Comments on Acts 1:11

Third Revised Edition

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A Leader’s Guide for a New Generation of Christians

by Mark Mountjoy

Introductory Remarks

Conflation is the process or act of taking two or more events and merging them into one incident and Acts 1:11 is a famous Bible verse where this classically happens, in an unintentional but detrimental sense, on one hand, and where, on the other hand, the same verse is a basic example of divorcing a Bible prophetic promise from its legitimate Biblical antecedents.

Now, this study, like all our other studies, needs to be dedicated to God and our intent must be to discover and do the will of God in Christ our Lord. 

“Heavenly Father, we come before You asking for Your grace and favor as we seek to study Your Word.  Help us take seriously the Words,

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 

So that our expectations line up with what is revealed in the everlasting Gospel and not what we necessarily prefer. 

Give us humility and courage to always say, Yes! to You and let our time together prove to be an opportunity for spiritual renewal, encouragement, and enrichment.  We pray and ask Your blessings upon all the churches and that Your will will be spread abroad in a wave of renewed interest and zeal all around the world.  We pray and ask these things in the precious name of Jesus Your Son.  Amen.

Today’s essay will focus on asking Christians to employ the 20/20 rule and take a serious second look at Acts 1:11 and consider it anew, in light of extenuating circumstances in Daniel chapter 7,1 the Gospel According to Matthew, and Mark, Luke, and John, in addition to the expectations of the Apostle Paul in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, the amanuensis Silas, in 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter, James, and John and Jude and, finally, the Book of Revelation.2


For far too long Christians have used Acts 1:11 naively, putting far too much interpretive weight upon it without considering it from a point of synthesis—combining and balancing it against equally important information elsewhere in the Bible, in the Old Testament as well as in the New.  We Christians famously use Acts 1:11 to prove to ourselves and to others that Jesus’ Second Coming will not only be visible but will also be seen by everyone, at once, all over the world.  By the same token, the promise of this verse is taken as a guarantee that under no circumstances could Jesus return in the first century, but his return will be a public and unparalleled event at the very end of human history. 

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In 1994 I was invited to attend a Sunday service at a small house church. Situated in a quintessential upper-middle-class neighborhood in Denver it was inevitable that, after service, the brothers of this little congregation came over and wanted to know who I was and who it was that invited me over there.

Just to see how open these Christians were to the idea of an early Second Coming I ask two or three of them to look at a list of promises Jesus made about his own return. Sure enough, they got excited and called some others over to the couch and we were gathered around reading one passage after another.

All of a sudden things got tricky!  Pastor ‘Ben’ was in the kitchen putting away the communion ware, leftover bread, and grape juice, peeked into the living room to see what all the excitement was all about.

He just asked point-blank, “What’s going on? What are you sharing?” I told him, Yeah, Jesus promised to come back in the generation of those believers. He immediately went into a rage and ordered me to go out and stand on the front porch until he came out.

One by one the brothers left and even the fellow who invited me over and brought me there went home, too. I waited and waited in the hot sun and finally, Pastor ‘Ben’ came out and motioned for me to follow him to the back of the house.

I could tell that he was excited, anxious, and angry all at once. He said he heard of people who believe Jesus came back already, but he never met such a person!

He seemed totally amazed but unsure of himself and how he wanted to treat me. My sense of things was that it was a dangerous situation and my fate hung in the scales of a balance.

Anyway, he said he wanted me to come back on a set date and we would both discuss this issue together (and this little ray of light made me think there might be hope that we could come to an understanding).

A week or two later he called me and was upset that I had not come back on the following Sunday.  But on a weekday I returned with my Bible, a pen and notebook, and a copy of Josephus (in order to show him the anomalous events which happened in the Holy Landon the eve of the Destruction of Jerusalem. I thought surely he would want to see this material.

I knocked and he came to the front door but told me to go around the side of the house to the back (he did not want me to come into his house based on 2 John 9-10).

We sat at a picnic table and he had three things to say:

First of all, he announced himself to be Amillennial and he believed the Second Coming could only be in the future.

Second, What about Acts 1:11? I tried to explain it as a contemporary promise relevant to the Apostles, but he would have none of that. To him, the verse was a stand-alone and it addressed when Jesus would return and not how he would do so.  His disposition was severe and imperious.

