Dear brothers and sisters,
Just before Jesus’ ascension to heaven the disciples approached Him together. They had a question. “Lord,” they asked, “is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Jesus had spent the previous forty days, since his resurrection, teaching them about things “concerning the kingdom of God” (v.3). As a consequence they clearly assumed that an immediate physical restoration of Israel, with the risen Christ as its king, was at least a possibility. But Jesus’ response must have deflated their excitement: “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.”
Though the disciples may have been disappointed, Jesus’ followers today can draw great encouragement from the record of this exchange.
Firstly, because it’s authentic. The disciples do not look good here: they’re impatient for the establishment of an independent theocratic nation which will throw off the yoke of its Roman oppressors; God, however, has other plans. The author Luke clearly didn’t have an agenda to make the disciples look bad – elsewhere in Acts he describes them being used powerfully by God – and therefore had no motive to fabricate their question. So the most likely reason he included this dialogue is that it actually happened. As a historian, he was simply rendering a faithful account of that day’s events on the Mount of Olives, drawing on the testimonies of those that were actually there (cf. Luke1:1-4).
Secondly, God has fixed the time for the revelation of His kingdom by His authority. Though Jesus redirects the disciples’ focus from their immediate present, he doesn’t flatly contradict them. His kingdom will come and He will reign over Jews and Gentiles from a restored Jerusalem, bringing righteousness, justice and healing to a creation that is now groaning in its bondage to the curse (Isaiah 65, Zechariah 14, Romans 8:19-22). This will certainly happen when that fixed time – ordained by God’s providence and guaranteed by His authority – arrives, when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:24).
And finally, Jesus has left Christians a very clear and straightforward purpose as we wait for his return. Promising the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord directs his disciples to “be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Though their natural impulse is to stand looking up into the sky (v.11), they, and all Christians, have a job to do. A task of eternal significance.
We are all naturally distracted in this uncertain and abnormal time. Perhaps, like the disciples, we’re asking the wrong questions or, stupefied, staring at a metaphorical sky, not knowing what to do next. But the authentic truth of God’s word reminds us that this temporary confusion will pass – Jesus will come again from heaven just as he ascended, to bring in His kingdom. And as we wait for that appointed time, fixed by God’s authority, we have the greatest, most significant employment: to be his witnesses.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this week. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss this or any other topic.
For the elders