Jesus’ disciples, who were with Him during his last minutes on earth, questioned Jesus about the timing of His return. He, in effect, told them not to focus too much on the timing of His return but on their mission of sharing Christ with the whole world as they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8, he gave them the commission to spread the good news to the ends of the earth, and then He left them to it. Acts 1:9 inform us, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” The commission of Acts 1:8 was a repetition of the call to spread the word that he made several times while upon the earth, as recorded in the Gospels. Being His last words on earth, they have occupied a central place in the life of the Church He left behind. Verse 9 might be seen as an exclamation point on Jesus’ final words to the church. It was extremely dramatic.

They saw it with their eyes. To prove the reality of his resurrection, he had once had Thomas touch him. He wanted reliable evidence that Jesus was not just an apparition. He also sat and ate with them once to demonstrate that he had a body and was not just a phantom. Here, he actually ascends in a way that they can marvel at His glory. Gaertner says, “The words of Jesus had hardly been spoken before the apostles were witnessing the Lord’s being lifted toward heaven. The language indicates that the event occurred before their very eyes. Christ’s ascension was unlike his many resurrection appearances to the disciples in which he suddenly appeared and then just as suddenly disappeared (as he did on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:31). Neither is there any sign of external forces such as a whirlwind or heavenly wonder (as with Elijah in 2 Kgs 2:11). No earthly power assisted in this ascension. Rather, Jesus simply began lifting into heaven in a way that may be described as dignified or majestic.”[1]

He was “lifted up.” Gaertner observed that no visible means of power or other force took Jesus from the earth. It was in his own power. He did not need a jetpack or even a tremendously strong wind like the one that took Elijah and his chariot into heaven. The resurrection was miraculous, of course. The resurrection coupled with this visible phenomenon started the church, which has lasted all these years. It wasn’t Christ’s death on the cross. The disciples would have just gone back to their everyday lives if the story of Jesus ended with his death. Peter, James, and John appear to have gone back to fishing after Jesus’ death. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were back to the regular duties of their daily lives. When Jesus appeared to them, they turned around and went back and gathered with those who then began the church. The cloud that received him was not just an ordinary cloud. It was the Shekinah cloud, wherein God dwelt and led them out of Egypt. It settled over the Tabernacle, and it appeared again when Jesus appeared with Elijah and Moses at His transfiguration.

Paul speaks about his infirmities and his many weaknesses. They are thorns in his side or his cross to bear, and he rejoices in them. He tells the Philippians that he longs to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection. He expected to experience the resurrection from the dead himself. It is knowing that through our faith in the risen and ascended Jesus, we will experience His power. We can’t always rejoice in our circumstances, and at times it would be ludicrous to suggest that we do. But we can always rejoice “in the Lord.” Christ has set us above our circumstances with his promise of the resurrection from the dead and eternal life, where the pain and suffering of this life will be resolved once and for all. Luke wrote to Theophilus and,  through him, to us. When things go poorly for Theophilus and us when the world falls apart, things come loose, and when chaos threatens, it’s good to know what awaits us.

[1] Gaertner, Dennis. 1995. Acts. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press.