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the power Holy Spirit coming upon you," and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
He had before informed them that they should be baptized with the Holy Spirit: he now tells them for what purpose it was to be bestowed, namely, in order to give credibility to the testimony which they were to bear, both in Judæa and out of it, to his miracles, doctrine and resurrection. This was the general design of their mission.
9. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
All we learn from this passage is, that Jesus, after ascending into the air, disappeared from the view of his disciples. On this occasion it is natural to inquire whither he went, and what he is now doing. But on these subjects the history is silent. The common opinion, indeed, is that he ascended to some place above the clouds, where God has his peculiar residence, where he holds his court, sits upon a throne, and is surrounded by angels and other beings. But of the existence of such a place, as a separate portion of the universe, we may reasonably doubt. Modern discoveries in philosophy have shown us nothing in the space with which we are surrounded but planets, like the earth on which we live, moons, comets and stars. The sacred writers do indeed seem to suppose the existence of such a place as that which has been just described; but it is rather done to help our conceptions than to represent what is strictly true, and ought no more to be understood literally than when they speak of the Deity as having hands and eyes and other organs of a man, or as moving from place to
place. In regard to the place which is designed to be the residence of good men after the resurrection, it is probably this earth, after it has undergone certain important revolutions which
be necessary to prepare
it for this purpose*. If then there be no local heaven above the clouds, Christ, in ascending, could only go into the air and never proceed beyond the limits of this planet. Accordingly some have supposed that he is still on or near the earth, although invisible to us, and that he is employed, together with Enoch and Elijah, in a way which we cannot comprehend, in promoting the designs of Providence respecting the Christian church. In confirmation of this opinion, they have observed that he appeared several times in person to the apostle Pault. But it must be remembered that on this subject, the present residence of Christ, we have nothing but conjecture to guide us ; the scriptures having been silent, or, at most, having only furnished obscure hints.
10. And while they looked stedfastly towards heaven, as he went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel,
11. 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.
* To those who may be alarmed with such speculations respecting the future heaven of Christians, I would recommend the words of Mr. Hallett. “ It cannot be thought of any great consequence in itself,” says he, “ to determine in what place good men shall dwell after the resurrection. It is enough for them to know that they shall be completely happy, both in body and in soul, in that place, be it where it will. Their God and Father will take care that they shall be in a most convenient and glorious place; and they may contentedly go on towards it, (as Abraham did towards Canaan) not knowing whither they go. For where the king is, there is the court, and where God is, there is happiness, peace and joy. Upon which account no one will be surprised to find me supposing that good men shall dwell on the new earth for ever, God can make them completely happy there to all eternity."
Notes on Texts of Scripture, Vol. i. p. 191.
+ Priestley's Discourses, Vol. ij. Disc. iv. Pt. 2.
The apostles might possibly look for the descent of their master to the earth again ; or feel some uneasy apprehensions about his future existence and happiness. These messengers were, therefore, sent to inform them that, although he disappeared for the present, he would still live, and that they should see him again; for that he would descend in the same visible and glorious manner in which he had now ascended. By heaven, in these two verses, nothing more seems to be intended than the sky; a sense which the word frequently bears in scripture; for we are told that the disciples looked stedfastly after Jesus towards heaven, that is, towards the sky; for there was nothing else to behold.
12. Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, rather, " the mount of Olives,” which is from Jerusalem a sabbath-day's journey, or, about two miles.
13. And when they were come in, that is, into Jerusalem, they went up into an upper room, to escape observation, where abode, rather, « where usually abode,” both Peter and James and John and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James,
14. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
The principal object of these prayers, no doubt, was the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Christ had encouraged them to pray for by the parable of the man who went to his friend at midnight, to beg three loaves of bread, and succeeded by his importunity, of which you have an account, Luke xi. 1–13.
1. The rebuke which Christ gave to his disciples, when they inquired whether he would now restore the kingdom to Israel
, should teach us to restrain our curiosity respecting future events. We may feel ourselves much interested in them, and be very desirous to know when they will take place. But if God has reserved them in his power, and not thought proper to give us any information respecting them, we should learn to be contented with our ignorance, and quietly acquiesce in his will. To be eager and impatient in our inquiries after what God has concealed, is to be dissatisfied with his dispensations, and will probably involve us in many errors and in much anxiety.
Where predictions, however, have been delivered, and the time of their accomplishment has been marked out by the hand of God, although in obscure characters,' we are not laid under the same restraint. To inquire diligently here is our duty; it is a proof of our faith in the divine promise, and may tend yet more to confirm it,
2. The miracle here related hears the clearest marks of truth, and lays a just foundation for hope
It is not said to have been performed in the night, or while the parties were all involved in a cloud, as in some 'fabulous accounts; but in the open day; not in tumult and confusion, during a storm of thunder and lightning, when the attention would be strongly attracted to another object, or wholly confounded; but while Jesus was speaking, while every eye was fixed upon him and attentive to him. In these circumstances the disciples saw him taken up into the air, gradually and leisurely ascending, until he was entirely withdrawn from their sight. And, lastly, he was seen not by one person only, but by many. What can be fairer and more unexceptionable?
Although we know not with certainty, the place of his residence, yet we are assured that he is at the right hand of God, in a post of the highest dignity and honour, and head over all things to his church; that he is glorified and happy, and will continue to be so to the end of the world, the consummation of all things, when he will come again, with the same splendour, to raise the dead and to judge the world. Of this last event his miraculous departure from among men was intended to afford us a security and pledge; it is naturally calculated to produce that effect; and the design is rendered clear beyond all doubt by the testimony of two angels.
3. Let the conduct of these disciples, in betaking themselves to prayer on the present occasion, teach us what we ought to do, when we expect important blessings. Christ had often promised the gifts of the Spirit to his disciples, during the course of his ministry; he had renewed the same promise after his resurrection, and just before his departure, so as to leave no room for doubt in their minds that they would be bestowed. Yet they think it right to ask them of God by fervent and continued prayer, and to express