PMW 2023-019 by Keith A. Mathison
This is an abbreviated summary of Matthison’s full article, which may be found in full (with footnotes) at:
In recent years a challenge to traditional orthodox eschatology has arisen in the form of a doctrine that may be termed “hyper-preterism.” According to proponents of this doctrine, the Christian church has been mistaken in its expectation of a future Second Advent. According to proponents of this doctrine, all New Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. This means that, according to hyper-preterism, the Second Advent, the general resurrection, and the final judgment, among other things, are past events. The emergence of this doctrine has generated a vigorous ongoing debate that shows no sign of slowing.1
Much of the exegetical attention in the ongoing debate over hyper-preterism has centered on biblical texts such as Matthew 24–25 (The Olivet Discourse) and the Book of Revelation. However, much less attention has been given to the text of Acts 1:9–11.2
This is somewhat surprising because traditionally Acts 1:11 has been understood to be a clear and unambiguous promise of the personal, visible, and bodily Second Coming of Jesus Christ to earth. The text is significant to the current debate because in order to assert that the Second Advent occurred in the first century, most hyper-preterists have insisted that the event was either invisible (occurring in the spiritual realm) or visible only to those Christians with the spiritual perception to see.3 Acts 1:9–11, however, seems to describe something more — namely, a bodily ascension from earth and the promise of a corresponding bodily return to earth. Of course, if Acts 1:9–11 promises an objectively visible bodily return of Jesus to this earth, this would create serious problems for the hyper-preterist thesis, since there does not appear to be any evidence that anything of the sort occurred in the first century.4 It is for this reason that a much more thorough examination of this text of Scripture is required in light of the current debate….
The writing of Acts that range from A.D. 62 until well into the middle of the second century. The strongest arguments appear to support a date somewhere between A.D. 62 and A.D. 64.62.
Luke’s prologue to his Gospel helps us identify his basic purpose in writing both the Gospel itself and the Book of Acts. In this prologue, Luke writes, Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that havebeen accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good
to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1–4, ESV).63
Why I Left Full-Preterism (by Samuel M. Frost)
Former leader in Full Preterist movement, Samuel M. Frost, gives his testimony and theological reasoning as to why he left the heretical movement. Good warning to others tempted to leave orthodox Christianity.
See more study materials at: KennethGentry.com
There are a couple of important things to observe in this passage. First, Luke’s purpose is to write an orderly account of the things that happened. He is aware of other written accounts of these things, and he says that he is among those to whom accounts of these
things have been delivered by eyewitnesses. In other words, Luke’s primary purpose in writing was historical. Second, Luke is providing Theophilus with this historical account in order that he may have certainty concerning the things he has been taught (1:4). In other words, Luke is not writing history for history’s sake. He is providing Theophilus with a certain historical foundation for his Christian faith. Luke intended his Gospel and the Book of Acts to accurately present the things that actually happened according to eyewitnesses. Like Peter, Luke refused to “follow cleverly devised myths” (2 Pet. 1:16).The Book of Acts, therefore, is best described as a historical book.64
We now come to the key question in the debate: “What saith the Scripture?” As we have seen, hyper-preterists have suggested a number of objections to the traditional interpretation of this text and have offered a number of potential alternative interpretations in its place. Each of these objections and alternative interpretations will be discussed as we proceed with a positive exegesis of the text.
The account of the ascension in Acts 1:9–11 occurs at the very beginning of the Book of Acts. It is important, therefore, to understand it in the broader context of the narrative of Luke-Acts. How does this text fit into the broader context? Why is it found at this point in the narrative? What is Luke’s point? At the most basic level, Luke’s point is to write an accurate account of what happened at Jesus’ final appearance to his apostles after the resurrection. The ascension narrative in Acts 1 is presented as a
straightforward historical narrative. There is a repeated emphasis in verses 9–11 on the fact that there were eyewitnesses to the event (cf. 1 John 1:1). The ascension itself is treated in the immediate context as the last event of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Acts 1:22). As Bruce Metzger explains, “The special contribution which Luke makes is to suggest that the ascension was an event as real and objective as the other appearances of the risen Lord.”65
Luke does not provide this account, however, simply to satisfy our historical curiosity. The ascension account also forms an important part of Luke’s overall narrative purpose. In the context of Luke’s broader narrative (Luke-Acts), this historical account
of the ascension serves as a transition point, a “hinge,” as it were, between the Gospels and the church, between Jesus and the Spirit. It is interesting to observe, for example, the frequency of the term pneuma (“spirit”) in the Gospels in comparison to its frequency in Acts. In Matthew, the word pneuma occurs 19 times; in Mark, 23 times; in Luke, 36 times; in John, 24 times. In Acts, however, the word is used 70 times. Jesus explained to his disciples, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). It makes perfect sense, therefore, for Luke to introduce the era of the Spirit with the account of Jesus’ departure. According to Jesus’ own words, his departure (Acts 1) is a necessary condition for Pentecost (Acts 2).
Luke’s account of the ascension also provides a turning point in the apostles’ understanding of the kingdom of God. In Acts 1:3, Luke tells us that after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles over a period of forty days, speaking to them about the kingdom of God. At his last appearance, immediately before the ascension, the apostles ask Jesus a question about the kingdom of God: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). After Jesus ascension, whatever confusion may have remained in the apostles’ minds regarding the kingdom had been completely dispelled. From the ascension onward, they are found confidently proclaiming the kingdom of God (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). They are found proclaiming that Christ is now king (Acts 17:7; cf. 2:36). The same proclamation is found in the books these apostles wrote after the ascension (cf. Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 1:6, 9). The book of Acts begins (1:3) and ends (28:31) on the subject of the kingdom, and the ascension of Christ, as we will see, is what cemented the apostles’ understanding of this key doctrine.
Why Not Full-Preterism? by Steve Gregg
This work exposes some of the key flaws in Hyperpreterism by someone who has formally debated them. Much insightful material for those who might be tempted to forsake historic Christian orthodoxy.
For more Christian educational materials: www.KennethGentry.com
In Acts 1:1–8, Luke introduces the events that lead up to the account of the ascension itself in verses 9–11. Verses 1–5 form a prologue that ties the Book of Acts to the Gospel of Luke and introduces the events to follow.
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (1:1–5).
Luke here describes his Gospel as “the first book,” with the implication that Acts is a “second” book. He informs his readers that Jesus appeared to the apostles over a period of forty days after his death and resurrection. He offered many proofs that he was truly
alive (cf. Luke 24:39–43), and he spoke to them about the kingdom. Jesus also commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father — the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1:4–5; cf. Luke 24:49).
Following this brief prologue, Acts 1:6–8 provides the immediate context for the ascension account:
“So when they had come together. They asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’:
The apostles have gathered together with Jesus on the Mount of Olives (cf. Acts 1:12) just east of Jerusalem. The apostles ask him a question about the kingdom, specifically whether he would “at this time” restore it to Israel. Jesus does not answer either yes or
no. Instead, he tells the apostles that it is not for them to know “times or seasons.”66 Jesus then reminds the apostles of the promise of the Father they are to await in Jerusalem (cf. 1:5). He tells them they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes
upon them. He then gives the apostles their last commission, telling them they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The apostles’ question indicates that they continued to conceive of the kingdom in too limited and exclusive a sense.67 They continued to think only in terms of the nation of Israel. Jesus’ answer to their question pointed to a much different concept of the
kingdom. The apostles were to be his witnesses not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria and to the very ends of the earth. Israel had been commissioned with this task under the Old Covenant (cf. Isa. 43:10; 44:8; 49:6), but she failed. The task was now given to the new Israel.68 Many commentators believe this commission acts as a kind of key to the structure of Acts with the apostles preaching in Jerusalem in Acts 1–7, in all Judea and Samaria in 8:1–11:18, and to the ends of the earth in 11:19–28.69
Have We Missed the Second Coming:
A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error
by Ken Gentry
This book offers a brief introduction, summary, and critique of Hyper-preterism. Don’t let your church and Christian friends be blindfolded to this new error. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
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“And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
The entire account of the ascension is told very succinctly in three verses. Luke connects Acts 1:9 to the previous text with the conjunction kai (“and”) and two participles: the aorist participle eipōn (“after he said,” or “when he had said”) and the present participle blepontōn (“while they were looking,” or “as they were looking”). As C.K. Barrett observes,
“The contrast between aorist and present participles is intentional and significant.Jesus has now said all that he has to say to his disciples. The promise of the Spirit and the commission to act as witnesses complete his work on earth. The disciples
however are still looking at him, and are thus able to vouch for his ascent into heaven.”70
As we noted above, Randall Otto argues that Luke’s use of a form of the verb blepō does not require us to assert that the disciples were actually looking at Jesus. He argues that had Luke intended this meaning, he certainly would have mentioned Christ as the direct object. He then adds, “according to the standard Greek lexicon, blepō is used here abstractly; there is no object at which the disciples can be said to be looking.”
