Text

6 Οἱ μὲν οὖν συνελθόντες ἠρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες· Κύριε, εἰ ἐν τῷ χρόνῳ τούτῳ ἀποκαθιστάνεις τὴν βασιλείαν τῷ Ἰσραήλ; 7 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· Οὐχ ὑμῶν ἐστιν γνῶναι χρόνους ἢ καιροὺς οὓς ὁ πατὴρ ἔθετο ἐν τῇ ἰδίᾳ ἐξουσίᾳ, 8 ἀλλὰ λήμψεσθε δύναμιν ἐπελθόντος τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς, καὶ ἔσεσθέ μου μάρτυρες ἔν τε Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ ἐν πάσῃ τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ καὶ Σαμαρείᾳ καὶ ἕως ἐσχάτου τῆς γῆς. 9 καὶ ταῦτα εἰπὼν βλεπόντων αὐτῶν ἐπήρθη καὶ νεφέλη ὑπέλαβεν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῶν. 10 καὶ ὡς ἀτενίζοντες ἦσαν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν πορευομένου αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες δύο παρειστήκεισαν αὐτοῖς ἐν ἐσθήσεσι λευκαῖς, 11 οἳ καὶ εἶπαν· Ἄνδρες Γαλιλαῖοι, τί ἑστήκατε βλέποντες εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν; οὗτος ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὁ ἀναλημφθεὶς ἀφ’ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν οὕτως ἐλεύσεται ὃν τρόπον ἐθεάσασθε αὐτὸν πορευόμενον εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν.[1]

Translation

6 Therefore, on the one hand, those gathered asked him saying, “Lord, is this the time you restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 On the other hand, he said to them, “It is not yours to know the times or seasons that the Father set in His own authority, 8 but you will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and as far as the end of the earth.” 9 And these things he was saying while they saw him, then he was taken up and a cloud took him from their eyes. 10 And when they were staring into the sky as he was going, behold two men in white clothing stood by them, 11 who even said, “Men, Galileans: why are you standing while looking into the sky? This very Jesus, after being taken up from you into the sky, will come in this way, the way you beheld him go into the sky.”

Main Idea

Acts 1:6-11: Christ and the angels exhort the Apostles to take responsibility of being witnesses of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Outline

  1. I.                   Apostles’ question (v.6)
  2. II.                Christ’s Response (vv. 7-9)
    1. God’s omniscience and omnipotence (v.7)
    2. Prediction of Pentecost (v.8a)
    3. Great Commission 2 (v.8b)
    4. The Ascension (v.9)
  3. III.             Angelic Encounter (vv.10-11)
    1. Apostles’ response to the ascension (v.10a)
    2. Angels join and exhort (vv.10b-11)

Introduction

            This particular text explores the ascension of Jesus Christ. Christ said in John 16 that his departure is a benefit. Should Christians today prefer the Holy Spirit rather than bodily Christ? Should Christians use Spiritual gifts apart from the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom? What is God’s kingdom?  Understanding this text’s context and content will give an understanding to those questions while considering the power and responsibility of the modern believer today.

Necessary Presupposition

The autographs are the infallible, inerrant words of God written fully by man and fully by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Bible is the infallible Word of God and can be entirely trusted as such because of self-affirmation. The scripture is completely true because the scripture says it is (Heb. 4.12, 2 Tim. 3.16). The Bible’s authority is not to be usurped by any other thing’s proving. This is not to promote blind faith (especially due to logical consistency, evidential apologetics, and contextual consistency); however, affirming the Bible’s authority by its own claim simply regards the scriptures as the highest source of truth.  

Context

Authorial

Luke is never explicitly mentioned as the author of the Gospel to which his named is ascribed, nor is his name mentioned in authorship in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The fact of Luke’s authorship of Acts is first developed by Paul’s explicit mentions of him (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 24). In the Colossians passage, Paul makes known Luke is a physician. W. Hobart concludes Luke is the author of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles by comparing his writings with contemporary physicians.[2] Second the important “we sections” (set off by the first person plural, first aorist, active verb ἐζητήσαμεν) starting in Acts 16:10 also indicate Luke’s authorship. Also, as Polhill says, “Our knowledge of early Christianity would be greatly impoverished had Luke not conceived of his ‘second book to Theophilus,’ which tradition has designated ‘The Acts of the Apostles.’”[3]

Luke writes in highly educated Greek. He is a very proficient historian given such strenuous research for his Gospel and the portions of Acts he was not a part of with funding from Theophilus.[4] Luke wrote this in about AD 60-62 before Paul came before Caesar.[5] The name Luke is a Gentile name, but given his knowledge of the Bible, it is most likely he was either a God fearer or a proselyte. Luke was a close traveling companion and friend of Paul.

