June 9: Acts 1:6-8ff

Acts 1:6-8ff

This passage, with its reference to the coming of the Spirit, is part of the wider narrative of Acts 1-2 where the idea of the “restoration of Israel” is perhaps the most prominent theme. There are three such episodes with expound this theme:

    1. The question of the disciples regarding the Kingdom, with Jesus’ response (Acts 1:6-8)
    2. The reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26)
    3. The Pentecost Narrative (Acts 2:1-13)

The matter has been prepared for, and foreshadowed, in the Lukan Gospel at a number of points—most notably in the way that the Gospel tradition has been adapted to give greater emphasis on the role of the Spirit (cf. the recent notes on 4:1, 14ff; 10:21-22; 11:1-13, etc). There is, of course, the direct allusion to the coming of the Spirit at the close of the Gospel (24:49), when Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they receive “power out of the height(s)” from the “e)paggeli/a of the Father”. The noun e)paggeli/a literally refers to something about which God has given a message; in such contexts it is usually understood in terms of something promised, and so translated as “promise”. Here it is clearly a reference to the coming of God’s Spirit, the same wording being used at Acts 1:4-5 and elsewhere in the the early preaching of Acts (2:33, 39; 13:32), as well as by Paul in his letters (e.g., Gal 3:14ff).

Almost certainly this “promise” relates to the eschatological and Messianic expectation, among Israelites and Jews at time, that may be summarized by the label “the restoration of Israel”. It is an idea that goes back to the Exile and post-Exilic period, to the Prophetic writings of the 6th and 5th century—the promise that the people of Israel/Judah would return to their land, and that a New Age of peace, prosperity, and righteousness would be ushered in for them. God’s Spirit would play a central role in the restoration of Israel and the establishment of this New Age; the key passages on this theme in the Prophets have been discussed extensively in prior notes. The Gospel of Luke accurately reflects these expectations, especially in the Infancy narratives, where the devout ones in Israel—i.e., Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna—are depicted in their hope and belief for the deliverance and restoration of Israel (2:25, 32, 34, 38; cf. 1:54f, 68-79).

The Anointed Ones of God, who will appear at the end-time, will usher in this restoration. In particular, it was expected of the Davidic Messiah that he would subdue/defeat the surrounding nations and establish the Kingdom of God on earth—a kingdom that was expressed socio-politically through Israel as a restored (independent and dominant) nation. Since Jesus was viewed by his disciples as the Messiah—and, indeed, the Davidic ruler figure-type—it was natural for them to expect that he would bring about this restoration for Israel. Since it was not accomplished prior to his death, with his arrival in Jerusalem (cf. the popular expectation, Mk 11:7-10 par; Lk 19:11, etc), surely the moment would occur now, after his resurrection.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=|   )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom common in popular religious thought (cf. above, and the earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”). Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

In other words, the establishment of the Kingdom (and the restoration of Israel), will not be realized in conventional religious and socio-political terms; rather, it will occur through: (a) the presence/power of the holy Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world. The narratives in the book of Acts faithfully expound both of these aspects. As believers are filled and guided by the Spirit, they embark on a mission into the surrounding nations, proclaiming the Gospel. Thus we have here a uniquely Christian development of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration.

Before proceeding further, it will be worth examining this development in a bit more detail. It can scarcely be regarded as a Lukan invention, since it is rooted in the authentic Gospel and early Christian historical tradition. However, the author of Luke-Acts does give to the theme a profound creative and literary expression in the early chapters of the book of Acts. I have discussed this in prior notes and articles, including a four-part series on the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2:1-13. I will not reproduce that entirely here, but will highlight the most important and relevant aspects for our current study. In the next daily note, I will address the idea of Israel’s restoration symbolized by the reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26).

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