Acts

1:1-11

The Early Church in Jerusalem, 1:1-5:42

i] The Ascension

Synopsis

After a prologue which summarizes the forty days following the resurrection of Jesus, Luke narrates the ascension of Jesus before moving on to the events in the upper room prior to the day of Pentecost.

 
Teaching

As with the incarnation, so also with the ascension, Luke introduces us to a theologically significant mystery. Christ must begin his reign in glory, for only then can the Spirit be poured out on God's elect people to enable them to communicate the gospel to the ends of the earth.

 
Issues

i] Context:

Gospel outreach to the end of the earth: The book of Acts is Luke's account of the unfolding realization of Christ's charge to his disciples - "You will be my witnesses in both Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth", 1:8. The future tense probably serves as an imperative, an imperative backed up with divine assistance, namely the empowering of the Holy Spirit for mission. Note Peterson's, "you will be able to be my witnesses."

 

Gospel outreach in Jerusalem and Samaria, chapters 1-5: Luke's acts of Jesus is followed up with his acts of the apostles, or more properly, some of the apostles. From chapter 1 through to chapter 5, Luke deals with the birth of the Christian church. Of course, "church" doesn't mean organization / institution, but rather assembly, an assembly of believers. Luke makes it very clear in chapters 1-5 that these gatherings of believers begin in Jerusalem with the gathering of a community of believing Jews, Jews who follow in the way of the risen Christ. Luke's story tells of the spread of the way from Jerusalem, chapters 1-5, into Judea and Samaria where the gospel touches God-fearers, chapters 6-12, and then outward from Antioch with the gospel now reaching Gentiles, chapters 13-15. It is as Gentiles become members of the way that Luke focuses on the ministry of Paul. The next expansion is into Greece, chapters 15-20 and then finally Rome where Luke focuses on Paul's arrest and his appeal to Caesar, chapters 21-28. So, the sect of the way has its foundation in Jerusalem; its roots are firmly fixed in the historic people of Israel, such that it is the "hope of Israel", 28:20. Yet, as Luke unfolds the history of the way he will relate how it extends to Gentile unbelievers and how this creates a divisive tension between Jerusalem and Rome / Law and grace.

Chapter 1 covers the period from Jesus' crucifixion leading up to the Day of Pentecost, which feast was held 50 days from the first Sabbath after the Passover. Chapter 2 recounts the fulfillment of Israel's hope in the outpouring of the promised Spirit of God and the emergence of God's renewed community / church. In chapter 3 we witness the continuation of Christ's messianic signs to Israel, but also the continuation of Israel's unbelief. The life of the Jerusalem church is further detailed as we move into chapter 5, with the chapter ending on the theme of Israel's unbelief.

 

ii] Structure: This passage, The ascension of Christ, presents with the following scenes:

A review of the concluding events of the "first book", v1-3;

"He appeared to them over forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."

The promise of the Spirit, v4-5;

"wait for the gift my Father promised .... you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

The commission, v6-8;

"you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem ...... and to the ends of the earth."

The ascension, v9-11.

"Jesus .... will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

 

iii] Interpretation:

Luke begins his story about the Way by tying it to his first book. Through the victory of the cross Jesus has fulfilled the long awaited covenant promises, and in so doing has realized the kingdom of God. This reality is evident in the resurrection of Christ, confirmed over a period of forty days during which time Jesus further instructs his disciples about the kingdom, v1-3. The fact that the kingdom is a now reality will be confirmed to the disciples in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and to this end, Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem for the Fathers promised gift, v4-5. It is the Spirit who will equip the disciples for the mission Jesus now sets them, namely to be his "witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth", or probably better, the center of the world, Rome. "The church's primary task is to represent God faithfully, including witnessing to God's work in Jesus through the Holy Spirit", Bock.

