The Apostles' Question

The book of Acts is a sequel to the book of Luke. It begins where the gospel account ends: with Jesus’ instruction to the apostles to be His witnesses, together with His promise of the Holy Spirit’s power to aid them in that work.

Jesus’ recent resurrection from the dead, a powerful evidence that He was the Messiah, plus His statement that He had been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18), and now a promise of a new wave of activity by the Holy Spirit—all this prompted the apostles to ask, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

In some ways the apostles’ question is surprising. For three years, Jesus had tried to the teach them about the kingdom. He pointed to its spiritual nature by emphasizing that entering it requires a new birth (John 3:3, 5). He said it is within us (Luke 17:20-21), a transforming influence in our lives, like leaven in a loaf of bread (Matthew 13:33). Our participation in it is not determined by nationality, it is governed by our response to “the word of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). In fact, Jesus plainly said to Israel’s leaders, “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it” (Matthew 21:43).

The apostles were slow to grasp these concepts. They evidently shared with their generation a hope that the Messiah would return Israel to earthly glory, throwing off the yoke of Roman rule. That explains why Peter, just moments after confessing Jesus to be the Messiah, then hearing Jesus say that He must suffer and be killed, rebuked the Lord, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (Matthew 16:22). Similarly, James and John’s request for seats on Jesus’ right and left hands in the kingdom (Matthew 20:21) reflects their misconception.

The apostles’ question teaches all of us a vital lesson: we must be careful to let God’s word, not our own preconceived ideas or popular notions, dictate what we believe. It is not always easy to take a fresh, objective look at Scripture, and it may be even more difficult to admit we have been wrong. Remember, though, that Jesus said, “The truth will make you free” (John 8:32).

The apostles’ question illustrates why Jesus stressed that they were to wait for the Spirit’s inspiration before going out to preach (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5). Just as surely, it stresses how important it is for us to listen carefully to that inspired preaching before forming our conclusions.

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