“And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 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.’” — Acts 1:10–11
Ascension Day was once widely celebrated in the Christian church. It no longer is! Why? There likely are many reasons. One undoubtedly would be less emphasis by many churches on all the truths of the Bible. There seems to be a general attitude of taking from the Bible what one likes and ignoring the rest, which is a natural result of not believing that the Bible is the Word of God and that all of it, including its very words, were given by inspiration of the Holy Ghost (verbal inspiration; II Timothy 3:16; I Corinthians 2:13). A second reason for rejecting many Bible truths is that they conflict with mankind’s noble opinion of himself and his benighted reason and scholarship (II Corinthians 10:5). For instance, I recently read in a well-known magazine that there is no Biblical heaven like the one referred to above in the Book of Acts. The writer’s contention was the age-old error that God will make a heaven on earth. That false idea, of course, appeals to the sinful mind of man, whose affection is set on the things of this earth (Colossians 3:2). The unbeliever wants to continue to indulge in all the pleasures of this world, many of which are blatantly lustful and thus sinful (I John 2:15–16), refuses to acknowledge the end of this world (v. 17), and rejects the idea of a “Last Day,” when he will be judged for his evil deeds (John 5:28–29; Acts 17:31).
But we, who believe that God means what He says in His inspired Word, joyfully look forward to the day when the prophecy of our text will be fulfilled, and Christ will return to earth on the Last Day of its existence in the same manner in which He ascended into heaven, namely, in a cloud accompanied by His angels (Cf. Matthew 24:30–31; 26:64; Mark 13:26–27; etc.).
Like other great truths of Holy Scripture, the second visible advent of Jesus Christ to judge the world is an article of faith established by the clear words of Scripture, as we read of it summarized above. The Bible teaches that there is a first judgment of the individual at the moment of his death (Hebrews 9:27), for his soul immediately goes to heaven or to hell, while his body remains in the earth (Ecclesiastes 12:7) to await the final judgment. At that time God will reunite the body with the soul, and both will then forever live in eternal joy or eternal sorrow (John 5:28–29). Scripture says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10), and “He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained” (Acts 17:31). And we also have the words of Jesus in John chapter twelve: “The Word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the Last Day” (v. 48). Jesus Christ Himself will judge all mankind at His appearing (II Timothy 4:1), not according to some yet-to-be-revealed standard but according to His Word (John 12:48), which “shall [have been] preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14).
Jesus Christ will come to earth a second time to judge the world in righteousness and truth. But many have not believed, and do not believe, that Christ as “God…manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16) came to earth the first time. They do not believe in the miracle of Christmas, that Christ, the eternal Son of God, was “conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary” to be the world’s Redeemer from sin, death and Satan. They reject the many prophecies in the Old Testament that pointed forward to this event, and they do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of those prophecies. They reject both the person and work of Jesus Christ. They do not believe that He atoned for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2) as the Substitute for sinners, keeping God’s Law perfectly in their stead to earn for them righteousness before God, and suffering in their place God’s wrath which they deserve because of their sins. Therefore they also deny that He will come again to judge the living and the dead, taking all true believers to heaven (Matthew 25:34) and consigning all unbelievers to everlasting fire (v. 41). The angels’ prophecy of Christ’s second visible advent means nothing to them. They reject it. They will be judged already at their death, and their condemnation to everlasting punishment for their unbelief will be confirmed at Christ’s second visible advent (II Corinthians 5:10, cited above).
But we who, by the power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16), believe in Christ as the Son of God, our Savior, and know from Scripture of His second visible advent, are greatly comforted by this Biblical truth. That is also why Christ’s Day of Ascension has so much meaning for us. He did not ascend into heaven to leave us comfortless (John 14:18ff.) but sent His Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost to bring to His disciples’ remembrance all that He had said unto them (v. 26) and to give them power to be witnesses unto all nations (Acts 1:8). He went “to prepare a place for [us], that where [He is] there [we] may be also” (John 14:2–3). And He ascended in His state of exaltation to lead captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8), to demonstrate His mighty victory over sin, death and Satan, and to give us that victory through His Word (I Corinthians 15:55–57). Therefore He established the ministry of preaching so that the Word of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:19) might go forth out of His mouth into all the world regularly and consistently (Isaiah 55:10–11) and that His mystical body, the Church of His believing sheep and lambs, might be edified and preserved in the true faith unto salvation (Ephesians 4:11–15). That is why Christ’s Ascension is of such great importance and comfort to us, and why we look forward in faith to His second coming!
The facts of Christ’s Ascension are indisputable. After our Savior had spoken to His disciples about what was to occur on the day of Pentecost in ten days, when they would receive the promise of the Comforter, He suddenly began to ascend upward into the sky; and a passing cloud finally obscured Him from their sight. And as the disciples were still looking up into the heavens, trying to catch just one more glimpse of Him, two men dressed in white clothing —two angels— stood next to them. They asked the disciples (here called “men of Galilee”) why they continued to look up towards heaven, as if their hope of ever seeing Him again was fading away “as He went up.” The very same Jesus, who was taken up from them into heaven, they assured them, would come back in the same way as they had seen Him go into heaven — visibly, in the clouds.
Except for His special visible appearance to the Apostle Paul after His ascension (I Corinthians 15:8), Christ’s last appearance to His disciples on earth was His visible departure into heaven; and His next appearance on earth will be His return visibly and in glory. He will not be visible only to the disciples who witnessed His Ascension; He will not be visible only to the believers living here in this world when He comes again; but He will be seen in His glorious return by all! “All that are in the graves” shall come forth at the sound of His voice (John 5:28); “all the tribes of the earth…shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30); “every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him” (Revelation 1:7). The day and time of that second visible advent is known only to God. “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32). Even Christ, according to His human nature in His state of humiliation, did not know the time of His return. And yet His return is imminent, the Bible teaches; that is, it could come at any time; it will come quickly; and it will come when it is least expected (I Thessalonians 5:2ff.; II Peter 3:10ff.; Revelation 3:11; Matthew 25:13; etc.).
As Christians we await the glorious day of Christ’s return, not in fear and trembling but in joy and gladness (Luke 21:28); for then we will see our Savior face to face, and He will take us and all true believers to heaven, as He has promised with these words: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you , I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2–3). In other words, He is our “Forerunner” (Cf. Hebrews 6:17–20), who went through the dark valley of the shadow of death for us, “that through death He might destroy him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver [us], who through fear of death were all [our] lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14–15) and purchased and won for us “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for [us] who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (I Peter 1:4–5). That blessed Forerunner, “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16–17).
What comfort indeed we believers have in the second coming of our Savior, in the glorious day we wait for and joyfully anticipate in Christian patience, faith and hope. For when we see our Savior face to face, He will wipe away all tears from our eyes; and He will bestow upon us the gracious rewards which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him…[the things which] God hath revealed… unto us by His Spirit” (I Corinthians 2:9–10). For He will welcome us and say: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!” (Matthew 25:34). “He which testifieth these things saith, ‘Surely I come quickly! Amen!’ Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).