A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 1:6-26. Waiting for Pentecost
The major event of the early chapters of Acts took place on the Day of Pentecost, when the now-exalted Lord Jesus performed the last work of his saving career (until his coming again) and ‘poured out’ the Holy Spirit on his waiting people. His life, death, resurrection and ascension all culminated in this great gift, which the prophets had foretold and which would be recognized as the chief evidence that God’s kingdom had been inaugurated. For this conclusion of Christ’s work on earth was also a refreshing beginning. Just as the Spirit came upon Jesus to equip him for public ministry (Lk.3:21-22; 4:14,18), so now the Spirit was to come upon his people to equip them for theirs. The Holy Spirit would not only apply to them the salvation which Jesus had achieved by his death and resurrection but would impel them to proclaim throughout the world the good news of this salvation. Salvation is given to be shared.
Before the Day of Pentecost, however, there was to be a time of waiting, for forty days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus (1:3), and for ten more between Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus’ instructions were quite clear, and Luke repeats them for emphasis, first at the end of his Gospel and then at the beginning of Acts. ‘Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ (Lk.24:49). ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about’ (1:4). During the fifty day waiting period, however, they were not inactive. On the contrary, Luke singles out for comment four important events. First, they received their commission (1:6-8). Secondly, they saw Christ go into heaven (1:9-12). Thirdly, they persevered together in prayer, presumably for the Spirit to come (1:13-14). Fourthly, they replaced Judas with Matthias as the twelfth apostle (1:21-26). Not that we are to think that these are human activities only. For it is Christ who commissioned them, ascended into heaven, promised them the Spirit they prayed for, and chose the new apostle. Dr. Richard Longenecker goes further and sees these four factors as comprising what he calls ‘the constitutive elements of Christian mission’, namely the mandate to witness, the ascended Lord who directs the mission from heaven, the centrality of the apostles in this task, and the coming of the Spirit to empower them. Only when these four elements were in place could the mission begin.
1. They received their commission (1:6-8)
During the forty days in which the risen Lord ‘showed himself’ to the apostles, and ‘gave many convincing proofs that he was alive’ (3), Luke indicates that he taught them. First, he spoke to them ‘about the kingdom of God’(3), which had been the burden of his message during his public ministry and indeed (judging from the present participle *legon*, ‘speaking’) continued to be after his resurrection. Secondly, he told them to wait for the gift or baptism of the Spirit, which had been promised by him, the Father and the Baptist, and which they would now receive ‘in a few days’ (4-5).
It appears then that Jesus’ two main topics of conversation between his resurrection and his ascension were the kingdom of God and the Spirit of God. It seems probable that he also related them to each other, for certainly the prophets had often associated them. When God establishes the kingdom of the Messiah, they said, he will pour out his Spirit; this generous effusion and universal enjoyment of the Spirit will be one of the major signs and blessings of his rule; and indeed the Spirit of God will make the rule of God a living and present reality to his people.
So then the question which the apostles put to Jesus when they met together (*Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?*, 6) was not altogether the *non sequitur* it sounds. For if the Spirit was about to come, as he had said, did this not imply that the kingdom was about to come too? The mistake they made was to misunderstand both the nature of the kingdom and the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit. Their question must have filled Jesus with dismay. Were they still so lacking in perception? As Calvin commented, ‘there are as many errors in this question as words’. The verb, the noun and the adverb of their sentence all betray doctrinal confusion about the kingdom. For the verb *restore* shows that they were expecting a political and territorial kingdom; the noun *Israel* that they were expecting a national kingdom; and the adverbial clause *at this time* that they were expecting its immediate establishment. In his reply (7-8) Jesus corrected their mistaken notions of the kingdom’s nature, extent and arrival.
Tomorrow: Acts 1:6-26. 1a). The kingdom of God is spiritual in its Character.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.