Third, his next question was did I believe Jesus was still sitting at the right hand of God?  I told him, Yes, but he disagreed and said if Jesus came back he would be visible on earth in Jerusalem. And he sent me away—and that was that!

To my mind, the humiliation of being disgracefully treated as a guest in someone else’s church brought home the need to seriously respect other people’s spaces and the authority they have a right to expect in their own territory. At the same time, it became clear to me that if we have any self-respect we will also have our own designated spaces where the authority of our own shared agreements takes precedent over competing views.3

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Using this one verse, creedal constructs have been able to hold the tension between what looks like a New Testament promise of an early return of Christ and the apparent delay that has enshrouded the subject for the last more than twenty-one centuries of the Church’s existence. 

So there are important questions we must ask ourselves:  Was it the first time this promise appeared in the Bible?  Is it the first time such a promise appeared in the New Testament?  If there are predecessors to it in the New Testament, what are they?  If there are forerunners of them in the Old Testament, what do they say, and (just as importantly) how do they ameliorate and add nuance to this specific prophecy and verse?

Is Daniel 7:13 Describing the Ascension or the Son of

Man Coming in the Clouds During a Special War?

As we reexamine and reflect upon Acts 1:11 and its relationship with Daniel 7:13 it is important to ascertain if the traditional interpretation that these two events cross-reference each other is true. 

Do they refer to each other?   If they do THAT is a problem!

This, of course, is just part of the problem and is, by no means, the entire difficulty.  For if the two verses cross-reference each other, then a new problem rears its head:  We have to account for war-like conditions evident in Daniel 7:13-27.  Was there such strife and anguish on the 26th day of Iyar after the resurrection of our Lord (which is exactly ten days before the Sivan 6th Day of Pentecost in A.D.30)? The Ascension of Our Lord

In other words, if Daniel 7:14-27 describes a terrible war against the saints, fomented by the fourth beast, where is this happening in Iyar of A.D.30?  Can we even say there was war and strife on Sivan 6th (the Day of Pentecost of the Churchs birth) when we have a verse like Acts 2:47 telling us completely contrary information?4

Stepping back to about a month before the angels promises to the Apostles in Acts 1:11 we find ourselves at a time that is shortly after 14 Nisan of A.D.30, post-resurrection, where Jesus, in his comments about the Apostle John indicates that John will live to see the Lord come back.  Controversy arises because of these comments and John writes that the promise was not that John would never die, but that he would, basically, live to actually see the Second Coming.

This text has worried and perplexed many!  Much can be read into it that is not there: John is still alive somewhere on earth, holding out until, at last, Christ will come again.  Or, Jesus was actually promising that John would live long enough to see a vision of the Second Coming which, as it happened, turned out to be the Book of Revelation itself.

Lets start with the New Testament and work our way back toward the Old Testament.  For this, we need to begin in the Gospel According to John, 22:21-22.  This is a notorious verse that comes to mind.    And it reads,

“Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?  21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.  23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:20-24).

The principle of Occam’s Razor may prove useful for us here, or else we can take Jesus’s comments too far and away and miss the whole point of what Jesus was indicating and what other Scriptures so plainly say.  But in order to step a little further back, we need only go to about five days before this to Jesus's trial before Joseph Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin.  There, when Caiaphas adjured Jesus to tell the court whether or not he believed himself to be Israel's promised Messiah or not, Jesus, basically told him yes, quoting, as it were, Daniel 7:13 graphic passage about the coming of the Son of man in judgment upon the ferocious, wicked, and unruly fourth beast.

Christ’s answer,

"I Am.  And you [Caiaphas/ Sanhedrin court] will see the Son of man coming in the clouds and sitting on the right hand of power" (Matthew 26:64)

Was an affirmation immediately recognized by Caiaphas and understood to mean that Jesus’s estimation of himself as the Second Power of heaven was blasphemy (on the grounds, we must remember, that Caiaphas was not of the conviction that Jesus was anything more than a mere man, deceptive but certainly not Deity).  Can we imagine that Caiaphas or the court will witness Jesus ascending to heaven ten days before Shavuot/ Pentecost?  Then can the ascension be what Jesus intended Caiaphas and the jury to understand when he alluded to the imagery and motifs of Daniel 7:13?  If not, then we need to ponder and consider something else . . . 

Let’s move on from here.