Recipients

To whom Luke wrote is quite evident from the first verse of his work; however it is clear his audience is a lot wider than one man. Luke includes Messianic affirmations from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. He also includes this progressive Gospel message that begins with ethnic Jews then moves outward to every kind of person (Acts 1:8). There is no evidence where Luke was writing this work; following, the intended audience is Christian believers of the period before the fall of Jerusalem.

Generally, Christians throughout the Roman Empire during this time period were highly persecuted. The pervasive polytheistic culture surrounding considered the Christians Atheists for denying all of their gods. Now the Greek thought toward the gods was waning towards naturalism. Xenophanes, a Greek theologian of 4th century B.C. said, “If horses or oxen had hands and could draw or make statues, horses would represent the forms of the gods like horses, oxen like oxen.”[6]  With this pervasive thought, how could Christians create such uproar over neglecting the gods? The gods of the Greeks became idols of tradition rather than true divine beings. Given the prevalent mix of cultures, the forced worship of the Roman emperor, and increase of naturalistic thinking, temple visits became less of a daily process and more lived for the special events and games held by each religion.[7] Christianity’s exclusive message[8] directly apposed the syncretistic mentality of the average Roman citizen. Christianity became something distinct from religion, though cultures have tried to shove Christianity down the religion avenue across all ages. When it does not fit, make a riot. Acts 19:23-41 is a perfect example of such.

Historical

Overall, the historical context of Acts jumps rapidly as the narrative moves in time, town, and characters. This particular passage in the historical narrative of Acts occurs a little over a month after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. This marks the very beginning of the church. A very distinct time in church history: after the departure of Christ and before the arrival of the Holy Spirit. These last words of Christ as He ascends must be crucial. If there were one thing the Apostles could ask Christ before he departs, they ask the question in this text. This event occurred on May 18, AD 30.[9]

Literary

In the first five verses of the first chapter of Acts, Luke gives an introduction to his book greeting Theophilus. He also notes that his Gospel work recorded only what “Jesus began to do and teach.” The rest of this work continues what Jesus did and taught after His ascension through His Holy Spirit. The first five verses teach to act on the guidance and sustenance of the Holy Spirit.

Following the ascension text, Luke continues into narrative. He recounts the replacement Apostle for Judas in fulfillment of scripture. This passage is key to know the requirements to hold the office of Apostleship (not spiritual gift of apostleship)[10]. The rest of his work describes how the Gospel travels from Jerusalem to the end of the earth following his Acts 1:8 table of contents.

Content

Apostles’ Question (v.6)

Therefore, on the one hand, those gathered asked him saying,

At the beginning of this phrase, hermeneutical clues pop out immediately especially in the Greek text. The ESV translates, “So when they had come together, they asked him…”[11] This clearly points out a similar connection to the previous text. I chose to translate particularly too literally to point out the Greek term μὲν in contrast with δε. Mounce in his textbook on Greek defines this word as “on the one hand”[12]; also, Strong points out this word usually, “[introduces] a clause intended to be contrasted with the other.”[13] Therefore, not only does this text point back to the previous passage, is should be contrasted with the phrase following δε.[14] So the passage is a flowing narrative with an intended contrast in the dialogue.

In the previous passage Christ commands the Apostles on waiting for the Holy Spirit and describes a submersion of the Holy Spirit. In flow with this, the Apostles ask a question that is obviously consuming them, but is irrelevant to the truth Christ is conveying. The relationship between the kingdom and the Spirit will be discussed in the following. The nature of the kingdom will be discussed in verse seven.

‘Lord, is this the time you restore the kingdom to Israel?’

