Reflecting on Acts for The Ascension of the Lord

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 1:1-11

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The disciples’ question raises concerns that will reappear in various ways in Acts: what, when, and for whom is God’s kingdom? The disciples probably have in mind God’s promises to restore the royal kingdom of David (Jer 23:5–6; Amos 9:11–12), which had been defunct since the sixth century BC. Many of their Jewish contemporaries expected that the Messiah would reestablish the political kingdom of Israel and overthrow the oppressive Roman government.

It may be that the disciples had such an understanding of the restoration of Israel. But Jesus uses the question as an opportunity to further expand their understanding of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God throughout his public ministry was rooted in the Hebrew understanding of God the Creator as having dominion over not only his own Jewish people but also all people (Tob 13:11; Ps 99:1–2; Isa 49:6).

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come,” that is, “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Matt 6:10). God’s kingdom is wherever Jesus himself is present and God’s will is loved and obeyed. Here Jesus indicates that the kingdom will be restored not by military or political conquest but by establishing his kingship in human lives through the witness of his disciples (v. 8). Jesus already reigns as king (Acts 2:34–36), although his kingdom will be fully and visibly realized only at the end of history.

Jesus puts off the disciples’ question about a specific time for the restoration of Israel’s kingdom with a simple answer: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons.” Questions about God’s timetable were often raised by Jews in the first century (and continue to be asked by Christians today), but Jesus refuses to answer this question. His disciples will receive God’s power, not to exercise political authority, but to be his witnesses.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.