There are several problems with Otto’s line of reasoning. First, he is ignoring the immediate context. According to the context, the entire ascension event, including the lifting up of Jesus, is what the disciples saw in verse 9. And if it is still claimed that the disciples were not looking at Jesus himself, all we have to do is observe the content of verse 11, which does provide an explicit direct object, saying: “you saw him (auton) go.”71 Second, Otto’s claim about the definition of blepō in the standard Greek lexicon is incorrect. The second edition of the Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek-English lexicon (the lexicon cited by Otto) does not say that blepō is used “abstractly” in Acts 1:9. The meaning of the abbreviation “abs.” is provided in the introductory pages of the lexicon. According to the editors, it means “absolute,” not “abstract.”72
For those, such as Otto, who want to restrict the meaning of blepō to “spiritual perception,” the text of Acts 1:9–11 provides no support. While it can be used in that sense, “blepō in general simply refers to the capacity to see, of sense perception.”73 Of
course, the meaning of any word is determined by its context, so the ques ion is whether the meaning of blepō in the context of Acts 1:9 refers to perception with the eye or to some kind of spiritual perception. Significantly, the context presents the ascension as an observable historical event in the same category as the other events in the life of Jesus.74 It is not presented as a “visionary” experience. Furthermore, Luke uses other terms in addition to blepō to describe the visibility of this event. In addition to using a form of the word blepō twice in these three verses, Luke also uses the words atenizō (1:10) and theaomai (1:11). I will discuss the way these words are used in the New Testament below, but suffice it for now to say that they provide no support for the idea that the apostles saw the ascension only with the “eye of faith.”
Luke next tells us that after Jesus had said these things (1:6–8), and while they were looking on, “he was lifted up.” The verb is the aorist, passive, indicative of epairō (“to lift up”). As we observed above, Randall Otto argues that in the passive voice, epairō “does not have to do with an active physical lifting up but with a lifting up of someone in stature or dignity.” It has to do with “exaltation.” Otto again cites the BAGD lexicon as support for this interpretation, and again there are a number of problems with his use of the evidence. First, the BAGD lexicon does not indicate epairō means “exaltation” when used in the passive voice. It lists under the passive use of the verb two subcategories: a literal meaning (“be taken up”) and two figurative meanings (“offer resistance” and “be presumptuous”). It lists the use of epairō in Acts 1:9 under the literal meaning.75 The newly revised third edition of Bauer’s lexicon is even clearer in that it simply places the use of epairō in Acts 1:9 under the definition “to cause to
move upward, lift up, hold up).76
Otto also makes much of the fact that the BAGD lexicon lists 1 Clement 45:8 as another text that includes the verb epairō in the passive voice. He says, “As we can plainly here see, the only other similar use of this word does not denote a literal and
physical elevation of the person, but rather describes in figurative terms the elevation of the person in honor and dignity, i.e., exaltation.”77 Several observations are in order. In the first place, it must be noted that the editors of the lexicon do not place 1 Clement 45:8 under either of the two figurative meanings of the verb. It is listed, along with Acts 1:9, under the literal meaning of the verb (i.e. to “be taken up”). Secondly, the editors define the meaning of the verb in 1 Clement 45:8 as “the exaltation to heaven of those who endured.”78 The passage in 1 Clement is discussing those who suffered persecution and martyrdom but persevered in faith until the end. They may have died, but they were “exalted to heaven” or “lifted up to heaven.”79 Of course, in 1 Clement this is not referring to the physical lifting up of their bodies to heaven. It is referring to the lifting up of their souls or spirits to heaven. But this is not something that is found in the meaning of the verb itself. It is something that must be determined by the context.
Finally, it is incorrect to claim that 1 Clement 45:8 contains the only other similar use of this verb. It may be the only other use of this verb in the passive voice that has been found thus far in the literature of this time, but this is not as significant as Otto assumes.
