The Book of Acts (Chapter 1:1-11) (Part 2)
When we are reading the book of Acts we are not only reading the past history of the Church but the future history of the Church. In the book of Acts we do not see an ecclesiastical hierarchical structure but a Spirit-filled body of believers held together by a common faith and holding to the doctrine of the Apostles. The Apostles were not a class above the other believers but men whom had been set apart by the LORD in the Body of Messiah for a specific task. At Jerusalem, James was the first among equals among the Apostles, not Peter. James was the presiding Bishop or overseer but worked alongside and in conjunction with the other Apostles. James’ role was not one of a Hierarchical nature. We are told in scripture that the Church, the Body of Messiah, is built on the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets and that the Lord Jesus is the cornerstone that holds His whole Body of believing followers together as one united body.
Leadership is Foundational
Leadership is foundational in that it supports and grounds the Body of Messiah on Biblical and Apostolic doctrine. The Apostles never made themselves to lord it over the flock but as shepherds humbled themselves as servants to the Body of Messiah. Having said this, the Apostles were unique and although there were others around the twelve men that the Lord had chosen were unique in that some of them were used by the Holy Spirit to write scripture such as James, Peter and John and sometime later the Apostle Paul.
A first hand account
Luke, the author of Acts, was a convert to Judaism and one who was able to write a first-hand account of all that had happened to the Lord Jesus and to the early Church. He accompanied the Apostles and wrote an accurate history of events as they happened. He also is careful to mention exact people and places which have been corroborated by other historical literature of the times. Luke was a master Historian. Added to this was the ability given to him by the blessed Holy Spirit to write the very Spirit-breathed word of the Living God. So let’s now look at the text.
(Vs.1-2) “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.”
Luke wrote his letter to Theophilus. His name literally means “loved by God,” but carries the idea of a “friend of God.” In the Gospel that Luke also wrote he calls him “most excellent Theophilus.” Luke addresses him as “most excellent,” a title often used when referring to someone of honour or rank, such as a Roman official. Paul used the same term when addressing Felix (Acts 23:26; Acts 24:3) and Festus (Acts 26:25) which was also often used when addressing a dignitary of Rome. Possibly he must have been a Roman officer or high-ranking official in the Roman government. Theophilus was someone of importance, prominence and influence among the Gentile world. However, we really do not know who he may have been exactly.
In his first letter to Theophilus, (the Gospel of Luke), Luke records the words and acts of the Lord Jesus Christ; and like the other Gospel records, gives an accurate account of all that happened in the life of Jesus while He walked on this earth. He also understood that the Apostles had been given the Great commission from the Lord Jesus to go into the entire world to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. Luke also understood that this command could only be carried out in the power of the blessed Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Lord Jesus would be continued through His Body corporately, the Church of the Living God. Just like the Lord Jesus the Apostles would have the same anointing on them that the Lord Jesus had on Himself for His ministry.
Luke records this when he writes that the same Holy Spirit from the Father that had anointed the Lord Jesus would now be poured out on His followers. As we read: “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33-34). The Lord Jesus had not only spiritually regenerated them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit but by the same Spirit would baptise them and those gathered with them with spiritual power from on high, a power that would enable them and those who follow them to witness and to work for the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Vs.3) “To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
One of the outstanding features of their witnessing and preaching was their emphasis on the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He was no phantom being and after He had risen again from the dead He had physically appeared to them, eaten with them and fellowshipped with them. He had appeared to the Apostles on several occasions, also He had appeared to Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and to the women with them. He had appeared and eaten with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and revealed Himself to them. After this they testified to their experience saying; “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
The reality for all of us who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is that He is alive!!! Mohammad is dead and buried, Confucius is dead and buried, Buddha is dead and buried and so is every other religious leader or false Messiah that have arisen in history, they are all dead and buried!!! However, Jesus is alive!!! The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the most powerful statement in the testimony of a believer. The only way to have this certainty is to have the revelation and testimony of the Holy Spirit to this fact. When we look at the testimony and the preaching of the Apostles, especially Peter, James, John and the Apostle Paul they all emphasized the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we preach on the resurrection the devil gets very upset indeed and so do those who are still under his power. In the time of the Apostles the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was a threat to the authority of the religious leaders and eventually to the Roman Empire itself especially with Caesar being elevated to the status of a god. Those first century believers knew that their ultimate destiny was not to be in this present age but in the Millennial Kingdom and then after that in the final and eternal state and that if they fell asleep in Messiah in this present life they would be absent from the body but present with the LORD in heaven, This was very real to them as many would have to face persecution and death and all they would have left would be their hope in the resurrection. Their kingdom was not of this world but they were “aliens” and “strangers” in the world because they belonged to a kingdom that was not of this world. Apart from John all of the Apostles were martyred for their faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.
