A Question About the Kingdom of God

A Question About the Kingdom of God

A Question About the Kingdom of God
Text: Acts 1:1-11

Main Idea: God’s purpose in his “already but not yet kingdom” is that his kingdom-people would joyfully proclaim the good news of King Jesus’ saving rule to all people until he returns in glory.

Sermon Outline:

I. The Significance of the Kingdom (Acts 1:3-5)
II. A Question About the Kingdom (Acts 1:6)
III. A Clarification About the Kingdom (Acts 1:7-11)

Good morning church. You might have noticed that we are in the very same passage that we were last week. And that is because there is an important term in this passage that we did not have the time to address last week— “the Kingdom of God. It’s a term that we see throughout the Gospels and Acts and various places in the NT. And it is the special focus of the sermon this morning because Luke frames the beginning and the end his book with references to “Kingdom of God.”

Acts 1:3 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.

Acts 28:30–31 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Notice, Jesus is teaching his disciples about “the Kingdom of God” and Paul is proclaiming “the Kingdom of God” with all boldness and without hinderance.

So, let’s begin with a little pop quiz this morning. What is “The Kingdom of God?” Who is it for? Is it future? Is it present? And How is The Kingdom of God related to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Take a moment and jot down your answer. Don’t worry if it is right or wrong or if you don’t have a clue. Because the truth of the matter is that has ever person who has ever come to faith in Jesus has to learn an entirely new vocabulary so that we can truly-grasp our new life in Christ.

  • Verses 1–5 awakens us to The Significance of the Kingdom.
  • Verse 6 raises an important Question About the Kingdom.
  • Verses 7–11 conclude with an important Clarification about the Kingdom.

The Significance of the Kingdom (Acts 1:3–5)

The Context

The first thing we see in our passage today is that there is so much more to the story of our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ than the four Gospel’s record. What I mean by this is that the Gospel’s seem to imply that Jesus ascended into heaven shortly after he was raised from the dead. Whereas these verses tells us that the resurrected Jesus Christ spent a total of 40-days with his disciples. This is important for at least two reasons.

One, it fills in the story between Resurrection Sunday and the Feast of Pentecost, which was held 50-days after the Feast of Passover.

Two, it highlights the manner in which Jesus actively prepared his disciples for their upcoming ministry: He offered them many proofs that he was really alive and he taught them about “the kingdom of God.”
Notice, what is the first thing that the disciples needed to be convinced of over these 40-days? They needed to be convinced that he was really alive! In fact, the Greek term translated here as “proofs” (τεκμήρια), emphasizes this, in that, it means “to cause something to be known in a convincing and decisive manner.”[1]

If these men were going to bear witness to the resurrection, they had to be absolutely certain of the resurrection. And this is because while the Jews expected a general resurrection of all the dead at the end of time before the day of judgment. They were not expecting the resurrection of an individual person before that day.[2] Therefore, the 40-days provides an extended period of time for the disciples to be utterly convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead.

But as we turn back to verse three, we quickly see that this isn’t all the disciples needed. Right? They needed something more. They needed to know more about “the kingdom of God” even though the Gospel of Luke is jam packed with Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom![3] But, before we examine Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom, let’s take a minute to answer the broader question, “What is the Kingdom of God.”

The First Question: What is the Kingdom of God?

Well, to begin with, it is important to grasp three realities about “the kingdom of God” that flow from the Old Testament.[4]

Number one, there is a sense in which the phrase “kingdom of God” refers to God’s universal kingship and sovereignty over everything he has made. He does as he pleases and his kingdom rules over all (Psalms 135:6; 103:19).”

Number two, God’s rule is opposed. In fact, the opening chapters of Bible record the manner in which his creatures rose up in an unwarranted rebellion against His rule. But rather than annihilating the rebels he extended grace and a promise of restoration. And started to fulfill this very promise centuries later through a covenant with Abraham and the people of Israel for their good and prosperity. But over time, Israel rebelled against God’s good and sovereign rule just like their first-father in the garden.

Number three, as we continue reading through the OT we run into an ever-growing crescendo of promises that begin in the Davidic Psalms and build through the preaching of the prophets— Repent of your sin and return to God; because a day is coming when God is going to save and restore his people, crush his enemies, and reestablish his rightful rule over his people and the entire world through the reign of a promised son of David, the Messiah.

Psalm 2:7–9 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Psalm 2:10–12 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Did you catch the twofold message of this Psalm? (1) A king and a worldwide kingdom is coming. And he will crush anyone who does not submit to his sovereign rule. (2) Therefore, be wise. Turn to the Lord. Serve the Lord with joy. And embrace his coming Son because he is the only source of true blessing. In light of this psalm and numerous other prophecies, scholars typically define the Kingdom of God in relatively simple terms like: “the ultimate fulfillment of God’s saving promises” Or “the saving rule of God through his promised Messiah.”[5]

This helps us see that “the Kingdom of God” is not a generic term for God’s sovereignty. Nor is a label that can be applied to any government or country in the history of mankind. Rather, it is a term that is inextricably linked to future time of peace and blessing under the rule of the promised son of David.

And as the NT begins what is the heart of Jesus’ teaching ministry? The Kingdom of God is at hand— the saving rule of God through his promised Messiah is finally here! And the only way to enter it is repentance and faith.

Mark 1:14–15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (also Luke 4:43–44)

John 3:1–3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Second Question: Why is Jesus Still Teaching About the Kingdom in Acts?

Well, the simple truth of the matter is that —even after the resurrection— the disciples were still struggling with their kingdom-expectations. Resurrection was not enough. Physical proof was not enough. If the disciples were going to be faithful witness of God’s saving plan for Israel and the nations through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. They needed to know how these kingdom-truths aligned with God’s promises in the Old Testament (Cf. Luke 24:27; 44). In fact, this kingdom-teaching in verse 3 helps us understand why the disciples ask their question about Israel in the kingdom in verse 6.

A Question About the Kingdom (Acts 1:6)

The Legitimacy of their Question

Now, I know it’s easy and popular to beat up on the disciples as we come to this verse. Right? After everything they have heard Jesus teach about the kingdom of God, why are they still be so focused on the nation of Israel? It seems so shortsighted, selfish, and self-centered… Well, the truth of the matter is, they are asking a very legitimate question.[6]

First, the disciples knew their OT. They knew that that the promised kingdom would be marked by a restoration of Israel to the land, which they have already experienced in part, AND a monumental outpouring of the Holy Spirit.[7]

Ezekiel 36:23–28 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 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. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

What’s the promise? Restoration to the land, Outpouring of the Spirit, and God’s rule. And what was Jesus teaching them about in verses 1–5? He was teaching them about the Kingdom of God and told them that they would receive the promise of the Holy Spirit “not many days from now.” … From everything we can tell from the text, “restoration” is the only thing he has not explained.

Secondly, on the very night Jesus was betrayed, he promised his disciples positions of authority in his Kingdom:

Luke 22:28–30 You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Don’t miss this, by the time we get to verse 6, Jesus has already told the disciples that the kingdom would be restored to Israel and that they would sit on thrones along with Jesus over a renewed and believing Israel. Therefore, when Jesus tells them hat the long-awaited outpouring of the Spirit is coming in just a few days in verse 5. It only makes sense that the disciples would ask for a clarification in verse 6: “Do you mean the end is really that close? Do you mean that God is finally going to fulfill his all of his kingdom promises in just a matter of days or months?”

The Implication

What I want you to see, is that verses 7­–8 are not a rebuke. Rather, they serve as the final capstone in Jesus’ 40-day class about the Kingdom of God. And that is because these verses help us see that God is not restoring Israel as a political entity but as a Spirit-empowered, servant community that will serve as God’s witness to the nations (Is. 43:10, 12 and 44:8).

To put it plainly, the Messiah did not come to save and restore Israel by slaying the nations. He came to save both Israel AND the nations through his substitutionary death AND the faithful witness of his inaugural kingdom citizens.

A Clarification About the Kingdom (Acts 1:7–11)

What They Did NOT Need to Know

Notice, the first thing that the disciples need to know about the kingdom is in fact something they do NOT need to know. Yes, Jesus is the promised Messiah, the kingdom of God is at hand, and the disciples are going to be baptized in the Spirit “not many days from now” (v.4). But, there is something that they do not need to know— in fact, they cannot know or determine— the specific timing of God’s kingdom plan. And that is because the unexpected truth of the kingdom is that it doesn’t arrive all at once.

