Acts 1 Part 2
6. Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Now the disciples and the Lord come together, and they question Him regarding something that they were wondering. That is, they ask if the Lord will at this time restore the kingdom to Israel. The word “restore” here means to establish, and “kingdom” means not just a territory to rule over, but rather the right to rule and to govern. The disciples were asking if the Lord was then going to give Israel back the right to govern themselves, a right which had been taken away from them by the Roman government. In other words, they wanted to know if the Lord was even then going to establish His kingdom rule over both Israel and all the earth.
I do not believe the importance of this question can be overestimated. This question, appearing as it does at the very beginning of the book of Acts, provides for us a backdrop against which all the rest of the book must be measured. The answer to this question that the Lord gives will reveal the truth to us of all that comes after.
7. And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.
The Lord’s answer is most significant here. According to the theology that is popular among most schools of thought today, the Lord should have answered something like, “Don’t you yet understand? This kingdom that I have been preaching is not a physical kingdom that rules over the earth. Instead, it is a spiritual kingdom that reigns, not over men’s bodies, but over their hearts.” This is the way most Bible expositors set this forth, and this is what is believed in most theological circles. Time and again the idea is repeated that the disciples simply did not understand what the Lord was really talking about, and what He really wanted to teach them. It is believed that the Lord never meant to preach or set forth a physical kingdom of God upon earth. Instead, He was planning on starting a new religion called Christianity, which through an organization of men called “the Church” would rule over people’s hearts and teach them how to be good and loving individuals.
Now if this viewpoint of things is true, then certainly there could be no better place than here for the Lord to set this forth and teach it. The disciples have just asked a question that shows most clearly that they still perceived the kingdom as having to do with an actual sovereignty of government over the earth. If this was never what Christ meant to say, then He should have told them that here. If they, after three years of hearing the Lord, were still unclear as to this, then He should have enlightened them once and for all at this point.
Yet notice that this is not what the Lord did. Rather than correcting them with the idea that a physical kingdom was never what His ministry had been about, instead He assumes that there will be such a visible, earthly government, and that the only question is as to the time when this would take place. Notice this most carefully, for there are many who dare even to claim that there never will be a physical government of God over the earth. Yet Christ does not teach this here. Instead, His answer assumes that there will be such a kingdom, and that the only question is when it will take place. The sovereignty will be restored to Israel. They will have their right to rule established by God. The only question is when this will take place.
It is amazing to me how little credit men give both the disciples, and the Lord Himself. If the disciples had lived day and night with the Lord, if they had heard His teaching and experienced His ministry, and yet in all that time had not yet understood what this “kingdom” He spoke of was all about, then they must indeed have been the dullest of men. How could anyone hear a message clearly taught for such an extended period of time and still not have understood what it really was all about? Moreover, the Lord Himself is diminished by such a view. How could the Lord, after three years of teaching, still have failed to bring across the most basic truths of His ministry to His closest followers who had heard Him most often? If He had indeed failed in this, then we must conclude that He was the very worst of teachers, and could hardly be expected to successfully communicate His teaching with anybody.
I do not believe that the Lord Jesus was the worst of teachers. Rather, I believe that He was THE Teacher, the One Whom God sent to teach the world about Himself. All who learn of God and all who get to know Him must ultimately do so through the teaching and the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. How could such a Teacher fail to communicate when He wished to do so? I do not believe He could.
Moreover, I do not believe the disciples were the dullest of men. It is true that they were uneducated men. They were not the brightest, not the most intelligent, not the greatest intellects of the day. Yet neither were they total dullards or idiots. These men were average individuals, and had an average individual’s understanding. When taught by the greatest of all teachers, they surely must have had at least enough intelligence to understand the basic points of what He was saying. These men were not fools. Moreover, after three years with the Lord, they must have had great knowledge indeed regarding the things of God, far greater knowledge, in some ways, than any of us today can have. How men can imagine that four years in a Bible college or another four years in a Seminary can make them more intelligent and give them a greater insight into the things of God than three years being taught by the One Who was God Himself can give is beyond me. If these men truly believe that their teachers have given them a superior knowledge of the kingdom than the One Who was The Teacher was able to give to His disciples, then I would like to know the names of their teachers and who exactly these men are! Yet I do not believe that the self-appointed experts in these matters have the knowledge to give men a better understanding of these things than the Living Word of God was able to do.
