It could scarcely be stated more simply. Our Lord Jesus Christ is “coming again” (2 Peter 1:16). He will “descend from heaven” (1 Thes. 4:16), and he “will come in the same way” his disciples “saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). If asked whether we interpret these phrases literally, most of us would likely say that we do. However, on further consideration we might decide we wish to tweak our original answer. Better to say, I suggest, that we take the language seriously, receiving as unquestionable truth what we perceive it to affirm–namely that we expect to see Jesus again–and that he will be present, visibly and embodied, among us.
The physical realities of our created order can be both experienced and reported in terms of three dimensions, viewed against a background of space and time. God has graciously made us with the ability to perceive our surroundings, as well as any other people, pets, and wildlife that share them with us. When wholly well and unimpaired, we can reflect on what we perceive and communicate with each other about it. However, our perceiving, reflecting, and communicating is always prescribed by the degree to which we ourselves have experienced reality, and our communication with each other is further limited by the extent to which we all have had experiences in common.
The realities of the Resurrection order and of the Age to Come are both continuous with and different from the realities of our present order. The resurrected Jesus appeared and disappeared at will, traveled instantly from place to place. Or does the Resurrection order simply involve different dimensions unknown to us and foreign to our experience? If so, talk of instant travel and alternating visibility/invisibility is accommodative language–truthful but symbolic speech used to assist us in understanding the reality being described, words that take into account our limitations, a vocabulary adjusted and adapted to assist our understanding.
In the same way, we realize that “Statements that Jesus is “coming again,” that he will “descend from heaven” and “come in the same way” his disciples “saw him go into heaven” are also accommodative in nature. If heaven is “up” from North America, is it “down” from Australia? How many miles did Jesus travel to go from Earth to heaven? When he ascended into a cloud, did he enter a different (and to us, unknown) dimension? How could he “go” to heaven and still “be with you always,” as he also promised? Might an alternate dimension suggest a workable and scriptural answer? Yes–hearing scripture as the word of God, we take it very seriously indeed. In fact, if we truly took every word literally, we could hardly claim to be serious at all.