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Questions & Answers

Is the Lord's return literal?

First posted: December 26, 2005

 

Question

I have just read your article on "Bread sowing" ... However I notice that you give a "prophetic" interpretation of the angel's words regarding the return of Jesus. You said it referred to us. How can we be sure that it is not a literal meaning that we should take from the passage?
 

 

Answer

There are several keys to answer that question:
 

Why not look up?

The first key is to examine the words of the 2 men in white apparel:
 

"10And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? 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 1:10-11)


Through their question (v11), the 2 men were telling the disciples not to gaze up into heaven. They then proceed to speak about Jesus' coming. If they were referring to a literal descent from heaven, wouldn't it make sense to be gazing up into heaven? If someone told you, for example, that an asteroid was headed for Earth, wouldn't your first inclination be to buy a telescope and try to see it as it approaches Earth? Wouldn't all the scientists have their telescopes pointed up at the sky, trying to gauge the time of impact? Therefore, the Lord's "coming" that the 2 men are speaking about refers to something that goes beyond any literal interpretation. When one tries to understand the Lord's coming literally, the 2 men's question makes no sense.


Some might say that the 2 men were telling the disciples that it was not the time to be gazing up because Jesus was not coming back yet. However, what the 2 men say after the question has nothing to do with time. Instead, they emphasize the Lord's return; in no way do they "postpone" gazing for a later time.
 

The original question

A second key to answer the visitor's question is the question asked by the disciples in verse 6:


"6When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:6-8)


Notice that the disciples' focus was on a chronological timetable for the establishment of a literal kingdom on Earth. The Lord's answer then focuses on the Holy Spirit coming upon them and turning them into witnesses unto the nations. This means that the Lord changed the question from a literal timetable to a spiritual endeavor. In other words, the Messiah's kingdom is spiritual in nature and is brought about through spiritual travail. It is not a kingdom imposed on the natural realm from above by a literal army.
 

The white apparel

A third key to answer the visitor's question is the 2 men's white apparel. Notice that at no point in time does Scripture refer to the 2 men as "angels", "spirits", or "supernatural figures". They were "men", like you and me, but what distinguished them was their white apparel, which points to the following passage:


"4Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. 5He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. 6He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." (Revelation 3:4-6)


As we have said before, the Church in Sardis was gripped by the Girgashite spirit, which is the spiritual antithesis of God's prophetic spirit. Therefore, when the Lord speaks of the few in Sardis who are clothed in "white raiment", He is declaring that there were a few in Sardis who did not succumb to the Girgashite spirit of earthliness, but who instead were willing to operate in the spirit of prophetic sacrifice. This correlates with what the Lord says in 2 Corinthians 5:1-11, where He calls us to "groan" (instead of "grunt") in order to be clothed in eternity. As we have said before, Girgashites are self-centered individuals who live for themselves and for earthly, visible purposes, which contrasts with the prophetic spirit that prompts us to sacrifice ourselves for a higher, invisible cause. Therefore, we can say that, when we choose to operate in God's prophetic spirit, we are clothing the nakedness of our earthliness in God's eternity.


As we have shared before, the color "white" is spiritually related to "completeness". Therefore, when we seek the spiritual things from above, we are admitting that we are incomplete in our temporality and can only be complete in the spiritual things from above. A Girgashite person who lives his life concerned about earthly things will be found lacking when He faces the Lord; he will be like a man who shows up naked to a public meeting, and he will be publicly shamed.

 

"27But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. 28And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming." (1 John 2:27-28)

[As we have said before, the ministry most directly related to the "anointing" (v27) is the prophetic ministry. Therefore, one of the things the Lord is saying here is that, if we choose not to move in God's prophetic spirit, we will be shamed before Him at His parousia (The word "coming" at the end of verse 28 was translated from the Greek word parousia). To move in the prophetic anointing is a choice that each believer has. The anointing is already in us (2 Corinthians 1:20-21), and it grows and expands as we willingly operate in it.]


Of all the evil spirits, the one that promotes a literal understanding of Scripture (and life in general) is the Girgashite spirit. Therefore, the "white apparel" on the 2 men means that the Lord's coming can only be understood if we step away from a Girgashite (i.e.- literal) understanding and begin to move in a prophetic understanding of His Scriptures, with the guidance of God's prophetic Holy Spirit.

 

The 2 men are not referred to as "angels" or "supernatural spirits" to emphasize that God will return through believers, through weak men and women like you and me who are willing to be clothed in the Lord's "white apparel".
 

Galilean men

A fourth key to answer the visitor's question lies in the way the 2 men referred to the disciples. Notice that they called them "Galilean men" (Acts 1:11). Let us look at each of these words:

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The word "men" was translated from the Greek word aner, which literally means "male". In other words, aner does not mean "man" in the sense of "human", but in the sense of gender. As we have said before, "man" is a figure of the "spirit" and "woman" is a figure of the "soul". Therefore, the 2 men were emphasizing the disciples' spirit nature.

 

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Of all the provinces in Israel, Galilee was the most "cosmopolitan" one. It had people from many different races and nationalities. Therefore, it is generally a figure of the "Gentiles" or the "nations of the Earth". This is the reason why Galileans were of such "ill repute" in Israel. They were the ones most influenced by non-Jewish cultures. When the 2 men called the disciples "Galilean", they were emphasizing their calling to go out into all the nations of the Earth, just as Jesus had said to them in Acts 1:8.

 

The reference to the disciples being "Galilean" also emphasizes the "low importance" that these men had in "religious" circles. As John 7:52 shows, the religious leaders thought so poorly of Galilee that they were convinced that no prophet had ever come out of Galilee. Interestingly enough, there was a prophet who did come from Galilee: the prophet Jonah, who was from Gath-hepher, which was in the region known as Galilee during Jesus' days on Earth (2 Kings 14:25). This means only those who understand the "sign of Jonah" (Luke 11:29-32) will truly be able to understand the Lord's coming. They will be the only ones to recognize the Lord's visitation.
 

From all of this, we can see that the phrase "Galilean men" means that Jesus' return is related to the manifestation of our spirit nature ("men") and to the expansion of God's kingdom into all the Earth ("Galilean") through men and women belittled by the religious structures. Jesus comes as His Kingdom expands, and the expansion is from the inside out, from inside of us and out into the world (Luke 17:20-21). This is the reason why the disciples were not supposed to gaze into the clouds in the sky, because they themselves were the cloud from which the Lord would reappear on Earth.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are 4 questions to consider when answering the visitor's question:

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Why were the disciples prompted not look up?

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Why did Jesus speak about being witnesses to the nations when talking about His parousia?

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Why were the 2 men dressed in white apparel?

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Why did the 2 men refer to the disciples as "Galilean men"?

 

As we carry out the spiritual task of expanding God's Kingdom, there will be consequences manifested in the natural realm. In that sense, the Lord's coming becomes "literal". But the literal manifestation is impossible if you stick to a literal interpretation of the Lord's words. The interpretation must be prophetic and spiritual, focused on God's invisible spirit operations. When you focus on that, the literal manifestations will take care of themselves. The literal realm is a mirror reflection of things that are happening in the spirit realm.

 

Before Jesus' ascent, the disciples were concerned with the literal manifestation of His return, and, in doing so, they turned into passive cloud gazers, instead of actively doing what was necessary in the spirit realm to bring about His return. In a sense, a literal understanding of the Lord's return turns into a stumbling block, a hindrance to His latter-day parousia.