So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 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.”Acts 1:6-8
Three years have passed since Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount in which He proclaimed everything that the Kingdom of God would be like. While it is widely believed by many scholars that the Sermon on the Mount is actually a collection of topical teachings that Matthew compiled and set into a single delivery, it does not change the fact of the truth that He proclaimed everything that Father expects of His children. And in the end, because He spoke with such authority – more so than the established Scriptural experts of His day – the crowd of observers stood in awe and amazement, their minds quite figuratively blown away by this carpenter teacher from hicktown Nazareth.
Now three years later, after Jesus has invested His life into His closest allies, endured the betrayal of His friends and the shame and humiliation of the cross that took His life, He has once again risen in victory over death, Hell, and the grave. For forty more days, Jesus appeared to His followers and continued to teach them and prove to them that He had indeed been resurrected by the same power that had performed miracles for the previous three years. And He continued to declare the Kingdom of God and explain their part in it (Acts 1:3).
As once again, He stands on a mountainside outside of Jerusalem, overlooking the great city of God’s immense affections, the question arises: “Is it now that You are restoring the kingdom of Israel?” And it is painfully evident that they still didn’t understand. Israel has been oppressed under the boot of the Roman Empire and there was nothing they wanted more than freedom and restoration of their homeland. Now that Jesus had fulfilled the prophecy of a king riding into Jerusalem on donkey, they waited expectantly for the deliverance that was promised. Yet, the deliverance that was promised, was not the deliverance they expected.
“It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” (Acts 1:7) Israel would indeed be restored as an independent kingdom. This prophecy was indeed fulfilled on May 14, 1948 – a little more than 1900 years later. Israel would struggle back and forth for centuries between the Romans, the Byzantines, Christendom, the Mongols, and the Muslim Caliphates. In 1920, the British unfolded their plan to increase Jewish immigration to the Promised Land following World War I, and in 1948, Israel finally won her independence. But this was not the Kingdom that Jesus was speaking of.
“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.” (Acts 1:8) The Greek word for “power” here is “dynamis”. It is the root word for many words in Latin and in modern English like “dynamite”, “dynamic”, and “dynasty”. It is often referential of power in numbers or strength and influence. But its most common use is as a form of inherent power – a power that resides within by virtue of individual nature or temperament. It is referential to authority, more so than ability. This explains Luke’s use of the word “martys” for Jesus’ characterization of His disciples as “My witnesses.” The word has carried with it some interesting connotations over the years, the most notable of which is being the root for the word “martyr.” In reality, it is a legal term to describe someone who appears in court to testify to what they have seen.
Ultimately, yes, every one of the Apostles suffered persecution for the sake of God’s Kingdom – a Kingdom that demands repentance and submission to God before the kingdoms of man. All of them were killed for their faith, except for John – who was boiled in oil and miraculously survived to be exiled on Patmos, where he received the final Revelation.
The Kingdom that Jesus has been teaching about all along was a Kingdom that is borne within the hearts of the repentant – the reborn. Jesus answered him [Nicodemus] and said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) It takes new eyes and new ears to see and experience the Kingdom of God. It requires a renewed Spirit within us to guarantee our citizenship in the Kingdom. It requires God’s stamp of approval and His empowering of us to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) in this world.
The Kingdom of God is established in the hearts of His followers and evidenced by the authority of the Holy Spirit living within us. It is demonstrated by our submission to His authority resulting in repentance. And it’s an eternal battle – a battle that we cannot win on our own and by our own strength.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
The only way we can be a disciplinary force for change in society is to begin with ourselves. We must first “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Then and only then do we have any right or authority to speak on behalf of the Kingdom of God in order to exact change in our world. To use the ways of the world to advance the mandates of the Kingdom of God is foolishness. Instead of using violence of the flesh to bring about a change of heart, we must learn the rules of engagement in spiritual warfare. Then and only then can we advance God’s Kingdom in this world.