After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
It had been forty days since the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He had been with them during that time, teaching them about the kingdom of God, about the “promise of the Father,” and about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God.
Then, after all this, “he was taken up before their very eyes.” What a stunning event this must have been for the disciples to witness, and apparently one that took them by surprise. They stood there looking intently into the sky even after Jesus disappeared into the clouds. When Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, it likely tipped them off that Jesus was going off somewhere. But they were probably not expecting it to be like this.
So they stood there gazing upward, we don’t know for how long. They had to be brought back “down to earth” by the angels, two figures dressed in white who suddenly appeared beside them. “Why do you stand there staring up into the sky?” the angels said.
That seems like a very odd question. Had the angels arrived too late to witness the amazing thing that had just happened? Did they not know what was going on? But of course they did know, and now they were going to help the disciples understand — whenever God or his angels ask us a question, it is not to gather information but to bring revelation.
The angels continued: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Just as surely as they had seen Jesus taken up into heaven, he would come back — and in the same way. He had suddenly been hidden by the clouds; he would suddenly appear again upon the clouds.
In the Bible, the imagery of God riding upon the clouds is about God coming in judgment, to set things right in the world. Jesus ascended to heaven, all authority having now been given him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), and took his place at the right hand of the Father, the place of ruling and reigning. When he came again “with the clouds,” it would be the fulfillment of the kingdom. The prophet Daniel spoke of this:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14).It was all about the kingdom of God, just as Jesus had taught them all along. And now the coming of the Holy Spirit was at hand, who would empower them to proclaim the good news that Jesus, the Anointed One of God, was now King over all. So they returned to Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, just as Jesus had instructed.