Mission and Ascension (Acts 1:1-11)
Rather than reading Acts merely as the appendix or afterthought of Luke’s Gospel account, we should read it as volume 2 of the continuing work of Christ. Luke’s first account in the Gospel is concerning what Jesus “began” to do and teach, and Acts is about what Jesus “continued” to do and teach. A good title for Acts would be: “A Continuation of the Words and Deeds of Christ by His Spirit through His Apostles.” The ministry of Jesus that began on earth continued through His Spirit in the early church and continues still today.
Concerning the Kingdom (verses 1-5)
In this brief overview or summary, Luke is laying down two massive pillars for the rest of the account: Jesus is alive (v1-3) and the Holy Spirit will come (v4-5). Jesus Christ is the theme of the preaching of the early church. The fact that He was alive meant that death has been undone and salvation is accomplished! Additionally, the fact that Jesus is alive meant that He would now send the Spirit. The Spirit baptism that the disciples would experience is exponentially better than John’s baptism. In fact, this baptism would be even better than the physical presence of Jesus Himself (Jn 16:7). Though the Spirit was present and active in the Old Testament, His coming and work in the New Testament is in a distinct category from before. He acted in a unique way in the life of Christ and has now been poured out to another degree during the church age. With the outpouring of the Spirit, the church will now never be left to act in its own strength, but will forever be enabled by the Spirit to follow the clear teachings of Jesus.
Clarifying the Kingdom (verses 6-8)
The disciples were anticipating the restoration of the kingdom to be political (“restore”), national (“Israel”), and immediate (“at this time”). Though the kingdom exists on earth, it is not territorial and political, but spiritual. Nor is the kingdom national, but international, reaching all peoples. And the kingdom is not immediate, but gradual, expanding to the end of the earth until the end of time. Rather than thinking about the kingdom in missional terms, the disciples were thinking about it in narrow national terms. The mission of the kingdom is not exclusively Jewish expansion, but it is a mission to the world.
A comforting promise is given along with the clarification about the kingdom: The Holy Spirit would empower them to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the remotest parts of the earth. The priority of the church until Christ returns is to serve as a witness for Christ to the whole world. Similar to how Elijah passed the mantle to Elisha, Jesus has now passed the mantle to the church to witness for Him everywhere.
The Coming Kingdom (verses 9-11)
Just as the glory of God is often displayed in a cloud (cf. Ex 13-21; 19:9; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Luke 9:34-35), so also Jesus ascends in glory as He is taken up in the clouds and the angels leave His people with the promise of His glorious return. The angels’ instruction to the apostles reminds us of two errors we are to avoid: looking for a political utopia, or expecting a heavenly euphoria. The apostles are first looking for a political establishment, wondering if the kingdom of Israel was now going to be restored. At the ascension, they are looking for a heavenly euphoria, idly gazing into the clouds. Rather than falling into either of those extremes, we should recognize that now that Christ has ascended, He has left us with the responsibility to witness for Him in dependence on His Spirit. While we ought to gaze at His glory, truly seeing His glory won’t result in idleness, but will necessarily manifest itself in a desire to spread His glory on the earth.
– Why was it necessary for the disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit? Based on these verses, what is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church age? What are the Holy Spirit’s effects on the church and on the world?
– In what sense has Jesus “passed the mantle” to the church? What is the continuity between Jesus’ own ministry and the current ministry of every believer?
– What do these verses suggest about the type of life the Holy Spirit empowers? Can your life be described as a mission to bear witness to Jesus? Are you daily living in reliance on the Holy Spirit to be a witness?