It was over a period of forty days that the Lord Jesus appeared and spoke with His faithful followers. Once again it needs to be emphasized the Lord Jesus was no phantom being after He had risen. He had a spiritual body but it was a flesh and bone body, not a spirit or emanation of some kind. After His resurrection at one time, when the disciples were gathered together, He had suddenly appeared to them, having passed through the wall supernaturally because the door to the room was bolted shut, and then asking doubting Thomas to put his fingers into the nail marks on His wrists and into the hole in His side where the Roman spear had gone in to rupture His heart, clearly showing that He was truly dead at the cross. He went on to say that those who had physically seen Him were blessed but that those who had not seen Him physically but believed in Him would be more blessed.
Praise God for the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the hope of Glory, the hope of receiving the Glory of God at the rapture and resurrection of all the saints!!! In the very near future the rapture and resurrection will become the hope of the believer when the persecution really kicks in at the hands of the Antichrist’s beast empire. What happened to the first and second century believers at the hands of the Roman Emperors will happen again at the hands of the Antichrist and his henchmen. The one thing they will hate is the preaching of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Whenever the devil and his demons hear the preaching of the resurrection they have a “knee-jerk reaction” and out of sheer terror try to shut things down. Preaching the resurrection really rubs salt into the mortal wound of the devil and his demons! It constantly reminds them of the fact that none of the rulers of this age understood this (what Jesus accomplished at the cross in defeating them), for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. So then testifying to the resurrection is the most powerful tool in devastating and ransacking the devil’s kingdom! He hates this with a passion!
No wonder he raises up so called “Bishops and theologians” and even Theological Seminaries (Theological cemeteries) of one sort or another to teach higher criticism in the Church that deny the resurrection and the miraculous. Those false teachers who promulgate their anti-resurrection views in reality are no better than the Sadducees of Jesus’ time who also denied the resurrection, the angels and the supernatural. Such men are actually to be pitied! If there is no resurrection then why would faithful saints down through the ages and even today suffer and die for the Lord Jesus if He was still in the grave? A fair question!
(Vs.4-5) “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
In his treatise to Theophilus concerning all that Jesus said and did Luke also mentions that the Apostles would need to be empowered supernaturally by the Lord Jesus Himself to fulfil their commission from Him. Can you image being enlisted into the army and commissioned by the Commander in General to fight a battle without being furnished with armour and weapons with which to fight? You may well have strategies in place and have learnt strategic warfare and even know how to conduct effective campaigns against the enemy. However, without weaponry you cannot fight and ever hope to win. As already mentioned earlier these Apostles had been eyewitnesses to His life, His miracles; His words and especially witnessed first- hand His death and resurrection. They had been spiritually regenerated by the Holy Spirit who was now living inside of them and had received the command of the Lord Jesus to go into all the world to make disciples and may have even felt the urgency to do so but were told to wait in Jerusalem until they had been furnished with supernatural spiritual armour and weapons from on high to do the work assigned to them.
Luke records what Jesus said to His followers just before He ascended into heaven. Luke writes; “Now He (the Lord Jesus) said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:44-49). The Lord Jesus had opened their minds to understand the scriptures and now they fully understood what He was going to do through them but they also understood that they would need to wait until they were empowered to fulfil His command.
During His earthly ministry He had been trying to teach them their need to entirely depend on Him in everything and for everything they would need for life and Godliness and that apart from being connected to Him, the True Vine, they could accomplish nothing. How many churches and denominations today need to learn this lesson? The startling fact about these first and even the second century believers was that most of them were not theological graduates, theologically trained as such or even that well educated but they had their first love for the Lord Jesus! They had the power of the Holy Spirit and had the gifts of the Spirit operating among them.
They also had the scriptures and now understood the parable of the sower knowing that; “the seed is the Word of God” and that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” and that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” They had the Bible (The Old Testament) what more did they need? They had the Word of God in their heart and in their mouth, the weapon with which to pull down spiritual strongholds, but they would also need the energizing power of the Holy Spirit to make that word a living and powerful instrument in the work of saving sinners and sanctifying saints!
As we will see on the Day of Pentecost they were all filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit! They were furnished with spiritual weapons and armour to fight the protracted and enduring battle that now lay ahead for the souls of men and women caught in the snare of sin and imprisoned in the devil’s trap. Only the blessed Holy Spirit could set them free and He would do it through the followers of Jesus! Those believers may not have had silver or gold but they had the confidence and the power to say; “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk!”
(Vs.6) “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
The restoration of the Kingdom of Israel was uppermost on their minds as they were all Jewish and had the hope of the Millennial Kingdom on their minds. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah and that he would come again to restore the nation of Israel. There was no such doctrine or teaching about replacement theology. Most certainly there was no such doctrine as Amillennialism even existing. They were all Jewish and expected the Kingdom to be restored to Israel. There would be a spiritual restoration that would start with these men but the physical restoration of the nation would come later.
