One of the teachings that Jesus gave to his disciples was that it was necessary and important for him to go to the Father. You may remember Jesus telling his disciples that he must go away and where he is going they cannot follow. Why was it so important for Jesus to leave and ascend to the Father? The ascension of Jesus is sometimes not considered very important in the life of Jesus. We will often speak about his coming to earth, his perfect life, his death, and his resurrection. But his ascension is just as important as all of these other parts in Jesus’ life.
The Disciples’ Question (1:6)
Jesus has been speaking to his disciples about the kingdom of God for 40 days. Included in the teaching about the kingdom of God was the promise of the Father and the baptism of the Holy Spirit which would be not many days from now. In our last lesson we noticed that the promise of the Father made through the prophets concerning the baptism of the Spirit or the pouring out of the Spirit were prophetic images about how God was going to restore his relationship with his people and pour out blessings upon them. Mercy and grace were going to come to his people. The kingdom was going to be restored and the offer of forgiveness would be made. God would restore the fortunes of his people and reverse their condition when the Spirit is poured out. With these things in mind and with Jesus teaching about these things for 40 days, the disciples ask a question in Acts 1:6.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 ESV)
It has been a favorite thing for preachers and scholars to criticize this question. Immediately people declare that the apostles still do not understand. They are still looking for a physical kingdom. They are still thinking that Jesus is going to set up an earthly throne in Jerusalem. But let us take a step back from this idea for a moment. Is this an improper question considering that Jesus has been teaching his disciples about the kingdom for 40 days? Or let’s ask the question another way. Did the promise of the Father include the restoration of the kingdom to Israel? Let’s look at some of the prophecies made by the Father through the prophets.
And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength— he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:5–6 ESV)
Isaiah says that part of the Messianic hope was to bring Jacob back, to raise up the tribes of Jacob again, and to bring back the preserved of Israel. Isaiah speaks about the restoring of Israel.
11 “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, 12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the LORD who does this. 13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. 14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. 15 I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the LORD your God. (Amos 9:11–15 ESV)
Notice the prophet Amos as he speaks about the coming restoration when the Christ comes also says that booth of David will have its ruins raised up and be rebuilt as in the days of old. He also says that God will restore the fortunes of Israel and they will rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit. God was promising to restore the kingdom to Israel. In Daniel’s prophecy of Christ establishing his rule over the kingdoms of the earth in Daniel 7, that prophecy ends with these words:
The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey him. (Daniel 7:27 CSB)
The kingdom will be given to the holy ones of the Most High. When that prophecy was given, who were the holy ones of the Most High? Israel would have said that they are the holy ones of the Most High. So what I want us to see is that the question that the disciples ask is not ridiculous or improper. The prophecies did say that the kingdom would be restored to Israel. Further, Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of God for 40 days. Finally, Jesus’ answer to his disciples shows that they did not ask the wrong question. Jesus gives his answer to their question in verses 7-8.
Jesus’ Answer (1:7-8)
Notice that Jesus does not answer that they are dull of hearing or how long does he have to deal with their lack of understanding. To understand Jesus’ answer, please think about the question the disciples ask. They ask, “Are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel.” Jesus’ answer is in two parts. First, it is not for the disciples to know the exact time of when the restoration will happen. Jesus is not going to give them a day and time. The second part of the answer is what to expect. The restoration of the kingdom will be when the Spirit is poured out. When the Spirit is poured out, these apostles will receive power and be witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This is how God’s salvation will extend to the ends of the earth. This is how all the nations of the earth will be blessed in Christ. The disciples were not commissioned to build empires but topple empires without weapons by proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question is an implied affirmative. Will you restore the kingdom to Israel now? Yes, but I will not tell you the date and time. But this will happen when the Spirit comes, which is what the prophets said, as we looked at in the last lesson.
Important Ascension (1:9-11)
After saying this, Jesus was taken up before their eyes into a cloud. You can just imagine the disciples looking up and just watching him go further and further away until he was hidden by the clouds. This is important eyewitness testimony. Not only do we have eyewitness testimony that Jesus rose from the dead, which no one expected, we also have eyewitness testimony that Jesus left the earth by rising in the sky into the clouds. Now why is this ascension important and what does it have to do with the teachings regarding the kingdom and waiting for the Spirit in Jerusalem? Why is this important to us?
First, we need to see what this image means according to the prophets. The prophet Daniel had a vision where he saw this event happening and described its meaning. Look at Daniel 7:13-14.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14 ESV)
The message of the ascension of Jesus is that he has returned to the Father to receive authority, power, glory, and a kingdom so that everyone should serve him. Jesus leaves the earth so that he can take his rightful place on the throne. This is what Psalm 110:1 proclaimed. Jesus is taking his seat at the right hand of God on the throne until all enemies are subjected to him. So the first important point for us to know is that Jesus left was to establish his kingdom.
Second, two men dressed in white suddenly appear to give a message to the disciples. Why do you look into the sky? This Jesus will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven (1:11). Jesus is coming back. Jesus ascended to the Father and took his rightful place on the throne, not because the work of Jesus is over, but because he is going to finish his work. This is how the book of Acts began. The Gospel of Luke is all that Jesus began to do and teach. Jesus has ascended to continue his work. When Jesus is done with his work in the world, he will come back.
This is our hope. Jesus is coming back. We can struggle with this because we see that so much time has gone by. It has been nearly 2000 years since Jesus left. How can we possibly believe that Jesus is coming back? But time should not shake our faith. Let me give us some history to help. How long did God allow time to go by from when he made a promise to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed until the arrival of Jesus? It took about 2000 years. What I want us to see is that time is not a factor for God. A long time passing by does not mean that Jesus is not coming back. One can only imagine how the promise of the Christ felt to the people of Israel has so much time went by as they waited for his arrival. If there is anything we should know from the scriptures is that God often does not fulfill his promises quickly. None of the prophets were able to see the fulfillment of what they prophesied about. The writer of Hebrews declares that those who lived by faith in the scriptures did not receive what was promised but saw them from a distance (Hebrews 11:13). God looks for faith by allowing his promises to take large amounts of time to be fulfilled. We should never be troubled by significant amounts of time passing by. About 2000 years have passed since Jesus ascended to heaven and our Lord is not troubled by this at all. Nothing has gone wrong. All is going just as God plans for it to go.
So what is taking so long? Why do we have to wait all of these years for Jesus to come back? There are a few answers that the scriptures give to this question. But I want to focus on the answer that is given in our text before us in this lesson. Jesus ascended to take his seat on the throne and rule until all peoples and nations are under his feet. So why has Jesus not returned? He has not returned because he still has work to do. He still is still extending he rule across the earth. Our hope as we wait is the knowledge that Jesus is active and ruling over the affairs of the earth. As we look at the problems in the world, and we look at the chaos in our American culture, we can hold on to this important knowledge. If you believe Jesus ascended after his resurrection, then you believe he is coming back and he is coming back when his continuing work is completed in this world. When you are suffering, know that he is coming back. When you are tempted, know he is coming back. When life gets flipped upside, know that he is coming back. He is coming back for you and for all who are waiting for his return.