Acts 1:7-8 also corrects a misconception of the Lord’s plan by the disciples. Jesus told them that they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit, but the disciples were not thinking about spiritual things at this time. They were thinking about earthly kingdoms, and they asked Jesus, apparently just before His ascension, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6). Their country was occupied by the Romans, and their chief desire was for a Messiah who would drive the Romans out.
If you had pressed them, asking, “What is the precise nature of the kingdom you want restored? What kind of kingdom do you want?” they would have said, “We want the Davidic kingdom. We want it to be like it was when David was on the throne and Israel experienced her greatest glory.”
Jesus had taught them differently, of course. He taught that His kingdom was spiritual, saying, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). They did not understand that. They were thinking of a different kind of kingdom. What kind of a kingdom were they looking for?
1. They were looking for a political kingdom. They betrayed this by their use of the verb “restore.” The disciples could have thought ahead to a new and different kind of kingdom, a kingdom that up to then had never existed on earth. But that is not what they had in mind. They wanted the restoration of something they had already known.
2. They were looking for an ethnically restricted kingdom. We know this because of the way they asked their question. They did not ask merely, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom?” They asked, “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They meant “to us Jews.” They were not interested in a Gentile kingdom. They despised the Gentiles. Of course, if you had said, “Now, gentlemen, aren’t you being somewhat narrow? Shouldn’t God be gracious to the Gentiles, too? Shouldn’t the Gentiles be included?” they would have replied, “Well, of course. Gentiles are welcome. God has all kinds of people that serve Him. They are welcome if they wish to join our kingdom.” But it was still a Jewish kingdom that they had in mind.
3. They were looking for a geographically restricted kingdom. Suppose you had said to them, “Tell me, where is this kingdom to be located?” They would have answered, “There can be no question about that. This kingdom is to be located in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is God’s city. That is where David and Solomon reigned. That is where the Messiah will reign, too.”
What about the Greeks? What about the Romans? “They are welcome to come to Jerusalem anytime they want to.” When Jesus answered them He did not say, as we might have expected, “Really now, have we come to this point and you still don’t understand this nature of the kingdom? Don’t you understand that there’s not going to be an earthly kingdom?” We might have expected him to say that. But He did not. People will disagree with me here in some cases. But I notice that what Jesus said was not, “There will never be an earthly kingdom.” He simply said that it would be in the future, in a time not known to them, though certainly known to God. He added, “In the meantime, there is another task for you.” That is the equivalent, it seems to me, of saying that one day God will establish an earthly kingdom. But whenever that kingdom comes, our present task is to do something quite different. We are to go out into the world and proclaim a kingdom that Jesus established by His death and resurrection.