Jesus commanded his disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they received the Spirit, empowering them as witnesses – Acts 1:1-11. 

The book of Acts begins in Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish nation, with the ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit. It concludes with Paul preaching the gospel in Rome, the heart of the world empire. Following his resurrection, Jesus ascended to reign over all “at the right hand of God,” whence he bestowed the gift of the Spirit on his church.

His sovereignty over the Cosmos is implemented as his message is proclaimed by “his witnesses,” the church, beginning in Jerusalem, 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, as well as to the concluding section of Acts. The chapter consists of four sections:

  1. The introductory note to Theophilus – (1:1-5).
  2. The command to tarry in Jerusalem and the ascension- (1:6-11).
  3. The return to Jerusalem – (1:12-14).
  4. The replacement of Judas to complete the number of the Apostles – (1:15-26).

Acts is the companion volume to the Gospel of Luke, and both works open with an address to the man named Theophilus – (“That you might know the certainty concerning the things in which you were instructed”).

  • (Acts 1:1-3) – “The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after that he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God: and being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, you heard from me.” – (Luke 1:1-4).

The “former treatise,” or Luke, 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.

The gift of the Spirit is mentioned only a few times in Luke. It concludes with Jesus commanding the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father,” afterwards, they would proclaim the gospel throughout the earth. The 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 nationsbeginning 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 book picks up this thread. Prior to his ascent, Jesus taught his disciples concerning the “kingdom of God,” and charged them not to depart from Jerusalem until they had 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 departed, the disciples asked him about the kingdom and its timing, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” To which, he responded – “It is not for you to know the times or seasons, which the Father has set in his own authority.” The response echoes the prayer of Daniel after he received the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:

  • (Daniel 2:20-21) – “Blessed be the name of God for ever 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 to all nations:

  • But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; then you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.”

Jesus did not state “when” the kingdom would be “restored.” Rather than worry about chronologies, the disciples needed to receive the Spirit, and thereby, they would become effective “witnesses” for the kingdom. His instructions echo passages from the 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 after the disciples returned to Jerusalem, and with the receipt of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Jesus began to reconstitute the covenant community around his twelve apostles, representatives of the nation of Israel, who, under the power and direction of the Spirit, became “his witnesses” to Israel, and to the nations.

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

After this, the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven, until a “cloud received him,” a verbal link to the vision of one “like a Son of Man” in 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…even to the uttermost ends of the earth.” 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, with his ascension, the reign of the Messiah commenced, a process that continues until his kingdom has been declared “even as far as the uttermost part of the earth.” Only then will he return in glory. But before that mission can begin, the disciple must receive the “promise of the Father” to equip them as “his witnesses.”

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