the church.
What was Luke trying to get across to his readers in Acts? At the beginning of Acts, Luke tells us that the purpose of his first book was to write “about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven” (1:1-2). While not explicitly stated, Luke’s purpose in Acts seems to be to show the continuing work of Jesus, carried out by the power of the Holy Spirit through the church. In short, Luke is saying that Jesus is alive, and his life and work proceed in the church — and in greater power.
In the words of David Williams, “Luke’s thesis is this: Jesus remains active, though the manner of his working has changed. Now, no longer in the flesh, he continues ‘to do and to teach’ through his ‘body’ the church….This is the story of Acts.” [David J. Williams, Acts, New International Bible Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1990), 19.] Luke’s general purpose would have been to confirm what Theophilus knew about this continuing work, and to instruct him in an organized manner about the details he did not know. The objective would have been to confirm the faith of Theophilus in the work of Christ.
But what was Luke’s specific purpose? Commentators have put forth many proposals. Almost certainly, Luke had more than one purpose in writing. Thus it would not be wise to lock onto one aim, and claim that this was the purpose. By a careful study of the contents of Luke-Acts, we can fix fairly well what information Luke wanted to convey to his readers. This will become clear as we make our way through the book. For the moment, we can briefly look at some broad strokes Luke painted for us in Acts:
- He described the spread of the gospel message in certain areas of the Roman Empire.
- Luke paid particular attention to explaining how the ministry of Paul related to that of Peter and the church at Jerusalem.
- He also dealt with the relationship of the Christian church and its mission to the work of Jesus.
- At the same time, Luke discussed the connection between Judaism and the church, as well as the church’s relations with the government of Rome.
By the time Luke wrote (conservative estimates vary between a.d. 62 and 85) the apostles Peter and Paul had been martyred by the Roman government. Christians may have been accused of being bad citizens, whose beliefs worked against the best interests of the state. Perhaps they were even accused of being enemies of the Empire. We know that Christians were often accused of anti-government behavior by the Jews, most of whom had rejected the gospel.
When Luke wrote, Christians were being spoken against as both government subversives and perverters of the Jewish religion. Questions may have arisen in people’s minds about whether Christianity was a legitimate religion or a dangerous sect. A recent convert or one interested in becoming a disciple — such as Theophilus — would have been challenged by such questions. He needed to know the truth about such accusations, to have the record set straight. In fact, all recent converts (or interested parties) may have wondered why Christians were so despised.
Luke’s work would have helped Christians answer these questions for themselves — and to have answers for “outsiders” as well. Acts may have even served the church as an apologetic document that set the record straight about the major accusations it faced.
Preparation for the Gospel (Acts 1:3-26)
Jesus lives (1:3)
In Acts, Luke emphasizes the living Christ. He is the one who guides the growth of the church and directs the spread of the gospel across the Roman Empire. The resurrection was the hope of Israel, something that Peter and Paul stressed in their sermons to the Jews. (And, of course, it is also the hope of the church.) For these reasons, the resurrection of Jesus, and his exaltation, take center stage in Acts.
Jesus gave “many convincing proofs” that he was alive — he appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days (1:3). (This occurred within the seven weeks between Passover, when Jesus was crucified, and Pentecost, when the Spirit came with power.) The number 40 recalls the 40 days during which Moses received instruction on Mount Sinai. But here it is Jesus who gives the instructions, this time from the Mount of Olives (1:12).
Moses had been given the first covenant for ancient Israel to have. Now, the apostles are given the program for the renewal of Israel — to preach the gospel of salvation to the world and to teach disciples. Both aims are to be accomplished through the Holy Spirit.
During the 40 days of appearances, the apostles saw a Jesus who was alive, but who had been dead. They were left with an unshakable faith in Jesus as one who could deliver the goods of salvation, so to speak. He was their Savior, and the Savior of the world. Of this they were fully and irrevocably convinced.
Luke does not ignore the meaning of Jesus’ death, but he does not stress it in the way Paul does in his letters. Luke was more interested in showing that the work of the church was empowered by the living Christ through the Holy Spirit. Its missionary work was not a human-directed movement. It was based on a divine commission, and divinely empowered.