The disciples evidence a continued lack of understanding when they align the kingdom of God with the kingdom of Israel, v6. They have yet to understand that Jesus' kingdom "is not of this world." Dunn rightly poses the problem we are presented with in Jesus' non-answer to their question, v7, and his "correction (v8) of the false perspective, or misleading emphasis articulated in v6." A false perspective is probably what we are dealing with. The disciples dream of the day when the nation of Israel will be reestablished as it was in the days of Solomon. They dream of themselves as the chief executives in the new kingdom, cf. Mk.10:35ff. Yet, the future state of the nation Israel is not their worry. It remains in the sovereign will of God, cf. Mk.13:32. Jesus is non committal over Israel's future; he knows only too well that things are about to be put right; Israel will soon be judged. As for the timing of that coming day, it is not for the disciples to know. Their focus must be on a spiritual kingdom "not of this world". What the disciples need to be concerned about is the task Jesus has set them. The special task given the apostles by Christ is to proclaim the gospel, the message of God's sovereign grace in Christ. Christ's kingdom is realized when this message is proclaimed, heard, and acted on in repentance. They must proclaim this message from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. To carry on this work, the work Christ himself was engaged in, they will be "anointed" as Christ was anointed. They will receive an empowering of the Holy Spirit to enable them to carry out the work of witness-bearing, v8.

The narrative moves naturally into the ascension of Jesus. In fact, v1-11 serve as the final chapter of Luke's first book, while at the same time serving to tie his first book to the second. Although we love the image of Jesus rising upward, the "lifted up" is likely indicating destination rather than describing a visible "lifted up." The ancients viewed heaven as above so obviously for Luke Jesus must be "lifted / taken up." The scene is more likely describing Jesus being enveloped in a cloud and "hid from their sight." The obvious distress of the disciples is countered by a word from "two men" dressed in "white robes" (no mention of wings!). Their comment to the disciples carries a touch of rebuke. There is no point standing around star-gazing, Jesus has ascended to the Father and now sits at his right hand, reigning in power and might. What they can be sure of is he "will come" in like manner to his "going". "The ascension of Jesus thus fulfills a double role in Luke's narrative: it both brings the epoch of Jesus' own ministry on earth to a close, and it points forward to the equivalent closure of the interim period of the church's witness in the return of Jesus", Dunn.

 

Jesus' eleusetai, "will come", in like manner to his poreusmenon, "going", v11. Jesus leaves in cloud and glory and will come in like manner.- in the same resurrection body, in the cloud of the Shekhinah-glory. New Testament commentators are divided on what "coming", the angels are referring to. Is this Jesus' coming as the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost, or is this his coming to earth in the last day, or is this his coming with his saints to the Ancient of Days? See eleusetai, "will come", v11 below. What is clear from the ascension is that Jesus has "ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things", Eph.4:10.

 

iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 1:6

The ascension of Jesus, v1-11. iii] The commission, v6-8: The disciples may dream of the restoration of the state of Israel, but such is well outside God's purposes. In fact, the political state of Israel will soon be annihilated. What the disciples need to focus on is the mission Christ has set them, namely, to communicate the gospel message to the ends of the earth. For this task they will "receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on" them.

oiJ men oun "so / then" - .... indeed then. This construction is repeated a number of times throughout Acts for the purpose "of opening a new section of the narrative, (while) connecting it with the preceding section", Bruce. It is unclear, though, how the article oiJ is intended to function. It may serve as a nominalizer with the following participle, "so then / moving on with our story, those who had gathered together asked him ..", or it may stand with men oun leavening the participle to function adverbally, "so then / moving on with our story, when they had come together, they asked him .."

oiJ .... sunelqonteV (sunercomai) aor. part. "when they met together / then they gathered around him" - the ones having come together, gathered together. As noted above, the participle may serve as a substantive, "those who were gathered together", or function adverbially, forming a temporal clause, as NIV, so Barrett, "when they had gathered together"; "once, when they were all together", Barclay.

hrwtwn (arwtaw) imperf. "they asked" - they were asking, questioning. The imperfect is used for a question since the action of asking continues until the question is answered.

