When really big changes take place – the ones that are destined to transform the world we live in – we often don’t notice. We are unaware of their scope and power. When the first Ford rolled off an assembly line in 1913, some people thought it ingenious, some thought it a novelty, but only a few recognized it as an era-changing event. The same could be said of the first mobile phone call made in 1973 by a Motorola engineer as he walked down the streets of New York City. Or one might mention the Internet Protocol Suite that was introduced in 1982. It transformed the computer networks of a few eggheads into the world wide web. These were transforming events, but at the time most people missed their significance.
A transition of even greater import occurred during the days after the resurrection of Jesus. St. Luke chronicles the story in the first chapter of Acts. Look at verse 1: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”
That former book, part one of Luke’s two-volume history of Jesus and the beginning of the Christian era, is in our Bibles. We know it as the Gospel According to Luke. It begins with the birth of John the Baptist and goes on to chronicle the entire life of Jesus on earth. But here in the opening page of volume two, Luke writes that his first volume only dealt with what Jesus “began to do and to teach.” By implication, this second volume (our book of Acts), is about what Jesus continued to do and teach after the ascension.
Jesus didn’t become dormant after the ascension. He continued to do and continued to teach, but under a different paradigm (and it is important we recognize that). He is still doing and still teaching, even today, but the way he does so has undergone a significant transition.
In verse three Luke says, “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” The words, “he showed himself” translate a Greek word that means he “stood beside them.” After his resurrection he stood beside them even when they were unaware of his presence. Only occasionally did he (still verse 3), “appear to them.” (The Greek word is optonomai, from which we get our word optometry.)
When he did appear to them, he spoke about the kingdom of God. Sometimes we get the idea that after the crucifixion the kingdom of God was no longer a relevant issue. But Jesus thought it was, even after his crucifixion and resurrection. The kingdom theme begins in the Old Testament and runs right through the New. Here in the very first paragraph of Acts we find Jesus talking about it, and if we skip ahead to the close of this history book, we will find that Paul is still talking about it in the very last sentence. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus opened the kingdom of God to us, and it remains open.