The most important clue to the meaning of the word epairō in Acts 1:9 is its use elsewhere in the New Testament. In these books, the verb is used approximately 20 times. An examination of each of the texts in which it is found reveals that epairō is not used to refer to the lifting up of someone in stature, dignity, or honor. In other words, it is not used to mean “exaltation” in the New Testament literature.80 In the majority of cases, it is used in connection with the “lifting up” of one’s eyes (e.g., Matt. 17:8), or
one’s voice (e.g., Acts 2:14). It is also used to refer to the lifting up of one’s hands (Luke 24:50; 1 Tim. 2:8), one’s head (Luke 21:28), or the sail of a ship (Acts 27:40). It is used once in the figurative sense of “rising up in opposition” (2 Cor. 10:5) and once in the sense of “being presumptuous” (2 Cor. 11:20). The only meaning of epairō that makes sense in the context of Acts 1:9–11 is the literal meaning “to cause to move upward.” The passive voice does not change the meaning of this verb. It simply indicates that Jesus was not the agent who lifted himself up. He was “lifted up” by someone or something else.
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Furthermore, even if it were true that the verb epairō had the idea of exaltation in honor as one of its possible meanings in the first century, it is not the only verb used to describe the actual ascension of Jesus in this passage. Luke also uses the terms
hupolambanō, poreuomai (twice), and analambanō. Both hupolambanō, and analambanō are typically used to mean “to take up” and poreuomai is typically used to mean “to go” or “to proceed.” The standard lexicons do not list “exaltation” as a normal
meaning of any of these terms. In other words, what Luke is describing in this passage is a visible upward motion of a person. This does not mean that exaltation was not involved in the ascension of Jesus. Luke indicates elsewhere that Christ’s exaltation involved both his resurrection and ascension (cf. Acts 2:30–34), but the fact that Jesus was exalted in his resurrection and ascension does not mean that there was no literal bodily ascension any more than it means there was no literal bodily resurrection. It should also be pointed out that when Luke speaks of exaltation in Acts 2 and elsewhere, he generally uses the verb hupsoō (cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31). He does not use that term in Acts 1:9–11. The primary emphasis in Acts 1:9–11 is on what the apostles saw with their eyes. Luke focuses on the theological explanation of this event elsewhere.
Luke concludes verse 9 with the statement, “and a cloud took him out of their sight.” The first question that must be answered in connection with this phrase is the precise meaning of kai, the Greek word translated “and.” The significant question is whether kai is being used here as a simple connective conjunction or as an explicative conjunction.81 In other words, is the intended meaning: “he was lifted up, and then a cloud took him out of their sight” (connective)? Or is the meaning: “he was lifted up; that is, a cloud took him out of their sight” (explicative)? In terms of what Luke says the apostles witnessed, the question is whether:
1. They saw Jesus ascend a certain distance and then disappear from their sight when he reached the cloud — ascension to a cloud.
2. They saw the cloud appear to actively lift Jesus upward a certain distance before he disappeared from their sight — ascension in or with a cloud.
3. They saw Jesus suddenly vanish into a cloud while he was standing before them without any visible upward motion of either Jesus or the cloud.
Answer 1 would be the implication of the connective use of kai. The explicative use of kai could imply either answer 2 or answer 3. The only way to determine which answer is the most likely meaning intended by Luke is to examine the context….
To finish reading and see the footnotes, go to:
THE TWO AGES AND OLIVET
I am currently researching a study of the Two-Age structure of redemptive history. My starting point is based on the disciples’ questions to Jesus in Matthew 24:3. Much confusion reigns among those unacquainted over the Two-Age analysis of history that was promoted by Jesus and by Paul. The Two Ages are not the old covenant and the new covenant, but world history since the fall and the consummate order following the Second Coming and the Final Judgment.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!
It makes me laugh as the Jehovah’s witnesses use this excuse that most hyper-preterists have insisted on, that the event was either invisible (occurring in the spiritual realm) or visible only to those Christians with the spiritual perception to see. You see, after Christ did not come when they thought he would in 1914 they thought about the disappointment for a while then to save embarrassment, declared Ah! he is here after all, but invisible! Thus they saved their credibility! hahaha! and they went on to deceive millions of unsuspecting people to this day.
Its been a while since I learned that context is everything. Otherwise scripture taken out of context becomes a pretext for wrong interpretation.