Acts 1: 1 – 11 Jesus taken up into heaven
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’
Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
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Acts, or “The Acts of the Apostles”, is written by the author of St Luke’s gospel, and forms a continuation of the narrative and theological teaching of it. Here is a link to the blog post I wrote at the beginning of my study of that gospel.
The eleven introductory verses of Acts pick up the threads of the gospel narrative, overlapping Luke 24: 50 – 53 which describes the ascension of Jesus into heaven.
The first thing that struck me was the phrase “all that Jesus began to do and to teach”. This seems to be saying that Jesus only began his work during his earthly life. My Greek is poor, so I can’t be sure whether this just reflects a grammatical construction or whether it’s significant. If it‘s significant, St Luke seems to be very firmly identifying the actions of the apostles as the direct continuation of those of Jesus.
That may mean we have to read carefully to avoid error, in case St Luke has presented fallible human thinking as having the same authority as the teaching of Jesus. There were, after all, conflicts of doctrine within the early church. I shall try to read carefully, but without stifling the voice of the Holy Spirit within me.
St Luke then says, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” When I looked at the resurrection narratives last week, I was surprised at the strength and coherence of the case they made for Jesus rising from the dead.
Acts 1: 5 records Jesus prophesying that the Apostles would receive the Holy Spirit within a few days. The Apostles were curious, and still – even at this piont – they seem to expect an earthly kingdom. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
As he did several times during his ministry, Jesus refuses to give them times and dates. However, he says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This is actually very clear and important teaching. If God has given us the privilege of doing something for him, we don’t need to know anything beyond that. The Holy Spirit will give us what we need to carry out the task. The apostles are told that they will witness for Jesus throughout the whole world – and, astonishingly given that they were just humble Galileans, they did exactly that!
Then this introduction closes with the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and the appearance of two men dressed in white, who say to the apostles “ ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”
This message from the men in white provides a narrative springboard for the rest of the text. Jesus is coming back. All the actions narrated in Acts, and all the urgency shown by the apostles, springs from the belief that Jesus will return.
MARANATHA – COME, LORD JESUS!
Thank you for the beautiful world in which we live. Help me to use my life here to do your will.
In Jesus’ name, Amen