Many futurists (myself included in times past) consider Acts 1:9-11 as definitive proof for a visible and bodily return of Jesus sometime in our future. However, through careful exegesis, and a study of comparative texts, this position becomes highly untenable. The only way one arrives at such a conclusion is by (a) ignoring the language of the text, (b) isolating this passage from all its comparative texts, and (c) ignoring the time limitations that scripture imposes on those parallel texts.
In what follows we will powerfully demonstrate that Acts 1:9-11 cannot refer to a future-to-us visible bodily return of Jesus, but instead refers to the spiritual and covenant-presence coming (Parousia) of Jesus Christ in AD70. Let’s read the text.
And after he had said these things, he was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while he was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
The common futurist argument from Acts 1:9-11 to support a future and visible bodily return of Jesus goes something like this:
-Jesus visibly ascended into heaven in a physical body.
-But, scripture says that he would return in “just the same way” (in like manner) that he ascended.
-Therefore, Jesus must visibly descend from heaven in a physical body.
-But, since Jesus has not yet done this…
-Therefore, the visible bodily second coming of Jesus is yet future.
On the surface this argument seems convincing, and it would be, if Acts 1:9-11 was the only text in the New Testament which prophesied Jesus’ second coming. But it’s not, not by a long shot. Let’s look at just one other text in the New Testament which also clearly prophesies the second coming of Jesus.
For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
The common preterist argument from Mathew 16:27-28 to support a spiritual and covenant-presence coming (Parousia) of Jesus Christ in AD70, goes something like this:
-Jesus prophesied his second coming to his disciples.
-But, Jesus promised his disciples that his second coming would occur within their lifetime.
-Therefore, the second coming of Jesus – in glory, with his angels, in judgment, and to establish his Kingdom – occurred in the first century, in the lifetime of his contemporary disciples.
The problem is, both these arguments can’t be true. Consider the implications if they are.
-Jesus visibly ascended into heaven in a physical body.
-But, scripture says that he would return in “just the same way” that he ascended (Acts 1:11)
-And, scripture says that his return would take place in the lifetime of his first century disciples (Mathew 16:27-28)
-Therefore, Jesus visibly descend from heaven in a physical body in the first century, in the lifetime of his contemporary disciples.
So, if both arguments are correct, here is the implication: Jesus returned bodily in the first century, and therefore, must be alive and well on earth today. But, if this is true, where is he? Can you see the problem with this scenario? The logical conclusion is that one of the arguments must be wrong, but which one? Well, that’s what we are about to demonstrate, and based on the simple yet profound hermeneutic stated immediately below, I feel confident siding with the latter.
“That which is most clear and simple always determines the interpretation of the more obscure or complex”. Said another way (and most applicable to our competing arguments above), the time (the clear and simple) of a text always determines the nature (the obscure and complex) of a text”.
Let’s begin by examining the Greek words, “hos tropos”, translated as “just the same way” in the NASB version of Acts 1:11, below is the text.
This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way (hos tropos) as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
The Greek words “hos tropos” means: “a manner, way, fashion, as, even as, like as, manner of life, character”. Thus, it is rendered “in like manner” in some translations. It does not necessarily mean “exactly, precisely, specifically, in just the same way”. In other words, just because Jesus ascended in a body, doesn’t mean that he needed to return in a body simply because Luke used the phrase “in just the same way” (hos tropos). We can prove this quite simply by examining how the words “hos tropos” are used and understood elsewhere in the New Testament.
2 Timothy 3:8
Just as (hos tropos) Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith.
Just to set the context a bit, many scholars and commentators believe that Jannes and Jambres were two of the magicians in Egypt who opposed Moses by performing similar miracles when Jehovah was pleading with Pharaoh to release his people Israel. Recall specifically when Moses threw down his staff and it became a serpent, the magicians of Egypt, “in just the same way” (hos tropos), did likewise (Exodus 7:10-11). This story nicely illustrates our point.
