And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. (Acts 1:9)
An Upward Look
As the Book of Acts opens, Christ's disciples are looking upward, watching intently as the Lord ascends into heaven. Then "a cloud received him out of their sight" (1:9).
In the Bible a cloud often suggests an enveloping glory of the divine Presence. At the time of Moses a cloud hovered over the Tabernacle, signifying God's presence, and during the ministry of Christ on earth, a cloud overshadowed Him on the Mount of Transfiguration.
The cloud also had a prophetic impact. When Jesus described His glorious return to His disciples, He told them that they would see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven.
What a fitting way to begin the Acts of the Apostles. As the men still looked up, two white-clothed angels stood by them and said: "This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going to heaven" (1:11). That announcement reaffirms the promise of the final triumph of the church at the end of the age, when the Kingdom of God shall come in all its glory, and every knee shall bow before Christ and every tongue confess that He is Lord (cf. Phil. 2:10).
Successors to the apostles always lived with this upward look. The church militant can never be separated from her destiny in the plan of God. What we may view as failures or successes in the work are only sequences in the sovereign will of Him who has determined the end from the beginning (cf. 2:23, 4:28). The past and future are eternally present in His mind. To comprehend the scope of evangelism, then, we must focus on the fulfillment of the Great Commission, a reality already celebrated in heaven around the throne of God (Rev. 5:9; 7:9).
Here, in the councils of eternity, we get perspective on earth's priorities: The movement of history reaches its conclusion; the pieces of the puzzle fit together. At the feet of Jesus, permanence dispels the passing contingencies of time, and we know even as we are known. Though now we only see vaguely the outline of that Kingdom, we know that it is certain and that someday Jesus Christ shall reign, King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 11:15; 17:14; 19:6).
Time change, of course. Nothing in our society is ever stationary. But the command to reach the world for Christ remains the same. The Book of Acts makes clear that bringing the Gospel to every creature is God's program, and it can be accomplished.
World evangelization, considered in its full spiritual dimension, complements vital Christianity. Indeed, it is part of the Kingdom vision. Here is a divinely ordered goal for every Christian. Not only is it attainable; it is inevitable. Whether or not we believe it, someday the Gospel of the Kingdom will be heard to the ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14). The God of the universe will not be defeated in His purpose. Any activity not in step with His design for human destiny is an exercise in futility. The sooner we realize this and align our way with His, the sooner we will be relevant to eternity.
How critically the church needs the Kingdom vision----a vision born of the Word of God and the reality of His will for humankind. Too easily we have settled for less, letting the world set our agenda, while the priorities of heaven are ignored. All the while the aimless multitudes drift ever nearer to destruction, without a song to sing or a cause to espouse.
In this light, is it not appropriate to ask ourselves, "What is God's aspiration for our lives?" Only after we have determined where our Lord wants us to go can we make plans to get there.
The issue turns on our view of God and His Gospel to the world. If we are assured that the King of Glory, having taken our sins away and shattered death in conquest of the grave, will save unto the uttermost all who come to Him, then we cannot sit idly by while men and women perish without hope. We dare not show unconcern for the world God loves and for which He gave His beloved. The good news of salvation must be heralded to the ends of the earth. Jesus is Lord! He reigns on high and is coming again in majesty and power. Just the thought makes the heart almost miss a beat in wonder! We may not amount to much, but we have a great Savior, and His Kingdom is forever.
Here is where we begin. How this vision will be realized, however, brings us to consideration of another principle in the unfolding drama of redemption.