Now some justify their attitude towards the disciples’ intelligence and understanding by pointing to incidents in the gospels where the disciples failed to understand what the Lord Jesus was telling them. They then use these passages to form the general picture that the disciples were a dull and befuddled lot who never really got anything the Lord was trying to tell them. Yet an examination of these passages will not show forth such a picture. For example, the Lord admonished the disciples for not understanding the significance of the five loaves for the five thousand and the seven loaves for the four thousand in Mark 8:17-20. He finishes with, “How is it you do not understand?” (Mark 8:21b) Clearly the Lord was admonishing them for failing to understand, indicating that they really had no excuse not to. Their lack of understanding was due to failure to truly consider the signs and their signification. Yet when the Lord admonished them for failing to understand, we have every reason to believe that they did reflect upon these things then, and come to an understanding of what the Lord was talking about.
Another incident is when the Lord clearly revealed to them His imminent death in Luke 9:44.
44. “Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.”
This seems like a most clear statement, and anyone at all who knows that the Lord used the phrase “Son of Man” as a designation for Himself should be able to understand it. Yet we read then of those to whom He spoke this in verse 45:
45. But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.
Here we read that the disciples did not understand, yet we also read why they did not understand. It is clearly stated that “it was hidden from them.” When The Teacher acts to teach men, I believe they will be taught. When He seeks to communicate, the message will get through. The only way those who are taught can fail to understand is if He chooses to hide the truth from them. That is what the Lord did here. Though He stated the truth most plainly, mincing no words, yet they did not understand, and the reason is that He hid this saying from them. They did not understand because the Lord did not want them to understand, and for no other reason.
Now could it be that He allowed such ignorance to continue even up to Acts 1:6? I cannot believe that He did, because, as we have already discussed, the Lord had opened their understanding in Luke 24:45. “And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” These men understood the truth. This question was not asked out of ignorance of the Scriptures, or of what the ministry of Christ was all about. This question was asked out of understanding, and these men knew exactly what they were asking. They were not wrong about the nature of the kingdom the Lord had been preaching. Rather, it is teachers and expositors today who are mistaken. They have not been taught by the Lord, as these men had. It is just arrogance, then, for anyone to claim to have more knowledge than those whose minds had been opened to understand the Scriptures by our Lord Himself.
Now again, according to most dispensational theology, the Lord should have answered the disciples most clearly here. It is widely believed among those who do not take their dispensationalism to its logical conclusion that Israel was set aside at the cross. That nation lost their privileges, rights, and powers when they rejected their Messiah and handed Him over to the Romans to be put to death. If this was the case, then most certainly here Christ should have told His disciples that this was what had happened. He should have clearly answered them, “No, Israel will not have their kingdom established at that time. Because they rejected Me and hanged Me on the cross, I am now starting a new work among the Gentiles, a work which you all are about to begin.” For that is what these dispensationalists believe. They think that Israel was set aside at the cross, and that the Gentile Church was what began at Acts 2. If this was what the Lord was about to do through these men, then this was the perfect opportunity for Him to clearly tell them that.
Yet notice that this is not what the Lord does at all. Instead, He refuses to answer the question. He says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” This leaves the question of Israel’s coming restoration of sovereignty totally up in the air. Was the government about to be given to Israel at that time? The Lord allowed His disciples to continue thinking that that might be the case. He did not point them away from that thought to a totally new work that He wanted them to begin. Instead, He left them thinking that their whole work and ministry was to proceed with this distinct possibility in mind.
Now it is easy for us to look back on this event almost two thousand years later and answer with confidence, “No, the Lord was not about to restore the government to Israel at that time.” And of course, we would be right. Yet the Lord did not tell the disciples this. Instead, He left the question open. The rest of the book of Acts will proceed with this unanswered question looming over everything. All the work of the apostles and all their Acts will be colored by the fact that the kingdom could even then have been coming very soon. The current interruption of the dispensation of grace had not yet been revealed. These men simply did not know what was about to take place, and the Lord did not tell them. Let us ever keep this in mind as we move in our study throughout the book of Acts.
8. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The Lord had refused to answer the question of the disciples regarding whether or not the authority to govern themselves would be restored to Israel at that time. Now, instead of this, He turns their focus back to the task He had for them to do. What was going to happen to them was that they would receive power. This is the word dunamis, and speaks of that great power from God that they received to work all the mighty works that they performed that we read of later on in the book of Acts. This power, and what they were to do with it, was what these men were to focus on now. Whether or not the kingdom would come at that time was to be left in the hands of the Father.
