After [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:9–11)
Why did Jesus leave? When will he come back? And why were we left behind?
I want to suggest to all followers of Christ that not only does the very mission and purpose of the church depend on the answers to those questions, but so, too, does the purpose and meaning of our individual lives. If we don’t understand why Jesus left, then we will never understand the significance of our lives in Christ today.
Now listen, because here is the answer: I believe Jesus left because there was something critical he intended for his disciples to do. There was some unfinished business for his church to take care of. He was very specific about just what he wanted done, and he said he would return when that business had been completed.
Jesus had spent three years preparing his disciples for this critical mission. He spoke about it constantly, and in his last days with them he promised them that the Holy Spirit would come with power to be their guide.
The mission? Establishing and building the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus had cast his compelling vision of a different kind of kingdom—a new way for God’s people to live under God’s authority and rule. It meant a revolution of values and ideas. Man’s fall in the beginning resulted in sin, death, and separation; Jesus’ revolution would result in peace, love, and reconciliation. Men and women could now live in a restored relationship, not only with God but also with each other.
The kingdom of God would be comprised of God’s people, forgiven and empowered, living according to God’s values in communities he called the church. And Jesus’ dreamed-of kingdom would explode like a mustard seed, which begins as “the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Matt. 13:32).
The kingdom of God would launch a peaceful assault on the power structures that ruled human empires. They would resist that assault with violence, but Jesus assured the disciples that the very gates of hell would not prevail against it.
How does Jesus’ ascension affect our mission here on Earth?
Jesus, thank you for giving our lives clear purpose and meaning. Help me to know what my role should be in your kingdom-building mission.