Preterism and Exegetical Error: Acts 1:11

By Dr. Mal Couch, President Tyndale Seminary, 2002

Preterism and Exegetical Error | Hampden-Cook on the necessary powers of perception | Russell  on Acts 1:11

There are many biblical answers to the liberal view of prophecy called Preterism. But a little tucked away verse in Acts 1 makes a strong argument against the anti-biblical teaching of Preterism that denies Christ’s literal and bodily second coming.
 What is being labeled Full-Preterism teaches that Jesus has already returned to the earth around 70 AD. Arguing from both sides of their mouths, they say that Christ came back “in person,” though His resurrected body did not appear in the sky to signal this special coming, “nor will it,” they say. Yet, “his bodily Presence was there.”
 Partial-Preterism would agree with this argument, but would add that there is still a future literal second coming in the future. In other words, there are two second-comings.

 The Clear Statement of Acts 1:11

As the Lord Jesus bodily went into heaven, and the disciples “were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing,” two angels appeared and stood beside them (v. 10). They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?” Because 

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. (v. 11)

In his preterist book Dead in Their Tracks, John Noe says of Acts 1:11 that the verse supports the invisible coming of Jesus, because verse 9 says that “a cloud hid him [Jesus] from [the disciples’ sight].” I’m not sure where Noe gets this translation. He was not “hid” in the cloud. Hackett notes that the verse implies the cloud was beneath Him. The NAS Bible translates correctly verse 9 as “and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
 Noe then makes an unwarranted leap of exegetical logic and says verse 9 proves that verse 11 supports the invisibility of Christ at His return (p. 44). With questionable logic, Noe also tries to make an argument on the Old Testament passages that speak of the Lord riding the clouds. Since God does not have a body, Noe argues, so Christ’s “cloud-comings” are only figurative and not actual.
 Noe’s logic becomes thin, and self-contradictory. Everyone agrees that the cloud appearances of the Lord in the Old Testament are figurative and symbolic, because He does not have a body. Noe equates this with Jesus’ return. Since God was not seen in the clouds in the Old Testament, so Christ will not be “seen” in His coming in the clouds at His second coming. But the Acts verses are dealing with Jesus who now resides in a physical body, and who will return in the same physical manner.
 With troubling double-talk, Noe says that Christ would not “come visibly to the human eye” (p. 46). He came back in 70 AD but “was not physically seen.” When He returned in 70 AD “’in person.’ His resurrected body did not appear in the sky to signal this special coming, nor will it. Yet his bodily Presence was there” (p. 51).
 While the entire verse of Acts 1:11 describes a literal taking up of the Lord into heaven, how He comes again is the focus that is most important. Notice how the disciples saw (“blepo”) visually His bodily ascension, in like manner He will return—visually and literally. Concerning that return the Greek text reads,

Likewise, He shall come (Fut.) in the exact manner you saw Him “going” into the heaven.

 Likewise is houtos in Greek and means “in this way.”[i] “In this manner.”[ii] Or, “in the way it was done.”[iii] And, “just like.”[iv] Thus, “in the very same way” He shall come.
This idea is fortified with the expression, in the exact manner (“hon tropon”). According to the great Greek scholar A. T. Robertson, Luke the author of Acts, reinforces the idea of “how” Jesus will return by using this expression, and by using hon tropon. He writes, “(houtos … hon tropon) This points to the same idea twice. “So in like manner.” Luke points to the fact of his second coming and the manner of it also …” (Word Pictures)
Along with houtos, hon tropon rebuts loud and clear the main thesis of the preterist position, and that is, that Christ will return in some figurative or spiritualized form and not bodily, literally, and visibly, as the Scriptures say.

