The Gospel of Jesus Christ:
… He was born – to be our substitute;
… He lived the perfect life – to be our righteousness by faith;
… He died – to earn the forgiveness of all sin;
… He rose from the dead – that we too might rise from the grave one day; and
… He ascended with the promise to return and give all believers in Christ eternal life in heaven.
The Ascension – Acts 1:6-11
Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday – “the first day of the week.”
For the next forty days, Jesus appeared to his disciples (“The Twelve”) and other followers 11 times.
On the first Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to (1)Mary Magdalene – Mk. 6:9-11; Jn. 20:11-18, (2)to the other women – Mt. 28:9-10, (3)to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus – Mk. 16:12-13; Lk 24:13-32, (4) to Peter – Lk. 24:33-35; 1 Cor. 15:5), and (5)10 of the original 12 disciples (Judas is dead and Thomas is absent) – Mk. 16:14; Lk. 24:36-43; Jn. 20:19-25.
Then, over the course of the next 39 days, Jesus appeared to (6) 11 of the original 12 disciples – Thomas is now present – Jn. 20:26-31; 1 Cor. 15:5. (7)He appeared to 7 of the original 12 on the shore of Galilee – Jn. 21. (8)He appeared to over 500 followers on a mountain side in Galilee (The Great Commission) – Mk. 16:15-18; Mt. 28:16-20; 1 Cor. 15:6, (9)he appeared to James -1 Cor. 15:7, (10)and he to his followers in Jerusalem to follow up on the Great Commission – Lk. 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8.
(11)The last appearance is on Mt. Olivet when Jesus ascended – on the 40th day after the resurrection – Mk. 16:19-20; Lk 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12.
As Jesus and the disciples were walking out of Jerusalem, down through the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives (maybe stopping for rest in Gethsemane), they talk.
Luke records one last question from the disciples. It is about the restoration of Israel.
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
That the Kingdom is to be restored is taken for granted by the disciples. But what exactly to they mean? It could mean that (1) they are looking for a new world order, since Jesus died and rose again, they may be expecting Jesus to now sweep away the old order of things. It might always mean that (2) they are looking for a political kingdom headed up by Jesus.
This second idea seems the less likely, especially if they had been paying attention to Jesus for the last three years. If they had been, they would have understood that Jesus is not like any other king and his kingdom is “not of this world” (as he told Pontius Pilate).
Jesus’ answer to them is for us as well. By Jesus’ answer, we can see that they were asking the wrong question. Jesus gets them back on track to what they really need to be doing.
Jesus doesn’t really answer their question. “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” What Jesus is basically saying is that it isn’t their concern, that it isn’t any of their business. They have something else to concern themselves with, other business to attend to.
Jesus alludes to Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples in a special way ten days later. There would be power in knowing when the Kingdom would be restored to Israel, to be sure. Jesus tells them that they will receive different power. Power to be witnesses.
martyr – A witness in a legal sense. A spectator of anything, for example, of a contest in an ethical sense.
Jesus calls them – and us – to be witnesses. Jesus had two words available to him to use here. He could have called them “heralds” (ka'rux). A “herald” is a messenger vested with public authority and who coveys the official messages of kings, magistrates, princes, military commanders, or those who give public summons or demands. This is what St. Paul calls himself in 1 & 2 Timothy. St. Peter calls Noah this.
But Jesus calls his disciples – and us – to be witnesses, not so much heralds. The Greek word becomes the basis of the English word “martyr” but Jesus isn’t tell them to be martyrs in the English sense of the word.
Jesus is telling them to tell their story about him. They will be witnesses of all that Jesus did. They saw it all, from his baptism (in the case of John and Andrew) to his death (John and some of the women) to his resurrection to his very-soon-to-be ascension. Not every disciple saw everything Jesus did (e.g., none of them were around when he was tempted). But all that Jesus did and said was heard by at least one of the disciples (for example, Mary was present at Jesus birth (!) and told Luke and Matthew about it. Jesus has promised them that the Holy Spirit would “bring to … remembrance all that” Jesus said to them (John 14:26).
More on this in Part 3.
After Jesus says this, and while the disciples were looking at Jesus, he doesn’t disappear. The previous nine post-resurrection appearances have Jesus simply appearing and, presumable, disappearing instantly. Not this time. While they are still looking at him, he was “lifted up” into the sky. They watched him ascend into the sky until a cloud “took him out of their sight.”
This is significant in that this is the way Jesus will return on the Last Day. He won’t just “appear.” Jesus will descend from the sky (more on this in Part 2).
While they watched Jesus ascended, two men in white robes appear next to them. As Jesus disappears from sight speak. “Men of Galilee” – they are addressed as such because they were all from Galilee. Judas was the only one from Judea.
These two men – we presume they are angels – are not so much rebuking the disciples for looking up into heaven, where Jesus has gone. The question draws their attention back to earth, for much the same reason that Jesus didn’t answer their question about the restoration of the kingdom. These two men are, in their way, reminding them that they do have things to do.
