Resurrection and Ascension: The Promise of Power and Purpose
Living in Texas during the spring is always exciting. The blue bonnets bloom and the warmer temperatures provide ample opportunities for drinking sweet tea. But along with the warmer temps comes tornado season. My family lived in Pampa Texas in 1995 when a massive storm blew through causing EF3 and EF4 tornados. I remember that day like it was yesterday. My friend Josh and I were swimming in the backyard the entire day until my mother noticed that a storm was about to move through. After taking Josh home we noticed the greenish sky, small hail, and the winds were beginning to pick up. But then, it stopped. This was the calm before the storm. The next thing I remember was running across the street, stopping in the middle, looking up, and seeing a massive funnel cloud less than a mile away. It was a once in a lifetime moment that has shaped my life.
I’m sure at some point we’ve all had those “once in a lifetime” moments that have shaped our lives. Maybe it was your wedding or the birth of a child; something that is so impactful that it caused you to think and live differently. The early disciples of Jesus experienced one of those moments on a hillside outside of Jerusalem. It was a moment that caused them to think and live differently. Luke records in his second volume how the resurrection of Jesus shaped the disciples lives.
The Preface to Acts V. 1-3
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
Luke, like his gospel account, is writing to Theophilus. We don’t know much about him. Maybe he was a recent convert needing validation about the person of Jesus. Yet what we do know is that Luke the historian is writing another orderly account of all that Jesus began to do and teach. The language suggests that the account of Acts is describing the current activity of Jesus. Some scholars suggest that the book should be titled “The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus.” Several features of the text must be noted:
Until the Day He was Taken up – This is a reference to Christ’s kingly ascension which will take place in verse 11-12.
Commands Through His Spirit – This is the commission to His Disciples.
Alive – For Luke the Resurrection is the validation of God’s vindication of Jesus.
Suffering – Christ’s death on the cross in fulfillment of Scripture
Kingdom of God – This is God’s end time saving reign. Israel expected the Kingdom of God to come in irresistible power at the end of history. But in Jesus the Kingdom has already begun in history. The kingdom is already here but not yet fully consummated.
Luke lays out the gospel from the very beginning. Jesus died, he was raised, and is currently reigning in heaven as Lord. As a result He commissioned His disciples to be witnesses of God’s Kingdom.
The Resurrected Jesus Provides Renewed Hope for the World V. 4-6
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
While Jesus was staying with His disciples He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem. Now what is so significant about the city of Jerusalem? For a Jew the city was the center of Israel’s life and worship. Throughout the Old Testament Jerusalem was center to God’s saving activity. So it would be in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit, “promise of the Father”, would come. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit would be the sign of the restoration of Israel and subsequently the world. The fulfillment of the new covenant is found in the outpouring of the Spirit (Ez 36/Joel 2). Jesus is saying here that this time of restoration is on its way! He gives the disciples an expectation of renewed hope.
It was during their conversation that the disciples asked the expected question. Jesus told them that the Spirit would come so they asked him, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel, which could be paraphrased, “Are you going to fix the world right now?” The disciples were thinking due to the previous promise of the Holy Spirit and the mention of the Kingdom of God – both signs of the end – that Jesus was about to restore Israel fulfilling the Old Testament expectations of setting the wrongs to right in the world. They were expecting an end time event of the restoration. They expected this hope and this hope is grounded in the resurrected Christ. The climax to Christ’s mission would be the restoration of Israel and the world. So they simply want to know when.
From this text we see the resurrected Jesus provides hope to our lives and the world. He will one day fix the brokenness of our world. What happens to Israel will happen for the world.
In Light of the Renewed Hope the Resurrected Jesus Promises Power and Purpose for His People V. 7-8
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t dodge the question. He simply states “That’s not for you to know.” It is a somewhat unexpected reply. Basically Jesus says, “Yes oh, the restoration of the world is going to happen but don’t worry about when it will take place.” God will fixe it according to His purpose. Jesus focuses not on when the restoration will happen but on how it will happen. He focuses on the power and purpose of the disciples. First, Jesus promises that the Spirit will come upon his disciples. The Spirit was present at creation (Gen 1) and the Spirit is the sign of renewal (Ezk 37). Second, Jesus provides their purpose: to live as witnesses. A witness is someone who testifies to what they have seen. Israel was supposed to be a witness and light to the nations (Isa 60). In this case the Spirit, Jesus states, will empower the disciples are to live as witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus also provides the outline of God’s mission: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, End of the Earth. It is clear that the Gospel extends beyond geographical and ethnic boundaries. This is world mission!
When the Resurrected Jesus Returns His Plan for His People and the World will be Accomplished V. 9-12
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
After Jesus announces that the Spirit would come upon His disciples He does something crazy – He ascends to Heaven. The ascension of Jesus is not the promise of “going to Heaven when you die.” Rather, the ascension of Jesus is central to the gospel as it shows that Christ is established as Lord of the world. But as the disciples were looking up, an angel stepped forward to bring a word of rebuke and comfort: “why are you standing here, Jesus will return?” The return of Jesus will accomplish the plan for his people and the restoration of the world. This word of comfort also carries a rebuke. Instead of simply waiting for his return the rebuke given should not to lead to inactivity but to encourage effective action. Here is the point: The future return of Jesus does not negate the disciples present purpose to live as witnesses. The tendency is to simply sit back, relax, and wait for the return of Jesus. Instead the force of this rebuke is focused on the reorientation of their thinking – Jesus had to be exalted in order for them to receive the Spirit to empower them to live as witnesses. The resurrected Jesus promises to provide them with power and purpose for the restoration of the world
Power and Purpose
As the weather starts to heat up during the Spring I remember that moment that shaped my life in 1995. The massive funnel cloud that impacted an entire community. I remember the smell, the sounds, the damage. In the same way, the disciples were impacted by the moment of the resurrection and ascension. The resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus promises power and purpose to His disciples. He promises to return to restore the world but this restoration also begins now through the Spirit working through us. As the early disciples, we wait for his return. But this waiting isn’t a “kick back and relax” type mentality. Instead we actively live as witnesses to the world around us. The resurrection and ascension – a once in a life time event – is the event that transforms the world. It’s the event that gives us hope, power and purpose, and the guarantees that Jesus will accomplish his plan for the world.