One of the most common objections to Covenant Eschatology is based on Acts 1:9f. The disciples, beholding the ascending Christ, were told that he would come, “in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9f), this means, we are told, that Jesus must return in a physical body.
There are a variety of ways to counter this unfounded claim, including the fact that the Greek term (hon tropon) translated “in like manner” does not demand identicalness. As a matter of fact, those who press for the “in like manner” definition do not actually hold to a coming in identical manner as the ascent. For instance, Jesus left silently; yet, those who believe in a yet future parousia believe he will come with the literal sound of a trumpet.
While hon tropon can sometimes mean identicalness, it more often means general likeness, without specificity. For instance, in Matthew 23:37, Jesus said he had desired to gather Jerusalem “as (hon tropon) a mother hen gathers her chicks. Surely no one would argue that Jesus wanted to gather Jerusalem under his literal arm! Likewise, Paul said that the evil men arising in his generation withstood the truth “as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses.” Would anyone argue that Paul’s enemies were opposing him exactly and precisely as the false Egyptian prophets? In point of fact, hon tropon, seldom means exact likeness.
Jesus left, visible to only a handful of people. Yet, all futurists believe the Second Coming will be visible to every eye of every human on earth. Jesus told his disciples, “Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more; but ye will see me; because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). After his resurrection, Jesus appeared only to a select few (Acts 10:41), even including the 500 witnesses (1 Corinthians 15), and never appeared to the “world” at large again. And, here in John 14, he said that the world (kosmos) would never see him again. Jesus was never to appear in the flesh to the world again!
Jesus left without any “fanfare.” Yet, we are told that at the end of the present age, he will come with the destruction of material creation–which clearly did not happen at the ascension. And, he will come with 10,000 angels, when only one angel was present at the ascension.
There was no flaming fire, nor destruction of literal creation at the ascension. Yet, we are told that this is what happens when Christ returns in the future (2 Thessalonians 1; 2 Peter 3).
Jesus did not ascend on a white horse, with a sword protruding from his mouth, leading the army of heaven. Yet, John says that at the Second Coming, Jesus rides a white horse, leads the armies of heaven, and has a sword coming out of his mouth (Revelation 19). Where is the “in like manner” comparison here?
Consider the Transfiguration for a moment. (Be sure to see our articles on “Defining the Parousia” for a fuller discussion of this issue.) The Transfiguration was a vision of the parousia (Matthew 17; 2 Peter 1:16-19). However, what did Jesus look like at the Transfiguration? Did he look as he did at the ascension? Clearly not! The Transfiguration scene presented Jesus with the effulgent glory of Deity shining through. Jesus’ appearance was so radically transformed that the disciples were “scared out of their minds” to use a modern term. So, the Transfiguration was a vision of the Second Coming, but Christ’s appearance at the Transfiguration in no way resembles his appearance at the Ascension. Therefore, to overly emphasize “in like manner” in Acts 1 is patently wrong headed.
Likewise, in Revelation 1:13f, Jesus appeared to John in his post ascension form, and that description, that apocalupsis of Jesus, in no way resembles the ascension appearance of Jesus:
“In the midst of the seven lamp stands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; his feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Revelation 1:13-16).
Notice that John saw, “one like the Son of Man.” The One he saw was so resplendently different than that One he had known, had seen, had touched (1 John 1:1-3), in his Incarnate existence, that John could only say that the One he now saw was like ( ìïéïí), the Son of Man.
Is it not clear that this appearance of Jesus was not Jesus in the flesh? This was not Jesus in his post resurrection earthly form. There is no physical, bodily likeness between this vision and what the disciples saw at the Ascension. Thus, to press the “in like manner” of Acts 1:9f to identicalness is misplaced. Both the Transfiguration and John’s vision on Patmos reveal Jesus’ parousia epiphany, and there was nothing of his earthly form revealed in either vision. In both of these visions, we see Jesus revealed as Deity, not as a man.
Very clearly, there are very significant and material differences between the Ascension of Christ and the traditionally taught Second Coming. Thus, the term “in like manner” should not be pressed too hard by those who insist on identicalness of manner. We have more to say about this in our book Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory. The book is currently sold out, and is under revision, but will be re-published in the near future.
Don K. Preston