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Does Acts 1:11 Teach a Bodily Resurrection?

By Timothy King

To: Larry Hall, Sword of the Spirit Apologetics

Re: Does Acts 1:11 Affirm a Bodily Coming?

Dear Larry:

I think dealing with Acts 1:11 is needful at this time.  You cite this verse in support of your comment: “Orthodoxy teaches that, with certainty, the Second Advent will be future, literal, and personal. Christ will appear in the same physical, bodily way that He departed from the mount called Olivet!” (Emphasis yours).

Actually, a host of futurists quote this verse to support their contention that Christ’s coming will be visible and bodily.  I will not dispute that this passage teaches a future coming of Christ; but, then, I see this as happening from the standpoint of the apostles forty days after Christ’s resurrection.  The destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 was still in their future.

Let me also say that preterists will not argue about the coming of Christ being literal.  In every episode in the Old Testament where God “came” in judgment, it was a literal appearing to pour out His wrath.  When God came upon Jerusalem in 586 B.C., it was a literal destruction of that city.  So we believe about Christ’s coming in judgement upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70 – it was a literal coming literally destroying the literal temple and the literal city.

Here is the passage in its context:

“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. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 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.’”

I would like to offer a some commentary on this passage in order to assert that this verse cannot be used to verify a bodily, visible coming of Christ.

First, I would like to look at the passage in its context.  Note that there is not one word in this passage describing the body of Christ, physical or otherwise.  That this passage teaches Christ’s second coming as “bodily” is drawn only from inference and reading into the text.

However, if we wish to find a clue as to what the men in white meant by “in just the same way,” shouldn’t we look at the context of the passage?  After all, isn’t it just good hermeneutics to gain your interpretation of a passage by looking at the context?

This passage plainly tells us — without having to read anything into the text — two specific things about Jesus’ ascension.  The first is that “a cloud received Him” and the second is that it was “out of their sight.”

Let’s deal with the first – that a cloud received Him and that He was to return in the same way.  It is clear that the New Testament teaches that Jesus’ coming was to involve clouds (Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27).  Wanting to interpret Scriptures by the Scriptures (as you rightly insist “that Scripture MUST interpret Scripture”), let us look at some Old Testament passages that would help us to understand the New.

Exodus 16:10 – It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

Exodus 19:9 – 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.

Exodus 34:5 – The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD.

Leviticus 16:2 – The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.”

Numbers 11:25 – Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him….

Note that in several of these passages, Yahweh is said to have “come,” He “descended,” “came down,” and “appeared.”  This is language similar to that which Jesus used in reference to His own second coming.  Question: was the “body” of Yahweh seen at these times or was it just that the cloud signified the presence of Yahweh?  Were these manifestations of Yahweh “bodily and physical?”  The answer is obvious.

Psalm 18:912 – He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub and flew; and He sped upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, hailstones and coals of fire.

Psalm 97:23 – Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.  Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries round about.

Psalm 104:3 – He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind…

Isaiah 19:1 – The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.

Daniel 7:13 – I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.

Note that in the New Testament references to Jesus’ coming with clouds, the majority of scholars agree that Jesus is pointing back to this passage, referring to Himself as the “Son of Man” in Daniel.  Was the main point of Jesus in doing so to assert a “physical, bodily” coming, or was it more to identify Himself with that Son of Man who was to receive glory and a kingdom that would not end or pass away (see Daniel 7:14)?  Preterists believe the latter.

Joel 2:12 – Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain!  Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; surely it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.  As the dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people; there has never been anything like it, nor will there be again after it to the years of many generations.

Nahum 1:3 – The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.  In whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

Zephaniah 1:1415 – Near is the great day of the LORD, near and coming very quickly; listen, the day of the LORD!  In it the warrior cries out bitterly.  A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness…

Note also that many of the references to Yahweh coming in or with the clouds has to do with His bringing judgment upon His enemies and those who rebelled against His covenant.  Again, there was no physical, bodily coming of Yahweh at these times.

The contention of the preterist is that Jesus taught that He was going to come “in the glory of His Father” (Matthew 16:27), meaning that His coming was to be in the exact same manner as His Father’s was  in the Old Testament.  This is language that the people of His generation would understand.  It is the language that the high priest understood when he charged Jesus with blasphemy (Matthew 26:64-65).  They understood that Jesus was identifying Himself with Yahweh Himself and claiming all the glory of deity!

Larry, the contention of the preterist is that Christ’s coming with or on the clouds was not to be seen as “bodily and physical,” but as Jesus’ claims identifying Himself with Yahweh of the Old Testament.  It confirmed His claims to being the divine Messiah.  In my opinion, this is actually the capstone of the preterist view, that the language of Jesus in describing His second coming was a bold, undeniable claim to deity.  Does this put us outside of orthodoxy?

Second, let me just briefly note that the context of Acts 1:9-11 has Jesus being taken up “out of their sight” (literally in the Greek, “away from their eyes”).  What more can I say on this?  If you apply a literal interpretation of the Scriptures (which you insist upon), then it means, according to the men in white, that Jesus will return invisibly “out of their sight.”

Perhaps you could explain why these two plainly and contextually stated things — “a cloud received Him” and “out of their sight” — could not be the grammatical antecedents explaining the phrase “in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Now I would like to make some broader observations about this text and compare it to other passages on the coming of Christ, especially those that futurists use for Christ’s future coming.  We must note the history of the event as described in Acts 1:9-11.

Notice the witnesses to Christ’s ascension from the Mount of Olives — they were the apostles.  You futurists insist that the coming of Christ must be “in just the same way” as the apostles witnessed Him leave in this passage.  You press so hard on the bodily/physical aspects (which aren’t there), that you leave open a whole truckload of questions.

For instance, you insist that at His second coming “every eye shall see Him.”  But in Acts 1:9-11, every eye did not see Him, only the eyes of the apostles saw Him!  How then can you say that the second coming of Christ must be “in just the same way” as His ascension from the Mount of Olives?

Further, most futurists believe that the second coming of Christ is described in Revelation 19:11-16.  With that in mind, here are a few other questions:

Jesus did not ascend on a white horse from the Mount of Olives in Acts 1:9-11.  How can His second coming be on a white horse if it is suppose to be “in just the same way”?

Did Jesus ascend with “His eyes a flame of fire, and on His head many diadems?”  If not, how can you say He will return “in just the same way”?

Jesus did not ascend with the armies of heaven following Him on white horses.  How can you say that His second coming will be “in just the same way”?

Did Jesus ascend with a sharp sword in His mouth and the name “King of kings and Lord of lords” written on His robe?  If not, how can you say He will return “in just the same way”?

In conclusion, Acts 1:11 cannot be used to dogmatically justify the belief that Jesus’ return will be “bodily and physical.”  In fact, it is better used to build the case that His coming will be “in the clouds” (in association with the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13) and “out of sight” (invisible) which the preterists believe.

In all, Larry, I am insisting that you cannot use this passage as the whip to drive the preterists into the desert of apostasy.  You come across as one more interested in assaulting honest seekers of God’s word with traditional doctrines than in bringing light to legitimate discussion.

More later.

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