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant.

kurie (oV) "Lord" - lord, master, sir. Probably here just a respectful title.

ei "-" - if. Here used instead of oJti to introduce a direct question, although when serving as an interrogativeei is more regularly used for an indirect question.

en + dat"at [this time]" - in [this time]. Here adverbial, temporal, serving to pinpoint the time, although the particular word for "time" here often means "a period of time." So, rather than "during this age", the sense is probably "at this point of time."

apokaqistaneiV (apokaqistanw) pres. "are you .... going to restore" - are you restoring, returning. The word is often used in a technical way in Jewish theology of God's restoration of all things in the last day. In that day God sets things right. So, it is "restore" in the sense of "set right." The disciples question then is "at this point of time are you going to set right the state of affairs now prevailing in the kingdom of Israel?"

tw/ Israhl dat. - "[the kingdom] to Israel" - The dative of interest, advantage. It is very likely that the disciples have in mind a political restoration of the state of Israel.

 
v7

uJmwn pro. gen. "for you" - of you. The genitive is adjectival, probably possessive; "the times, or dates, are not your concern."

gnwnai (ginwskw) aor. inf. "to know" - Epexegetic infinitive explaining the content of what "is not yours", namely, to know the times or dates. Of course, it could also be treated as the subject of the main verb, here the verb to-be; "to know the times or dates is not for you to know." It is not for the disciples to know the time-frame for God's setting things right. Jesus doesn't address their limited understanding of the kingdom. They look for the restoration of Israel, but God will set things right by judging the kingdom of Israel in the destruction of Jerusalem.

cronouV h kairouV "times or dates" - The distinction between these two times is hard to draw, possibly an interval of time, duration, as compared to a point of time, punctiliar. So, "the ages" and "the periods by which these ages may be marked", Milligan. Probably a bit overdefined, so, "you don't need to know the times of these events", CEV.

eqeto (tiqhmi) "has set" - has set, put, placed / appointed, made. The sense "placed" under the authority of the Father seems best; "the Father has reserved for his own decision", Barrett.

en + dat. "by [his own authority]" - Here probably instrumental, "by", as NIV, although local, expressing the sphere of divine authority may well be the intention; "within his own authority", Culy.

 
v8

This verse is often viewed as establishing the theme of Acts.

alla "but" - This strong adversative stands within a counterpoint construction; "not ......, but ....". The disciples are ouc, "not", to be concerned about issues like the restoration of Israel, and the dates and times "the Father has set by his own authority", alla, "but", they are to be concerned with the communication of the gospel, of giving testimony (martureV, "witness") in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth, for which task they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

dunamin (iV ewV) "power" - power, strength, authority. Possibly "authority", but more likely divine strength to complete a divine task, here being "witnesses." The Holy Spirit is the facilitator of this power.

epelqontoV (epercomai) aor. part. "when [the Holy Spirit] comes" - having come upon. The genitive participle with its genitive subject, "the Holy Spirit", forms a genitive absolute construction best treated as temporal, as NIV.

ef + acc. "on [you]" - upon, on, at, to. Nothing specific is intended with the use of this preposition other than to express the truth that they will be "clothed with heavenly power", Bruce.

mou pro. gen. "my [witnesses]" - Probably a possessive genitive, as NIV, but possibly an objective genitive, "you will be witnesses for me."

martureV (uV uroV) "witness" - a person who bears witness of events which they know about, although not necessarily having experienced them personally. Only the disciples can testify to the historicity and meaning of Jesus' life, death, resurrection and ascension, and it is their testimony upon which we base our own.

te .... kai .... kai .... kai "and ......" - both [in Jerusalem] and [in all Judea] and [Samaria] and [until end of the earth]. Coordinate construction, "both ..... and ...."

en + dat. "in [all Judea]" - Expressing space/sphere. Not found in some manuscripts.

eJwV "to" - until / up to. Either spacial, or temporal; "Until at last it reaches Rome", Bruce.

escatou neu. adj. "the end" - last. The sense of "last" may imply Rome rather than the extremities of the known world. Obviously not masculine, "the last man." Luke's eschatology might have motivated the choice of this word. All things come to an end at Rome. None-the-less, today we would say something like, "and everywhere in the world", CEV.

 
v9

iv] The ascension, v9-11: After speaking with his disciples, a cloud envelops Jesus and he disappears from their sight. This cloud is a reminder of the transfiguration and represents the Shekhinah-glory - the sign of God's presence. In the Church Year, the day of Ascension is celebrated 40 days after Easter. On this day the Christian church celebrates Christ's entry into glory and the taking up of his heavenly reign at the right hand of the Father. The disciples naturally look upward for Jesus, seeing he was going heavenward. When the cloud clears, two angelic messengers stand before them. Being "dressed in white" and "in dazzling apparel", is the usual fashion statement for angelic visitors, Lk.24:4. The angels, following their prime directive, convey a message to the disciples: Jesus now leaves in cloud and glory and his coming will be in like manner. So, the apostles hurry back to Jerusalem to wait for the promised anointing.