The kingdom of God (1:3)
During the 40 days during which Jesus appeared to the disciples, he “spoke about the kingdom of God.” We know from the Gospels that this was the substance of his message throughout his ministry. [Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; John 3:5.] During his appearances to his disciples, he clarified the meaning of the kingdom in the light of his ministry of salvation. The kingdom message now had a different thrust, a different emphasis. The witnesses preached Jesus as the resurrected and living Savior (2:24, 31-33). He was the representative of God’s kingdom doing a “kingdom work” through his church.
The apostles and evangelists continued to preach the revitalized theme of the kingdom. [See Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31.] It was a convenient way to summarize, particularly to Jews, that all the promises to the patriarchs had been fulfilled. The kingdom of God had come with power in the person of the resurrected Son of God (Romans 1:1-4). It came not to save the Jews from the heel of the Roman Empire, but to save them from a far worse oppression: sin and death.
In Acts, Luke also stressed that Jesus’ rule (hence, his kingdom) was coming in the life of the church — and in the preaching of the gospel. When Jesus preached those messages described in the Gospel of Luke, he was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God. The book of Acts is simply an extension of Jesus’ work. It details the spreading of the good news by the witnesses.
Wait for the promised gift (1:4-5)
The first task of the disciples is to “wait for the gift my Father promised” (1:4). The apostles are not to leave Jerusalem. They are not to preach anything, nor undertake any missionary program for the moment. They are to wait for the Holy Spirit to begin the work. This command in Acts is repeated by Luke from his Gospel (24:49). This underscores the importance of the Holy Spirit to the success of the New Testament gospel mission. Luke is telling us the Spirit is essential to the advance of the good news.
As we proceed through the book of Acts, we will notice that the Holy Spirit plays an important role in every advance of the gospel. Luke’s point is that the success of the Christian mission is not due to the efforts of charismatic men and women. The gospel will be proclaimed and the church will develop because God willed it, Jesus Christ directed it and the Holy Spirit carried it out. It is a Trinitarian mission.
Throughout Luke’s narrative, the Holy Spirit is the impelling force behind the mission program of the church. The agenda for disseminating the message of salvation — from Jerusalem to Rome — is orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. So important is the Spirit in the life of the church, that Luke’s work has sometimes been called the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” William Barclay wrote:
The Holy Spirit was the source of all guidance. The Spirit moves Philip to make contact with the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:29); prepares Peter for the coming of the emissaries of Cornelius (Acts 10:19); orders Peter to go without hesitation with these emissaries (Acts 11:12); orders the setting apart of Paul and Barnabas for the momentous step of taking the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2,4); guides the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28); guides Paul past Asia, Mysia and Bithynia, down into Troas and thence to Europe (Acts 16:6); tells Paul what awaits him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). [William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles, revised edition, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 19.]
Five circumstances are described in Acts during which a dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believers occurs. [Acts 2:1-4; 4:28-31; 8:15-17; 10:44; 19:6.] In fact, the first 13 chapters of Acts contain more that 40 references to the Holy Spirit. In the entire book, the Holy Spirit is mentioned over 60 times. The leaders of the church are people of the Spirit (6:3; 7:55; 11:24). The Spirit helps and guides the entire church on a daily basis (1:8; 4:31; 13:9).
Here in the first chapter, the Spirit is mentioned four times (verses 2, 5, 8, 16). The point is clear. The story Luke is about to tell regarding the church and its mission is under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. The message is that the same Holy Spirit who came upon Jesus at his baptism also empowers the church so it can continue Jesus’ work on earth.
The book is about the continuing work of Jesus Christ through his church, through the Holy Spirit. Luke’s Gospel tells us about “all that Jesus began to do and teach”; this implies that Acts is about the continuing work of Jesus (1:1). After all, it is the risen Jesus who instructs the disciples to wait for the Spirit.
Jesus does not disappear from the pages of Acts — his name appears 86 times in Luke and 68 times in Acts. In large portions of Acts, the Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all, or only in passing. It is the Lord Jesus (not the Spirit) who stood near Paul to tell him he would testify in Rome (23:11). Jesus also appeared to Paul in Corinth, to assure him that he should not be afraid but keep on speaking (18:9). Sometimes angels delivered messages to the missionaries or instructions were mediated by prophets. [Acts 5:19; 8:26; 27:23; 11:28; 20:11.]
In Luke’s theology, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are easily interchangeable. In one place, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Jesus (16:7).
