The In-Between Years - Part 5

Series: The In-Between Years

May 24, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years - Part 5

I’m Pastor Brad, this is PVFBC’s online service, and thanks for joining us today.

Before we get to the message, let me tell you about what’s happening next Sunday. We are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. How will we do that without meeting on campus? We will provide you with special communion kits you can use at home. I’ll lead the service just like I normally would, guiding you through what to do wherever you are. 

The kits will be available for pick-up under the awning Wednesday ?-? and Saturday 9-11.

If you aren’t able to pick up a key you can use crackers and juice at home. I look forward to celebrating this special time with you.

Also, right now the staff and leadership are working on a plan to start our phase-in process next month. Look for an announcement next Sunday on that.


We are 5 messages in to our new series, and we’re still in chapter 1! Remember, everything in chapter 1 sets us up for what happens in chapter 2, and what happens in chapter 2 is the catalyst for everything that happens in the rest of the book. 

We know so far that Jesus has been meeting with and teaching the disciples for forty days after his resurrection. But now it’s time to return to where he came from. His last words focus the disciples on the main thing in these in-between years and the main thing is given in one of the most important verses in all the Bible…

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Acts 1:8 (ESV)

That’s the heart of what it means to be the church, to be a Christian. We are to… 

Be witnesses of God’s kingdom in the power of the Spirit.

Acts 1:8 is also an outline of the book. You can take the spread of the gospel in Acts and break it down by chapter according to the areas of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then the end of the earth. That last part is still going on today.

Back to our text as we pick up with verse 9… 

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Acts 1:9 (ESV) 

There’s so much more in this verse than meets the eye.

As I’ve read and even preached this verse over the years, like you I’ve always understood it as having to do with altitude. Jesus ascended up into the sky and just kept getting higher and higher until he was so high he disappeared in the clouds, like when you let go of a helium-filled balloon. My thought was, even though the disciples couldn’t see it, he kept on going into outer space and going and going to till he reached heaven. Pretty straightforward and obvious, right?

But along the way I’ve learned this text is not as obvious as it seems. I’ve discovered it has more to do with dimension than altitude or atmosphere.

In my studies, I’ve realized even though the Bible talks about heaven, the dwelling place of God, as being above, it doesn’t imply we could travel far enough in a spaceship to find it. The biblical writers didn’t think of it like that. For them, heaven was a dimension that somehow occupied the same time and space as ours, yet existed outside of it. Heaven, according to one Bible scholar, is “a spiritual realm that coexists with the material world.”[1] Dimension, not altitude.

Keep studying this, and you find that the cloud here has nothing to do with what we see floating in the sky. Another scholar explains…

The cloud, as so often in the Bible, is the sign of God’s presence (think of the pillar of cloud and fire as the children of Israel wandered through the desert, or the cloud and smoke that filled the Temple when God became suddenly present in a new way).[2]

There’s a kind of cloud or holy smoke associated with God’s heavenly dimension. That’s the kind of cloud Luke writes of here not the puffy whiteness we see in the sky every day. So Jesus does go up, but he’s met in the air by God’s cloud and taken away to the heavenly dimension. Remember that. Verse 10… 

10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,  Acts 1:10 (ESV)

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these guys. Luke recorded their appearance in his first volume as the women took spices to anoint the body of Jesus only to find an empty tomb… 

4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  Luke 24:4–7 (ESV)

Obviously, they were angels dispatched to help guide the disciples along the path God had set for them. Note how they kind of have an attitude: “Why are you in a cemetery? Don’t you know death couldn’t hold God’s Son?” Of course it’s not really an attitude, it’s just the way angels are. They see what we can’t, being able to go to and fro from the heavenly dimension to our earthly one and all.

That account is so similar to ours here in Acts 1. These two angels express a little attitude to the earthly disciples who had not yet figured things out (just like at the tomb). They said… 

11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  Acts 1:11 (ESV)

I love that. 

Let’s look at the last part of what they said first: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Jesus left ascending into the heavenly dimension via a cloud (that holy smoke!). And that’s exactly how he’d return. Descending from heaven in a divine cloud. This is big, bigger than we know, not having been raised in the Hebrew Scriptures like the Jews.