 In the Exact Manner (hon tropon)

 Scholars who are not premillennial and/or futurists agree on the meaning of this expression.
 The little word hon is an accusative, singular, masculine form of the relative pronoun hos generally translated which, that which.
Joined to tropon, the expression is going to be: in exactly the same way. In other words, “as Jesus went into the heaven in an absolute physical and visible way, He will in just the same manner, physically and visibly, return!”
  Hon tropon leaves no possibility for the preterist interpretation of simply a spiritual return of Christ and not a visible coming back to earth.
 On the word tropos the lexicons comment:
 q       In like manner, fashion He went and He shall return.[v]q       In the same way as, just like He went and He shall return.[vi]q       In the same manner, way in which something is done.[vii]q       After this manner.[viii]
  Ellicott writes,

“In like manner.” So our Lord, following the great prophecy of Dan. 7:13, had spoken of Himself as ‘coming in the clouds of heaven’ … in visible majesty and glory. The words of the angels suggest the same scene, as well as the same manner.Those who do not shrink from taking the words of prophecy in their most literal sense, [as] seen in Zecheriah 14:4. …The feet of the Judge shall stand upon the Mount of Olives, from which He had ascended into heaven.[ix]

 Alford writes,

 “In the same manner.” To be taken in all cases literally, not as [if] implying mere certainty.[x]

 McGarvey writes,

The angels state not merely that Jesus shall come again, but that he shall come in like manner as the apostles had seen him go; that is, visibly and bodily.[xi]

Barrett says

It is reasonable to say that Jesus will come, as he went “into the clouds” (Dan. 7:13). Luke had in mind the familiar picture of the parousia of the Son of man. … He predicts the coming of Jesus as Son of man with the clouds of heaven as an event that will in due course bring church history (which is just beginning)—and world history—to a close. He does not say when this may be expected to happen.[xii]

 Catholic writer Johnson says,

Will come in the same way. The Greek reads literally, “will come thus, in the same manner you saw him going.” The point of similarity would seem to be the cloud, which in the NT appropriation of Daniel’s vision (Dan. 7:13) becomes the vehicle for the expectation of Jesus’ future return as the Son of Man (Matt. 24:3026:64).[xiii]

 Lenski notes,

The angels restate the assurance in the most emphatic and direct form: this Jesus “shall so come in what manner you viewed him going into heaven.” … The most skeptical doubter shall not have the least trouble in getting the fullest view of “this Jesus coming out of heaven” for the judgment also of all skeptics and unbelievers.[xiv]

 Kistemaker adds,

At the end of the age, Jesus said, “[men] will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). The angels place Jesus’ ascension and his return in equilibrium. As he has ascended, so he will come back. Jesus will return physically, in the same glorified body with which he went to heaven. Hon tropon—literally it means “in what manner.” This construction “represents a compound adverbial phrase … in that manner in which [He left].[xv]

 MacArthur writes,

The angels stressed that this same Jesus whom they had watched ascend would one day return in just the same was as they had watched Him go into heaven. He will return in His glorified body, accompanied with clouds (cf. Dan. 7:13Matt. 24:3026:64Rev. 1:714:14), just as He ascended.[xvi]

Gill continues:

He shall come in the same flesh, in the same human nature;            he shall come in the clouds of heaven, and shall be attended            with his mighty angels, as he now was; he shall descend himself in person, as he now ascended in person; and as he went up with a shout, and with the sound of a trumpet, … he shall descend upon the very spot from whence he ascended. See Zech. 14:4.[xvii]

 Hackett points out that the expression “in like manner” means more than simply the assurance or certainty that a similar event will take place. It means that it will happen in exactly the same way, “visibly and in the air.”[xviii] Polhill says the expression means,

“This same Jesus will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”[xix]

 The Use of Tropos in the New Testament

 In almost every place where this word is used, it carries the meaning of “in like manner, just in the same way.” Below are some important illustrations:q       I would have gathered you in the very same way a hen gathers her chicks (Matt. 23:37).q       We are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the very exact way they also are (Acts 15:11).q       It shall take place just like it was told me (27:25).q       Sodom and Gomorrah in the very same way indulged in gross immorality (Jude 7).q       Would you kill me in the exact same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday (Acts 7:28).

