6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 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 1:6-11 ESV
Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and has appeared to the disciples on a variety of occasions over a 40-day period of time. Their sorrow at His death has been turned to joy and their attention has been turned from thoughts of defeat to victory. Which is what led them to ask Jesus, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6 NLT). Their question revealed where their minds were. With their friend and Messiah alive and well, they must have assumed that this was start of something big. He was back, and He was going to do what they had hoped He had come to do all along: Set up His Kingdom of earth. They were still thinking of an earthly Kingdom, with Jesus ruling and reigning in Jerusalem just as King David had. It was their desire for this Kingdom that had led James and John to make a bold request of Jesus:
“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT
They had been looking for places of power and prominence in Jesus’ royal administration. But Jesus had responded to their request with a question:
“You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:38 NLT
And when they assured Jesus they were willing and able, He told them:
“You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.” – Mark 10:39 NLT
With Jesus risen from the dead, they thought all their troubles were over. But they were about to begin. Jesus had warned the disciples that the world would hate them, just as they had hated Him. He also told them that they would be persecuted by the world, just as He had been persecuted (see John 15). And later on in the book of Acts, we will read that James was put to death by Herod.
1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. – Acts 12:1-3 NLT
John wrote of his Rome-enforced exile to the island of Patmos in the opening lines of his Book of the Revelation.
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. – Revelation 1:9 NLT
So, these two brothers, who had hoped to sit on either side of Jesus in His earthly Kingdom, were to suffer for the kingdom instead, just as Jesus had predicted they would.
But in those halcyon days just after Jesus’ miraculous resurrection from the dead, the disciples were all thinking about an earthly kingdom, with them serving in positions of power and prominence. But when they had asked Jesus if the time had come for Him to set up His Kingdom, He responded, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT). In other words, Jesus told them not to worry about it. That was not to be their focus. Instead, He tells them about something else of greater importance that was going to take place.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT
They were going to receive power, but of a different kind than they had imagined. This would not be the kind of power that comes with a position of authority. It would be the power made available to them through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was talking supernatural power from within, not some form of assigned or appointed power that came with a position or title. And this power came with a very specific purpose. They were to be witnesses. But Jesus uses a very interesting Greek word to describe their Spirit-empowered role. It is the word, martys, which is most often used in the New Testament to refer to someone who has been a first-hand observer of an event. But it can also mean “martyr” – those who after Christ’s example have proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Him by undergoing a violent death (Outline of Biblical Usage). It is interesting to note that the disciples would indeed become witnesses in the more traditional sense of the word, but virtually all of them would end up dying martyr’s deaths as a result of their efforts. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, these men were receiving a God-ordained responsibility to speak of all that they had seen and heard about Jesus. And they would be empowered by God for their task, because they were going to need it. Their message would not be well-received. Telling people about Jesus, while often referred to as the “good news”, would be a costly proposition for the disciples. As we will see, Peter and the others were repeatedly jailed for his efforts. They found themselves the subjects of arrest and severe beatings. Stephen was actually stoned to death immediately after preaching a message to a gathering of Jews.
And what the disciples were going to learn through all this was that the Kingdom had come, but not as they had expected. Jesus’ reign was a spiritual one, and it manifested itself in the lives of men and women. His power and authority was made visible through the transformed lives of those who placed their faith in Him as their Savior. And as we will see, His Kingdom would begin to grow in leaps and bounds, as His followers increased in number with each passing day.
There is an interesting encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees, recorded by Luke in his gospel. They come to Him and ask Him a question.
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” – Luke 17:1 NLT
This is almost the same question that the disciples asked. They had wanted to know when Jesus was going to restore kingdom status to Israel. The Pharisees had a different motive. They were wanting Jesus to talk about His Kingdom so that they could accuse before the Roman authorities as an insurrectionist. They didn’t believe He was the King of the Jews or the Messiah. They saw Him as a fraud and wanted to expose Him as nothing more than a political troublemaker. But Jesus responded to their question anyway.
“The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” – Luke 17:20-21 NLT
Once again, Jesus had a different definition of the Kingdom of God. During one of His trials, Jesus had been asked by Pilate, the Roman governor, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33 NLT). And Jesus answered quite plainly, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT). Notice that Jesus does not deny being a king, He simply says His Kingdom if not of this world. It is far more significant than any earthly kingdom. And when Pilate asked Him again, “So are you a king?”, Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true” (John 18:37 NLT). Citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom was not based on birth, but new birth. It was not based on ethnicity or lineage, but on faith. Members of the Kingdom of God are those who have placed their faith in His Son, believing the truth about who He was and what He came to do. Jesus came to restore sinful men and women, separated by their sin from God, to a right relationship with the Father. The apostle Peter describes us as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV).
But that day, standing in the presence of Jesus, their risen Lord and Savior, the disciples were forced to watch as He disappeared from their sight. Once again, they found themselves losing the One in whom they had placed all their hopes.
10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:10-11 NLT
He was leaving, but He would be far from gone. He was sending His Spirit to indwell and empower them. Matthew records these final words from Jesus, spoken to His disciples.
18 “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 NLT
Jesus would be with them, in the form of the Holy Spirit. His power would flow through them. His ministry would continue because of them. And, the angels assure them, one day Jesus will return. And John, in his Book of the Revelation, records what that day will be like.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. – Revelation 1:7 ESV
He is gone, but still here. He has returned to His rightful place at His Father’s side, but He is coming back. He is King of a spiritual Kingdom, but one day, He will establish His Kingdom on earth. So, when the disciples asked, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”, the answer was, “Not yet.” But that day is coming. Because Jesus is King.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.