Restore the kingdom now? (1:6)
The apostles still thought that Jesus was soon “going to restore the kingdom to Israel” (1:6). They seemed to be viewing the kingdom of God as a restored national Israel. This idea of Israel as the people of God was deeply imbedded in the Hebrew Scriptures. They spoke, for example, of a people God had chosen “out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
There was a Jewish expectation that when Israel was restored to national glory, the Holy Spirit would again become active (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19). After all, the prophets of old had promised that in the last days the fortunes of Israel would be restored and God would pour out his Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28-3:1). In Acts 2, Peter quotes Joel’s prophecy and says it is being fulfilled at the time (2:16-17).
The disciples thought that Jesus would restore the glory of Israel. They “had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They had left everything to follow Jesus, thinking he would give them positions of great authority in that kingdom (Mark 10:35-37; Luke 22:24-30). Naturally, they were profoundly shocked and discouraged when Jesus was executed, but they had then been energized by his resurrection. Now, in his post-resurrection appearances he was speaking of the disciples being baptized with the Holy Spirit of power (1:5, 8). Since this was a sign of the new age, it must have awakened in them the hope that the messianic age had come.
We can see something of the disciples’ sense of agitated excitement in the way they ask Jesus about the restoration of Israel. They don’t ask whether this restoration will occur. Rather, they wonder, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6).
Not for you to know (1:7)
Jesus gave the disciples an indefinite answer to the question. He told them it wasn’t for them to know “the times or dates” of any restoration in a national or political sense (1:7). That had been his teaching earlier when the disciples asked about the sign of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). He stated that no one could know when this would happen. Neither the angels nor Jesus knew the answer to the question! (verse 36, with Mark 13:32).
Interestingly, Luke did not include Jesus’ answer to the “when” question in his Gospel accounts (17:22-37 or 21:5-36). Rather, he held off describing what was apparently Jesus’ teaching until this place in Acts. Jesus’ reply to the “when” question underscores a great lesson for all Christians. We should not be concerned about when “the end” might come, for there is no way for us to know. We cannot search the Scriptures to find the answer because God is keeping that knowledge to himself.
On the other hand, Jesus was not denying that some day there would be a restoration of Israel. In fact, the entire world is to be renewed. But God’s purpose for Israel and the world in a political sense is not our concern. The apostles and evangelists were simply to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Whether the news was accepted was not their concern.
There is probably a reason why Luke discussed the question of the Messiah’s return. By the time he wrote Acts, it must have been clear that the most of the Jews were not responding to the gospel message. (Neither was the Gentile world to any spectacular degree.) The Jews were the chief and continuing opponents of the Christians. The government of Rome had also become the enemy of the church. Terrible tragedies had struck the Jews, perhaps including the destruction of Jerusalem. But “the end” had not come. The church may have been wondering when it would occur. Was it upon the world now?
Luke was saying to the church: Don’t concern yourself with the “when” of it, but continue to live your Christian lives and do the work of God. The church should not speculate about prophecies — we should simply preach the power of the risen Christ to bring salvation to the world.
You are my witnesses (1:8)
The disciples’ task was to witness to Jesus from Jerusalem “to the ends of the earth” (1:8). This mandate to witness is another theme of Acts. [Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 7:58; 10:39, 41; 13:31; 22:15, 22; 26:16.] It becomes the programmatic statement for the book as a whole.
The concept of “witness” is so prominent in Acts (the word in its various forms appears some thirty-nine times) that everything else in the book should probably be seen as subsumed under it. [Richard N. Longenecker, “Acts,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9 (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 256.]
Luke announced this theme (“you will be my witnesses”) at the beginning of Acts as a mandate of the risen Jesus. By doing this, he revealed this to be his main interest in writing the book. Luke tied this programmatic prophecy to his statement in Luke 24:48: “You are witnesses of these things” to all nations. “These things” refers to the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus (verse 47).
To the ends of the earth (1:8)
The message of salvation offered through Christ to all people was to be declared first in Jerusalem. Then it would go throughout Judea and then to Samaria, which was a “near-Jewish” state. Finally, the witness would go throughout the Roman world. F.F. Bruce says,
The geographical terms of verse 8 provide a sort of “Index of Contents” for Acts,…. “In Jerusalem” covers the first seven chapters, “in all Judaea and Samaria” covers 8:1 to 11:18, and the remainder of the book traces the progress of the gospel outside the frontiers of the Holy Land until at last it reaches Rome. [Bruce, 37.]