And so, we are walking backward and we are just thinking out loud and analyzing the sayings of the Lord in a variety of settings—post-resurrection to John, pre-crucifixion before the Senate of Israel, but now let’s go to a time just prior to his betrayal and arrest. 

At this point, we find ourselves on the Mount of Olives.  This is about 72 hours before Jesus is arrested.  Three versions of where we are and what was said can be found in Luke 21, Mark 13, and Matthew 24 (and don't forget we are taking our time and examining the last to the first account, as it appears in our copies of the New Testament).

The Olivet Discourse Uses Daniel 7:13, But Directs

It Towards the Destruction of Jerusalem

Now, if we, for the sake of argument, exclude Daniel 7:13 from being a reference to the Ascension and take it rather to be an anomaly associated with the Destruction of Jerusalem, the Olivet Discourse gives surprising weight and warrant to this. 

The persecutions indicated in Daniel 7:7-8, plus the destruction and blasphemy of the fourth beast and the little horn leave no doubt that 26 Iyar or even 6 Sivan of A.D.30 are clearly too early and thus out of the question.

But the Olivet Discourse takes us thirty-six years into the future, thirty-six years ahead to the eve of the Destruction of Jerusalem to a time when the relationship between traditional Judæans and Jewish Christians was in all ways strained to a point of no return.  In fact, the entire complex of events, as they are described in Daniel 7:7-27 refuses to mesh with any inkling that it could be talking about any event in Bible history as early as the third decade of the first century.

Acts 1:11 Fits Nicely into Jesus’s

Apocalyptic Expectations in the

Synoptics and John

Now, between now and our next study leaders need to assign that all in attendance find examples in the Gospels where Jesus (without saying so explicitly) indicates implicitly that he will come back during a final crisis in the existence of the Second Temple and Jerusalem.

Sixteen Scriptures from the Gospel According to Matthew are provided below, but we want all students to take the time to find any parallels that can be discovered in Mark and Luke, and John.  These should be read considering their total surrounding context and comments on salient examples should be written down to share in our follow-up study.

Matthew 25:31-46, Matthew 24:1-51, Matthew 23:2-39, Matthew 22:1-14, Matthew 21:33-45, Matthew 19:27-30, Matthew 16:27-28, Matthew 16:1-4, Matthew 13:24-43, Matthew 12:38-45, Matthew 11:16-25, Matthew 10:1-42, Matthew 8:5-12, Matthew 7:13-24, Matthew 3:11, and Matthew 2:1-4 form an unbreakable chain-link that harnesses Acts 1:11 to the geopolitical realities of the fourth kingdom of Bible prophecy as they existed from 37 B.C to the birth and beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist and our Lord around A.D.27 to A.D.30.5  

But these events do not culminate in A.D. 33.Herods Temple

And this is the danger.  It is a danger to have Daniel 7:13/ Acts 1:11 happen too soon as much as turning around and having it [take place in the future] and happen too late.  In traditional Christian eschatology, it must be remembered, the authorities of the Church want to have it both ways (and speak of these issues in contradictory terms). 

On one hand, they want Daniel 7:13 to be the Ascension and coronation of Jesus ten days before the Day of Pentecost, but on the other hand, they also want Acts 1:11 to be a Second Coming at least 21 centuries from the first century or up to four billion years into the distant, hypothetical future of the material universe! 

If Daniel 7:13 is the Ascension, then Jesus was telling Caiaphas that Caiaphas would witness the Ascension.  But Caiaphas was not a witness of the Ascension.  He was not there.  He did not see it.  He was not aware of it.  That would be a prophecy that demonstrably did not come true.6

But, on the other hand, we cannot ignore that so much of the Matthean apocalyptic texts also line up with the expectation of the coming of the Son of man in connection with the upcoming end of the Jewish world and the Destruction of Jerusalem.  Examples of this, as we saw above, are not few and far between.  In fact, they are so abundant that they can easily be overlooked or missed precisely because they are frequent and in plain sight!

Acts 1:11 Also Cannot Be Further Away Than the

Existence and Termination of the Fourth Kingdom

Now, it is true that Acts 1:11 is about Jesus coming back, but not that fact alone.  We have to decide whether it belongs within the parameters of the fourth kingdom, and if so, how long did that kingdom continue to exist? 