The Apostles were all premillennial. It is only after Augustine came along that the idea of a ‘spiritual’ Millennium became the prominent ideology of the Church. The problem was, that Augustine and those other Church Fathers who were not Jewish, sought to Hellenise the scriptures. They no longer interpreted the scriptures as a Jewish book and lost sight of the Jewish roots of the Church. After all the Lord Jesus was Jewish, the Apostles, apart from Luke, were all Jewish, (Luke was a convert to Judaism) the Old Testament was a Jewish book as is the New Testament. The Bible needs to be understood and interpreted in the same way as a first century believer would understand and interpret it.
On the Day of Pentecost David’s fallen tabernacle was restored spiritually. In 1948 Israel as a nation was reborn in a day, however, Israel as a whole is still a nation that rejects their Messiah the Lord Jesus Christ. Before they are fully restored as a nation they must pass through the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. In 70 AD Mosaic Judaism ceased to exist once the Romans had destroyed the Temple and sacked Jerusalem. It would be almost two thousand years before the people of Israel came home. Even today many are still to come but it will take applied pressure from the LORD to bring this about. With the current influx of Islamic refuges into Europe the writing is on the wall for European Jewry as it was in the early 1930’s. It is only a matter of time and time is fast running out!
And so the Apostles asked the Lord when the Kingdom would be restored. They were primarily still thinking about a physical kingdom and they were right in thinking that, however, as we will see the Lord Jesus emphasized the importance of witnessing but in no way discounted the physical restoration of Israel at some time in the future. One of the main things you see throughout the New Testament is that when the Gospel of the Kingdom was preached it included the return of Jesus. The Gospel of the Kingdom includes the Second Coming of Jesus to judge the nations and to set up His Millennial Kingdom. The Old Testament, which was the Bible of the first Century believers, clearly spoke about the future spiritual and national restoration of Israel. The disciples would have been aware of this; hence, they asked Jesus the question concerning the kingdom of Israel.
(Vs. 7-8) “He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
The Apostles had a huge task ahead for them. They would not see in their own life time the results of their labour in the Lord Jesus. They were not to be side-tracked by speculating as to when the Kingdom of God would be restored to Israel but concentrate on fulfilling the Great Commission. However, having said this in no way discounts the Eschatological aspect in the scriptures they had. The Lord Jesus was not telling them to ignore Bible prophecy or to not worry about discerning the times. It is clear from the New Testament that an awareness of the conditions leading up to and including the return of Jesus was an integral part of their message to the whole world.
Men and women needed to repent and believe in Jesus alone for Salvation because the Apostles also knew and wrote about the fact that God had fixed a day when He would judge the world by the man He has appointed, namely the Lord Jesus Christ. Biblical Eschatology was a part of the Apostle’s message to the nations. The Kingdom Dominion promised to the LORD’s people would come in the Millennium and not before. The emphasis in the book of Acts was power for witnessing and service but in no way cancelled out the need to preach Biblical Eschatology, something now lacking in many Churches today!
(Vs.9-11) “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
Who can really understand the intense feelings of those disciples as they saw the Lord ascending into the clouds of heaven and then disappearing from their sight? Possibly they were wondering whether He would come back in their life time. After spending three and a half years with Him they were now faced with the fact that He was no longer present with them physically. They were just staring up into the sky and to a degree immobilized as they saw Jesus no more. However, the LORD knowing their thoughts in this matter, sent two angels to stand alongside the disciples to encourage and strengthen them and to reassure them that the very same Lord Jesus would come back again exactly in the same way as He had left. It was only after the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was poured out on that 120 faithful believers gathered in the upper room, that they had the full assurance that Jesus was coming back and that they needed to win the lost to Him before it was too late!
As we will see Peter’s first sermon given on the Day of Pentecost included the Second Coming of Jesus and the signs leading up to His return. It was evangelical but also eschatological in its content. Furthermore, it was no “seeker-friendly” service Peter conducted that day but a compelling message of urgency to the hearers “to repent” and to “save themselves from this crooked and perverse generation!” Peter and the other believers knew that the religious system and the Temple would be destroyed at some time in the future and that Jerusalem itself would be ransacked. They now understood full well from what the Lord Jesus had said that the city was ultimately doomed to destruction and that already “the axe had been laid to the root!”
When we read through the Acts of the Apostles we must also keep in mind that Eschatology was a part of the Gospel of the Kingdom. The book of Acts provides the framework that the letters in the New Testament fit into and relate to. The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and eschatology is a strong feature in the Gospels and the Epistles and especially in the book of Revelation. To ignore Biblical prophecy is to do so at one’s own peril! Once again when we are reading the Book of Acts we are not only reading past history but future history as we will see!