Luke 13:18–19 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (also 20–21)

Luke 17:20–21 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

Notice what does Luke want his readers to see in these verses? He wants his readers, of every age, to see that Jesus never promises that his kingdom will result in the immediate exaltation of Israel as a nation. Rather he points his readers to two truths. The kingdom has arrived in the ministry of Jesus Christ. And that God guards the appointed times and seasons of his Kingdom in the secret counsel of his will.

But this truth isn’t a bad thing, because it emphasizes the most important thing the disciples needed to know about this stage of God’s kingdom promises.

Acts 1:8 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.

What They Needed to Know

Notice what do they need to know? They need to know that the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit is directed toward the fulfillment of another —often overlooked— kingdom promise.

Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. (also vs 11–12)

Isaiah 49:5–6 And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength— 6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Did you catch the twofold focus in verse 6? To bring back the preserved of Israel. The initial focus is on the people of Israel. But God doesn’t stop at Israel does he? His goal is that Israel will be a light for the nations that his salvation may reach to the end of the earth! The saving promises of God are not reserved for Israel alone! But that does not mean that Israel does not have an important part to play in his kingdom. Right?

According to Acts 1:8 God is going to empower his Israelite disciples to bear witness to the unexpected way that God has fulfilled AND is currently fulfilling his saving promises in the active reign of the ascended Jesus Christ… in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria (the historic boundaries of Israel) and to the ends of the earth.

This is the mission that defines this book and it is the mission that defines the church of every age. The kingdom is here. Jesus is reigning. Yet, the Bible tells us that there is coming a day when the waiting and witnessing will end, and we will see the Kingdom in all of its promised fullness. (see also 2 Thessalonians 1:5–12)

Revelation 21:1–4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Let’s take a minute to tie things together. I think that Luke wants his readers to grasp two important truths about the Kingdom of God.


Two Truths About the Kingdom

One: The Kingdom of God is an “already, but not yet” reality.[8]

God has fulfilled his saving promises in Jesus his promised Messiah. The kingdom is here. It’s real. It’s powerful because King Jesus is actively reigning today. But just like the parable of the mustard seed reminds us: the kingdom of God has-not-yet arrived in all of its promised fullness. Jesus has conquered sin, death, and Satan. But, he hasn’t destroyed the wicked, he hasn’t abolished the curse of the fall, he hasn’t established his visible and eternal reign of righteousness and peace on earth among his people.

Two: (Main Idea): God’s express purpose in his “already but not yet kingdom” is that all people might find their highest joy in Jesus Christ by entering his kingdom. To put it another way, the “already, but not yet-ness” of the kingdom is an intentional period of divine mercy and grace for hell-bound sinners. And it helps us see the very heart of God.

Ezekiel 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.

The gospel message is simply this: Jesus lived, died, and rose again for sinners. And God will forgive you if you turn and trust in Jesus. Embrace his rule today. Because there is coming a day when the time of waiting and global witness will be over. The era of Kingdom access through faith in Christ will come to a sudden conclusion. What has been hidden will be revealed. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Two Simple Implications

Passages about the end times are not directed toward our endless curiosity and speculation. They are supposed to fuel our evangelism.

Passages like this remind us that it is impossible to sever our faithful discipleship to Christ from our mission to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ in the everyday stuff of life.

[1] Walter Bauer et al., A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 994.

[2] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2012).

[3] See also, Luke 4:43; 6:20; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11; 11:20; 17:20–21; 18:16–17, 24–25; 21:31; 22:16.

[4] Adapted from, Bruce Milne, The Acts of the Apostles: Witnesses to Him… to the Ends of the Earth, Focus on the Bible Commentary (Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2010), 27–8.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Second. (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2020), 1480; Alan J. Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan, vol. 27 of New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson (England; Downers Grove, IL: Apollos; InterVarsity Press, 2011), 39.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 62; David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 109–10.

[7] Cf. Ezekiel 39:25–29, Isaiah 32:15; 44:3–5; Joel 2:28ff.; Zechariah 12:10.

[8] Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, 40.