The End Of The Beginning
Acts 1:4 – 11
Verse 3 of chapter 1 ends with the words “The Kingdom of God.” Given what comes next, that is very appropriate. Jesus tells his Apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. They then prove that they need to follow his advice by their next question. “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
It is not an entirely unreasonable question. Certainly it is one that had been asked a number of times during Jesus’ earthly ministry. I think it is interesting and more than a little coincidental that Jesus starts with talking about the Spirit and the Apostles want to know about the Kingdom.
Of course the cause of the misunderstanding is an incomplete understanding of the kingdom and a near complete ignorance of the Holy Spirit. But it is easy to say that someone doesn’t get something, especially when you stand in possession of information that they lack. Looking back over twenty-plus centuries from our 21st century vantage point, it is easy for us to see that the Davidic kingdom would not be re-established in Jerusalem in the first century. But standing in Jerusalem in AD 30, less than 40 days after the Resurrection, things looked very different. But Jesus never lost focus: he knew what his Apostles and the Church needed: the Holy Spirit.
It is almost as though you can hear the Apostolic response to Jesus command to wait for the Holy Spirit: “Yeah, sure. But tell us the REALLY important news.”
I personally think that their confusion is pretty easy to understand. When Jesus was being judged by Pilate he said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” But back in Matthew 3:1 – 2 Matthew writes, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
So which is it? Is the kingdom “not of this world” or is it “at hand”? At the time of the crucifixion Peter was obviously of the opinion that the kingdom was of this world, because he cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear to protect Jesus. The Jews understood very well that the Messiah was coming in David’s lineage and it was easy to make the connection between that lineage with its earthly kingdom and the re-establishment of the earthly kingdom.
But God clearly had something else in mind and that is why Jesus answered their kingdom question as he did. In Matthew 13 Jesus said a number of things about the kingdom which we need to understand. Let’s look at verses 31 – 33 for an insight that will be helpful.
These two parables tell us what to expect in the way that the kingdom is going to grow. Yeast and mustard seeds both start out very small and they grow amazingly large. We will see that there are about 120 disciples left in Jerusalem at the time of the Ascension. From that 120 came the yeast that eventually turned the world upside down. So, assuming that Jesus wanted us to learn something from his parables, we can take away at least two lessons. First, the mustard seed and the yeast teach us that we should not despise small beginnings. The church started with a very few, but has grown to enormous size. Second, the yeast works through the dough to make the whole batch rise. We can see from this that the whole batch is not yeast. We can also see that the yeast has an influence on the batch, not the other way around. So there seems to be two ways in which we can see the kingdom of heaven.
First, we can say that it grows from a tiny beginning to a huge finish. That is the lesson of the mustard plant. Second, we see that is grows in reference to the surrounding society. The leaven is leavening the society: it make society into something it was not before. This is the history of western civilization. The church grows, almost without reference to the surrounding society. But it grows in such as way that it affects everything around it.
But, how does this happen? Was it the clever scheme of the Apostles? No, it was the plan of God. All of the effects that we see came from his plan. And I do not think that these effects (the arts, western civilization, and modern progress) were simply accidental add-ons. Many things had to develop at the same time for the Church to work. And the most important was the coming of the Holy Spirit.
This is the reason that Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. We have spoken numerous times about the relationship of the Law to the Spirit. Jeremiah told us that in the New Covenant, God would write his law on our hearts. The Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, which was the feast which celebrated the giving of the Law. Therefore we believe that the Holy Spirit is the primary difference between the Old and New Covenants. Paul tells us that no one was ever justified by the deeds of the law. Because of that we believe that the Holy Spirit is the representative of God’s Law. He gets written on our hearts when we become a Christian. He guides our lives after we are Christians.