In the last study, we looked at the commission in Luke, which had its main point that repentance and remission of sins would be preached in the Name of the Lord Jesus among all nations beginning at Jerusalem. In this study, we will look at Luke’s “latter treatise”, to shed further light on the apostolic commission, and the call of them as witnesses:
When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:6–8)
This passage begins with a question: Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? Many see this as the disciples showing their ignorance. Look at these quotes from two prominent Christian leaders across several centuries to see the understanding that many have had regarding prophecy and the coming kingdom:
“So then the question which the apostles put to Jesus when they met together (Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?, 6) was not altogether the non sequitur it sounds. For if the Spirit was about to come, as he had said, did this not imply that the kingdom was about to come too? The mistake they made was to misunderstand both the nature of the kingdom and the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit. Their question must have filled Jesus with dismay. Were they still so lacking in perception?”—John Stott1
He then quotes another notable commentator with the following:
“He showeth that the apostles were gathered together when as this question was moved, that we may know that it came not of the foolishness of one or two that it was moved, but it was moved by the common consent of them all; but marvelous is their rudeness, that when as they had been diligently instructed by the space of three whole years, they betray no less ignorance than if they had heard never a word. There are as many errors in this question as words.” —John Calvin2
I am really convinced that rather than the Apostles who had the scriptures opened to them by the Lord Himself personally (Luke 24:45), both Stott and Calvin show their ignorance in what they wrote.
Why would they ask about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel? Could it be that the Lord Jesus Himself was seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3)?
As Peter preached to the men of Israel gathered at the porch that is called Solomon’s, he spoke of the the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21). The word that is translated “restitution” is ἀποκατάστασις (apokatástasis). The term “restore again” in Acts 1:6 is ἀποκαθίστημι (apokathistēmi). I am no Greek scholar, but they look as though they are related. Restore and restitution in English are definitely related. Interestingly enough, the prophets spoke of a kingdom restored to Israel.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is His name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one King shall be King to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all: Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be My people, and I will be their God.
And David My servant shall be King over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob My servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and My servant David shall be their prince for ever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore. (Ezekiel 37:21-28)
The Lord’s answer to them was not one of upbraiding them as He had for their unbelief (Mark 16:14). His answer never intimated anything to the effect of “O fools slow of heart to perceive that this is a spiritual kingdom and not an earthly one”, as the theologians quoted essentially said. His answer was to answer their question about the timing: “Lord wilt thou AT THIS TIME restore again the kingdom to Israel” was met with “It is not for you to know the TIMES OR THE SEASONS, which the Father hath put in His own power”. He was being consistent with what He said to them previously:
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. (Matthew 25:13)
In looking back through Luke’s Gospel, it appears as though the Lord is speaking in this commission that which He spoke in a parable before He entered into Jerusalem:
And as they heard these things, He added and spake a parable, because He was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (Luke 19:11-13)
They were to see His ascension soon, and were to understand that He would receive for Himself a kingdom. They were to do His work while He was receiving His kingdom. The work that He gave them was that they were to be witnesses unto Him. Their witness was to be specific geographically: in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Today, most of us take this command as a way of saying that Christians should evangelize first in their hometown (although Jerusalem was not the hometown of the apostles, they were “men of Galilee” [Acts 1:10]), then in the larger area around them, and eventually toward world missions. While there is nothing wrong with evangelizing this way, this is not the point of this command. They were to specifically be witnesses unto Him in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Specifically, they were to be witnesses of His resurrection (Acts 1:22, 2:32).
This should also shed some light on the choice of Matthias as the replacement of Judas. Matthias was there when the Lord was baptized by John, and continued until the Lord was taken up (Acts 1:21, Luke 22:28-30, Matthew 19:28). He would not have been one of the two “finalists” if he had not. In the last verse of Acts chapter 1, Luke states by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16) that Matthias was “numbered with the eleven apostles”. Peter and the other apostles were fully within their right and responsibility to do so, for Peter was specifically told by the Lord that he was given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
Some would say that Peter should not have done this before the Holy Ghost was poured out, but they neglect that the Lord had already given the Holy Ghost:
…He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost… (John 20:22)
They were now to wait to be “baptized with the Holy Ghost”, but they already had the Lord’s “downpayment”, and acted correctly in doing this. They were also faithful to their call to witness in Jerusalem in spite of persecution (Acts 8:1). While the nation of Israel and specifically its religious leaders sent a message after the Lord, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14), in doing so they signed their own execution:
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (Luke 19:27)
God intervened in grace and did not immediately judge the nation, although the kingdom was taken away for a time.
Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. (Matthew 21:43)
It is a mistake to make the nation bringing forth the fruits of the kingdom to mean the church which is His body, and to therefore make “the church” the kingdom of God. It is better to make the nation bringing forth fruits the future restored nation of Israel that, as the LORD spoke by His prophet, “shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). It will be the nation that says “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35), and whose heart has turned to the Lord, and the vail is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:16). Only then will the kingdom be restored to Israel. So Peter gave this offer to the men of Israel gathered on Solomon’s porch:
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:19-21)
This offer of the kingdom will again be preached to Israel, but since their rejection of this call to repentance from the witnesses, the nation that was then was under judgment:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
In spite of the Nation’s rejection, all Israelites can still be saved, for the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). They are saved even as the gentiles are, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died for our sins, buried, and raised again (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Romans 4:25, Ephesians 2:8-9). Have you believed this gospel?
The next study on the apostolic commissions we will look at the least spoken of part of this commission: that from John’s gospel. We will look at the authority that the Lord actually gave these called men. I hope and pray that we can all look at this from the scriptures free from traditions of men, believing what God has said in His word. Until next time…
“Acts 1 Calvin’s Commentaries.” Acts 1 Calvin’s Commentaries. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Jan. 2017. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/acts/1.htm.