The expression “to the ends of the earth” needs some clarification (1:8). First, when Jesus gave the apostles this mandate, they probably took it to mean they should witness to the Jews of the Diaspora, scattered throughout the Roman Empire. It’s clear from Acts that it did not occur to them to preach directly to the Gentiles. Not until later, and with some difficulty, did they understand the full extent of Jesus’ international program of salvation.
Second, there is no indication that the apostles preached the word in China, or West Africa, or in the New World. Their work, so far as we know, seems to have been generally limited to the Roman Empire, and perhaps areas adjacent to it (such as Mesopotamia). Then, in what sense did they witness “to the ends of the earth”? It has been suggested that the phrase refers to the city of Rome. That is where Luke ends his book, so there may be something to the idea.
In the Psalms of Solomon, a writing possibly composed by devout Jews in the first century b.c., the expression refers to Rome. [Ps. Sol. 8:15.] The circumstance described there was the Roman general Pompey attacking the disobedient people of Jerusalem “from the end of the earth,” that is from Rome. To an ancient Jew, Rome seemed to be at the ends of the earth. But to a Greek-speaking person, after a hundred years of being governed by Rome, it would not seem so far away.
The expression “ends of the earth” can also mean “everywhere.” The Greek rhetorician Dio Chrysostom (c. a.d. 40-c.112) was told to go “to the uttermost parts of the earth.” [Dio Chrysostom, Oration 13:9.] In context, this refers to all places. The phrase “the ends of the earth” occurs in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, in Isaiah 49:6. Paul quoted this verse to demonstrate that his mission was to carry the message of “salvation to the ends of the earth” (13:46-47).
In whatever way the term is defined, it’s clear that Jesus’ mandate had universal scope. The gospel was to be spread far and wide. This is something the band of missionaries learned about only in stages.
Jesus’ ascension (1:9)
After giving his mandate to the apostles to be his witnesses, Jesus ascended from the earth and disappeared into a cloud. The sight of Jesus being enveloped in the cloud is reminiscent of the Shekinah of God. This was the symbol of the glorious divine presence among God’s people in the Old Testament, particularly in the tabernacle. [Exodus 13:21; 16:10; 24:16; 25:8; 40:34-38.]
Luke here gives the fullest New Testament account of Jesus’ ascension. It is mentioned briefly in only two other places (Mark 16:19 [Mark 16:19 is believed by most textual experts to be a later addition. It is not included in the oldest manuscripts.] ; Luke 24:51). Of course, the factof the ascension is implied throughout the New Testament. Christ is frequently described as being at the right hand of God. [Acts 2:33; 3:21; John 6:62; Ephesians 4:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Peter 3:23; Hebrews 4:14; 9:24; Revelation 5:6.]
The point is that the witnesses and the church knew that Jesus had been exalted as Savior and ruler over the affairs of humanity. He was also the guide of the apostles’ missionary program (Ephesians 1:19-22; Philippians 2:9-10).
The activity of preaching rested not on a dead man but on the living presence of an exalted Savior. In short, writes Richard Longenecker, “Luke insists that Christian mission must be based on the ascended and living Lord who directs his church from heaven and who will return to consummate what he has begun.” [Longenecker, 258.]
While Jesus was lifted up and the disciples observed this as a fact, we must remember that God and Christ are not “up there” somewhere. God is “everywhere.” The idea of heaven as the place of God’s abode “above” the earth is a metaphor to describe his transcendent reality. Christ ascending in a cloud showed the disciples that he was being exalted to be in the presence of God in glory.
Jesus to return with clouds (1:10-11)
The disciples were astonished at the sight of Jesus’ rising — “looking intently up into the sky” (1:10). Suddenly, two angelic figures appeared in human form. (See Luke 24:4 for a comparable appearance of angels.) They chided the disciples for standing there, gaping at the sight of their rising Savior. (We no doubt would have been gaping as well!) They informed the disciples that Jesus would “come back in the same way” that they had seen him go up.
This is one of several scattered New Testament references to what is called the Parousia, after the Greek word that means the arrival or presence of someone. The word is used as a technical term for the coming of Christ in glory. Most commonly, the Parousia is known as the Second Coming of Christ at the end of this age. The circumstances of Jesus’ return are most completely described in Matthew’s Gospel (24:3-25:46). [See also Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:7-36; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.]