Could there be double meanings, meanings that go beyond that of the author’s original intended meaning? Well possible. We have simple examples – one being ‘a virgin will be with a child’, was not originally a prophetic word about the coming of Jesus, and yet it is quoted as fulfilment in Jesus. The double meaning is more significant, and the impact of that meaning is universal in terms of time and place; the original meaning was time- and location-bound.
In Acts 1:11 the angels said to the disciples,
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
So the obvious level is these disciples are staring into the sky as Jesus disappears from sight and in some way will come in reverse direction at some future date. However, the ‘return’ seems to be considerably more dramatic than the departure. Seen by a few, observed to be going up until a cloud obscured him from sight. At least, the return is not simply a reversal of direction. We have angels, trumpets, the sea going up its dead. ‘In the same way’ has to be primarily focused on ‘this’ Jesus. The one to return is not different to the one who left. The one who came was the revelation of God, leaving the disciples a mandate to proclaim the ‘gospel’ universally. That gospel proclamation was not centred in on ‘universal sin, death by Jesus in our place, repent and receive your ticket’ but on the total transformation of the universe through the death of ‘this’ Jesus in an obscure province of the one-world government situation. I am not diminishing all the ‘personal’ aspects that have impacted us, simply seeking to suggest they do not occupy centre-stage in the NT.
Let’s add a few more things… the disciples are looking into (not toward) heaven. They saw, or were trying to see into heaven (is that a double meaning, beyond that of the sky?) and they saw him go – two different verbs for ‘see’ are used, the second can carry the sense of ‘with discernment’.
Interlude… we are pushing into speculation, so a little freedom!
Could there be a double meaning of the more you see Jesus into the heavens the more you will see him come in the same way? If not in this verse, I am sure there is validity in that perspective. If we see that this Jesus has Ascended, it is this Jesus that is in the heavens, the Jesus who empties himself is the one in heaven, the one who receives the right to break open the scroll of human destiny (Rev. 4); if we see this Jesus we are going to be shaped by that. If we are shaped by that then this Jesus will be manifest in us, he will come, his kingdom will come, his will done on earth… more today than yesterday.
Why do you stand looking into heaven?
If the answer is ‘we want to know where he has gone’ we need to think again. If it is we want insight into the true nature of heaven as the place from which all things are shaped, so that our mouths and lives are a request for heaven to come, then Jesus will indeed come. We need a return of Jesus! A return of ‘this’ Jesus manifest among us. The one who walked among us, moved into our neighbourhood.
Let’s lay on one side for a moment the idea of a parousia, we need a presence, that presence was mediated through the ‘comforter of the same kind’, the Holy Spirit. Salvation is through Christ alone (particularism) but presence is universal (the two hands of God that some early church fathers wrote about). Presence… the more we look INTO the heavens and see that THIS Jesus has ascended there the more the universal presence (parousia) of God will come.
I understand how some can get to the place of ‘all is past’ with regard to fulfilment in AD70, but it would have to be added to with a crazy passion for the total transformation of the world through the spirit of ‘this’ Jesus not through the domination of ‘we will tell you what to do cos we have God on our side’.
I have no idea if a non-physical-parousia has any traction, but I think we should look for great revelations / appearances of Jesus before any physical in-person appearance. To do so we will need to get on board with an appropriate apostolic vision. The ekklesia was to be an outpost in a locality (or space) that was a mirror of what was in heaven.
Let this same Jesus come in the same manner.
It will affect every aspect of society. Let’s just touch one – economy (is it a little ironic that this is from the word oikoumene? True economy is not tied to empire, to moving as many boundaries as we can so that our (market) share is increased. Trade became ‘buying and selling’, but it was at one time barter. I give you this for that which you have. At best a sharing. But push it one step further back and we have gift. The NT view of gift seems to be that which is given without strings attached to someone else, another situation, so that that person / situation can take a step toward their destiny, and without the gift they will stay at their current level or even lose that. How about we gaze into heaven and see this Jesus, the Jesus of gift, not of trade and transaction. Then make space for this same Jesus to come. We might be involved in the world of commerce. We might have our hands tied by certain rules and expectations. After all we do live in the ‘(un-)real world’. But in that world we can make space for something reflective of this Jesus.
In concluding these set of posts I am not claiming I am right, and far more important than being right is the realisation that nothing is meant to be theory or something that gives me the inside track. My beliefs are to shape me and I am not too unhappy if my beliefs were wrong at certain points, but I was shaped by heaven and helped others find a shape suitable for themselves.
I do see a future ‘return’ of Jesus, but also pull for incredible irruptions of Jesus in the here and now. That could increase, not because the Bible says it will, but because we give space for it. To do so means we will have to go beyond the boundaries that convention has set for us. What is from heaven has to find a shape on earth, look just like what is here already, but in the interactions demonstrate the humanisation (and creationisation) of all things. The incarnation past, has to connect to the incarnation present that is shaped by the revelation / appearing / presence of this same Jesus.