Notice that the reception of power is linked up to the Holy Spirit coming upon them here. The phrase “the Holy Spirit” has the definite article “the” in front of it, so we know that the person of the Holy Spirit is meant here. Yet notice how He is linked to the power that is going to come upon them. Once again, the Giver is linked to His gifts. In Greek here, the word “Holy” appears first, emphasizing the holiness of this One Who was to give them the power. The Holy One Who was empowering them would lead them in the future, no matter what God’s plan for that future might be. For now, they were to concern themselves only with the task God had appointed for them.
Now, being promised power, they are given their marching orders. They are to be witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are to do this in a set order. First, they are to witness in Jerusalem. Then, they are to move on to all Judea, the region or district of Israel in which Jerusalem is located. Then, they are to move beyond this to Samaria, the region of Israel where the half-Jewish Samaritans dwelt. Then, they are to move from there on to the end of the earth.
Now the word “earth” here is the Greek word ge. Some have pointed out that this word can mean either “earth” or “land.” This is true, and we can find instances where the word must mean “land,” and others where just as surely it must mean “earth.” For example, in Matthew 2:6, the first occurrence of this word, we read,
6. But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.
Can anyone argue that this should read, “But you, Bethlehem, in the earth of Judah”? Certainly not! This word must mean “land” here. Yet consider the occurrence of this word in Matthew 5:18.
18. “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
Could this possibly mean “until heaven and the land pass away”? Not at all! In this case, the word must mean “earth.” So the question arises, then, which is meant in this passage? Were they to witness to the Lord Jesus merely to the end, that is, the uttermost part of the land, or were they to go to the uttermost part of the earth? Some have argued that this merely means the uttermost part of the land of Israel. Yet could this be the case? Contrast this with Luke 24:47.
47. “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
Here, the word is “nations,” ethnos, and there can be no question but that it means nations of the earth, which extends the necessity to preach far beyond the land of Israel.
The interesting thing about it is that one could make the case that the disciples, at least the ones Christ was talking to here, really didn’t venture far outside the boundaries of the land of Israel. We can see that their ministry goes out only so far and no further. Yet as we continue throughout the book of Acts, we will see that the word did go out far beyond the borders of Israel. The difference was that it was carried by Paul and his companions, not necessarily by these men here. That is not to say that Paul’s actions were not a fulfillment of this commission. No, as Mark makes it plain in Mark 16:20,
20. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
As far as Mark was concerned, they did what the Lord commanded them to do. They went out and preached everywhere. The twelve may not have moved far beyond the borders of Israel. Yet the transition from the twelve to Paul was just one step in how the Lord accomplished this command. It does not mean that this was never accomplished. It was accomplished, and to the full, in the time period that we will be studying as we go through the book of Acts.
9. Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
The forty days in which the Lord appeared to men and taught His disciples the truths to which they were to witness were now completed. Now it was time for the Lord to leave them to the task which He had given them. In a way this was a sad time for them, yet it was a necessary one. The Lord had already told them of His leaving them, and that it was a good and necessary thing, explaining to them in John 16:7,
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 depart, I will send Him to you.
So He assured them that His leaving was an advantage to them, for when He left He would send them the Holy Spirit. He did send that Spirit, as we will see in Acts 2. Yet even now He has not yet sent Him to do the work described in John 16:8.
8. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9. of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10. of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11. of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
What an advantage it will be to the world indeed, when the Lord does this for all the earth! Yet even today we reap the benefits of the Spirit’s presence among us. He may not convict the world of the truth, nor empower us as He did the one hundred and twenty in Acts 2. But what He does do for us is to lead us into the truth, and to empower us to live for God in this dark world. That is a great blessing indeed!
So, the Lord was taken up into heaven here, even as the apostles whom He had chosen looked on. It seems they watched Him go up until He passed into a cloud and so out of their sight.
10. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,
We can well imagine with what rapt attention the disciples gazed upon the Lord as He was going up toward heaven. Yet it seems that as they did this, they were visited by two heavenly messengers. Though these are called “men” here, we would take these two beings in white apparel as being part of that heavenly race of beings that we often call angels.
Now strictly speaking, the word “angel” is not the name of a certain race of beings, which is what we make it to be in English. This is simply a Greek word, and it means “messenger.” It is no more the name of a race of beings than our word “postman” or “mailman” is the name of a race of beings. Yet it seems that in relationship to us, this particular kind of heavenly being is most often used as a messenger or agent of God to carry His words, and sometimes His help, to His people. For this reason, we have come to call these beings “angels.”
