Temple Typology – High Priest
Christ’s ascension was typological. Jesus is the High Priest. The book of Hebrews refers to His ascension and descension in typological terms. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) early in the Fall of each year, the Temple would be filled with clouds of incense smoke just before the High Priest ascended the steps into the cloud filled Temple to present the blood in the Holy of Holies. The other priests and faithful Israelites waited outside anxiously for His return, when He would descend back out of the cloud-filled temple to announce that their sacrifice had been accepted.
He left in clouds, He will return with the clouds (a Theophany) (Refer to eschatology Study Series 5b: “Hebraic Language Symbolism” for an extensive study in the biblical use and understanding of clouds in relation to God and His presence). When God brings His redemptive plan to its next stage of development, He sends His prophets and angels to announce what He is doing. And on many of these occasions, the commander of the angelic hosts (God Himself) would make His presence audibly or visibly manifested in some way.
For instance, walking in the Garden with Adam, the translation of Enoch, direct communication with Noah and other pre-flood patriarchs, three angels appeared to Abraham, two angels appeared to Lot, smoking oven and torch, Jacob wrestled with the angel of God’s presence, Burning Bush, face shown to Egyptians drowned in Red Sea, Pillar of fire by night and Cloud during the day, Moses saw backside of Yahweh and communicated directly with Him, Samuel conversed directly with Yahweh, Elijah and Elisha both “saw” into the heavenly realm, the ascent of Elijah, the fourth person in the fiery furnace, direct communication with Mary, the Incarnation, visible descent of Spirit like a dove, audible voice of God on several occasions in Jesus’ life on earth, the transfiguration, the two angels at both the resurrection and the ascension, Stephen sees Jesus in heaven, etc.
- Christ would return “in the same manner” (cloud coming) as He left (in clouds). Numerous passages affirm that He would come with the clouds. I believe Acts 1:11 is referring to that. Randall Otto’s book (Coming In The Clouds) takes this aspect a lot further.
- The “ascension” language here hints of a typological connection with the “ascent” of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies to perform the Yom Kippur sacrifice. The idea is that His High Priestly ascent will be followed soon by His descent back out of the Holy Place to announce salvation completed. Just like the earthly High Priests ascended into the Temple filled with a cloud of incense, and then descended back out of that cloud again, so Christ would ascend with the clouds and descend with them. (See Hebrews 9).
Acts 1:11 depicts the ascent of the High Priest up into the Holy of Holies to present His sacrificial blood to make Atonement and then to return back to His anxiously awaiting saints just like Heb. 9 and 10 teach. He left in clouds with the angels, He returned in clouds with His angels.
Acts 1:11 text shows its typological connection to Jesus’ High Priestly ascent up into the true heavenly Holy of Holies to perform the final atonement, and then descend back down to “appear a second time” to His anxiously waiting followers (Heb. 9:28). Both the going away and the return were “cloud comings” (Theophanies) accompanied by angels. He left the same way He was to return (in clouds with the angels) to appear to His anxiously waiting disciples (“How long, O Lord?” Rev. 6:10; and “O, our Lord, come!” 1 Cor. 16:22). They expected that return before all of them in that generation died. Some of them were promised to still be alive and remain until His return (Matt. 16:27-28 and John 21:22-23).
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 14 Lesson 7 The Parousia Acts 1:9-11”]