Acts 3:20 – “The Times of Refreshing”

Water and FireIn 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 presented 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?

5 thoughts on “Acts 3:20 – “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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