As for the appearance of these beings, it seems they look much like us. Here, they are merely described as men in white apparel. We know that there are other kinds of heavenly beings. One kind of being is a spirit, about which Christ testified “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” This certainly does not describe these beings with the appearance of men, for they appear to have solid, physical form as much as we do. Another kind of being is what is called a “cherub.” Contrary to popular depiction, these beings bear no resemblance to naked babies with wings, although this rather silly picture seems engrained in the minds of most men when they think of them. Rather, these beings are described as having the most fantastic appearance when they are described, having four heads, six wings, and eyes covering their bodies. Compared to these, the beings we call “angels” seem to look much like us.
Now neither one of these truths should surprise us. We know that we as Adam’s race were created in the image of God. Now while I will admit that our physical appearance may not be the most important aspect of this, there can be no doubt that physically we look much like Jesus Christ did before He became a man, and He is and always has been the Image of God. Thus, if the earth is the home of a race of beings that were created to look like Jesus Christ, why would heaven not also be the habitation of a race of beings that carry the same image?
At the same time, on earth we have many amazing and almost miraculous-seeming creatures. Think of a creature with a neck like a tree, like the giraffe. Or a creature that sucks up ants through its nose like a vacuum cleaner, like the anteater. Even the dog could seem amazing, when we consider that it is an animal so smart that it could be taught to be eyes for the blind, yet so dumb that it would eat its own vomit. Any one of these animals, were we not used to them and the idea that they exist, could seem quite amazing and unbelievable to us. So why then would heaven not have creatures dwelling there that would seem quite spectacular to us on earth?
Now it is true that the earth only has one order of beings that we would call “higher beings,” that is, bearing higher intelligence. We have many animals that have a lower intellect than mankind. Yet there is no reason why heaven could not have three orders of beings, all of which bear a higher intelligence. And it seems, upon studying it out, that that is the way heaven is.
So the apostles, upon viewing the Lord Jesus going back up into heaven, are visited by the angelic heavenly beings, who appear like men. The word for “men” here is aner which means an adult male person, and so is often used of a husband. Here, though, these beings are adult, most certainly, male, definitely, and personalities, beyond question. Yet at the same time, we can be sure that these beings are not members of Adam’s race, but heavenly messengers sent by God to give the apostles more information about the ascension they have just witnessed.
11. who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
Now we have record of what the angels said. They questioned the disciples as to their motivation in gazing up into heaven. I do not believe that this means that the disciples were doing something wrong by gazing up like this. Of course, upon having the Lord be taken up and lifted into the clouds, they would watch Him as He went up. Instead of a rebuke, this question is meant to arrest their attention, and to point out an important fact about this going up. The Lord Jesus, the same One Who was going up, being taken from them into heaven, would come back in like manner as they had seen Him go into heaven.
Notice that this defines for us how the Lord Jesus Christ will return. He will not come again as a babe in a manger, as He did the first time. No man born into this world and claiming to be Christ is making a true claim. When the Lord Jesus returns, He will appear in the clouds and come down, just as He was taken up and disappeared into the clouds in this passage. We can see a record of His glorious return in many passages. One is Matthew 24:30.
30. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Notice that the Lord promised His coming in the clouds of heaven. It would appear that these are literal clouds, for in Acts 1:9, it was a literal rain cloud that received Him from their sight. However, we also know that clouds of angels shall accompany Him as He returns, as we read in Matthew 24:31.
31. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
We also know that the Lord will return to the same place from which He was taken up, for we read in Zechariah 14:4:
4. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south.
We know that He led His disciples out “as far as Bethany,” in Luke 24:50, and that “they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet” in Acts 1:12. We know that the Mount of Olives was near Bethany from Mark 11:1 and Luke 19:29. It seems most likely that the Lord had departed from this very place, and it is to that very place that He will return. So exactly is His coming similar to His departure! Moreover, He will return to the land of Israel, the very place from which He left, and will from there enter to rule the Kingdom that is already established for Him. However, what we do not know is when this will take place. Some imagine that He could return at any moment. Yet this is not what the Bible sets forth. For example, the Lord clearly stated that Elijah must come first in Matthew 17:11. The Lord must remain on the right hand of God in heaven until His enemies are made His footstool, as is stated in Psalm 110:1, and is quoted no less than six times in the New Testament. Yet when He does come, it will be in the same manner as He left. No other way is sufficient.