To Be Continued


In the book of Acts, (that describes the acts of the Holy Spirit through the commissioned ministries of the Apostles) we see the work of Christ continued. In his gospel, Luke purported to give an accurate narration of all that Jesus “began to do and teach.” This book records what  Jesus, now resurrected, ascended, and the “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2), continued to do in order to establish the message of the kingdom of God and give visible manifestation to the nature of that kingdom. It would be a universal, not an ethnic, kingdom including all nations, a joyful kingdom because of fellowship with the triune God, a courageous kingdom fearing God and not man, a suffering kingdom reflecting the world’s continued hostility to the claims and character of Christ, a gracious kingdom effected by the substitutionary suffering of Christ eliciting repentance and procuring forgiveness as defining marks, and an eternal kingdom ruled over with grace and mercy by the eternal Jehovah. Its subjects advance its cause with truth, not a sword, and welcome an early entrance into its glory by death rather than cling to this life through compromise.


I. Verses 1-5 – Luke Summarized Jesus’ earthly ministry.

A. References to Luke’s presentations of Jesus’ ministry

1. “to do” – Here Luke  recalls his reporting of Jesus’ healings and manifestations of power in the spiritual realm (e.g. Luke 7:22). He healed lepers, paralytics, atrophied, the blind, the deaf, the mute, the deadly ill, those with chronic bleeding, the feverish, the demoniacs, and he raised the dead. He demonstrated his power over nature (Luke 8:22-25; 9:10-17; He forgave sins and discerned the spiritual status of those around him (Luke 5:20-26; 7:47-50). Finally in completion of his purpose, he suffered through whipping, beating, crucifixion, and burial (Luke 22:54 – 23:56).

2. “to teach”, We know of Jesus’ precocity in knowledge through Luke’s record of his dialogue in the Temple at twelve years of age. He taught by propositions and in a didactic way (Luke 6:20-38; 9:21-27; 12:1-12, 22-34 ) by parables (Luke 6:39; 8:4-18; 15 etc.) and in combination (Luke 10:25-37). His teaching came with authority as it arose from his intrinsic knowledge of the nature of God, the nature of sin, the purpose of Scripture, and the precise way in which his life and death embraced the eternal covenantal redemptive purpose of God (Luke 9:21, 22; 9:43-4510:21-24; 11:29-32)

B. Verification during the final forty days

1. Presented himself alive. The tomb was empty and angels announced that he was living for he had risen from the dead. Luke recorded only the appearance of Jesus to two disciples on the Emmaus road, to Simon, to the gathered disciples, and on the mount of ascension.

2. “Many proofs” – On the Emmaus road, he walked, talked, and finally, took bread and broke it. When he appeared to the gathered disciples, he talked, showed them his hands and feet, asked them to touch him, and ate fish before them.

C. Instructions during the final forty days.

1. He then reminded them of what he had told them and convinced them from Scripture that what they were seeing was precisely what they should have expected if they properly understood the Scriptures (24:44, 45). This instruction would be essential for their gospel preaching on the day of Pentecost and beyond (Acts 2:25-36, etc.).

2. Speaking about the kingdom of God. This bit of instruction they seemed slow on the uptake (eg. Verse 6). They would need to be instructed further through the Scripture as the Spirit opened their minds progressively to see the kingdom in much broader terms than they had perceived up to this point. They would need to see the difference between the ceremonial law and the moral law, the promises as they related to both Israel and the Gentiles, and the implications of justification by faith.

3. They were not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, that is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Their success could not come without the work of the Spirit in blessing their message with conversion power. Two aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit are involved in Jesus’ instruction.

They were to be gifted by the Spirit for inspired preaching and writing as apostles of the new covenant. Like the writers of the Old Testament Scriptures, they would receive revelation for the fulfillment of canonical truth concerning the work of God in the world through Christ’s redemptive work. (Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Galatians 1:6-12; Ephesians 3:3; 2 Timothy 3:10-17; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:16-21; 3:14-18).

Their proclamation would take root in the hearts of their hearers only by the creative power of the Spirit. (Acts 2:33-37; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

The baptism of the Holy Spirit would establish the new community of God according to the new covenant. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the immersion by the Spirit of God of those effectually called into the body of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13). This is the reality of the new covenant, a people set apart by and living in the sanctifying power and gifting prerogative of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s operations under the old covenant was individual, giving faith and holiness and persevering grace to a non-coherent remnant; in the new covenant he originates and sustains a coherent people whose corporate life, as well as individual lives, reflects the reality of faith, holiness, blamelessness. Its basis of existence is the work of the Spirit, not ethnic or ceremonial origin. It includes Gentiles as well as Jews, and establishes a suffering community rather than a triumphant community. Water baptism likewise recalls the work of the Spirit in creating the new community; it is thus not simply an individual confession of faith (though it is not less than that) but a symbol of unity with a visible community marked off by the Spirit’s effectual witness to the gospel.