John Calvin argues, “There are as many errors in this question as words! The [Apostles] ask about the kingdom, but dream of an earthly kingdom, rolling in wealth, with every luxury, outward peace, and so on.”[15] John Stott continues this argument, “the mistake [the Apostles] made was to misunderstand both the nature of the kingdom and the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit.”[16]

Logical consistency of theological, eschatological, and scriptural knowledge of the Apostles direct them to this last question to their great teacher. As Polhill rightly notes, “In Jewish thought God’s promises often referred to the coming of Israel’s final salvation, and this concept is reflected elsewhere in Acts (cf. 2:39; 13:23, 32; 26:6). Likewise, the outpouring of the Spirit had strong eschatological associations. Such passages as Joel 2:28–32 were interpreted in nationalistic terms that saw a general outpouring of the Spirit on Israel as a mark of the final great messianic Day of the Lord when Israel would be “restored” to the former glory of the days of David and Solomon.”[17]

This question is key: it is the last question the Apostles will ask the great teacher. Restoration is commonly prophesied throughout all the prophets. Prophecies usually consist of covenant indictment, coming judgment, promised restoration. Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 are two major passages in the Pentateuch that discuss covenant blessings and curses. See the chart below:

Deuteronomy 28

Blessings

Curses

Economic

Blessed in field (v.3), fruit of ground and cattle (v.4), blessing in barns (v.8),  promised rain (v.12)

Field unfruitful (v.16), basket and kneading bowl unfruitful(v.17), no fruit of ground (v.18) no fruit of herds (v.18), no rain (v.24)

Political

Set above all nations (v.1), city (v.3), enemies defeated (v.7), peoples of the earth see the LORD (v.11)

City destruction (v.16), defeated by enemies (v.25, vv. 48-51), no honorable king (v.36), dispersion (vv.63-68)

Personal/Family

Fruit of the womb (v.4), established as holy (v.9)

No Fruit of womb (v.18), confusion (v.20) disease (vv. 21-23, 26-29, 59-62), labor in vain (vv.30-35), cannibalism (vv.53-57)

Joel is cited in the second chapter of Acts and it can be understood from this book where the Apostles get the eschatological idea about the Spirit.  Joel includes all the normal parts of a prophetic book except the indictment (and a lot of times the judgment is seen in past tense). Notice the comparison between these blessings and curses in Joel’s presentation of judgment and restoration:

Deuteronomy 28 Blessings Deuteronomy 28 Curses Judgments in Joel Promises in Joel
Defeating enemies (v.7) Being defeated by enemies (vv. 25, 48-51) Nation against the land of Judah (1:6-7, 2:1-11) Opposing nation removed/judged (2:20, 25, 3:2-15)
The LORD will be seen as holy (v.11) [18] Cease of proper worship, worship in vain (1:9,13) Restoration of the LORD’s name (2:27)
Blessed in field (v.3), fruit of cattle (v.4), blessing in barns (v.8),  promised rain (v.12) Field unfruitful (vv.16- 18), no rain (v.24), no fruit of herds (v.18) Failure of produce (1:10-12, 16-20) no rain (1:20) no fruit of cattle (1:18) no blessing in granaries (v.17) Restored produce (2:19, 21-26) (this includes specific promises of more rain 2:23)
All peoples see the LORD (V.11) [19] General (all nations) Destruction (1:15), Restoration of all nations (2:28-32)

The passage in Joel that is especially of interest is the “Restoration of all nations (2:28-32). In this passage, the promise of YHWH’s Spirit is to be poured out on all flesh. This correlates with John 16:8 where Jesus says the Spirit will convict the world. Often the prophetic books contain near view/far view phenomena. “When prophets paint pictures of the future, they often don’t appear to make chronological distinctions.”[20] Therefore, with no proper time distinctions of this passage, the outpouring of the Spirit would seem to indicate eschatological times in which the opposing nations would also be removed (Joel 2:20, 25, 3:1-15) and the Messiah/King Jesus would become reign in this time as the Branch of Yahweh (2 Sam. 7:11-16 sec. Heb. 1:5; Is. 4:2-7; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8, 6:12; et. al.)

Christ’s Response (vv. 7-9)

On the other hand, he said to them,

Again, this was translated in such a manner so that the original intentions of the Greek structure can be clearly seen. The Apostles ask a question that related to Jesus’s claims about the Spirit. This phrase begins the contrast from the Apostles’ interpretation of Jesus’s statement to the intended meaning of the statement.

‘It is not yours to know the times or seasons that the Father set in His own authority,’

Jesus is not saying, “the kingdom will not be restored,” but rather that the Apostles are not to know the times or the seasons. What exactly is the kingdom?[21] Restoration of the kingdom of Israel is the extension of God’s blessings clearly revealed beyond ethnic Jews without the exclusion of ethnic Jews. Blessings of every family has been apparent from after the fall (Gen 3:15) and in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3). The nature of the blessing to all nations is clearly defined under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8). The extension of the blessing to all nations does not exclude ethnic Jews (Romans 10-11).[22] Just as salvation is a process in sanctification, so is the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. This process is continuous as the Gospel is continuing to spread to more τα εθνη and more are saved until the day of Christ’s return. This part of Christ’s reply does not negate the truth of the statement; it nearly indicated that the matter should not consume their thoughts.

but you will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes on you,

The contrast sets off what the Apostles should be consumed with. The Apostles are not to be consumed with times or seasons, but with the restoration itself.[23] This proper perspective is the backdrop for the power received after the Holy Spirit indwells. Much taken out of context by charismatics today, the power of the Holy Spirit is designed for kingdom growth.

and you will be my witnesses

This phrase closely ties in with the previous phrase. The Greek word for witness is from which modern English speaker get the word “martyr.” Now, it would be committing an exegetical fallacy to say this is significant to the text; however, it is an interesting illustration how all the Apostles did “testify unto death”. Witnesses does convey properly in the idea of a legal setting. Multiple witnesses effectively affirm truth which is the job of the Apostles.

in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and as far as the end of the earth.’

I have heard countless people use this text to convey a model for missions. Is that really the intended interpretation of the text? Should believers begin to witness in their own town, then their own country, then the entire world? This text is actually a table of contents for the rest of the book of Acts.[24] John McRay charts this table of contents in a sixfold structure such as the following:[25]

Acts 1:1-6:7 Evangelism among Jews in Jerusalem and Judea A.D. 30-33
Acts 6:8-9:31 Hellenistic and Samaritan outreach A.D. 33-37
Acts 9:32-12:24 Gentile outreach in Cilicia, Caesarea, and Antioch A.D. 37-47
Acts 12:25-16:5 Paul and Barnabas’s work in Syria and Galatia A.D. 47-48
Acts 16:6-19:20 Paul’s ministry in Western Asia and Europe A.D. 49-53
Acts 19:21-28:31 Events that led Paul to Rome A.D. 53-59

And these things he was saying while they saw him, then he was taken up and a cloud took him from their eyes.

This is the astounding Ascension. Considering the passive verb with Jesus and the active verb with cloud, the proper picture of the ascension is that a cloud formed beneath Christ and took him away.[26] Clouds are often associated with theophanies (Ex. 19, Mk. 8, et. al.). In Exodus 19, the glory of God kills all who go against his glory; therefore, He puts the cloud in place to protect the people from His glory. Christ is the ultimate propitiation who cuts through that cloud, satisfies God’s wrath, and reveals God’s full glory to all who believe (Heb. 1:3).
John 16 is an important passage where Jesus discusses the necessity of His ascension. Christ’s ascension is an advantage for believers because the Holy Spirit comes to all (as prophesied in Joel 2). The Holy Spirit’s work consists of convicting unbelievers of sin, conviction of righteousness because the standard of righteousness (Christ) would have left, convicting of judgment because of the necessity of propitiation, and teaching believers (John 16:8-15).

Angelic Encounter (vv.10-11)

And when they were staring into the sky as he was going, behold two men in white clothing stood by them,

The Apostles were simply staring into the sky after Jesus had already gone. Jesus left, gave the responsibility and the promise of the power to carry out that responsibility, and the Apostles simply stared. The appearance of the angels breaks their stare. “Behold” (ἰδοὺ) shows the immediacy of the appearance. “White” (ἐσθήσεσι) is most likely used more so to convey brilliance or splendor rather than just color such as in Luke 24.[27]

who even said, ‘Men, Galileans: why are you standing while looking into the sky?

“Who even” (οἳ καὶ) is translated to convey the idea of the connection to “behold.” Such as, “Behold! Not only are they there, but they’re talking!” The literal translation of “men, Galileans” was chosen to convey the vocative case. The angels precisely engage in a minor rebuke in the interrogative. This rebuke is necessary to spur the Apostles in acceptance of their current responsibility.

