The Expectation of the Disciples
By Jonathan C. Brentner
In a previous post, I wrote about the vital place Israel has in prophecy. As we continue on this theme by looking at the scriptural foundation for this, it’s important to keep in mind why Israel’s place in prophecy matters to our hope of Jesus imminent return to take us to His Father’s house (John 14:2-3).:
1. It enables us to recognize this as the season of Jesus’ appearing
2. It grounds our hope in the words of prophecy
3. It safeguards from doctrinal error
With this understanding of why Israel’s future restoration to a glorious kingdom is vital for us, we will look at the disciples’ expectation regarding Israel moments before Jesus’ ascended to heaven. This, I believe, will open the door to understanding Israel’s future place in God’s prophetic program.
The Disciples’ Question
In Acts 1:6, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” The continuing expectation of the disciples regarding Israel’s glorious future raises questions in my mind.
After watching the Jewish rulers reject Christ and demand his crucifixion, what made the disciples think the Lord would immediately restore the kingdom to the nation? Why did the disciples believe Jesus would initiate a glorious renewal for the Israelites of their day whose rejection of the Savior had led to His cruel mocking, vicious scourging, and brutal crucifixion?
Many people in the history of the church have used this behavior to justify their belief that God has forever rejected Israel. But the not the disciples, the ones who watched their fellow Jews yell crucify Him at Jesus’ trial. In spite of what they witnessed, the disciples remained confident of the Lord’s intention to restore a kingdom for the Israelites.
Many laugh at this question of the disciples; they regard it as just another example of how the disciples remained clueless about much of what Jesus told them. However, those who assign the question to the bumbling of the disciples overlook two critical factors.
First, during this time before His ascension Jesus talked to his followers about how He fulfilled prophecy. Beginning with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and then with the disciples in the upper room, Jesus carefully explained how He fulfilled the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27; 44-47). Verse 25 tells us the Lord “opened” the minds of the disciples “to understand the Scriptures.” Not only did Jesus provide His followers with extensive instruction about biblical prophecy, He gave them a supernatural ability to understand it.
In addition to that, Acts 1:3 tells us that during the time between the resurrection and ascension, Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom.
What we have is this: after listening to Jesus carefully explain how he fulfilled biblical prophecy, after the Lord opened minds to understand Scripture, and after listening to Jesus teach about the kingdom over a period of forty days, the disciples still expected a glorious restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
Does this not negate the assumption that their question was foolish or even uninformed? Isn’t it much more likely they based their question on what Jesus had just taught them about the kingdom and His fulfillment of the Old Testament?
Second, Jesus’ response to the question tells us He took their inquiry quite seriously.
The Savior’s Response
Acts 1:7 gives us the Lord’s response to the question, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Jesus did not contradict, ridicule, or refute the premise of their question that He would someday restore a kingdom to the nation of Israel. He simply told his disciples they could not know the timing of his restoration of the kingdom as it was something the Father alone had determined “by his own authority.”
Jesus said nothing that would have dispelled the expectation of His apostles concerning Israel; he simply told them their timing was off. He then diverted their attention to the task at hand, that of proclaiming the Gospel to a lost world (Acts 1:8).
If the disciples had woefully missed the point of Jesus’ recent teaching about restoring the kingdom to Israel, the Lord would have answered them in a way similar to how he responded to Philip in the upper room. When he asked to see the Father, Jesus did not hesitate to correct the error of His disciple, “Have I been with you so long and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:9).
Jesus did scold His followers or say anything to contradict their belief regarding the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. If anything, His response verified their assumption. If the disciples had totally missed the point of His teaching for the past forty days, Jesus surely would have done more than simply challenge their timing.
The Savior gave a respectful answer to His disciples that in no way dashed their expectation of a glorious future kingdom for Israel.
The Source of the Apostles’ Expectation
What caused the disciples to remain confident in their anticipation that the Lord would restore a glorious kingdom for Israel?
Perhaps they remembered His promise to them recorded in Matthew 19:28, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (NIV). Jesus’ mention of the “twelve tribes of Israel” distinguishes His words from the church age. Why would Jesus have misled His disciples by talking about the Israelite people when in reality he meant the spiritual kingdom of the church?
If this promise to the disciples no longer remained in effect, Jesus certainly would have told His followers after the resurrection. Their question shows they still anticipated the fulfillment of Christ’s earlier promise to them. They still expected to have places of authority over a physical Israel.
Besides Jesus’ promise in Matthew 19:28, there are numerous places in the Old Testament where the God promised a future restoration for the nation of Israel.
In Jeremiah 30:1-3, the prophet records the Lord’s promise to “restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah.” Again in Jeremiah 33:23-26, the Lord in no uncertain terms promises to restore the “fortunes” of Israel.
Zephaniah 3:20 records a similar promise of God, “At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.”
We will look more in depth at these texts and many more in future articles.
There are only two ways to regard the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6: either the disciples remained terribly confused regarding Jesus’ role in prophecy having totally misunderstood Jesus after His resurrection; or, they based their question on what they heard Him say during that time.
The evidence points to the latter. This will become clearer as we further example the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament.