8But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
9And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
10And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
11Which 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.
Judea (v.8) — the province of which Jerusalem was the capital
Samaria (v8) — the neighboring province, with inhabitants of mixed blood and mixed (Jewish and idolatry) religion
witnesses (v.8) — to Jesus’ life and particularly His resurrection.
Was this “Great Commission” for us in the body of Christ?
The simple solution to the problem is that while the so-called “great commission,” as recorded both in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, was indeed given to the eleven, it is not our commission at all. The reason they did not complete it was not because they would not, but because they could not. It was due to Israel’s stubborn rejection of Messiah.
The eleven (increased to twelve after the ascension, Acts 1:26) would gladly have made disciples of all nations but they had received explicit directions to begin with the nation Israel. The reason for this will be clear to those who remember that according to the great Abrahamic and Davidic covenants and according to all prophecy the nations were to be blessed through that nation. This is why the apostles labored so earnestly to bring Israel to Messiah’s feet. Hear Peter as he pleads with them in Solomon’s porch:
Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities (Acts 3:25-26).
But Israel spurned the plea and God cast aside the rebellious nation until a future day.
The legalism of Matthew 28:20, the baptismal salvation and miraculous signs of Mark 16:16-18, the authority to remit sins of John 20:23 and the “Jerusalem first” of Luke and the Acts all harmonize perfectly with the program which the twelve apostles actually followed during the Pentecostal period, but they do not harmonize with our great commission and whenever men try to practice them today frustration and confusion follow. For the most part Fundamentalists merely talk about “obeying the great commission” but do not — indeed, cannot — obey and it. — Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, pages 47-48, 50
while they beheld (v.9) — They were also witnesses of Christ’s ascension
taken up (v.9) = lifted up, taken in. The cloud surrounded Him. And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven (Luke 24:50-51).
That cloud was not a cloud of vapor. It was the same cloud which had appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Shekinah. It was the same cloud of glory which had filled Solomon’s temple, which so often in Israel’s past history had appeared as the outward sign of Jehovah’s presence with His people. The Glory-cloud came to take Him in, to bring Him back to the Father from whence He had come. —The Acts of the Apostles, by Arno C. Gaebelein, page 19.
It has been suggested that this “cloud” was the host of His attending angels. This suggestion is at least not inconsistent with the Scriptural use of the word, for the same root is used in Hebrews 12:1, where we read of “a cloud of witnesses.” This would agree with the fact that He is frequently shown, as appearing in “clouds” (plural) and is called, again and again, “the Lord of Hosts.” — Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, page 51.
two men (v.10) — angels. Two were also at the resurrection (Luke 24:4).
Galilee (v.11) — identifying them as common men
shall so come in like manner (v.11) — refers to Christ’s second coming (not the Rapture, which will happen first). He’ll come back to the same place (Zechariah 14:4), the Mount of Olives.
We must beware of confounding this event given here [Christ’s return in verse 11] with that blessed Hope, which is the Hope of the church. The Coming of the Lord is His visible Coming as described in the prophetic books of the Old Testament; it is His coming to establish His rule upon earth. It is the event spoken of in Daniel 7:14 and Revelation 1:7. When He comes in like manner as He went up, His Saints come with Him (Colossians 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:10). The Hope of the church is to meet Him in the air and not to see Him coming in the clouds of heaven. The coming here “in like manner” is His Coming for Israel and the nations. The Coming of the Lord for His Church before His visible and glorious Manifestation, is revealed in 1 Thessalonians 3:16-18. It is well to keep these important truths in mind. Confusion between these is disastrous. He left them to enter into the Holy of Holies, to exercise the priesthood which Aaron exercised on the day of atonement, though our Lord is a priest after the order of Melchisedec. And when this promise of the two men in white garments is fulfilled, He will come forth to be a priest upon His throne. — The Acts of the Apostles, by Arno C. Gaebelein, page 21.
What, then, was the prophetic significance of the ascension? Basically it bespoke the divine displeasure at the rejection of Christ (even though God was to offer another opportunity for repentance) and foretold the judgment to be visited upon His enemies. See, for example, Psalm 110:1 — The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.
Prophetically the Lord also ascended, however, that He might send the Holy Spirit to sustain and empower His own in preparation for the great tribulation and His return to reign.
We must not forget that according to prophecy the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the harbinger of the great tribulation and the day of the Lord (Joel 2:28-31). As in the law the feast of Pentecost preceded that of Trumpets, so in prophecy the true Pentecost was to precede and introduce the trumpets of the great tribulation. The prophetic Scriptures know nothing of a dispensation of grace between. — Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, pages 53-54.