The two men make the statement that Jesus will return in the same way as they saw him go. He will come down from heaven and he will be seen as he comes back down from heaven on the Last Day. The implication here is that they will not miss Jesus return. They saw him go, and they will see him come back.
That’s what St. Paul picks up in 1 Thessalonians 5.
The Ascension: Jesus Returns – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Last week, I said that “asleep” was a euphemism for “death.” It is, but it is so much more. It is believed by scholars (by which I mean that I have no direct evidence this is true other than scholars saying it) that pagans called death “sleep.” But after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, “sleep” or “asleep” carries with it all that Christ did to make it merely sleep for a believer in Christ. It also carries with it the awesome implied meaning that a believer in Christ who has “fallen asleep” will wake up one day!
St. Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus (Silas) – the “we” in verse 13 (see 1:1) – are writing to the believers in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Paul had been to this city on his second missionary journey, but only a very brief time before heading on to Athens. He was concerned about the new church and sent Timothy to encourage them and apparently wrote this letter, along with Timothy and Silvanus, in response to the report that Timothy came back with.
One of the concerns Paul had was a question the Thessalonians had about what happens to believers when they die. Building on the teachings of the Great Resurrection Chapter (1 Corinthians 15, see Session 4) Paul encourages them with the Good News about what Jesus’ resurrection means to all believers.
Paul reiterates that Jesus did die and did rise again from the dead. Because of our faith in this (“since we believe”) we can also have faith in the face that God will raise all believers in Christ.
This is “a word from the Lord.” Paul words it this way to indicate that they are teaching all that Christ had revealed and taught about this subject of rising again
All other religions at the time led adherents to those religions to grieve, without any hope, the death of someone they love. There were very few active religions at the time that had some kind of “after life” for believers. The Roman and Greek pagan theology had an “afterlife” (Elysium for Greeks and Hades for the Romans) but this was of little hope to the new Christians at Thessalonica.
Paul encourages them that they can, indeed, have hope. Grieving is ok. They are not wrong – or worse, sinning – because they grieve. But because Jesus has conquered death with his own death and resurrection, they can now grieve with hope.
Paul immediately goes on to encourage them with what will happen to the dead “in Christ.”
When Jesus comes back (in the same what that he ascended – see above), not only will we who are alive see him, but also the dead will see him.
In fact, all the dead will see him. Not just those believers who died. All will be raised – though some will be raised to everlasting life and some to everlasting death in hell (see Matthew 25).
When Jesus comes back – on the Last Day, sometimes called “Judgment Day” – Paul repeats what the “two men” said at Jesus ascension. But he adds that there will be a “cry of command.” What command? Probably in references to John 5:28, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
This is preferable than to the idea that the “cry of command” is a reference to Revelation.
Paul says “archangel” and there is only one angel named as an archangel – Michael and not Gabriel.
Artists have given us Gabriel as the archangel with the trumpet, but that is not Biblical.
Will it be a literal trumpet? The picture Paul paints is probably best seen as one of military allusions. The “cry of command” is what a charioteer would shout to his horses, a hunter to his hounds, or a shipmaster to his rowers (see Lenski, The Interpretation of First Thessalonians, p 334). The trumpet blast should be seen in the same way.
The order that Paul gives of what will happen is the order of what will happen to believers. All the dead will rise on the last day. But here’s what will happen to believers in Christ.
The “dead in Christ” will rise out of their graves, rise up out of the sea, and be reanimated from all the ashes from the cremations that have occurred. They will come to the surface of the earth and then we will be “caught up” with them and together rise up into the “clouds” (sky) to meet Christ in the air. This is the “rapture.” The word literally means “snatched away.”
Paul then closes this comforting section by saying that we will always be with the Lord.
Encourage One Another With These Words
The Ascension of Jesus is a promise that Jesus will come back.
“This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
St. Paul tells us to “encourage one another with these words.”
That’s the key for us. These words about Jesus ascension and return are for our encouragement.
But what often happens is not encouragement. It is confusion.
Historical Premillennialism (Post-Tribulational PreMillennialism).
Going into detail of all these views is beyond the scope of this particular Bible study. But something has to be said.
The Bible talks about the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ quite a bit. Daniel and Ezekiel are the prominent Old Testament books that deal with it. Jesus teaches about it at the end of his ministry, recorded in Matthew 24 & 25. Paul references it in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 & 5. But of course, the main source is the Book of Revelation.
Revelation requires its own Bible study and takes a long time to cover.
So, is there a simple answer to the question, what is the Biblical teaching about the 2nd Coming of Christ?
Yes. It is “Amillenialism.”
That means that Jesus will come back as the disciples saw him go into heaven. We will meet him in the air. He will judge “the quick and the dead.” Those who believe in him as savior will go to heaven. Those who rejected him will go to hell. This old earth will be destroyed by fire. A new heaven and a new earth will be created by God and that is where we will spend eternity.
This view is called “amillenialism” because there is no literal 1000 Year reign of Christ on earth.
In conclusion, any view that does not provide encouragement has to be looked at very closely and questioned. Because God’s Word says that the views given in the Scriptures for that very reason – to provide encouragement.
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Thessalonians 4:14
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
1 Thessalonians 4:17
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!