The second half of Acts 1 deals with a period of waiting on the part of the disciples prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which is described in chapter 2. It lasted ten days. We know that it was ten days because the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Pentecost refers to the Feast of Weeks, which was held fifty days after Passover. Since the Lord was taken back to heaven forty days after the resurrection, there must have been a ten-day period in which the disciples waited in Jerusalem.
When we recognize that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, that Pentecost was the Feast of Weeks, and that the Feast of Weeks was the time in the Jewish year when the first sheaves of the harvest were presented—the fact that the Holy Spirit came then is seen to be symbolic. Moreover, the early Christians, who were Jews well-steeped in Old Testament traditions, also undoubtedly understood it once it had happened. They understood that the blessing they experienced at Pentecost, when thousands of people believed and came into the church, was only the first-fruit of a much greater response that they were to see as that same Gospel was preached in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and eventually to the far reaches of the world.
But at the beginning, while waiting for the Spirit’s coming “in a few days,” they would not have known that. All they would have known is that the Lord had been taken away from them into heaven and they were to wait for His second coming.
Acts is similar to that great Old Testament book, Joshua, in that it is a bridge book. It is a bridge between the Gospels (which describe the life and ministry of Jesus Christ) and the epistles (which show the life and nature of the church), just as in the Old Testament Joshua bridges the period between the time of preparation in the wilderness and the time of settling down in the land.
At the beginning of Acts we find a striking parallel to Joshua. In Joshua, after the Jewish people had crossed the Jordan River into Palestine, we would have thought that it was time for them immediately to move against the fortified cities of the land, when the citizens of the land were still unsettled by the Jews’ unexpected passage of the Jordan. Instead of that, we find that God told them to wait and consecrate themselves. This took four days. They crossed the Jordan on the 10th of the first month, and they waited at Gilgal—where they observed the Passover, circumcised those who were born in the wilderness, and did a number of other things—until the 14th. This is similar to what we find in Acts. Instead of moving directly on to Pentecost, we find a ten-day waiting period in which God worked in the disciples to accomplish several important things.
This is important because sometimes we have periods like this in our lives, and they make tough going for us. It is worth saying that these are often the hardest periods of all for us to live through. We want action. We want to do something. Or, what is even more significant, we want God to do something.
When God does not do anything, we think, “Something is not right. Things should be happening if I really am a Christian and am really on track with God.” That is not necessarily the case. This period of waiting was not, however, a period of utter inactivity. It was a period of preparation, which is what waiting times are for. Sometimes in periods of waiting, we can understand how the preparation takes place. At other times, we cannot. God is doing things in our lives that we cannot see. God is developing our character perhaps. We seldom see that, either in others or in ourselves. As we look through the second half of Acts 1, we need to see the things the early Christians were led to do that were preparation for them before they began their ministry.