When Jesus was crucified, his followers despaired. When he was raised, they were astounded. They realized that something phenomenally important had happened, but they didn’t realize where it would lead. They did not understand that they were living in a period of transition. They assumed that their old dreams were still in play. So, they asked Jesus (Acts 1:6), “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
The lexicon defines the Greek word translated restore as “to change to a previous good state.” The disciple expected Jesus to remain among them as he had before. They could only suppose that he would take his rightful place as the king of Israel, drive out the foreigners, and restore Israel to a place of national sovereignty. They looked at the future through the lens of the past.
But God had something else, something they could not imagine, in mind. The kingdom Jesus brought did not belong to Israel, but to God. The king would sit on a throne, but it would be in heaven, not Jerusalem. His royal attendants would not be known by titles like “lord” or “benefactor”, but by names like Peter, John, and Matthew. The power at their disposal would not be arms and armies, but radical, death-defying, life-giving, enemy-conquering, Holy Spirit-originating love. Instead of casting the Romans out of their earthly kingdom, that love would sweep Rome into God’s heavenly kingdom. Instead of bringing the Gentiles to their knees, it would raise them up to the heavens.
Now they had just asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”, and it was not the first time they asked a question like that.1 But I think there was another question in their minds they did not articulate: “Are we about to get our promotion to positions of authority?”
Now look at verse 7: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
They wanted authority, but they would receive power (or ability, as the word could be translated). And this isn’t what they were expecting. It was authority, after all, that was important to them. They dreamed about sitting on thrones. In fact, just before Jesus’ arrest, they had argued about which of them would be placed in the highest positions of authority. But Jesus had a different idea: instead of sitting on thrones as rulers, they would go into all the world as witnesses; instead of exercising authority, they would be given power.
When we think of a witness we usually think of someone who tries to persuade others to believe in Christ. That is a very good thing, but it is not what Jesus had in mind here. A witness is someone who has seen something and tells what he has seen. In this case, a witness is someone who has seen Jesus, and tells about it.
That was not really what the disciples had in mind. They wanted to be “lords” in Israel, not witnesses to the ends of the earth. But remember, they were entering a period of great transition, a fact which became clear to them almost immediately.
Verse 9: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” We read in verse three that Jesus had appeared to his people many times over a period of forty days in what are often called “post-resurrection appearances.” But verse 9 is a transition verse: instead of a post-resurrection appearance, we have a post-resurrection disappearance.4 He was hidden from their sight.
4 I am indebted to William Larkin for this phrase.