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The ascension of Jesus.
ACTS i. 1-14.
1. The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, "of all that he both did and taught."
This introduction shows that this book is only a continuation of a former work, and that they ought both to be read together; for the writer completes his design in the one, which he had left unfinished in the other. Who Theophilus was, to whom this book, as well as the gospel, is addressed, is not certainly known. Some have supposed the name to be fictitious, and to stand for any Christian. If it stand for a real personage he was some one of rank, a governor, a senator, or a person in similar situation; for the same terms of respect are applied to him in the gospel as Paul applies to Festus, the Roman governor." If these two books were first published in Greece, as has been supposed by some, he was probably a resident in that country.
2. Until the day in which he was taken up, after he had given his commands unto the apostles whom he had chosen by the Holy Spirit ;
In this order the words may be translated by a slight change of punctuation,t and in this form they appear most natural; according to it Jesus is said to have chosen his apostles by the direction of the Holy Spirit, a thing probable in itself, and corresponding with what was done in another instance, Acts xiii. 2, where we are told that the Spirit said, "Separate me Paul and Barnabas to the
* See Michaëlis's Introduction, Vol. III. p. 236, &c. + See Griesbach.
work to which I have called them." The commands here referred to are those which he gave his apostles at his departure, directing them to stay at Jerusalem till they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and afterwards to preach the gospel to the whole world.
3. To whom also he showed himself alive, after his passion, "after he had suffered death," by many infallible proofs; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
The many proofs which he gave to his disciples of his being alive, have been already noticed; such as their seeing him again, eating and conversing with him, and handling his person. These proofs he continued to afford them, at different times, for forty days, during which time they would recover from the surprise into which they might be thrown by an unexpected event, and might ask him for such further satisfaction as would remove all their doubts. What he said to them about the kingdom of God, or the gospel dispensation, we are not informed in the short accounts given by the evangelists, and it would be of no use to conjecture. It appears, from what is said below, that their opinions upon this subject were still very gross and low.
4. And, being assembled together with them, "having assembled them together," he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, (saith he,) ye have heard of me.
Jerusalem being the place where their Master was crucified, and where his principal enemies resided, the disciples would naturally be disposed to take the first opportunity of quitting it, in order to avoid danger. But he directs them to remain there until they should receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; it being thought right that in the place where he was crucified, and most dishonoured, he should also receive this high mark of the divine favour. It was the place, likewise, in which there would be the greatest number of witnesses to the miracle, and which was the most proper for the exhibition of it on that account. This is called the promise of the Father, because made by him to Christ; and although many others had been delivered, this was more important than the rest. It had often been repeated by Christ to his disciples, as we have already seen.*
5. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days
The communication of miraculous gifts under the gospel dispensation is promised by the prophet Joel ii. 24, under the figure of "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh." This image is used because it was to be bestowed plentifully, or without re
* Luke xxiv. 49., and John xiv. 16, 26.; xv. 26.; xvi. 7.
serve, as water is poured out; whereas in former times it was given more sparingly, and, as it were, by measure. In allusion to this language, John tells his disciples that he baptized them with water, but that there was one coming who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. To these words of John he now refers his disciples, only leaving out the baptism with fire, as having relation to the punishment of the impenitent, and declares that the prophecy shall be fulfilled in a few days.
6. When they, therefore, were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
By this question it appears that the apostles were still possessed with the notion universally prevalent among the Jews respecting the Messiah, that he was to rescue them from the Roman yoke, and to restore the independence of their country. They seem to have concluded that he was raised from the dead for this purpose, and only wished to be informed whether it was to be accomplished immediately, or after some time. To their inquiry he returns no direct answer; but his reply intimates that his kingdom would be of a different nature from what they imagined.
7. And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.
The words seem to imply that at some time or other the kingdom was to be restored to Israel: but that the particular period at which it was to be done was known only to God, and not to be communicated to them. They, however, would have no share in accomplishing it, but be employed in a very different manner.
8. But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you, ye shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you," and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
He had before informed them that they should be baptized with the Holy Spirit: he now tells them for what purpose it was to be bestowed, namely, in order to give credibility to the testimony which they were to bear, both in Judæa and out of it, to his miracles, doctrine, and resurrection. This was the general design of their mission.
9. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
All we learn from this passage is, that Jesus, after ascending
into the air, disappeared from the view of his disciples. On this occasion it is natural to inquire whither he went, and what he is now doing. But on these subjects the history is silent. The common opinion, indeed, is that he ascended to some place above the clouds, where God has his peculiar residence, where he holds his court, sits upon a throne, and is surrounded by angels and other beings. But of the existence of such a place, as a separate portion of the universe, we may reasonably doubt. Modern discoveries in philosophy have shown us nothing in the space with which we are surrounded but planets, like the earth on which we live, moons, comets, and stars. The sacred writers do indeed seem to suppose the existence of such a place as that which has been just described; but it is rather done to help our conceptions than to represent what is strictly true, and ought no more to be understood literally, than when they speak of the Deity as having hands, and eyes, and other organs of a man, or as moving from place to place. In regard to the place which is designed to be the residence of good men after the resurrection, it is probably this earth, after it has undergone certain important revolutions which may be necessary to prepare it for this purpose.
If then there be no local heaven above the clouds, Christ, in ascending, could only go into the air, and never proceed beyond the limits of this planet. Accordingly, some have supposed that he is still on or near the earth, although invisible to us, and that he is employed, together with Enoch and Elijah, in a way which we cannot comprehend, in promoting the designs of Providence respecting the Christian church. In confirmation of this opinion, they have observed that he appeared several times in person to the apostle Paul. But it must be remembered that on this subject, the present residence of Christ, we have nothing but conjecture to guide us; the Scriptures having been silent, or, at most, having only furnished obscure hints.
10. And while they looked steadfastly towards heaven, as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,
11. Which also said; Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
To those who may be alarıned with such speculations respecting the future heaven of Christians, I would recommend the words of Mr. Hallett. "It cannot be thought of any great consequence in itself," says he, "to determine in what place good men shall dwell after the resurrection. It is enough for them to know that they shall be completely happy, both in body and in soul, in that place, be it where it will. Their God and Father will take care that they shall be in a most convenient and gloricus place; and they may contentedly go on towards (as Abraham did towards Canaan,) not knowing whither they go. For where the king is, there is the court, and where God is, there is happiness, peace, and joy. Upon which account no one will be surprised to find me supposing that good men shall dwell on the new earth for ever. God can make them completely happy there to all eternity.”
Notes on Texts of Scripture, vol. I. p. 191.
+ Priestley's Discourses, Vol. II. Disc. IV. Part 2.
The apostles might possibly look for the descent of their Master to the earth again; or feel some uneasy apprehensions about his future existence and happiness. These messengers were, therefore, sent to inform them that, although he disappeared for the present, he would still live, and that they should see him again; for that he would descend in the same visible and glorious manner in which he had now ascended. By heaven, in these two verses, nothing more seems to be intended than the sky; a sense which the word frequently bears in Scripture; for we are told that the disciples looked steadfastly after Jesus towards heaven, that is, towards the sky; for there was nothing else to behold.
12. Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, "the mount of Olives," which is from Jerusalem a sabbath-day's journey, or, about two miles.
13. And when they were come in, that is, into Jerusalem, they went up into an upper room, to escape observation, where abode," where usually abode," both Peter and James, and John and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James, the son of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.
14. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brethren.
The principal object of these prayers, no doubt, was the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Christ had encouraged them to pray for by the parable of the man who went to his friend at midnight, to beg three loaves of bread, and succeeded by his importunity, of which you have an account, Luke xi. 1—13.
1. THE rebuke which Christ gave to his disciples, when they inquired whether he would now restore the kingdom to Israel, should teach us to restrain our curiosity respecting future events. We may feel ourselves much interested in them, and be very desirous to know when they will take place. But if God has reserved them in his power, and not thought proper to give us any information respecting them, we should learn to be contented with our ignorance, and quietly acquiesce in his will. To be eager and impatient in our inquiries after what God has concealed, is to be dissatisfied with his dispensations, and will probably involve us in many errors and in much anxiety.