Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
9. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up on high, and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10. And while they looked up steadfastly into heaven, as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11. Which 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 as you have seen him go into heaven.
9. The readers may learn out of our Institutions what profit we reap by the ascension of Christ. Notwithstanding, because it is one of the chiefest points of our faith, therefore doth Luke endeavor more diligently to prove the same; yea, rather, the Lord himself meant to put the same out of all doubt, when as he hath ascended so manifestly, and hath confirmed the certainty of the same by other circumstances. For, if so be it he had vanished away secretly, then might the disciples have doubted what was become of him; 39 but now, sith that they, being in so plain a place, 40 saw him taken up with whom they had been conversant, whom also they heard speak even now, whom they beheld with their eyes, whom also they see taken out of their sight by a cloud, there is no cause why they should doubt whither he was gone. Furthermore, the angels are there also to bear witness of the same. And it was needful that the history should have been set down so diligently for our cause, that we may know assuredly, that although the Son of God appear nowhere upon earth, yet doth he live in the heavens. And this seemeth to be the reason why the cloud did overshadow him, before such time as he did enter into his celestial glory; that his disciples being content with their measure 41 might cease to inquire any further. And we are taught by them that our mind is not able to ascend so high as to take a full view of the glory of Christ; therefore, let this cloud be a mean to restrain our boldness, as was the smoke which was continually before the door of the tabernacle in the time of the law.
10. Two men He calleth them so by reason of their form. For although it might be that they had the bodies of men in deed, concerning which thing I will not greatly stand in defense of either part, yet certain it is they were not men; but because this metonymia is commonly used in the Scriptures, especially in the First Book of Moses, I will not greatly stand thereupon. Their white garments were a token of rare and excellent dignity. For God meant by this, as by an evident token to distinguish them from the common sort of people, that the disciples might give better ear unto them; 42 and that at this day we also may know that this vision was showed them of God.
11. Ye men of Galilee, etc. I am not of their opinion who think that this name was given the apostles after an opprobrious sort, as if the angels meant to reprehend the slowness and dullness of the apostles. In my opinion, it was rather to make them more attentive, in that men, whom they did never see before, did name them as though they had perfectly known them. But they seem to reprehend without cause, for looking up into heaven. For where should they rather seek for Christ than in heaven? Doth not the Scriptures also oftentimes exhort us thereunto? I answer, that they were not reprehended because they looked up towards heaven; but because they coveted to see Christ, when as the cloud which was put between them and him did keep them from seeing him with their bodily senses: Secondly, because they hoped that he would return again straightway, that they might enjoy the sight of him again, when as lie did ascend to stay in the heavens until such time as he should come 43 to judge the world. Wherefore, let us first learn out of this place that we must not seek Christ either in heaven, either upon earth, otherwise than by faith; and also, that we must not desire to have him present with us bodily in the world; for he that doth 44 either of those two shall oftentimes go farther from him. So this their admiration is reprehended, not simply, but inasmuch as they were astonied by the strangeness of this matter; like as we are oftentimes carried unadvisedly into a wonderful great wondering at God’s works; but we never apply ourselves to consider for what end and purpose they were done.
Jesus, which is taken up into heaven There are two members in this one sentence. The first is, that Christ was taken up into heaven, that they may not henceforth foolishly desire to have him any longer conversant with them upon earth. The other is straightway added as a consolation concerning his second coming. Out of these two jointly, and also severally, is gathered a firm, stable, and strong argument, to refute the Papists, and all other which imagine that Christ is really present in the signs of bread and wine. For when it is said that Christ is taken up into heaven; here is plainly noted the distance of place. I grant that this word heaven is interpreted divers ways, sometimes for the air, sometimes for the whole connection 45 of the spheres, sometimes for the glorious kingdom of God, where the majesty of God hath his [its] proper scat, howsoever it doth fill the whole world. After which sort Paul doth place Christ above all heavens, (Eph 1:22,) because he is above all the world, and hath the chiefest room in that place of blessed immortality, because he is more excellent than all the angels, (Eph 4:15.) But this is no let why he may not be absent from us bodily, and that by this word heavens, there may not be signified a separation from the world. Let them cavil as much as they will, it is evident that the heaven whereinto Christ was received is opposite to the frame of the world; therefore it doth necessarily follow, that if he be in heaven, he is without [beyond] the world.
