Remember the scene in some movie: people looking up, shielding their eyes against the bright sun, trying to catch a glimpse of something there, squinting to catch just a bit more detail. And then, someone walks up, standing with them, glancing up to the sky, but looking more at the people than what the people are looking for. When they eventually get the sky-watchers attention, it turns out they were looking for the someone right next to them.
It’s a recurring scene idea, used in Indiana Jones movies, comedies, and Acts.
Imagine it, Jesus has spent 40 days with His disciples, providing “convincing proofs” of His resurrection, clarifying the Scriptures about Himself, and simply being with them. Luke is specific, that Jesus shares about the Kingdom of God. And finally, after these days come to a close, Jesus leads them out of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, one of His favorite places. They know He’s leaving, and figure now is as good a time as any to ask a question burning in their minds, one He has ironically not covered in forty days.
“Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b)
I think (you may not) that it’s ironic, and part of Luke’s point to his audience, that Jesus speaks to them regarding the Kingdom of God, and they ask about the Kingdom of Israel. I think that difference is why Jesus answers as He does:
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8 NASB)
The message is supposed to go farther than Israel. The good news is for the world, not a single kingdom. And that’s not to say they didn’t understand that, but that they could not conceive of a mechanism to carry that message that wasn’t Israel. God had always worked through Israel. And He still would, but only to a point. Those eleven were about to become the “jumping off point” of a work of God the likes of which none of them could imagine.
And so they stood, looking into the sky where Jesus had disappeared into clouds. And these two guys walk up wearing shining clothing. I imagine the scene, like so many of those movies. “Whatcha lookin at?” And the resulting shock of those who hadn’t noticed them.
In a way, many believers are sort of stuck, looking at the sky, struggling to wrap their heads around God choosing a different method than what they had imagined and prepared for. Which is ironic to me because that is how I see God’s method throughout Scripture, the unexpected and unplanned for. Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ ministry, and His crucifixion were all completely unexpected. They were looking for a messiah, not God Himself. They were looking for a king, not the King of Kings. They were looking for a prophet, but not a High Priest and Prophet and King, somewhat like Melchizadek.
And then, after rising, He leaves. Just like that. How weird. Where’s He going? When is He coming back? Is He coming back? That’s what the two guys answer. “Yes, He’ll be back just like you saw Him leave.” Yeah, but when? Not our problem. Our problem is to obey until that happens.
So, we can get a crick in our neck, looking at the sky, or sore muscles working the harvest before us. Maybe it would be best to split our time between the two. You never can tell with God, He may just surprise us…again.