eipwn (eidon) aor. part. "after he said [this]" - having said [these things]. The participle is adverbial, probably forming a temporal clause as NIV, while the tense expresses punctiliar action; Jesus has finished speaking.

ephrqh (epairw) aor. pas. "he was taken up" - Possibly a divine passive, where the passive implies that God is the agent of the action. The verb may be descriptive of a literal "lifted up", or may just be indicating the destination of Jesus; he is being taken to heaven. The Superman style up, up, and away is unlikely. It is more likely that at the conclusion of Jesus' words he is surrounded by the Shechinah-glory, which then drifts from the disciples sight as Jesus is taken from them.

blepontwn (blepw) gen. pres. part. "before their very eyes" - looking they. Genitive absolute participle usually translated as an independent temporal clause; "on saying this he was lifted up while they looked on", Moffatt.

nefelh "cloud" - the image of a cloud serves to illustrate the presence of the divine. It images the Shechinah-glory, at times manifested in Solomon's temple.

upelaben (upolambanw) aor. "hid" - took up, lifted up / replied / supposed. Often taken to mean "received", as NIV, although that is not the sense of this compound verb. Movement needs to be conveyed, so "took him from their sight", NJB.

 
v10

wJV "-" - as, while. Temporal conjunction serving to introduce a temporal clause; it was "while" they were gazing at the sky.

atenizonteV hsan "they were looking intently" - gazed. Periphrastic imperfect; present participle + the imperfect verb to-be. Possibly serving to emphasize durative aspect: a continued gazing with fixed eyes. "While they were still gazing up into the sky", Barclay.

poreuomenou autou "as he was going" - going he. Genitive absolute, best expressed as a temporal clause, as NIV; "as he went away", Barclay.

kai idou "when suddenly" - and behold. Expressing an immediate unexpected action, "but just then", Moffatt.

en esqhsesi (hs htoV ... esqhti) "dressed in white" - in clothing [white]. The identification of the clothing serves to cue us to their supernatural origin, ie. they are angels.

 
v11

eJsthkate (iJsthmi) perf. "[why] do you stand" - [why] have you stood. Standing around and gazing into heaven is not the way to fulfill Christ's mission.

embleponteV (emblepw) pres. part. "looking [into the sky]" - gazing [into the heaven]. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their standing.

oJ analhmfqeiV (analambanw) aor. pas. part. "who has been taken" - the one having been received into, taken up into, brought along with, carried away, carried off. The participle may be taken to form adjectival clause limiting "Jesus", or forming a substantival clause standing in apposition to "Jesus". Again, if upward movement is being expressed, it is only in relation to the intended destination, heaven above the sky. Jesus' actual movement is most likely not witnessed by the disciples since he was enveloped in a cloud/mist. None-the-less, an upward ascent makes for a spectacular stained glass window!

af (apo) + gen. "from [you]" - Expressing separation; "away from."

ouJtwV adv. "" - thus, in this way [will come]. Comparative.

eleusetai (ercomai) fut. "will come back" - will come, go. The verb does not necessarily mean "come back"; better, "he will come." As already noted, it is unclear what coming is in mind. The parousia, from Ezekiel's perspective, is a coming "into heaven" with the "angels / messengers" (saints?) of Jesus. Yet, at the same time, this coming entails a coming in judgment upon the earth. The running on of human history within the moment of Jesus' ascension and enthronement is beyond our understanding. It is possible to understand something this moment of divine grace, which we experience between Christ's going and coming, when we realize that only the created order is limited by time. Jesus left his disciples enveloped in the Shechinah-glory while appearing in like manner before the Ancient of Days. This we will see because we will be there to see it as his resurrected saints. Somehow all flesh sees it, saw it, will see it, and weep! The generation which has grown up with Dr. Who is well able to understand such a rubbery notion of time. Those locked into a linear view of time will find it hard to grasp. What is time?

o}n tropon "in the same way" - in the like manner that. Adverbial phrase; "in the same way as you saw him go in heaven", ESV.

 

Acts Introduction

Exposition

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