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According to John 16:7 and Acts 1:9-11, He is gone:

7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. [John 16:7 ESV]

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:9-11 ESV]

But according to Matthew 18:20, He is present:

20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” [Matthew 18:20 ESV]

In fact, He even paid a visit to Paul:

3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. [Acts 9:3-5 ESV]

Is Jesus gone or present?

Is He "generally" gone but under specific circumstances (e.g. Matthew 18:20) or excepcional circumstances (e.g. Acts 9:3-5) still able to visit us?


Related: Is Matthew 18:20 literally true? Does Jesus possess the divine ability of omnipresence?

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  • Why the downvote though? Dec 12, 2021 at 2:46
  • 1
    Not my downvote - I just upvoted this good question.
    – Dottard
    Dec 12, 2021 at 3:42
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    I have not voted but this looks like a debated topic to me, not the analysis of one particular text. I think it should be broken down and asked in at least two questions. But I think it is a valid enquiry.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 12, 2021 at 9:11

2 Answers 2

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I think the OP has partially answered his own question. Let us remind ourselves that the Holy Spirit did not suddenly arrive for the first time at Pentecost in Acts 2 - the Holy Spirit had been active ever since the creation of the world in Gen 1 - see the appendix below.

Therefore, what did Jesus mean when He said, "the Holy Spirit would not come unless I go away" (Acts 16:7)?? Clearly, the Holy Spirit had been "filling" people for centuries!

I believe that Jesus' remark can be understood as a matter of fact rather than a condition. While Jesus was with the disciples physically (they could see and touch Him, 1 John 1:1), they would never need to exercise any faith about the invisible Holy Spirit. However, Jesus promised that the disciples would not be left alone - they would have another comforter, the Holy Spirit whom they would see only by the eye of faith based on the evidence of His presence.

Now, the fact that Jesus was physically absent most of the time, did not prevent His re-appearing to various people at various times such as:

  • to Paul on the road to Damascus, Acts 9:1-15, see also 1 Cor 15:8
  • to Paul on the storm tossed ship in Acts 27:23
  • to Paul at his defense before Nero, 2 Tim 4:17
  • to John in Rev 1-3

Note the comments of Albert Barnes on Matt 18:20 -

He affirms that wherever two or three are assembled together in his name, he is in the midst of them. In my name - That is,

  1. By my authority, acting for me in my church. See John 10:25; John 16:23.

  2. It may mean for my service; in the place of prayer and praise, assembled in obedience to my commend, and with a desire to promote my glory.

There am I in the midst of them - Nothing could more clearly prove that Jesus must be omnipresent, and, of course, be God. Every day, perhaps every hour, two or three, or many more, may be assembled in every city or village in the United States, in England, in Greenland, in Africa, in Ceylon, in the Sandwich Islands, in Russia, and in Judea in almost every part of the world - and in the midst of them all is Jesus the Saviour. Millions thus at the same time, in every quarter of the globe, worship in his name, and experience the truth of the promise that he is present with them. It is impossible that he should be in all these places and not be God.

Thus, according to Albert Barnes, Jesus is (after His resurrection) omnipresent. However, some might dispute this and say that Jesus is present only by the omnipresent work of the the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26, 15:26).

This is a vexed subject about which there is much valid debate. The simplest, most literal understanding is to take both positions literally and conclude that:

  • Jesus is present will all of us via His Holy Spirit as promised in John 14:16, 26, 15:26
  • Jesus is present personally where "two or three are gathered" (Matt 18:20).

However, I am not dogmatic about this.

APPENDIX - Holy Spirit before Pentecost

In the OT the Holy Spirit is described many times in the following ways:

  • Involved in creation, Gen 1;2 (compare Deut 32:10, 11), Ps 104:30
  • Empowering leaders such as Saul, 1 Sam 10:10, 19:21-24; Joseph, Gen 41:38; Othniel, Judg 3:10; Gideon, Judg 6:27-30, 34:7; Jephthah, Judg 11:29-32; Samson, Judg 13:24, 14:6, 19, 15:14; 70 leaders, Num 11:17, 26, 29; Joshua, Num 27:18; Elisha, 2 Kings 2:9, 15, etc.
  • Inspiring craftsmen like Bazaleel, Ex 31:3, 35:31
  • Inspiring prophets like Ezekiel, Eze 11;24; Balaam, Num 24:2; Azariah, 2 Chron 15:1-7; Zechariah, 2 Chron 24:20; Elijah, 1 Kings 18:12, 2 Kings 2:16; etc.
  • Involved in the everyday lives of ordinary people to make them Godly, Isa 63:10, 11, Ps 51:11, Gen 6:3, Neh 9:30, Zech 7:12, Ps 106:33, 41, Joel 2:28.
  • The Spirit is given personal and divine attributes: “good” (Ps 143:11); “generous” (Ps 51:12); facilitating what might and power cannot (Zech 4:6); grieved by human rebellion (Isa 63;10); etc.
  • Involved in final judgement: Isa 4:4, 32;15, 42:1, 44:3, 48:20, Prov 1:23, etc.

Even in the NT before Pentecost (Acts 2) the Holy Spirit was active in several places such as the

  • The conception of Jesus in Mary, Matt 1:18, 20, Luke 1:35
  • John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit, Luke 1:15
  • Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit, Luke 1:41
  • Zechariah filled with the Holy Spirit, Luke 1:67
  • The prophet Simeon instructed by the Holy Spirit, Luke, 2:25-27
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    Are you sure Jesus is mentioned in Acts 27:33? Also, it looks like you changed your mind regarding Matthew 18:20. Dec 12, 2021 at 14:48
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - good point. Thanks for pointing that out. I have now refined the answer to both. Thanks for your patience. The "Acts 27:33" was a typo - it should have been Acts 27:23 - now corrected. Thanks for pointing that out.
    – Dottard
    Dec 12, 2021 at 21:00
  • Another useful appendix, thank you. And it's not every day you get the Sandwich Islands or Greenland mentioned in a Hermeneutics post! Jan 13 at 3:46
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Is Jesus gone or present? Both.

Jesus explained how he and the Father would be with them.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23

He has just finished telling them he would send the spirit v16 and how the world would not see him anymore but the disciples would - in spirit.

Jesus often uses the word ‘see’ and we understand he means ‘know’. They would know his presence living in them, along with his Father.

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:7

Did they literally see the Father? No. But they did see Him in Jesus, just as Thomas did, finally getting what Jesus had been telling them for ages.

Did Saul see the Lord Jesus? No, he saw a heavenly light and heard a voice.

he heard a voice Acts 9:3

the men traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice indeed, but seeing no one v7

Jesus certainly is present - but only in spirit, not in person unless we choose to read-in this aspect which goes beyond the text.

The Q confuses Jesus’ presence with his followers which is a spiritual presence not a physical one. He can only be in one place at a time physically, but now, once ascended, he can be with everyone anywhere all the time via the spirit God gave him to distribute (Acts 2:33)

Further, we know from Paul that Jesus (while not A spirit) is THE spirit. 2Cor 3:17 So while God could be present in spirit, so Jesus can too now that he is ascended to immortality and glory.

Once he left the earth physically the last time, we are told that he will return in a similar manner. And "every eye will see him..." Rev 1:7 Which refers to his second coming to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth.

This Jesus, having been taken up from you into heaven, will thus come in that manner you beheld him going into heaven." Acts 1:11

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