Acts 3:20 – What are the “The Times of Refreshing”?

In a previous post I stated that the “times of refreshing” was a Second Temple Period way of describing the eschatological kingdom, or the messianic age. Many of the Jews assembled in the Temple courts would have understood Peter’s words in Acts 3:20 as referring to the “age to come” when God restores creation to its original state. Deliverance of creation was something that at least some Jews expected at the time of the messianic age. This deliverance is described as a restoration of creation to something like Eden, a place of prosperity and peace.

1 Enoch 5:7 says that for the elect, the eschatological age will be “light, joy, and peace, and they shall inherit the earth.” Recall that Jesus said that the “meek will inherit the earth” in Matt 5:5. In 25:6, the elect will be Water and Firepresented the “And the elect will be presented with its fruit for life” and they will “live long lives on the earth.” In 45:5 indicates that God will “transform the earth and make it a blessing ,and cause my Elect One (messiah) to dwell in her.” Alluding to Ps 114, 1 Enoch 51:4 says that “in those days, mountains shall dance like rams; and the hills shall leap like kids satiated with milk. And the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy, because on that day the Elect One has arisen.”

Fourth Ezra, a Jewish apocalypse written after 90 A.D., has a number of references to the coming eschatological age as a refreshment of creation and a time of rest. In 4 Ezra 7:75 “we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation,” and in 11:46 the writer looks forward to the coming judgement “so that the whole earth, freed from your violence, may be refreshed and relieved.” In 13:26-29, the messiah is described as the one “whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation; and he will direct those who are left.”

Perhaps 2 Baruch 73-74 is the most similar to the sorts of things we read in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. In 2 Baruch 73:1, after the messiah “has sat down in eternal peace on the throne of the kingdom” then “joy will be revealed and rest will appear.” Just as Acts has described Jesus as ascending to heaven and sitting on the right hand of the Father, 2 Baruch describes the coming age as a time when a messianic figure provides eternal peace from a heavenly throne.

There are more texts which could supplement this list (Jubilees 23:29; T.Levi 18:4; and T.Jud 24:1), but these serve to indicate that the idea of a messianic kingdom as a “time of refreshing” was well known in the first century.

Two thoughts come to mind from reading this data.  First, is this sort of kingdom what  people thought  that Peter was talking about? I see some evidence in Acts that the first community was looking for an imminent return of the Messiah, but how long did that belief persist?

A related second question concerns the non-arrival of the kingdom.  Why if this is what “times of refreshing” meant to the biblically literate crowds, why was there no renewal of creation or return of the Exiles? Is there a disconnection from Jewish expectations here?

12 thoughts on “Acts 3:20 – What are the “The Times of Refreshing”?

  1. The Jewish people had this set of expectations of the what the Messiah was supposed to do and what the eschatological age was going to look like. And according to the data seen in this post, it’s kind of reasonable the Jew’s had their certain anticipation. It seems like Peter understands God’s plan for the eschatological age to a greater extent than the majority of the rest of Jewish people. And rightfully so, being a disciple of Jesus he does have some kind of advantage. In verses 17-21 Peter’s degree of understanding God’s plan is shown. He acknowledges that the Jew’s needed to act in disobedience in order for His will to be fulfilled. But, because His will was fulfilled there is a chance to repent for what their disobedience. And it seems like Peter’s language infers that there is still a time to come where Jesus returns. Some crucial words to support this statement are “may come” and “may send”. The Jews expected their messiah to be present in person during the eschatological age. But as verse 21 says, “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). Instead Jesus ascended so that the Holy Spirit could come down and be present within us during this age.

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    • I find your perspective about the necessity of disobedience in the Jews life in regards to the coming Messiah interesting. In my mind there is a difference between ignorance and disobedience. You can unintentionally be disobedient because you do not understand what is truly happening. In this case, you have no knowledge to reason to think twice about what you are doing.The ESV Study Bible describes the ignorance of the Jews Peter is talking to in that”they did not fully understand that Jesus was the true Messiah” (2086). This however does not excuse the consequences of the people’s actions. It is difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that God set something in place knowing that evil or disobedience by his people was necessary. I guess that is where the sovereignty of God outweighs our ability to make decisions. Its like recording/watching a football game in advance and then betting a friend who hasn’t seen it yet what the outcome will be. I can relate to the Jewish people in that I often react to my current situation based upon my temporary feelings. I recognize the conditional language that Peter uses in verses 20-21, but I read it as an eternal promise more than a standard “if-then” statement.

