The book of Acts begins IN JERUSALEM with the ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit. It concludes with Paul preaching the gospel in the heart of the World Empire, the city of Rome. Following his resurrection, Jesus ascended to reign “at the right hand of God.” He then bestowed the gift of the Spirit on his church to empower them to proclaim his gospel to all nations.
And since his ascension, his sovereignty over the earth has been implemented daily as his kingdom and reign are proclaimed by “his witnesses,” beginning in Jerusalem, and then to the “uttermost parts of the earth” – (Psalm 2:6-9, Matthew 28:18-20, Revelation 1:4-6).
The first chapter of Acts provides thematic and verbal links to the first and last chapters of Luke and to the concluding section of the book itself. And the first chapter is comprised of four sections:
- The introductory note to Theophilus – (1:1-5).
- The command to tarry in Jerusalem and the ascension- (1:6-11).
- The return to Jerusalem – (1:12-14).
- The replacement of Judas to complete the number of the Apostles – (1:15-26).
The book of Acts is the companion volume to Luke. Both books open with an address to a man named Theophilus (“That you might know the certainty concerning the things in which you were instructed” – (Acts 1:1-3, Luke 1:1-4).
The opening paragraph refers to the “former treatise,” namely, the gospel of Luke which presents “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” The book of Acts tells the story of how that work continued in his church under the direction and empowerment of the Spirit.
PROMISE OF THE FATHER
The gift of the Spirit is mentioned only a few times in Luke, and it concludes with Jesus commanding the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father.” Afterward, they were to proclaim the gospel to all nations. And this command sets the stage for the first two chapters of Acts:
- (Luke 24:45-49) – “Then opened their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; and he said to them, Thus, it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry in the city until you be clothed with power from on high.”
The narrative in Acts picks up this thread from Luke. Prior to his ascent, Jesus taught his disciples about the “kingdom of God,” and he charged them not to leave Jerusalem UNTIL they received the “promise of the Father” – “For John baptized with water; but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Before he ascended, the disciples asked Jesus about the kingdom and its timing, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” To that, he responded – “It is not for you to know the times or seasons, which the Father has set in his own authority.”
His statement echoed the prayer of Daniel after he received the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the “great image” with a head of gold:
- (Daniel 2:20-21) – “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever; for wisdom and might are his. And he changes the times and the seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.”
Rather than worry about chronologies, the disciples were to remain in the city until they received the Spirit, then they were to proclaim the kingdom “even to the uttermost part of the earth.”
In Acts, Jesus does not state “when” the kingdom will be “restored.” Rather than worry about chronologies, his disciples were to receive the Spirit and become effective “witnesses” for the kingdom. His instructions echo passages drawn from the book of Isaiah and the second Psalm:
- (Isaiah 43:1-11) – “But now, thus says Yahweh who created you, O Jacob, and he that formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine…Fear not; for I am with you: I will bring your seed from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the end of the earth; everyone that is called by my name…You are my witnesses, says Yahweh, and my servant, whom I have chosen.”
- (Psalm 2:6-8) – “Yet I have set my king Upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said unto me, You are my son. This day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.”
The process of restoring the kingdom began with the election of a new apostle and the receipt of the Spirit as Jesus commenced reconstituting his covenant community around the twelve apostles. And under the power and direction of the Spirit, they became “his witnesses” to Israel and the nations.
After his parting words, the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven until a “cloud received him,” a verbal link to the vision of the one “like a Son of Man” in the book of Daniel, and to Christ’s description of his return in glory.
While continuing to gaze, “two men stood by them in white apparel” and exhorted them:
- “You men of Galilee, why are you standing and looking into the heavens? This same Jesus will so come in like manner as you beheld him going into heaven.”
- (Daniel 7:13) – “I saw in the night-visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man.”
- (Luke 21:27) – “And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
This passage locates the mission of the church between the exaltation of Jesus and his return in glory. In the interim, his disciples are tasked with proclaiming the gospel to “all nations.” And this theme is reiterated at the end of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost:
- (Acts 2:39-39) – “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him.”
Thus, the reign of the Messiah commenced, a process that will continue until his kingdom has been declared to all nations, “even as far as the uttermost part of the earth.” Only then will he return in glory. But before this mission can begin in Jerusalem, the disciples must first receive the “promise of the Father” and thus become “his witnesses.”
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