 A. H. Strong’s Warning About the Preterist Heresy

 Strong has a lengthy discussion about the issue of Christ’s second coming. Will it be literal and actual, or simply spiritual in nature? Strong lists two ways we know Christ’s return is literal, actual, and visible:q       ”From the Scriptural comparison of the manner of Christ’s return with the manner of his departure.” He then quotes Acts 1:11.q       ”From the analogy of Christ’s first coming. If this was a literal and visible coming, we may expect the second coming to be literal and visible also.”On page 1004 of his Systematic Theology, he quotes  A. J. Gordon (Ministry of the Spirit) who well states that we must not confuse the Paraclete with the Parousia.
It has been argued that, because Christ came in the person of the Spirit, the Redeemer’s advent in glory has already taken place. But in the Paraclete Christ comes spiritually and invisibly; in the Parousia he comes bodily and gloriously. Strong quotes 2 John 7 to make a forceful point. “For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ comes in the flesh.” Strong notes, “here denial of a future second coming of Christ is declared to be the mark of a deceiver.” (p. 1005)    
                He then quotes the Presbyterian Review (1883):The apostles often spoke of the parousia as an event yet future, long after the promise of the Redeemer’s spiritual presence with his church had begun to be fulfilled, and by the fact that Paul expressly cautions the Thessalonians against the belief that the parousia was just at hand. (p. 1005)

The Importance of Acts 1:11 and the Preterist Argument

1.      Christ’s second coming will be visible, as to His bodily return.q       They gazed intently into the sky while He was departing (v. 10).q       They were looking up into the sky.q       He will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go.2.      Contrary to partial-preterism, there is only one second coming mentioned not two.3.      The hon tropon makes it clear that Christ will come back in the exact same manner in which He left. The disciples never speak of a spiritualized return in opposition to a literal return.
 Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament.

[ii] BAG.

[iii] Thayer

[iv] Liddell & Scott

[v] Thayer

[vi] Exegetical Dictionary

[vii] BAG

[viii] Liddell & Scott

[ix] Commentary on the Whole Bible

[x] Alford’s Greek Testament

[xi] New Commentary on Acts of Apostles

[xii] The International Critical Commentary, Acts

[xiii] Sacra Pagina, The Acts of the Apostles

[xiv] Lenski

[xv] Acts

[xvi] New Testament Commentary, Acts 1-12

[xvii] Commentary, Acts

[xviii] Commentary on Acts

[xix] The New American Commentary, Acts


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Date:24 Aug 2002Time:18:15:08


Numbers 11:25 “And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, and did not cease.”

Date:25 Aug 2002Time:18:58:43Remote User:


John 14 18I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19 “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. 20At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. 21He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” ### Please note – the world would not see Him anymore. The only possible interpretation to this is that they would not see him literally – because we are told He would come on clouds to judge – and that every eye would see Him – therefore – seeing Him again could not be in a literal sense. Because he said the world would see him no more ### 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. ### Where else do we see God making his home with believers and the believers adoption (ie God not leaving them as orphans (John 14:18)?) ### Revelation 21 3And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 7He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. ### Also here are a few examples of God coming in clouds ### Exodus 16 10Now it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. Exodus 19 9And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD Exodus 19 16Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Leviticus 16 2and the LORD said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat ### Let’s see what the Psalms say about how he went up.### PSALM 47 5God has gone up with a shout, The LORD with the sound of a trumpet. 6Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! ### So when Acts 1 says in like manner – and we see that his assencion is in clouds, with a shout and a trump. And we know that he told the Apostle’s that the world would no longer see Him. The question is – is coming in clouds with a shout and a trump like manner enough? Of course it is ###

Date:26 Aug 2002Time:09:19:23Remote User:


