3.1 Acts -- Jesus' Ascension
Often the period between Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension is minimized in Christian teaching. It's as if the stupendous fact of the Resurrection is immediately followed by Jesus' Ascension to heaven, and the next big event is Pentecost. A lot of the fault for this lies in Scripture itself -- Luke alone reports that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), while John has an additional chapter about Jesus appearing to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 21). But we are missing a whole lot! Acts tells us that Jesus
"appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3)
and Paul reports that
"he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time" (1 Cor 15:6).
If we only had more details about these post-Resurrection appearances, and his teaching on the Kingdom of God. Some observations:
a. Jesus did not stay with his disciples, he came from and went back to the heavenly realm intermittently.
b. Prior to his crucifixion, he attempted to win people to the Kingdom by signs, healings and teaching. After his Resurrection, he did not appear to people who were not his followers. John's Gospel contains a passage that explains the reason for this:
"Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?"
Jesus answered him, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14:22-23).
"He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" (Acts 10:41).
c. He usually appeared to more than one person at a time. The purpose seems to have been proof of his resurrection, and a reward for them having "kept my word" (sort of).
But one of the fragments of teaching that was recorded from this period is significant to our topic:
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)
This shows us the state of mind of the disciples: they thought this was the time for fulfilment of God's plan for mankind. Jesus was about to come back with the angels, kick Tiberius off the throne of Rome, and set up Jerusalem as capital of the world. For them, Jesus was still the bearer of the traditional Jewish millennial hopes, and nothing more. Jesus had been teaching about the Kingdom of God, but what they heard was the restored Kingdom of Israel. Jesus' reply denied their understanding and pointed them in a new direction:
He said to them: "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" (Acts 1:7-8).
This was preparation for what they would receive at Pentecost: a commission and an impartation. The Kingdom was not going to come at this time in the form of angelic armies pushing Romans into the sea, but by the feet of disciples taking Jesus' teaching outside the walls. The first foreign region mentioned was the last place any of them wanted to go: Samaria! It is no wonder they were confused. Had not Jesus said to them:
"Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans" (Mat 10:5).
But that was then, this was now. One of the greatest difficulties in obeying the Scriptures is that obedience is a moving target: in the time of Moses and Joshua, God said to kill the Canaanites; in the time of the prophets, He said not to intermarry with them; during Jesus' ministry, he said not to preach to Gentiles; after his Resurrection, he commanded his followers to spread the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles, especially the Samaritans. You have to know which part of God's plan you are living through in order to cooperate with Him. Christians go wrong when they just pull a Bible verse out of its historical context and claim that is a mandate for a certain policy today.
This is what we see in Acts 1: God has changed gears once again, and the disciples have to adjust their minds. They have to get out of the mode of Jewish piety (food laws, Temple rituals, avoidance of pagans) and live as apostles of the Spirit of God who is being poured out on all the earth.