The In-Between Years - Part 3
Series: The In-Between Years
May 10, 2020
The In-Between Years - Part 3
Last week we focused on the Father’s promise mentioned in Acts 1:4-5…
4 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; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4–5 (ESV)
This points back to what Jesus said to the disciples.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:15–17 (ESV)
The promise of the Father here is that His Spirit wouldn’t just be with them, He’d be in them.
This looks back even farther to the prophecy of God given through Ezekiel…
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV)
You see, up until the coming of Jesus, God’s Spirit, the third person of the Trinity had come upon people, had been with people, but not in them. Having God’s Spirit with you was powerfully effective. Just look at how God used the prophets and guys like King David. But imagine having him in you, working from the inside.
Jesus was God with them, but the Holy Spirit would be God in them!
Here at the beginning of Acts, Jesus tells the disciples that Ezekiel’s prophecy and the Father’s promise was about to be fulfilled, pointing forward to the birth of the church in chapter 2. This is the driving force behind the rest of the book.
But before Luke takes us there, he wants us to see what happened just before Jesus ascended back into heaven. Let’s look at Acts 1:6…
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6 (ESV)
Something was on all the disciples minds. Something they’d been thinking about for three years. The NLT puts it another way…
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” Acts 1:6 (NLT)
To understand why they asked this you have to put yourself into the mindset of a 1st century Jew. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, had rebelled so much against him in history past, he withdrew his presence and favor from them. He didn’t abandon them, though. God had made promises concerning Israel and he’d keep them. But for a time, as a means of discipline, he raised up nations around Jerusalem who conquered the Jews and carried them into exile.
During this exile period, “an expectation developed… that the God of Israel would act on his people’s behalf to rescue them from oppressive empires and restore them to independent rule with YHWH himself returning to inhabit the temple in Jerusalem.”
The Jews got this from the prophets who were given a glimpse of Israel’s future deliverance and restoration such as in Zechariah 12…
1 This message concerning the fate of Israel came from the Lord: “This message is from the Lord, who stretched out the heavens, laid the foundations of the earth, and formed the human spirit. 2 I will make Jerusalem like an intoxicating drink that makes the nearby nations stagger when they send their armies to besiege Jerusalem and Judah. 3 On that day I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock. All the nations will gather against it to try to move it, but they will only hurt themselves. 4 “On that day,” says the Lord, “I will cause every horse to panic and every rider to lose his nerve. I will watch over the people of Judah, but I will blind all the horses of their enemies. 5 And the clans of Judah will say to themselves, ‘The people of Jerusalem have found strength in the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, their God.’ 6 “On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a flame that sets a woodpile ablaze or like a burning torch among sheaves of grain. They will burn up all the neighboring nations right and left, while the people living in Jerusalem remain secure. 7 “The Lord will give victory to the rest of Judah first, before Jerusalem, so that the people of Jerusalem and the royal line of David will not have greater honor than the rest of Judah. 8 On that day the Lord will defend the people of Jerusalem; the weakest among them will be as mighty as King David! And the royal descendants will be like God, like the angel of the Lord who goes before them! 9 For on that day I will begin to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. Zechariah 12:1–9 (NLT)
There’s a militaristic tone to this restoration. God would remember Israel and conquer the nations who repressed his people, bringing them out of exile and back into favor and power; his glory would return to Jerusalem. God’s kingdom would be fully restored. The forces of darkness in the unseen realm would be defeated as well. A deliverer like Moses would lead this crushing campaign, a delivered AKA the Messiah.
The Jews of Jesus’ day especially longed for this. They were forced to live under the rule and cultural influence of Gentiles, with the Roman Empire not just conquering the land of Israel, but most if not every province of the civilized world where they lived. They hated it. That’s too mild a word.
This hatred caused two reactions. One was withdrawal like the Essenes, Jews who retreated to communes in the desert where they waited for Messiah to come. They are the ones responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls. The other reaction was forceful opposition, with the Zealots, those whose love for Israel and hatred for Rome burned so they plotted to overthrow the ruling authorities. They started an underground rebellion movement that led to various uprisings in preparation for the Messiah’s arrival.
The mood in 1st Century Jerusalem was ripe for this conquering prophetic OT figure to come and set them free. So here comes Jesus, powerfully preaching about the kingdom of God, performing miracles, amassing a huge following. While the masses hoped he was the Messiah, the disciples believed he was. Remember Peter’s confession?
It’s no surprise his close band of followers thought their master would at some point let loose and lead armies against their Roman oppressors, setting up God’s kingdom on earth as promised.
This was the motive behind a mother’s request in Matthew 20. Jesus had just talked about how he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be raised again, but it went right over their heads…
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:20–28 (ESV)
These mothers and the disciples thought this journey to Jerusalem was all about seeing Rome conquered and the Messiah’s rule over God’s kingdom beginning. They thought Jesus was finally going to use his power to fulfill the OT prophecies. He was the true Messiah after all.
They did not yet know hidden within the Scriptures were clues that the Messiah would come first to heal and save through his own suffering, then to conquer later. The literal setting up of his kingdom would come at the end of the age.
Some think this is why Judas betrayed Jesus. He realized maybe before the others Jesus wasn’t going to lead armies. He wasn’t going to slay Israel’s enemies. He wasn’t the conquering Messiah he wanted him to be. So he turned him in.
We can only imagine how Jesus’ death and crucifixion by the Romans must have confused and crushed the disciples’ hopes and dreams. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus came back from the dead. If the disciples thought he was the Son of God, the Messiah before, they really thought it now! But it had been weeks since the resurrection and nothing. NT Wright writes…
They must… have been very puzzled. Nothing that had happened in the previous few weeks had corresponded at all to their game plan. As far as they were concerned, when Jesus called them and taught them in Galilee during the previous three years or so, they were signing on for some kind of Jewish renewal movement. They believed that God had appointed Jesus to be the true King of Israel, even though most of their contemporaries were still (to say the least) suspicious of him. They had seen Jesus rather like King David in the Old Testament, who for several years was a kind of king-in-waiting, standing in the wings with a ragtag group of followers wondering when their turn would come. Jesus’ motley band of followers had imagined that he would be king in some quite ordinary sense, which was why some of them had asked if they could have the top jobs in his government. Jesus, with his extraordinary healing power and visionary teaching, would rule in Jerusalem, and would restore God’s people Israel.
Wright, T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (pp. 6–7). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
As Jesus calls them together, they assume it was finally time to assign generals and such and begin the takeover. The tenacity of James and John’s mother was going to pay off. Let’s go back to the text…
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 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.” Acts 1:6–8 (ESV)
The disciples must have been even more confused. Not only had Jesus not initiated the messianic kingdom with all its conquering and restoring since he came back from the dead days ago, when asked about it he says that’s on a need to know basis; that’s God’s business. He directs them away from armies to the father’s promise of the Spirit and a mission to be witnesses.
That is so Jesus! Just when you think you’ve got him figured out, he blows your mind.
What they didn’t know at the time but would come to understand later is that God’s kingdom has both already and not yet come. Through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Jesus had “already” defeated the powers of this world and set himself up as king. Peter, one of the disciples present that day on the Mount of Olives, declared that…
22 … has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:22 (ESV)
And Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth…
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:13–15 (ESV)
Jesus is already King of Kings, already triumphant over the devil and all his cohorts, even though the his literal, physical kingdom has not been set up yet. Our End Game series concluded with Jesus actually returning and setting up his forever kingdom on a new heaven and earth with New Jerusalem crowning all creation and with the God of Israel once again dwelling in the city. The restoring of Israel and the renewal of Jerusalem will still come just as the disciples thought it would, just as the prophecies foretold, but not until Jesus returns at the end of the age.
Jesus commissioned the disciples and ultimately the church to live out that in-between time as his witnesses. And it wasn’t just something they were to do as they waited for Jesus’ return, somehow it would be a part of ushering in that “not yet" coming kingdom.
Conclusion: Let’s get ready to close by reading v. 8 again…
8 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.” Acts 1:8 (ESV)
The is the most important verse in all of Luke’s second volume. Why?
It reveals why Jesus said the church would do greater things for God’s kingdom than him in some ways.
It reveals the true power of the church, God’s people, is the Holy Spirit, God in us.
It points towards the birth of the church in Acts 2. We’ll cover that in detail soon.
But most importantly…
It leaves us with our mission, our vocation, our calling during the in-between years: being Jesus’ witnesses.
As Western Christians, and particularly Western Baptist Christians, we’ve understood being witnesses exclusively as witnessing, with witnessing meaning sharing our faith and getting people saved so we can all go to heaven when we die.
Sharing our faith is only part of a much bigger mission. Not only are we to tell people about how King Jesus saved us and is ruling over his kingdom in the already but not yet sense, we are to live like citizens of that kingdom right now. And we are to try and make this world as much like his kingdom should be in preparation for when he returns and finishes everything out.
Jesus is king of his kingdom right now. Are you a citizen?
It’s not by birth. It’s not by hanging out at church long enough. It’s not something you can inherit. It’s given as a gift and that gift is received by grace through faith.
 Taylor, A. L. (2016). The Historical Basis of the Parable of the Pounds. In B. J. Beitzel & K. A. Lyle (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels (pp. 387–388). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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