How do we explain Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about the kingdom of God in Acts 1? How do you define the kingdom of God? Why is the OT background so important to understanding Acts 1? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to sermon (Acts 1:1-11):
What’s with the disciples question and Jesus’ response about the timing of the kingdom’s restoration to Israel?
I think we’ve not given enough credit to the disciples. We’ve tended to read the question and ask “What’s wrong with these buffoons that they would ask this question?” But following on the heels of what Jesus has been teaching them for 40 days, namely about the kingdom of God and that the outpouring of the Spirit is going to take place, their question is altogether legitimate. It’s just not within their prerogative to know the details of God’s plan, particularly the timing. They’re also probably suffering a little bit from what we all suffer from—thinking that it is all going to come in one fell swoop, as opposed to being inaugurated over time. In one sense, the easy answer to the question is, “It’s going to take place in 10 days.” I don’t think Jesus’ answer, that it is not for them to know, is a clear indication that the kingdom is something exclusively for the long-distant future. I think the disciples know that it is imminent, but what they may not understand is that it will be inaugurated, but not consummated.
Why did you begin the sermon with the ascension of the Lord, while it appears more prominently at the end of this section of text? How did you work through the structuring of your sermon?
The literary consideration is that the passage features an inclusio; that is, the section begins with the ascension and ends with the ascension. This frames the section and inclines me to look toward the middle of the passage to focus on what it is specifically that is being framed. When we do that, we find a relationship between the ascension of Jesus and the charge given to the disciples. It is the ascension that will result in the outpouring of the Spirit and the fulfillment of this great task that Jesus has given to us. From a pastoral standpoint, I wanted people to have their minds focused on verse 1:8, as this charge is what the book is about and is the thematic verse for the entire book of Acts. It is what I wanted lingering in peoples’ ears.
How would you define ‘the kingdom of God’ for your congregation?
I think the simple answer, which I believe I learned from George Ladd, is that the kingdom of God exists wherever God’s rule and reign expresses itself. This is expressed now in the New Covenant sense with the reign of King Jesus that will ultimately encompass the whole earth and all of creation. I take the kingdom of God to be expressed in the church but not confined to the church, so wherever God’s rule and reign is found to be supreme, therein is the kingdom of God.
Talk to us a little bit about the OT background of Acts 1.
I’ll begin by saying that I have really struggled with the book of Acts because people always talk about it in terms of revival, I think, in reference to a revival of the church. But it has been my awareness that the events of Acts first and foremost depict a revival of Israel—the authentic Israel. When we go back and look, we see so many OT passages point to this very thing. Each one of the major clauses in Acts 1:8 are taken straight out of the book of Isaiah, talking about what God is going to do with Israel. God is going to pour out His Spirit, He is going to cause them to be witnesses, and He is going to cause them to go to the ends of the earth. This is an assignment for Israel, which of course, is why a 12th man was needed. Once I understood what Luke was doing—showing how what Jesus accomplished in the outpouring of the Spirit and the empowering of His people was in fulfillment of OT promises — then the whole concept of revival popped with crystal clarity in my mind. Israel is being revived, just as the OT promised that it would be.