Having already refuted the common futurist interpretation of in “just the same way” (hos tropos), and having therefore demonstrated what Acts 1:9-11 does not teach, we will now begin to explore what Acts 1:9-11 actually does teach. The fact is, if we truly desire to understand the message of the “two men clothed in white”, we must look beyond the ascension account as recorded in the book of Acts. A major problem with the futurist interpretations of Acts 1, is that they fail to take into consideration other parallel and interpretive texts. I suggest, that since the disciples were told that Jesus was to return “in just the same way” that they had seen him go (a true statement, just not according to futuristic definitions), then we need to understand “in what way” Jesus ascended, if we are to understand in what way he would return.
As we argued in part 1 of this study, the emphasis of the ascension of Jesus was not his physical body (although he did ascend bodily). Rather, as we will currently demonstrate, the emphasis of the ascension in Acts 1 was specifically on the covenantal and “Jewish” elements of the text, and comparative texts. Let’s begin by reading verse 9 and 11 of Acts 1, to identify the first of these elements.
And after he had said these things, he was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received him out of their sight…. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
Were you able to detect the emphasis in the text? Notice that a “cloud” received Jesus out of their sight. Also notice that he was taken up into heaven. In other words, the emphasis of the text is not on the body of Jesus, but on the “clouds of heaven”.
What this means is that, since Jesus ascended (was lifted up) into heaven in a “cloud”, he would return from heaven in a cloud… as they had seen him go, he would come in “just the same way”. Now, before we jump to any carnal conclusions as to what kind of cloud this might have been (cumulus, cirrus, stratus etc.), we need to think Old Testament, we need to think Sinai, we need to think temple, we really need to think, “the presence” of Jehovah returning to Israel.
Below are just a few the Old Testament texts concerning this “heavenly cloud” which will help us to understand how a group of first century Jews would have understood seeing their Messiah enter heaven on a cloud.
The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord…. and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people…. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.
The glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud…. Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
For first century Jews familiar with Torah and the prophets, the “cloud” represented the presence of Jehovah. And, in the context of the ascension and the Kingdom in Acts 1, it would have signified the arrival of Messiah into the presence of Jehovah in Zion. This is precisely the connection that Peter makes.
For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.
The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”. The Lord will stretch forth your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
Jesus had been taken up into heaven to be enthroned as King on Mount Zion. The “cloud” represented his entrance into the presence of his Father, to initiate and mediate the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:11-14) which he had made not long before with the house of Israel (Luke 22:13-20). This was the significance of the “cloud” at the ascension, and the cloud was the emphasis of the ascension itself.
However, in the minds of those first century disciples, the sight of “the cloud” would have naturally invoked the thoroughly Jewish concept of “glory”; specifically, the glory of Jehovah. And as we shall see, Luke himself made this very connection in his gospel account of the ascension.
While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
This text in Luke 24 is obviously a direct the parallel to the ascension account given by the same author in Acts 1; except here, it doesn’t specifically mention the “cloud”. However, to the Jewish ear that could hear, the concept of “the cloud” was powerfully present in the context….
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?…
Jesus, clearly speaking of his ascension which would take place momentarily, refers to that event as his “entering into glory”. By connecting these two verses in Luke 24, we see that Jesus, at his ascension was “carried up into glory”. The apostle Paul, commenting on the ascension echoes these very words….
1 Timothy 3:16
By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
By combining 1 Timothy 3:16 (a reference to the ascension) with Luke 24:25-51 (the parallel text of Acts 1:1-11), we can see the emphasis placed on “glory” at the ascension of Jesus. And, when we combine the emphasis of both “glory” and “the cloud” in the text, we have a beautiful – and thoroughly Messianic – picture, and prophecy.
“The ascension of Jesus was his returning to his Father in the Shekinah-glory-cloud, to receive and initiate his rightful rule and reign over the house of Israel”.
One last point that we will make concerning the “glory cloud” and its significance and symbolism, notice….
He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus, Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
1 Kings 7:51, 8:10-11
Thus, all the work that King Solomon performed in the house of the Lord was finished. And Solomon brought in the things dedicated by his father David, the silver and the gold and the utensils, and he put them in the treasuries of the house of the Lord…. 8:10 It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
In the Old Testament, when the glory-cloud filled the tabernacle/temple, it signified Jehovah’s acceptance of that “house” as his dwelling place, and, that his presence had arrived to dwell among his people.
The emphasis of the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1:9-11 was not his physical body, but rather, it was the Shekinah-glory-cloud in which he was received into heaven, symbolizing his arrival into the presence of Jehovah to initiate his heavenly Kingdom. This was “how” the disciples had seen Jesus go into heaven. And, since they were told, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven”, Jesus must therefore return in the glory-cloud of heaven, in the presence of his Father.
As we conclude, ask yourself this question: Did Jesus or the New Testament writers ever prophecy his return (second coming) on the “clouds of heaven”, in power and “glory”. The answer is obvious. However, before we deal with His “coming in just the same way”, we must first further identify how they watched him go. In the next part of this study we will demonstrate one more covenant-element that was present at the ascension, which will allow us to properly understand the second coming of the Lord as prophesied in Acts 1:9-11.
Continued in Part 3