This is from an article I wrote: Partial Preterism interprets this passage as “a clear and compelling reference to the second advent.” It cites the fact that since the disciples “look[ed] steadfastly into heaven as he went” and that the angels stated “this Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven,” that “we have express biblical warrant to expect a visible, bodily, glorious return of Christ paralleling in kind to the ascension.” Is this accurate? Partial Preterism maintains that the disciples witnessed the ascension of Christ with natural, i.e., physical eyes. Is this possible? Consistent Preterists are not denying that they witnessed the event, however, they do not believe they witnessed it with natural eyes. Notice that the disciples were gazing into “heaven” and that the angels asked them why they were gazing into “heaven” and that Jesus was taken “into heaven” and that He would return from “heaven.” This is a very interesting thing. Are we to understand that the disciples were actually using their natural eyes to gaze into the spiritual realm? Is this possible? Consistent Preterism doesn’t think so. The disciples were given “eyes to see” in much the same way Stephen was. In Acts 7:55-56, we read, “But he (Stephen), being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, {56} and said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.’ ” Please note that the exact same terms, “looked up steadfastly into heaven,” are used here and in Acts 1:10. In fact, they are the exact same Greek terms! But notice that the accusers of Stephen did not “see” this event. Stephen told them what he saw. Indicating spiritual eyes, not natural eyes. Next, Partial Preterism asserts that we will see Christ return. But herein lies another problem¾ we did not see Him go. The angels tied Christ’s coming to the disciples. They stated, “This Jesus, who was received up from you (the disciples) into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye(the disciples) beheld him going into heaven” (verse 11). Jesus stated the same thing on numerous occasions. Worth noting is Matthew 16:27-28. There Jesus said, “For, the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father, with his messengers, and then he will reward each, according to his work. {28} Verily I say to you, there are certain of those standing here who shall not taste of death till they may see the Son of Man coming in his reign’ ” (YLT, emphasis added). Here Jesus clearly stated that He was “about to come¼ in His reign (or kingdom)” before “certain of those” standing there with Him would die. Notice also that Jesus said that some of those people then living would “see the Son of Man coming in His reign.” This is the same thing the angels said in Acts 1:11—the disciples, saw Him go and they would see Him return. This cannot mean that the Second Advent will be in out future, for it must have taken place within the generation of the disciples. We must also make mention of the phrase “in like manner.” Partial Preterism, as well as Dispensationalism, asserts that this phrase proves its understanding of a physical, bodily return of Christ. Since this did not occur in AD 70, they assert that it must still be in our future. However, if most Partial Preterists are correct in their understanding of this phrase, they have actually proved just the opposite of what they maintain. In other words, if “in like manner” means “exactly the same way,” then everything must be “exactly the same.” This means that at the Second Advent of Christ there would be no angelic host, no saints, etc., for the simple fact that there were none of those things at Christ’s ascension. Furthermore, only the disciples would see His return since they alone saw His ascension. Christ would also have to return to “exactly the same” location as He left. As anyone can see, this interpretation, taken to its ultimate conclusion, refutes Partial Preterism’s position. However, if we take Consistent Preterism’s approach, these inconsistencies melt away. As noted above, Consistent Preterism maintains that this was a spiritual ascension (i.e., it was in the spiritual realm), witnessed by the disciples. It also maintains that the Second Advent was spiritual and that the disciples (those who had not died) understood that the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 was proof of the Second Advent (also spiritual).

Date:29 Aug 2002Time:09:57:36


The use of Acts 1:11 shows just how weak the futurist explanations really are. 1) We do not really have that much information to go on as to what exactly it looked like to the men standing there. We were not there to witness it. 2) If he was to come in like manner than we have a real problem with some of the other verses that describe the coming. 26″So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. Matthew 16 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done 11I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”[1] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: |scKING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. None of these passages seem to be “in like manner” to Acts 1:11 so I guess we are to conclude that there are multiple comings of Christ some soon some distant some with Angels some without, some on horseback some in like manner to Acts 1:11. Dr. Couch’s assertion the preterism is a liberal view really steamed me. Keep studying Mr. Couch someday you will get it. Christopher C. King

Date:10 Sep 2002Time:10:56:21


Houtos – is used in Matt 6:9 also – “Pray in this manner” which is the the same word as used in Acts 1 “this same Jesus”. So how come we dont pray the exact prayer that Jesus did in Acts 1? LOL =) The futurists are grasping at straws.

Date:05 Nov 2002Time:01:17:05


Oh please! Don’t you people realize that phrases like “looking up” and “in a cloud” and “upon a cloud” and “in the heavens” and “every eye shall see him” …..are just ……..ummmm….uuuuhh….”celebratory language!” Yes! thats it…its ‘celebratory language’ not meant literally; kind of like the “apocolyptic language” of “elements melting” and “stars falling”. Geezzz have we preterists got to figure out everything??

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