At the end of these verses we find a fourth principle for Christian living in this age. It is the expectation of the return of the Lord. This is the passage that tells of Christ’s ascension into heaven. During these days He had been appearing to the disciples on unanticipated occasions to teach them spiritual things. If that had continued, they might have thought, “Well, that’s the way it’s going to be forever. Every so often, Jesus will just be here to give us the kind of instruction we need.” That would have been their mentality. Jesus had to teach them that this phase of His work was ending. So there came the moment when Jesus bid them good-bye and then ascended visibly into heaven and disappeared from sight.
Suddenly the disciples became aware that there were angels standing by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky?” (v. 11). It was a way of saying, “Why are you just standing here? There is work to do. Get on with it.” Then the angels gave a great promise: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
We know that the Lord Jesus Christ is returning to judge the world, because we are told about it elsewhere in the New Testament. The disciples also had been told that one day Jesus would return to render judgment. But when the disciples were told that “this same Jesus” would be coming back, I do not think they responded by reflecting on the judgment. They would have been thinking about the Jesus they loved. They would have been thinking that one day, this gentle, loving, gracious, but sovereign, holy, and majestic Jesus would come back. He would stand with them and would say, as He had taught them in a number of his parables, “Well, brothers, how have you done? What have you accomplished during all these years that I have left you to carry out my Great Commission? Have you done the work well? Or have you been lazy? Have you let your opportunities slide?” I am sure that as they thought of that, they were encouraged for the task that lay at hand.
In the summer of 1986 I was in England taking part in the great Keswick convention, and one of my blessings at that convention was meeting an Irish preacher by the name of Derrick Bingham. He is a great worker in Belfast, where every Tuesday night he teaches more than one thousand young people. We spent a good bit of time together, and he shared many of his experiences with me. On one occasion he told how he was called into the ministry. Every Irishman has a deathbed story about his dying mother, it seems, and Derrick Bingham is no exception. He said that as his mother was dying, she said to him, “Derrick, my boy, you have the gift of gab. But you don’t know the Word. If you’d learn the Word, the Lord might be able to use you.” That was how Derrick Bingham received his call to the ministry. Within three weeks of his mother’s death Derrick Bingham was preaching.
Bingham was greatly impressed with the Keswick convention, as I was. He said to me one evening as we were walking home late at night, after speaking to perhaps five thousand or more people, “You know, as I was sitting there on the platform I was thinking about my mother. And I was thinking that if my mother could come back from heaven for a moment and walk in here and see this great convention and me sitting there on the speaker’s platform, I’d say to her, ‘Look what we’re doing, Mom. Here we are. We’re doing what you wanted us to do all the time.’” Derrick was encouraged by that thought.
But I find myself thinking that if that was an inspiration to him, if that kept him going, if that fired him for the task at hand, how much more the thought that one day the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is going to come! He is going to say to us, “How are you doing, my brothers? How are you doing, my sisters? Have you carried out your assignment?” Jesus will not be harsh. He will come expecting that we will have carried out the task.