This very Jesus, after being taken up from you into the sky, will come in this way, the way you beheld him go into the sky.’

After the slight rebuke, the angels give a reassuring promise. This promise also affirms the prophesy given in Daniel 7:14. Again, this promise does not answer the question “when,” but gives certainty what will happen. Because of the return, the Apostles have hope. All in all, the Apostles currently have responsibility, hope, and the promise of power by the Holy Spirit.

Application

            Some cessationists have argued that the power given by the Holy Spirit referenced in this context is only for the Apostles. However, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum argue, “God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, namely, all those within the covenant community. Thus, all those ‘under the new covenant’ enjoy the promised gift of the eschatological Holy Spirit (see Eph. 1:13-24).”[28] The Holy Spirit’s power, though, is only used in the context of responsibility.

Modern Charismatic movements have made conservative traditional Christians scared yet gawk at the seemingly Spirit filled believers in the movements. Worship services of these movements[29] have taken over to slowly becoming the mainstream paradigm for Christian worship in song. Can Spirit filled believer be shown only due to their emotion while worshiping God in song? According to this passage, true designation of a person who is Spirit filled is their taking responsibility in sharing the Gospel.

The majority of modern evangelicals have become enslaved to the sinner’s prayer paradigm: exemplifying choice over the Gospel. Yes, believers have the responsibility to “witness” or share the Gospel, but this does not negate where the power comes from. In the same instance, God has all power of salvation, but this does not negate the believer’s responsibility.

A lot of dernier cri Calvinism[30] has made way to a vast pseudo-orthodoxy. This false orthodoxy has created a void in proper orthopraxy. Make believing one knows proper doctrine is certainly no excuse for not living out the doctrine one claims to believe.


[1] Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski, A Reader’s Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), pg. 248,9

[2] W.K. Hobart, The Medical Language of St. Luke (London: Lonmans Green, 1882).

[3] John B. Polhill, Acts (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Reference, 1992).

[4] Theophilus has been argued to be a general “God lover”; however given the title “most excellent” it is more likely that he is a high standing Roman official converted to Christianity and, curious of his new religion, hired Luke to write these two books (which is no cheap task).

[5] I specifically date this book at this time because I do no ascribe to late Markan date and because of Acts’s quick ending before the big trial to which the narrative builds.

[6] Christian Overman, Assumptions That Affect Our Lives: How Worldviews Determine Values That Influence Behavior and Shape Culture, 4th ed. (Bellevue, Wash.: Ablaze Pub Co, 2006), 90

[7] The Navigators, Ephesians: a Double-Edged Bible Study. (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Think, 2006), 15

[8] John 14.6, Acts 4.12

[9] John McRay, Paul: His Life and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 73.

[10] This difference will be made clear by using the capital “A” for Apostle in the technical (office holding) sense.

[11] ESV Bibles by Crossway, Esv Study Bible, Personal Size (trutone, Deep Brown/tan, Trail Design) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 2080.

[12] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 406.

[14] Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007), 61.

[15] John Calvin, Acts (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1995), 16.

[16] John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts: the Spirit, the Church & the World (Leicester, England.: IVP Academic, 1995), 41.

[17] John B. Polhill, Acts (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Reference, 1992).

[18] The Leviticus 26 passage contains curse in this category “destruction of idols” v.30

[19] This passage is specifically for curses of Israel’s disobedience and does not mention curses for other nations, although it can been seen as a curse for other nations in neglect of the blessing of the passage.

[20] J. Daniel Hays, Message of the Prophets: a Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010), 80.

[21] For the sake of time, the extensiveness of this debate cannot be argued; however I will attempt to give a brief overview.

[22] Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007), 62.

[23] John B. Polhill, Acts (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Reference, 1992).

[24] John McRay, Paul: His Life and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 85.

[25] Ibid, 86; this structure also reflects in the conversions of Acts.

[26] This verbal voice is also consistent in Luke’s Gospel account.

[27] Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007), 69.

[28] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: a Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 648.

[29] Not all particularly bad; however I’m specifically speaking of the songs that say nothing of worship, but sure make people feel good.

[30] As in the hipster Calvinist who is only Calvinist due to the fact it is currently trendy, but could not defend the Doctrines of Grace with the Bible (or without using John Piper, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, et. al.).