But, first, we must mark what the purpose of the angels was, for thereby we shall more perfectly know what the words mean. The angels’ intent was to call back the apostles from desiring the carnal presence of Christ. For this purpose was it that they said that he should not come again until he came to judge the world. And to this end serveth the assigning of the time, that they might not look for him in vain before that same time. Who seeth not that in these words is manifestly showed that he was bodily absent out of the world? Who seeth not that we are forbidden to desire to have him upon the earth? But, they think they escape safe with that crafty answer, when as they say that then he shall come visibly; but he cometh now invisibly daily. But we are not here to dispute of his form; only the apostles are taught that Christ must abide in heaven until such time as he appear at the latter day. For the desiring of his corporeal presence is here condemned as absurd and perverse. The Papists deny that he is present in the sacrament carnally, while that his glorious body is present with us after a supernatural sort, and by a miracle; but we may well enough reject their inventions concerning his glorious body, as childish and frivolous toys. They feign unto themselves a miracle not confirmed with any testimony of Scripture. The body of Christ was then glorious, when as he was conversant with his disciples after his resurrection. This was done by the extraordinary and secret power of God; yet, notwithstanding, the angels do forbid to desire him afterward after that sort, and they say that he shall not come unto men in that sort (before the latter day.) Therefore, according to their commandment, let us not go about to pull him out of the heavens with our own inventions; neither let us think that we call handle him with our hands, or perceive him with our other senses, more than we can see him with our eyes. I speak always of his body. For in that they say it is infinite, as it is all absurd dream, so is it safely to be rejected. Nevertheless, I willingly confess that Christ is ascended that he may fulfill [fill] all things; but I say that he is spread abroad everywhere by the power of his Spirit, not by the substance of his flesh. I grant, furthermore, that he is present With us both in his word and in the sacraments. Neither is it to be doubted, but that all those which do with faith receive the signs of his flesh and blood, are made truly partakers of his flesh and blood. But this partaking doth nothing agree with the dotings of the Papists; for they feign that Christ is present in such sort upon the altar as Numa Pompilius did call down his Jupiter Elicitus, or as those witches did fetch down the moon from heaven with their enchantments. But Christ, by reaching us the bread in his Supper, doth will us to lift up our hearts into heaven, that we may have life by his flesh and blood. So that we do not eat his flesh grossly, that we may live thereby, but he poureth into us, by the secret power of his Spirit, his force and strength.
He shall so come I have said before, that by this consolation all sorrow which we might conceive, because of Christ’s absence, is mitigated, yea, utterly taken away, when as we hear that lie shall return again. And also the end for which he shall come again is to be noted; namely, that he shall come as a Redeemer, and shall gather us with him into blessed immortality. For as lie doth not now sit idle in heaven, (as Homer signifieth, that his gods be busied only about their bellies;) so shall not he appear again without profit. Therefore, the only looking for Christ’s coming must both restrain the importunate desires of our flesh, and support our patience in all our adversities; and, lastly, it must refresh our weariness. But it worketh this only in the faithful, which believe that Christ is their Redeemer; for it bringeth unto the wicked nothing but dread, horror, and great fearfulness. And howsoever they do now scoff’ and jest when as they hear of his coming, yet shall they be compelled to behold him sitting upon his tribunal-seat, whom now they will not vouchsafe to hear speak. Furthermore, it were but frivolous to move any question about his apparel wherewith he was then clothed, whether he shall come again being clothed with the same or no. Neither am I now determined to refute that which Augustine, in his Epistle unto Consentius, doth touch, (August. ad Con. Epist. 146;) notwithstanding, it is better for me to omit that thing which I cannot unfold.
“Haesissent attoniti,” might have stood astonished.
“Quam in edito et undique experto ac patente loco et constituti,” when they were standing on an elevated spot, open on all sides, with nothing to interrupt the view.
“Modulo,” little measure.
“Ad eorum dicta attentiores,” might be more attentive to what they said.
“Secundo,” a second time, omitted.
“Haerebit,” shall cling to.