James Patrick’s Blog

September 27, 2009

Promised Land in Acts, part one [I&NC #9]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 9:13 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

It is interesting to note that the whole book of Acts, describing the Jewish mission to the Gentiles, is started by setting it in the context of the timing of God’s promised restoration of Israel’s possession of her land under her anointed King.  This restoration is referred to again in Peter’s second sermon in Jerusalem, which also mentions the mission to the Gentiles.  Finally, Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin picks up on Jesus’ prophesied judgement on the nation but sets this within the context of the eventual inheritance of the land [we will deal with this speech in the next post].

Acts 1:6-11 – Having looked at the parable of the minas in Luke 19:11-27 above, the disciples’ question to Jesus in Acts 1:6 makes a lot more sense.  Often it is assumed that the disciples are still foolishly fixated on defeating the Romans and recapturing their territory, and Jesus has to turn their eyes away from themselves once again.  This is far from the truth.  On Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem approximately seven weeks earlier, He had responded to their assumptions that the ‘kingdom of God’ (the territory of Israel in their understanding) would appear immediately, by surprisingly reinforcing their ideas of judgement on enemies and territorial rewards, but simply postponing these until after His return.  Then at their final Passover meal together He promised them twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30).  At the same meal He made it clear He was going somewhere that they could not follow, but He would return and gather the disciples again to live in His presence.  He explained that if He went away to His Father, He could then send the Holy Spirit who would bring them permanent joy and authority (John 14:3; 16:7‑11, 16­‑29).  He then spoke in His prayer about accomplishing His assigned task, being given all authority, and “now” coming to the Father, all of which would have later reinforced to them the idea that Jesus’ death was the prophesied ‘going away’ to the Father (John 17:1-5, 11-13, 24; cf. Luke 23:43‑46).

Therefore when Jesus returned from death after three days, He had to try as best He could to clarify that this return wasn’t the one He had been talking about; “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)  But then He met the disciples and told them to ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ He was breathing on them (20:22).  Later He spoke to Peter in Galilee about someone else clothing him and bringing him where he did not wish to go, which Peter may have initially interpreted as being ‘clothed’ with authority and returning to rule in Jerusalem (cf. Luke 15:22; Zec 3:1-7), for which he certainly felt unworthy and even unwilling (John 21:3, 15-18).  He therefore suggested John for primary leadership of the Eleven (20:21, cf. 20:15-17 and Luke 22:32), but Jesus said that He might well choose for John to ‘remain’ (in Galilee?) until He ‘came’ (back again from Jerusalem?); regardless of where John was assigned, Peter had to follow Him.  Clearly that conversation was reinterpreted subsequently more than once, but it is at least plausible that the disciples were quite confused about what exactly Jesus planned to do now that He had ‘returned’.

After spending some time in Galilee with the disciples (John 21; Matthew 28:10, 16‑20), Jesus returned with them to Jerusalem, and probably at that point, significantly during a meal (Acts 1:4; cf. Luke 22:28-30), He told them to stay here in Jerusalem from now on until they received the Holy Spirit “not many days from now”, something that He had said would happen after He had returned to the Father (John 14:25‑28; 16:7).  As they were probably unaware Jesus would be leaving for good within a couple of days, the most natural interpretation of His promise would be that having ‘gone away’ in death and sorrow (John 16:19-22) to His Father, He had now returned in fullness of joy, and once the Holy Spirit was received in a few days’ time it would surely be the fulfilment of His great kingdom established here in Jerusalem.  “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’”  Very good question.

In response, Jesus did not pick up on the issue of the kingdom being restored to Israel, which He acknowledged was an epoch that the Father had fixed by His own authority for a certain time (Acts 1:7).  Instead, He answered what they were really asking, that is, the question of timing, which had been puzzling them ever since supper in Jerusalem six weeks earlier.  His reply was that they would not be given precise timings (even as Jesus Himself had not been given them – Mat 24:36), but all that they had to know was that after receiving the Holy Spirit they would be sent out from Jerusalem to testify about Jesus “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Clearly, the time of them inheriting their kingdom and ruling from Jerusalem was not for now; they had a mission to accomplish first, and only when “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come” (Mat 24:14).  The rest of the book of Acts is therefore the beginnings of that mission to the ends of the earth, or at least as far as Rome, the centre of the ‘inhabited earth’; as Paul recognised, from Rome one would surely be able to reach even the furthest parts of the known world (Rom 15:20‑24; cf. Acts 28:23‑31).

Acts 1:6-8 is therefore both the most explicit recorded affirmation by Jesus of the future fulfilment of the Father’s promise of a territorial ‘kingdom’ for Israel, and also an equally clear clarification that the inheritance of this kingdom would only happen after the testimony about Jesus had reached the ‘remotest part of the earth’.

Acts 3:12-26 – In Peter’s second recorded sermon in Jerusalem, within weeks of Jesus’ ascension, we can sense his anticipation and impatience for the return of Jesus and the fulfilment of promised inheritance.  However here we also note a further element of the Early Church’s understanding about the end of this age.  Jesus had clearly declared to Jerusalem that they would not see Him again until as a nation they turned back to Him in repentance and welcomed His return with ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Mat 23:37‑39).  It appears that the twelve apostles initially expected this national repentance to happen within their generation, ushering in the return of Jesus (Mat 24:32‑35), but they had not given due weight to Israel’s hardness of heart and Jesus’ promise of certain judgement and exile, nor to the size of the task they had been given in first reaching the ends of the earth.  Perhaps they saw the national repentance as the best means of expanding the task force to reach the ends of the earth, and this is indeed suggested in this sermon of Peter’s.

Peter used the ‘perfect health’ of the healed beggar as an ideal example of what will be possible for the nation as a whole if they put their trust in the name of Jesus, the one glorified by the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  If the people as a whole repented and returned, their sins could be wiped away, ‘times of refreshing’ would come from God (presumably the empowering of the Holy Spirit for mission to the ends of the earth), and ultimately God would send the Messiah Jesus back to His people.  Peter now recognised from the prophets how Jesus would have to remain in heaven “until the times of restoration of all things about which God spoke”.  This reference to the words of the prophets would undoubtedly have included the permanent inheritance of their land, about which almost every prophet spoke.  Peter does warn that there would be judgement against those who refused to listen to the message of Jesus, but then encouraged the people that the days they themselves were living in had been announced ever since Samuel (cf. 1 Sam 2:10).

Finally Peter explicitly cites the covenant that God made with the Patriarchs, emphasising that his (Jewish) hearers were the heirs of that covenant and the promises made through the prophets, and therefore for the Jewish nation first (before all other nations), God had sent His Servant Jesus to turn them from wickedness and make them a blessing to every nation on earth.  Although by this early stage Peter has not thought through the pragmatic and theological implications of Jewish mission to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:28‑29; Gal 2:11‑14), his passionate, hope-filled emphasis on this mission, even while preaching to his own countrymen within his own promised land, is an example for all believers in their respective nations.  It is clearly possible to believe unreservedly in the certain future restoration of a nation’s territorial inheritance, according to God’s covenant promise, and still be enthusiastically committed to gospel mission to every nation.  The fact that the former cannot happen before the latter is completed will no doubt motivate the believer to go to the nations!

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