The apostles were left awestruck! All they could do was to keep gazing up into the clouds in amazement. Jesus had only moments before been standing with them and giving them instructions to be His witnesses unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:7,8). That, in and of itself was marvelous for just a little over a month before He had been crucified and raised from the dead. Now, on this last day, after having shown Himself alive by many infallible proofs for forty days and having spoken with them during that time, “while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Jesus literally ascended up into the air and a glory cloud enveloped Him as He disappeared from view!
While they continued to gaze into heaven with astonishment, two angels brought them back to earth. “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven” (Acts 1:11). In effect, they were saying: Don’t just stand here with your mouths hanging open, there is work to be done. “This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The message: He is coming again! Now work!
The truly amazing thing about this event is the change which took place in these men. Immediately after Jesus’ arrest, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (Matt. 25:56). Peter, who had said “though all men should be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended” (Matt. 26:33), and “Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee” (Matt. 26:35) denied the Lord that same night a little over a month ago! After Jesus had been crucified, the apostles apparently hid behind closed doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). They were a group of men cowering in fear behind locked doors. Some witnesses.
However, after Jesus’ ascension back into Heaven, the apostles went back to Jerusalem and waited for the promise of the Father of which Jesus had spoken (Acts 1:4-8; John 14:26; 16:13). On the day of Pentecost, these men, who before had cowered in fear of persecution and death, now, after receiving the promised baptism of the Holy Ghost, boldly and publicly proclaimed Jesus openly! “Ye men of Israel, hear these words,” they said to the multitude that had gathered:
Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it (Acts 2:22-24).
Later, Peter and John openly entered the temple (Acts 3:1) and healed a man who was lame from his mother’s womb (Acts 3:2-10). Peter then told them that “ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14,15). What boldness (cf. Acts 4:29,31)!
These were strong words. Powerful words! These words laid the responsibility for the death of the Messiah squarely at the feet of the “men of Israel” (Acts 2:22). Forty days ago neither Peter nor John nor any of the other apostles would have dared speak such words privately, much less publicly (cf. Matt. 15:12). Now, however, you could not keep these men from openly speaking what they knew to be true. When the council dragged Peter and John in for questioning after a night in a cell (Acts 4:1-5), they charged and threatened them that they never again speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:17,18). Peter’s response: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19,20).
These men were changed men. What made the difference? They did not take a Dale Carnegie course on how to sharpen social skills and improve relationships. The High priest and their kindred said it best when they “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Undoubtedly their reception of the Holy Spirit endowed them with extra courage but their years with the Lord had ultimately prepared them for this occasion. When we spend time with the Lord in His word, we become changed men and women (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:10; II Cor. 3:18).
Eric L. Padgett