Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Kingdom of God and the Pouring of the Spirit

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:1-5)
For forty days after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples several times and talked to them about the kingdom of God (see Forty Days of Kingdom Revelation). One day, he told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift the Father promised. The gift he was speaking of was the Holy Spirit. Jesus had spoken to them before about him and the ministry he would perform (see, for example, John 14 and John 16). Even John the Baptist had taught from the beginning that, although he baptized with water, the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now that time was at hand, mere days away.

As Jesus spoke of this, the disciples gathered around him and asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). It may seem odd that Jesus was speaking about the Spirit but the disciples were asking about the kingdom of God. Were they suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder? Why were they interrupting Jesus and, seemingly, changing the subject?

The reason is that, as Jews, they understood quite well that being baptized with the Holy Spirit had very much to do with the kingdom of God. The coming of the Spirit and the coming of the kingdom were both eschatological (that is, “end time”) events and were linked together. The presence of one indicated the presence of the other.

This was the promise God had made to his people long ago through the prophets. In Isaiah 32, the prophet speaks about the kingdom of God: “See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice” (v. 1). He describes what things will be like until then: “The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks …” (v. 14). But then he speaks of the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit: “... till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest” (v. 15).

When the kingdom of God came, the Spirit of God would be “poured on us from on high.” So when the Spirit was poured out from on high, this would indicate that the kingdom of God had begun. And now here was Jesus the Messiah, risen from the dead, teaching the disciples about the kingdom of God and telling them that in a few days they were going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of God was about to poured out on them from on high! So they very naturally thought about the kingdom of God.

This raised a question: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” See, in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming king and the kingdom, and the Spirit being poured out, he also spoke of how God would judge the nations (Isaiah 34). And it was this that the disciples were asking about. Was King Jesus now going to judge the nations?

Israel was still in a sort of exile. Though many Jews had returned to the homeland, they were still under foreign domination, as they had been for centuries. First it was the Persians, then the Greeks, and now it was the Roman Empire that occupied the land. So, the question the disciples were asking, not unreasonably, was whether God was now going to free Israel from the nations.

They were asking a question about timing, but the answer they received was not what they were expecting. Jesus took it in a very different direction … as we will see next time.