Acts 1:6-14

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 28, 2017.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he showed himself to be alive to the disciples and many of his other followers over the next forty days. Jesus continued to talk with them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) as his time of departure approached.  His final conversation with the remaining eleven disciples took place on a Thursday before he ascended from earth back to heaven.   The main theme of the conversation still centered around the kingdom of God.

The disciples thought if their king had risen from the brutal death he endured, then their ideas of the coming kingdom must be alive once more.  Perhaps now was the time Jesus would free them from the ongoing Roman oppression they had endured as Jews since 63 B.C.  Now would be a wonderful time to put their occupiers out of their sights and cleanse their promised land of Israel of all foreign rule and idolatry that had crept in over the past half millennia plus.  Thus, the final recorded question to Jesus from the disciples before his ascension is an important one that helps us understand their ongoing expectations.

“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

Jesus tells them such timing is not the main issue for them to concern themselves and instead redirects their question to a promise and a purpose for them.  The promise is that power is coming to them in the form of the Holy Spirit.  The purpose is for them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Luke groups his letter of Acts in this succession of chapters: Jerusalem (1-7), Judea and Samaria (8-12), the ends of the earth (13-28).

The theme of “witness” saturates Acts as the word “martures” in various forms is found thirty-nine times. We get our English word martyr from this Greek word for witness as the two became linked through the stories of persecution of the faithful ones who shed their blood as martyrs of the faith as they witnessed about their risen king named Jesus.

In biblical days, when a new king or emperor ascended to the throne, heralds of good news would cover the land near and far making sure all were aware through their witness that rule and order were in place.  This is the image the disciples likely would have had in mind as Jesus placed this mantel of responsibility on their lives of being his witnesses.  Because they were the ones who had firsthand knowledge and personal experience with Jesus from the time he called them to follow him up through this final conversation, they were more than qualified to be his witnesses. They could share the good news about this reigning king and his kingdom that was coming on earth as it is in heaven.  All they needed was the promised power of the Holy Spirit that soon would be upon them to infuse and detonate their purpose with explosive results.  The word for power in the Greek is dunamis from which we get our English word dynamite.

And with that promise and purpose passed on, the disciples watched as Jesus ascended from earth back to heaven in what is described as a cloud.  Only Luke records the ascension (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9), while other New Testament writers reference this pivotal moment that ended Jesus’ bodily time on earth (1 Peter 3:22; Ephesians 4:10; Colossians 3:1; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 9:24).  The cloud reference symbolizes the presence of God.  Other places in the Bible mention a cloud that is representative of the presence of God such as the Exodus out of Egypt and through the wilderness (Exodus 13:17-22) and in Daniel’s vision when the Son of Man is given dominion (Daniel 7:13-14).  The New Testament uses the imagery of a cloud to convey the presence of God at Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).  In this scene we see Jesus preparing for the very reason he descended from heaven to earth in the first place.  The work he came to do in Jerusalem on the cross now was complete.  It was time for his departure from earth back to heaven that included the mention of clouds once again.

Some scholars have connected Jesus’ departure among the cloud that took him out of their sight to the presence of accompanying angels.   Perhaps angels were returning with Jesus to the right hand of the Father where they resumed their worship of their creator and victorious king.  As Jesus returns to the place where angels would welcome and worship him, it is worth noticing the two angels left behind who help redirect the attention of the awe-filled disciples gazing into the sky at Jesus’ ascension.  Not only do two angels dressed in white call them back to their reality as witnesses of Jesus, but also they inform them Jesus will come back in the same way upon his future return one day (1:9-11).

The presence of angels is mentioned at pivotal points in Jesus’ incarnation beyond his ascension such as: the preparation and foretelling of his birth to Zachariah and Mary (Luke 1:5-45), his arrival announcement among the shepherds (2:8-15), the preparation for his public ministry (Matthew 4:1-11), a time of strengthening before the crucifixion during a night of prayer on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:43), and of course at the empty tomb (Luke 24:1-12).

Women witnessed the angels at the empty tomb.  Men witnessed angels at the ascension (1:10-11).  Unified women and men gather in the upper room in prayer as a family of witnesses prepare to receive the powerful promise of the Holy Spirit that their purpose might begin telling the good news near and far (1:12-14).  Witnesses with news of the king and his kingdom prepared to share with the whole world that God so loved and came to save.


Dr. David Rogers
Lead Pastor
Arapaho Road Baptist Church, Garland, TX



Tags: witness, ascension, angels, cloud


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