One would find an overall theme of the Gospel narratives summarized in Acts 1:1-3. Jesus taught about the coming Kingdom of God, proving its appearance by those things which he did. God handed his Son over to mankind and the leaders of both Jews and gentiles took him and crucified him (see Psalm 2), but God acquitted him by raising him from the dead and placing him on his throne in the heavens! Now, think about this; if the Kingdom of God has already appeared, and this Kingdom has a King, namely Jesus, then Jesus reigns now! You might ask: how could this be so? Well, Jesus reigns not like any other king we have known, and his Kingdom is not like any other either!
Often the Apostles are made out to be little less than idiots by playing down their question in Acts 1:6, asking Jesus just before he ascended into heaven if he would at that time raise up the Kingdom of Israel. Nevertheless, how far off the mark is their question, considering the fact that they did not at that time have the Holy Spirit?
Consider for a moment that God had called Abraham and promised him, not only that he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4, but one of his descendents would be the blessing of the whole world (Genesis 22:18). Consider again that God had risen up the Kingdom of Israel, making a covenant with them, so that they would be his people. Why wouldn’t the Apostles associate the Kingdom of Israel with the Kingdom of God? Why would this be wrong? Why is two-thirds of the Bible all about God’s dealings with Israel? In a very real sense, isn’t Israel the Kingdom of God? So, what is really wrong with the Apostles’ understanding of things? Should we be so harsh on them for having their minds upon the physical rather than the spiritual? After all, Israel is the only nation ever founded by God, himself. Why shouldn’t folks consider it **HIS** kingdom?
Do the Apostles show a basic misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching? Of course they do, but their question is perfectly understandable, considering the history of the Jews and the fact that the Holy Spirit was not yet given. We see a similar misunderstanding addressed in the Gospel of John (John 3:4-5) in Nicodemus’ quandary?
Many folks consider Nicodemus’ arguments to be childish, but they aren’t once you understand what is going on. According to the Jewish understanding, everyone was welcome to worship the God of Israel, and if anyone out of any nation wished to become his child, he had to be born again by becoming a Jew. If one wanted to have the God of the Jews as his God, one had to become a Jew. This was the working theology in Jesus’ day. In this way the “Kingdom of God” would spread throughout the world, embracing all nations by their putting themselves under the guidance of the Jewish faith.
Basically, Nicodemus was saying: how can **I** be born again—I’m already a Jew! Jews already had God as their Savior. Therefore, they didn’t need saving (this is also the current understanding of Judaism)! One of the most difficult problems a religious person could ever face is to believe that what he understands properly, is actually wrong.
Jesus’ message concerned the spirituality of the Kingdom of God. No one could single it out and point to it—over there—because it is within man (Luke 17:20-21). If God doesn’t rule our hearts, he will never rule what we say or do. Man has a heart problem (Matthew 12:34; 15:17-20); his place before God is not a physical matter but spiritual. Jesus’ Kingdom is a spiritual kingdom filled with physical people.
Knowing this, did Jesus answer yes or no to the Apostles’ query in Acts 1:6? I think Jesus told them ‘Yes, but not exactly as you think!” He did intend to establish the Kingdom of God among the nations, and his Kingdom includes Israel. A great many things over which they were confused would be shortly made clear.
Immediately afterward (Acts 1:9), the text says Jesus was taken up into the clouds. Luke is showing us, and the Apostles later understood this to mean, Jesus’ glorification and Ascension to his throne in the heavens, according to the prophet’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14. This understanding was immediately pointed out by Peter in Acts 2:36 on Pentecost day.
The Ascension of Jesus to his throne seems to be a basic theme throughout Acts. All the believers operated on this principle. At the very end of the book we find Paul in Rome, preaching the Kingdom of God unhindered (Acts 28:30-31). Luke’s entire second thesis is framed by the Lordship of Christ and the teaching of the Kingdom of God. The manner in which this is accomplished, as far as Acts 1 is concerned, is the Apostles will become Jesus’ witnesses after they are empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 8).