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There are a number of important things in this chapter, so I will highlight just one of them from our Sunday evening Bible Study. Towards the end of the session I was asked about the nature of the Kingdom predicted by Jesus in this text, is this a spiritual kingdom (i.e., the Church) or is this a literal kingdom? I believe that the disciples who asked the question were thinking of a literal kingdom and Jesus’ response does not correct that understanding. Perhaps that kingdom is not exactly what the disciples expected, but whatever it is, it is the restoration of the kingdom to Israel as predicted in the prophets.
While in Jerusalem, it appears that Jesus and the disciples gathered in their usual location on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:6-8). Some disciples asked if Jesus was going to “restore the kingdom to Israel” at this time. This question is reminiscent of the Olivet Discourse in Luke 21:5-37 (cf., Mt 24-25).
In Luke 21 Jesus has offered a stinging critique of the Temple and its leadership and walked out of the Temple through the east gate to the Mount of Olives. While walking through the beautiful buildings and gate, Jesus predicts they will be destroyed. At least some of the disciples ask at that time about the timing of this event – is Jesus about to restore the kingdom, perhaps judge the current corrupt priesthood and replace it with a pure priesthood? This is the same sort of question someone at Qumran might have asked, since they too thought the priesthood in Jerusalem was corrupt and would be replaced by a more pure priesthood (i.e., their sect!)
After the resurrection, it was only natural to think that Jesus would now enter the Temple in the power and glory of the resurrection and begin to reform the religion of Israel and begin the process of evangelizing the nations. Again, this was a clear expectation of the Messiah’s activity. Beginning with the people of God themselves, Messiah would either convert the enemies of Israel or destroy them (depending on their response or the attitude of the writer describing Messiah’s activities!) Very often these enemies were within the nation itself. Individual groups identified the primary enemy of a pure Jewish faith as corrupt priests, people who did not fully keep the law, etc. The hope of Israel was that the kingdom would be restored to them as the prophets had predicted: Jeremiah 16:15, 23:8, 31:27-34, Isaiah 2:2-4, 49:6, Amos 9:11-15, as well as Tobit 13-14, 1 Enoch 24-25, PsSol 17-18, The Eighteen Benedictions 14. Luke even began his first book with the hope of the coming Messiah in the Song of Zechariah (1:69-74) as well as the words of Simeon in the Temple (2:24-32).
Jesus reminds them it is not for them to known when the kingdom will be restored, but they are to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the earth. To some extent, the kingdom is about to begin in the Temple in a manner which is not unlike what many expected. The Holy Spirit will fall upon people and they will speak the Word of God in power in the Temple itself. On the other hand, that the kingdom would be given to a group of Galileans rather than a faction within Judaism (Pharisees, Essenes, etc.) was not expected at all. These men are quite literally the most unlikely group of people to be commissioned with the task of announcing the Messiah to Israel and then the rest of the world!