- Rick LoPresti
Lord, wilt thou at this time...?
Jesus was just moments away from ascending to heaven, and He wanted to give His disciples some final instructions before He would no longer be with them in the flesh (Acts 1:1-12). Each of the four accounts of the earthly life of the Lord have an account of His death, burial, and resurrection followed by what is often called "the great commission" - His instructions to the apostles to go and preach to the world. Some think all four accounts are of the same event, but they are not. Matthew's account took place in a mountain in Galilee. Jesus had set this meeting before He died (Mt 26:32, Mt 28:7-10 &16, Mk 14:28). Mark's account appears to be the of the same night that Luke wrote of (Mk 16:12-20, Lk 24:13-53). John's account is usually not included, but is clearly the same night as Luke's account and includes the commission (Jn 20:19-23). Acts 1 occurred on the Mount of Olives just outside the walls of Jerusalem (Acts 1:12). When the angels told the disciples the Lord would return in the same manner they saw Him go up to heaven (Acts 1:10-11), they were being literal. Zechariah prophesied He would return to that very hill when He comes back (Zech 14:4).
As Jesus stood upon that hill as He was about to ascend, the disciples asked Him a question which reveals their concept of the Messiah and His kingdom. They asked Him, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)?" The disciples were familiar with the prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah giving Israel victory over its enemies. They knew that the Messiah would be the son of David, the great warrior who led Israel's army to victory over the Philistines and other enemies. The angel Gabriel quoted this to Mary when he announced to her that she would give birth to the Messiah (Lk 1:30-33). Zacharias, the father of John the baptizer, also mentioned it in his prophecy (Lk 1:67-74). The disciples were asking the Lord on the mount of Olives if this was the moment of the fulfillment of their dreams. The Romans ruled over Israel at the time, and they assumed Jesus had come to throw them off, and give Israel back the freedom, independence, prosperity, and prominence it knew in times past. The Lord told them it was not for them to know the time of the fulfillment of those prophecies. They just needed to focus on the job they had at hand - to be witnesses unto Him all over the world. The power they needed to seek was not military or political, but spiritual.
This was a constant theme in the ministry of Jesus to His disciples. The theme of the sermon on the mount is that the kingdom of God is not about temporal, earthly things; but spiritual, heavenly, eternal things. Also see John 4. The Pharisees asked the Lord the same question His disciples did, and He gave them a similar answer (Lk 17:20-21). He constantly used symbolic language in His teaching, and He was constantly misunderstood, even by His own disciples. They thought He was speaking literally of earthly things, but He was trying to raise their thinking into the spiritual. A classic example is when He spoke of the bread of life in John 6. Some people today continue to misunderstand that He was not telling them to literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. He is the Word made flesh (Jn 1:1-3 & 14, 1Tim 3:16, Rev 19:13). We partake of relationship with Him when we keep His commandments. His word gives us access to communion with Him. That is the meaning of what He was saying (Jn 6:63). The disciples did not understand the true purpose in the first coming of Christ because they did not understand that the prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah that were foremost in their minds were actually about His second coming, not His first coming. They did not know there would be two comings - the first to die for our sins so we could partake of His spiritual kingdom, and the second would fulfill the prophecies made to the nation of Israel (Rom 9-11). They did not even understand that God wanted to include Gentiles in the kingdom, although prophets such as Isaiah said so, and Jesus Himself told them (Mt 8:5-13, Lk 4:23-30). It was part of the great commission (Mt 28:19, Mk 16:16, Lk 24:47, Acts 1:8). They did not believe this at first (Acts 10-11). God had to expand their thinking into His much bigger plan. The Lord had to keep reminding them of the prophecies about His first coming that had to happen first. He did not really emphasize those about His second coming.
Sometimes God speaks to us of what He wants to do for us, but we misunderstand how and when it will come to pass. We develop expectations of specifics God may have never told us, or we expect God to operate in a time frame we invented for Him. When He does not do things the way we thought, we act like the disciples did when Jesus died. They though it was all over, even though He repeatedly and with detail explained to them in advance what was going to happen:
A. Mt 17:22-23
B. Mt 20:17-19
C. Mt 26:3
D. Mk 9:9-10
E. Mk 9:31-32
F. Mk 10:32-34
G. Lk 9:44-45
H. Lk 18:31-34
I. Jn 16:32
Sometimes the Lord's enemies understood His teaching better than His own disciples did:
A. Mt 15:12
B. Mt 21:45
C. Jn 5:18
D. Jn 10:33
Yet they also failed to realize that they were fulfilling the very prophecies about Him as they were rejecting and killing Him (Acts 3:17-18, Acts 13:27). They even quoted what was prophesied would come out of their mouths at His death (Ps 22:7-8). We look back and wonder how they could be so clueless as to how the plan of God was unfolding right before their eyes, and how God was doing everything He said He would. Yet we do the same thing all the time. Sometimes we are disappointed with God because He did not decide to use our plans because He has better ones. The disciples and the Pharisees who claimed to look for the Son of David should have remembered how David had plans for God that God did not allow him to do. David wanted to build a temple for God, but God did not allow him to do it (2Sam 7). God did not condemn David's intentions. He said it was good that it was in his heart (1Ki 8:17-19), but he was still not allowed to execute his plan. It would be his son Solomon that would build it.
God called David to be king, but it would be years before he sat on the throne. In the interim, the current king attempted to kill him at least 20 times (1Ki 18-26). Moses thought killing the Egyptian would show Israel that God had chosen him to lead them out of Egypt (Ex 2:11-15, Acts 7:23-29). All it accomplished was him spending 40 years in the desert. God told Joseph his family would bow to him, but he did not know about the journey he would have to take before it happened (Gen 37-45). It included betrayal, slavery, false accusations, unjust prison time, and broken promises; but God was with him the whole time working His plan (Gen 39:2 & 21, Gen 45:5-8). It may not have seemed that way to him at times, but it was. We need to let God be God, and not try to get Him to do things our way in our time. Trusting Him is the great life lesson we all need some schooling in. Let's not try to make Ishmaels and get God to accept them when He has Isaacs in store (Gen 16-17). God must do things His way in His time for them to work according to His principles and give the best results for us. We need to trust Him. That does not mean we do nothing at all. It means we follow His lead, and don't lose our faith during the journey. God did not promise we would understand everything now, and He does not owe us an explanation for everything He does (Is 40:13, Rom 11:33-34). He does all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). We either believe His will is best, or we believe ours is.