As Jesus prepared to ascend to heaven He led His disciples up to the Mount of Olives. He had an important parting message for them and the Mount of Olives was a fitting location for his final words. When they were all assembled around him, surrounded by the familiar scenes that reminded them of his ministry, Jesus instructed them to remain in Jerusalem until they received the Promise of the Father. What was this special promise? It was the baptism of the Holy Spirit that would equip them for the work that was before them.
Caught up in the elation of seeing Jesus alive and still clinging to the hope of some sort of glorious revolution against the Romans they fervently inquired “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Instead of giving them a definitive response on the topic Jesus merely said “it is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”
The kingdom would be restored to the Saints of the Most High. (see Daniel 7:13-14) Spiritual Israel would inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world but that event was nothing like what the disciples were imagining. Israel as a nation would not achieve political greatness over the Roman Empire during the disciples' lifetime. Or ever. Instead, the work of the disciples was to establish the spiritual kingdom of God in the hearts of men. An extension of the work that Jesus himself had begun in Palestine and which was to spread across the globe.
As a parting promise and commission Jesus said to them “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8)
The work before them was not a social or political revolution that would usher in the end of the much lauded pax romana. Instead they were to take the good news of Jesus to the entire world, empowered the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus spoke these words he began to ascend into heaven. Lighter than air, his feet rose up off the ground and he moved towards the clouds. Dumbstruck the disciples watched in slack-jawed wonder until He was swallowed up by a cloud and disappeared from sight. They were so caught up with watching Jesus ascend into heaven that they failed to notice the two men who stood beside them. Men who spoke to them as soon as Jesus disappeared. “Men of Galilee” they said, drawing the attention of the disciples away from the clouds and back to the earth. “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11)
Their words held both a promise and a description of events. Jesus was not gone for good. He himself had promised that He would come again and now these angelic beings reaffirmed his promise. In doing that they also provided a description of what Jesus second coming would look like. Just as he had gone to heaven, visibly and audibly, so he would return. His return would not be a secret event. It would be seen and heard all across the world.
When the disciples left the Mount of Olives their hearts burned with a mixture of hope and purpose. Jesus was gone but He had promised to return and while they waited to see their beloved master again, they had work to do, work that He had given them.
Jesus’ commission to his first disciples applies with equal urgency and importance to each of us who profess to be his disciples today. We are to go forward and preach the gospel empowered by his spirit and while we do that, we are to prepare for the fulfilment of His most precious promise. He will come again. And when He does, may he find each of us watching, waiting and working.