II. Verses 6-8 – Luke Summarized the events of Jesus’ Ascension

A. verse 6 – Question from the Apostles – Like John the Baptist from prison (Luke 7:18-23) the disciples still looked for the display of the winnowing fan, the separation of the wheat from the chaff, and the burning of the chaff. They pressed together two different parts of the Messiah’s work as prophesied and so looked for that which would only come later. In the meantime they would witness the large scale rejection of the Messiah by Israel, the dominance of the Gentiles in the church (Acts 28:26-28), and would see that only at the latter part of the last days would a large remnant of Israel be grafted back in (Romans 11:23-32).

B. Answer from Jesus –

1. Some things they are not to know. – They certainly would receive special revelation about many things pertaining to the eternal purpose of God, the nature of the work of Christ, the character of the Holy Spirit’s work, the resurrection of the dead, and certain aspects of Christ’s return. They were not to know, however, the time at which the Kingdom would be established in visible glory by the return of Christ. The time of Christ’s coming is certain and, according to the wise prerogative of God in working all things for his own glory, he has fixed the time of Christ’s coming. The time is connected with other purposes including the salvation of all of those for whom Christ has died. When the number of those given to the Son is complete (John 17:24), then the Son will come (2 Peter 3:9-13).

2. Something necessary to receive – They were to receive the Spirit in his extraordinary work of setting them aside as apostles with all the signs and gifts that involved (2 Corinthians 12:12, 13).

3. Something to do – Since they had seen the resurrected Christ, been taught and commissioned by him, and would be made interpreters of his word, and inspired proclaimers of the gospel, they would be the witnesses that would be used in establishing the church in Jerusalem and the Judean area, seeing it move into Samaria, and then to the Gentiles and, by representation, to all the world (Colossians 1:6). Though they were witnesses in the truest sense, in that they saw personally the resurrected Christ and receive from his mouth their commission, all who hear that apostolic message, believe it with the sure sense of faith, also have the commission to be witnesses. According to Jesus’ words in Matthew 28, this blessing of the divine presence accompanying the witness of the church will continue to “the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

III. Verses 9-11- Luke Pointed to the Promise of Jesus’ Return.

A. His reception to a realm beyond sight (“out of their sight . . . into heaven”).When he finished his words to them, while they looked on the one they loved, and upon whom they depended, he left, entering a cloud that took him out of their sight. He entered a realm that is presently invisible to human eyes, but, nevertheless, is real and one day will be seen.

B. The angels reprimand their clinging to the sight of Jesus, resurrected, but still in the state of humiliation. Jesus had given them as much assurance as possible that he would not leave them comfortless or without power to do what he had instructed them to do. Though they might have felt panic at this apparent abandonment, he had carefully prepared them for this moment, had instructed them to wait for the special manifestation of power and his presence among them through the Spirit. They should not, therefore, stand gazing, desiring Jesus to stay, for if he did not go away, he would not prepare a place for them and then come again to receive them to himself (John 14:1-3; 25-29).

C. As Jesus ascended through the air into heaven, so will he come from heaven through the air.

1. Heaven is not located “up” but is in a different sphere of existence. It seems to be up from our perspective wherever we stand on this globe, for the movement to a different sphere of existence leaving our sight would appear to be up. But the heaven to which Jesus went was into the presence of God where already created beings are also present (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 4). He went into the presence of the glory of his Father and there, as the resurrected man who conquered Satan, sin, and death he intercedes for his people. He is the heir of all things and has been given a name that is the most excellent of all names among men—Savior.

2. He will come again. Even as he disappeared in a cloud, so he will appear in a cloud (Revelation 1:7), and those that are his will be caught up in the cloud in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17) but it will not be a private appearing or a quiet one. He will come in flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8), with a cry of command, with the shout of an archangel, the blast of a trumpet. So glorious and powerful will be this coming that even those who know him, expect his appearing to be glorious, and look for the manifestation of divine and heavenly power, will marvel at his coming (2 Thessalonians 1: 9, 10).

D. He ascended with the gathering of his people by faith through the gospel all to come. All that he had initiated by his death and resurrection in calling out his people was yet to be accomplished. The rest of the story in Acts shows how the risen and ascended Lord superintended his work after his ascension.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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