To get what’s being communicated here you have to consider how Jesus liked to call himself “the son of man” in all the gospels. The first occurrence is in Matthew 8:20… 

20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  Matthew 8:20 (ESV)

We might think Jesus is just implying his humanity as God come to us in the flesh, and maybe he is, but Jews would have picked up on this being a title referred to in one of Daniel’s prophecies… 

13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.  Daniel 7:1314 (ESV)

The Ancient of Days is obviously God. The one like a son of man the Messianic figure mentioned all over the OT. He had to be more than a mere man to stand before a holy God and sit on an everlasting throne. Note how he came in verse 13: with the clouds of heaven. Not fluffy white clouds that bring rain but clouds signifying the presence of God. Sound familiar?

Now look at where Luke records the words of Jesus as he teaches the disciples about the very thing Daniel prophecies…

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Luke 21:25–28 (ESV)

You catch that? The Son of Man coming in the clouds. That’s a direct reference to Daniel 7. Using this kind of language means Jesus identifies himself as the one who stands before the ancient of days, the one who comes with the clouds of heaven to set up his kingdom one day.

Take all we’ve just learned and see if this text is given new meaning…

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 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. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.  1 Thessalonians 4:1318 (ESV)

All this is what these angels are talking about.The In-between years begins at this moment: the time between Jesus’ ascension and that future day when the Son of Man returns in the clouds, the same way he left. 

Now back to the first part of what they said…

Why are you still standing here?

There’s that same attitude we saw at the empty tomb. We need these rebukes, these snarky nudges from the angels. What do you think those women would have done had the angels not been there? Searched high and low for his body. But what needed to be done? Tell the world he is risen!

What do you think the disciples would have done had the angels not been there? Sat down and just looked skyward for hours, maybe even spent the night. They might have even marked the spot so they could come back and build a temple. Maybe visit it every day until he came back.

What a spiritual high that must have been, though. We couldn’t blame them for wanting to maintain it. One commentator writes…

The apostles’ gaze into the sky is understandable after witnessing such a miracle. The angelic rebuke, however, is necessary. Moments of high spiritual experience are never ends in themselves. It was time to come down from the mountain and witness to what they had seen. The angelic rebuke was followed by a promise: “This same Jesus … will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” It was a strong affirmation of Jesus’ return—not just a promise but a reality concretized and affirmed by the ascension they had just witnessed.[3]

Until he returned they had a job to do in the in-between years: be Jesus’ witnesses in the power of the Spirit. That preaches itself!

This is why, folks, I keep saying God never intended his children to just sit back and wait for Jesus’ coming, that getting saved is just about going to heaven when we die. We’ve been given assignments. The angels’ reprimand of the first disciples is a word for us today!

Why are you just sitting there in that pew (or on that couch)? Jesus is coming back the same way he left. Let’s get busy telling people about Jesus. Let’s get busy promoting justice and mercy and hope and love. Let’s get busy defending the powerless and lifting up the penniless. Let’s get busy trying to make this world the way it’s going to be when Jesus comes in the clouds to set up his everlasting kingdom.

They did as they were commanded by Jesus in verse 4, they went to Jerusalem to wait for the promise of the spirit…

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.  Acts 1:12 (ESV)

Even this ties in with everything we’ve just learned. The ascension happened on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem. Luke records this location for a reason. The prophet Zechariah prophesied that when the Messiah, the Son of Man returns to set up his kingdom and make all things right…

4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.  Zechariah 14:4 (ESV) 

Not only would Jesus return one day in the same way he left, he’d return to exactly the same place.

Conclusion: We’ll close with one of the many snapshots Luke gives of the early church, kind of selfies with words…

13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.  Acts 1:13–14 (ESV) 

All this is in preparation for what comes next.

Can you see how God guides and controls all of history to accomplish his plan? Can you see how big the story of Christianity is, spanning thousands of years and influencing countless people?

Did you know God wants you to be a part of that story? The way you do that is by taking him up on his promise to save all those who call on his name.

[1] Seal, D. (2016). Heaven. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Wright, T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 13). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

[3] Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, pp. 87–88). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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