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  2. I enjoyed being able to read this blog post and the comments about it. Something that I found interesting was the point a commenter made about how it is so easy for us to become complacent in the way that things are going on now and how being in ministry right after Jesus with the promise of his return would add urgency to the way the early Christians ministered to those around them. Since the day and time that Jesus is going to return is unknown to man, people tend to try to guess when it will be. However, Acts 1:7 talks about how it is not for us to know what God has planned. The fact that the return of Christ is unknown should create urgency within the church to attempt to reach everyone that we possibly can before He returns. However, many Christians tend to become comfortable living comfortable lives that do not get us out of our comfort zones. This should be the opposite of what is happening. The church needs to be reminded that we do not know when Jesus is coming back and we need the urgency back to reach others for Him.

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  3. I can see how, if your entire religious education spoke of the coming of the Messiah and the subsequent return of the kingdom, you would not have any other expectation than for the Messiah to return at that time in history. I think of how often we set high hopes for something we are eagerly anticipating, just to be quickly let down. A few years ago, we booked a Disney cruise vacation for our family. After watching video after video on YouTube of parents “revealing” a trip such as this, I set to work creating what I thought would be the perfect surprise for our kids. I invested a little money in the “big reveal” and we had the camera out to record and preserve the ecstatic reaction I just knew they would have! Well, once the box with Disney themed balloons was released and the letter was read out loud, we did not get the screaming, tears, and jumps for joy that are on every commercial and YouTube video. Instead, one simply said “I already knew it, I heard you talking about it” while the others were sitting with looks of confusion about what had just happened. So much for my magical moment. I wonder if the Jews had that same sense of deflated expectation as time continued, and the “plan” they had counted on was not working out as expected? But the reality is our plans are not God’s. Polhill states that this time of refreshing Peter speaks of also “comes to the world in general as it is affected by believers who are changed by the power of the Spirit” (2087). Clearly this is not the imminent return that was hoped for or expected. However, to think that believers have directly impacted a time of refreshing for the entire world should cause jumps and shouts of joy all the same.

    Reference
    Polhill, J.B. (Ed.). (2008). The Acts of the Apostles. In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles.

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  4. There will be a day when Christ returns, a future glory as Romans 8 puts it, when there will be no more pain or sorrow and there will be a restoration of creation. I think that many Jews thought this messianic age would come very soon after Christ left this earth. For example, in Acts 2 three thousand souls were added that day after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. I think a lot of Jews thought that there would be many coming to know Christ as a result of the coming messianic age. I think this belief persisted for awhile, but as we read in the coming epistles, the writers many times had to urge those communities to remember that Christ is coming back (Ja 5:7, 1 Thess 5:1-3, 1 Cor. 1:7, etc.,).

    Peter on the other hand, I believe probably knew that Christ would come at a later time, because after his statement of times of refreshing he says, “heaven must receive him until the time for restoration (Vs. 21).” I think that Peter somewhat referred to the beginning of this time of restoration as the forgiveness of sins. When Christ left earth, He gave us the Holy Spirit and that gift is the start of times of restoration, because we now have a way of salvation. Christ leaving earth is the first step of times of refreshing, his second coming is the full restoration of creation.

    Through this passage, I am gaining a better understanding of Peter and his knowledge of the Old Testament. He continually quotes Old Testament prophecy to connect Jesus as the promised Messiah. It shows his close relationship with Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in his life already.