If we want to argue that the Fourth Kingdom is a principality that will come to exist, finally, in the near or distant future we are taking liberties on the subject that the Bible actually will not justify.  But if we then concede that the fourth kingdom no longer exists, then we have to back away from the idea that Acts 1:11 has to be held in suspended animation to only happen, at last, in front of the entire human race at some astronomically and unimaginably distant point in time.

When we reflect on the bigger issues related to the promises contained in Acts 1:11 we will begin to appreciate that the only thing that can bring us back down to earth with this classic text is study, prayer, and meditation with the help of God’s Spirit himself or all bets are off.  We cannot take Y and run with it when the equation has X, Y, and Z to consider, not separately, but together. 

We cannot do anything we want with the Bible and treat it like a hobby, a toy, or silly-putty and twist and bend it any way we want!  Nor can we decide, as Christians, that we regret a topic God included in his Word that has some intrinsic bearing on our New Testament identity and existence.

We have to decide and we need to cry out to God sincerely and depend on him to help us finally come to terms with Acts 1:11 in a way that is genuinely Christ-centered, circumspect, and able to stand on its own two feet.7

To that end, we encourage Christians to entertain these matters with the utmost gravity, for with care and a consistent voice, our leadership in these Scriptural studies will, hopefully, reach a point of critical mass when enough of us will understand the necessity of rejecting an interpretation of a verse as a stand-alone when in the case of Acts 1:11 the conventional understanding of it is not warranted at all and other considerations need to be finally acknowledged and owned as the truth of God’s Word.

Endnotes

1 Familiarity with Daniel’s Night Vision is a prerequisite to understanding why Jesus so frequently referred to himself as the Son of man and envisaged himself coming in the clouds of heaven to judge bellicose forces whose hope was to seize the kingdom of God, the inheritance of the saints of the Most High God.

2 The emphasis of this Bible study is not to study the basis of Acts 1:11 forward to the Book of Revelation but to firmly establish in the mind of Christians the Daniel and Gospel antecedents that form the foundation of such a promise (this is what is lacking by the force of the distance of those events, time and the reiterations of traditions and conventional interpretive wisdom.

3 The nature of this discussion and the size and scope of the important questions that need to be addressed make it highly unlikely that having a hit-and-run discussion, at random, on some house-church porch or in a church foyer may prove to be disappointing and inappropriate. A separate ministry strategy and the coming together of like-minded Christians to share responsibilities under an umbrella alliance of local congregations are, in our minds, the best and most respectable and practical way forward.

4 Note that as soon as Christians are able to differentiate the war uproar from the peaceful circumstances of the day of Pentecost and the dire crisis the people of God endured during the Jewish sedition (Revelation 13:7) lays the groundwork for a brand new understanding of the relevance and importance of the Destruction of Jerusalem and the real reason for a Second Coming at that very time.

5 Every Bible student should obtain a copy of a Bible concordance to facilitate word searches and studies in the Scriptures

6 Caiaphas was not privy to the Ascension or Pentecost, but what about the Destruction of Jerusalem? According to some, Caiaphas passed away in A.D.36, other reports claim it was a decade later. If the Destruction of Jerusalem was the ‘time of the dead’ (as Revelation 11:8-18 insists it was) then it makes sense that Caiaphas was raised from the dead and saw Jesus in his heavenly glory at that time (Mark 13:24-30).

7 Ernest R. Harper writes, “In Daniel chapter 7, verses 13, 14 is an UNDENIABLE passage of what took place at the ascension of Christ which I will discuss later.” p. 9, and, “HIS CORONATION OR CROWNING KING. For this I read a passage that is a two-fold passage; First another ASCENSION SCENE and the CORONATION SCENE. It reads, from Daniel, chapter 7, verses 13, 14, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven and came to the Ancient of Days, and they gave him Dominion, Glory, and a Kingdom, that ALL people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

This is the same description, in principle, as the kingdom of Daniel, chapter 2 and verse 44. It should “Never be destroyed” it should “stand forever” and this was to be accomplished during the days of the Roman Kingdom, NOT after she had been destroyed and ceased to exist.” Ernest Rosenthal Harper, Prophecy Foretold, Prophecy Fulfilled p. 11, 1970.

Caption: ophthalmological test equipment for 20/20 vision.  Source: aao.org.  The Ascension of Christ.  Source: paintingvalley.com.  Michael Avi-Yonah’s model of the Second Temple.  Courtesy of Gaalya Cornfeld.