Ask yourself, was Paul saying that the unholy men of his day were doing exactly, specifically, and precisely what Jannes and Jambres had done in Moses’ day? In other words, was Paul saying that these men were turning staffs into snakes, in opposition to the truth of the gospel? The answer is obvious. Instead, it is best to understand “hos tropos” in this text to be referring to the “big picture”, rather than to specific details. Just as the exodus and deliverance of Israel from bondage was opposed in Moses’ day, Israel’s second exodus and true deliverance from bondage was being opposed in “just the same way” (hos tropos) in Paul’s day. Clearly, “hos tropos” in 2 Timothy 3:8 can’t be forced to mean exactly, specifically, and precisely, “just the same way”.
After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe…. But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way (hos tropos) as they also are.”
Once again, was Peter emphasizing “generals” or “specifics”? Did Peter mean that the Gentiles were being saved in exactly, specifically, and precisely “just the same way” (hos tropos) that the Jews had been saved? Did Peter mean that the Gentiles were being saved in the same places, at the same times, and in the exact same circumstances as the Jews were? Or, did Peter simply mean that both Jew and Gentile were “in the same way” (hos tropos) being cleansed in heart by faith (15:9)? Peter, like Paul, was emphasizing a general truth rather than specific details.
The same is true in Acts 1:9-11. The two men in white didn’t mean that Jesus was going to return in exactly, specifically, and precisely “just the same way” that the disciples had seen him go. They were emphasizing general truths rather than minute details. Furthermore, there is absolutely no mention of the “body of Jesus” in the text. Now please understand, I’m not arguing that Acts 1:9-11 can’t refer to a bodily return of Jesus simply because the word “body” isn’t in the text. That’s a terrible hermeneutic. My point is, if the emphasis of Acts 1:9-11 really is on the bodily ascension and the subsequent bodily return of Jesus, then why doesn’t the text mention the body? And on that note, what doesn’t any other “second coming text” mention a “bodily return” of Jesus either?
The fact is, the non-emphasis of the “body of Jesus” is just the tip of the iceberg. If the return of Jesus in Acts 1:9-11 is supposed to be in “just the same way” that he ascended, then why doesn’t the text emphasize other notable elements that are recorded elsewhere in scripture as being present at the second coming of Jesus. In other words, why doesn’t Acts 1:9-11 record Jesus ascending….
In the glory of his Father, with his mighty angels….
With the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God….
In flaming fire….
In view of “every eye” ….
And, on a white horse….
After all, that’s how the texts below describe his return, his second coming, notice….
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels…”
1 Thessalonians 4:16
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God…”
2 Thessalonians 1:7
“…when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire”
“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him….”
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True…”
This powerfully proves our point, and demonstrates the utter contradiction that the futurist interpretation of “hos tropos” in Acts 1:11 causes. One more point before we conclude. When the futurist insists that Jesus must return in “just the same way” that he ascended, they are unwittingly denying that Jesus will return in the glory of his Father, and here is why….
-Before his incarnation, Jesus existed in the glory of his Father (John 17:5)
-In his incarnation, Jesus emptied himself of that glory, and took upon himself the likeness of a man (Philippians 2:6-7)
-When Jesus ascended in his incarnation form, he was not yet glorified (John 7:39)
-Therefore, if Jesus must return in “just the same way” as he ascended, then Jesus must return “unglorified”.
In other words, when the futurist insists that the second coming of Jesus will be “in just the same way” (hos tropos) as he ascended, they are in effect saying that Jesus will “appear a second time” (Hebrews 9:28) in the likeness of an unglorified man – in his incarnation form – rather than the glorified King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in all power and glory. Having refuted the futurist interpretation of “in just the same way” (hos tropos) in Acts 1:11, we will now begin to demonstrate what Acts 1:9-11 actually teaches. And to do this, we must turn to its parallel texts.
Continued in Part 2….