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  5. The “Times of Refreshing” is something that I have never even heard of before. However, as most of the sources in this article are from the Apocrypha writings, that makes sense as to why the times of refreshing are not really spoken about. To my understanding of the times of refreshing according to the way it is used in the passage, it sounds as if there will be a refreshment of the soul to those who repent of their sins. For we know that when we repent of our wrongdoings, we receive the Holy Spirit and his presence is with us as he is in us. Polhill seems to read this verse along those lines as well mentioning that the times of refreshment are a refreshment of the soul as the Holy Spirit resides in them (2087). It appears in verse 20 that the time of refreshing will happen before he sends Jesus. To my understanding then, we are currently in the times of refreshing as our souls are refreshed when we accept the Holy Spirit.
    However, taking the Jews’ belief that the renewal of creation would also happen with the times of refreshing are also taken into account. If we are indeed in the times of refreshing, then why is creation not being restored to its former state? I noticed that the quote used from 4 Ezra 7:75 seemed to hold the answer. It states, “we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation”. If the coming of the Holy Spirit is indeed the time of refreshment that Peter is talking about, then that should also be the state of rest that we find in Jesus as said in Matthew 11:28-30 that he will give rest for our souls. In this case, the renewing of the creation should not have happened yet because we are still in the time of rest. When Jesus comes back to fulfill the return of the Messiah that the first community was looking for, then we will see the restoration of creation.

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  6. God’s plan and human expectation often differ greatly. We see this all over the Bible. Humans try to control, make a plan, control it, and set expectations that are grossly different from what God has instore or intended. We see this all over the Old Testament and the Gospels, so naturally this carries right over into the New Testament and through all the ages after. Starting in Genesis 3 with the fall, man has been in a consent state of his authority and expectation conflicting with God’s. In Genesis 16 Abraham and Sarah go against God’s will when Abraham sleeps with Hagar in order to conceive a son, because God’s plan was not living up to their human expectations. In Genesis 27 we see Jacob and Rebecca ensuring their own expectations of what God has promised, leading to disaster.
    All throughout the Gospels the Jewish people are constantly rebuking Jesus because he was not the expectation they had of the messiah, they even went as far as to crucify him because he did not meet the expectation they had and denounced him as their Lord. The same is true for the coming kingdom in Acts. Nothing has followed the Jewish expectation for how the kingdom will be revealed, leading to disconnect and disbelief, about how and when Jesus will come back to restore the earth. Misunderstanding is not inherently wrong , nor was the opinion that the Messiah would be returning shortly after Jesus death. What is wrong is failing to trust God, and his sovereignty through all situations even when they don’t make sense or hold to our human expectations. “Many are the plans of Man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).

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  7. I agree with your statement that there is evidence found in Acts and elsewhere that the first Christian community believed Jesus was coming back soon. I believe the disciples may have been waiting for Jesus to return in the upper room instead of the Holy Spirit coming. Before Jesus’ ascension he promised they would be baptized in fire, after this the disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom of Israel” (Acts 1:6). To some, they may have believed that the restoration of Israel would happen in their lifetime. Also when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, the disciples could have interpreted it to be soon rather than later. Paul also mentioned in several letters to churches that their members remain in their current state of life, to some this could allude that staying in the current state of life means waiting for the coming of Jesus is soon. I think that the disciples understood Jesus’ goal for the disciples, to preach the good news of God to the ends of the earth, like Jesus said in the Great Commission. I think the more and more gospel preaching went on, and the persecution started to be greater, the disciples understood that Jesus was not coming in this generation. This process of telling the world about Jesus will take generations and generations to do.

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  8. Yes, there is definitely a disconnection from Jewish expectation concerning a time of refreshing or the eschatological age. Even Jesus’s disciples were confused and asked, when is he going to restore the Kingdom? According to Jesus, in Acts 1:7 was, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” And the only assurance that he gave them was, they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them and they will be a witness to the whole world. It’s now apparent that the eschatological age is being postponed but, when the appointed time comes, God will indeed restore his creation, and everything will be back into its original design, like a Garden of Eve condition. Obviously, the Jewish had a different complete understanding or expectation of the restoration of the Kingdom when Peter addresses the crowd, but some had asked a solution for the repentance of their sin. What Peter was addressing was, although the eschatological age is not present here, you can taste it, experiencing it by repenting your sin and turning to God, so that you would be spiritually cleansed and refreshed by the Holy Spirit whereas Christ will reign internally in your heart. However, they had rejected Him and crucify him just like what their ancestor did to their prophets, because of their traditional view about the Messiah.

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