At last, we arrive at the text.
(Act 1:1 ESV) In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,
Scholars differ as to whether Theophilus is a particular person, otherwise lost to history (it’s a common enough name), or a reference to the reader (it means “loved by God” or “lover of God”). Contemporary scholarship favors an actual person because it was very unusual for First Century books to be addressed to a fictitious reader.
As previously noted, Luke’s theology shows through immediately when he refers to the Gospel of Luke as merely the beginning of Jesus’ work. Luke sees Jesus as still teaching and still doing. Much of this is through his Holy Spirit and, via the Spirit, through the church. Indeed, we could fairly refer to the Acts of the Apostles more accurately as “The Acts of Jesus, Part 2.”
(Act 1:2 ESV) 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
Luke then refers to the Ascension (“taken up”), an essential doctrine because it presents Jesus as still alive, well, and active in heaven.
Jesus left the apostles with particular instructions, which he gives in the next few verses.
(Act 1:3 ESV) 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
The resurrection figures as a prominent teaching in Acts, and Luke introduces that teaching early. “Alive” means “not dead,” of course, and the Greeks considered dead people to reside in Hades as phantoms — little more than vapors who could not communicate with the living. But Jesus was resurrected so that he could appear and speak to the apostles.
The “suffering” of Jesus is both a reference to Isaiah’s suffering servant and a portent of the church’s persecution, later recorded in Acts, as well as evidence of the rejection of Jesus by the kingdoms of the world.
Kingdom of God
“Kingdom of God” is no small matter, and we must take a moment to consider what this means. The Gospels all have Jesus teaching the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” (“heaven” was used by the Jews as a euphemism for “God”) long before Jesus reveals himself as Messiah. For example, the angel announces to Mary —
(Luk 1:32-33 ESV) 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Jesus preached the “good news” of the “kingdom of God” before he announced his claim to be Messiah —
(Luk 4:43 ESV) 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
You see, these are Old Testament concepts, found in such passages as —
(Dan 7:13-18 ESV) 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. 16 I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. 17 ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’
Daniel promises a kingdom headed by a “son of man” that would last forever, to be received by God’s holy ones, the “saints.” You can see that a lot of the New Testament’s vocabulary comes from Daniel.
Similar are —
(Isa 9:6-7 ESV) 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
— and —
(Jer 23:5-8 ESV) 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ 7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”
Now, a kingdom requires —
* a king
Jesus is, of course, the king, sitting on David’s throne. The kingdom’s borders are expanding, but begin in Jerusalem, of course, because that’s where David’s throne was. It had to be in Jerusalem!
The kingdom will be characterized by “justice and righteousness” and the citizens will “dwell securely” under a “wise” king. This is all in marked contrast to Judea under the Romans and Herod, and under the Judean kings before Jerusalem was overthrown by Babylon. This kingdom won’t be like an earthly kingdom, where even in a liberal democracy these things will always be in short supply. (How on earth do we confuse the USA with the Kingdom of God?)
The “good news” is not just that we are saved by faith (which is very good news indeed), but also that God reigns — not Caesar, not Herod, and not the US Congress. God is in charge. We need only acknowledge what is already true and bow before the only true King.
The announcement of “good news” is thus the announcement that God is establishing his kingdom under his king on the earth.
(Isa 40:9-11 ESV) 9 Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
(Isa 52:7-10 ESV) 7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 The voice of your watchmen — they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. 9 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
(Isa 61:1-4 ESV) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion — to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
“Good news” was also the language of Rome used to announce the ascension of a new emperor. “Good news” thus is the promise of the return of Judea from exile, a time of singing for joy, comfort for those who mourn, restoration of the kingdom, and the rule of God — a wise rule, like that of a shepherd.
Thus, when the Gospels and Acts speak of the “good news of the kingdom of God,” they are tying together a host of passages in the Prophets regarding the restoration of the fortunes of Israel and the coming of the Messiah (means “anointed one,” that is “king”) (= “Christ” in Greek).
We all know that the Judeans were carried into exile by Nebuchadnezzar and that Ezra and Nehemiah brought a few of the Jews back to Jerusalem 70 years later to rebuild the temple and the city walls. But we often fail to realize that the First Century Jews considered themselves to still be in exile. After all, most of the Jews still lived outside Judea, many still in Babylon. And the promises of a wise ruler and God’s salvation had never been realized. The Jews were under Roman rule! The kingdom was not restored, and there was no king on the throne of David. When Jesus came, they were praying intensely for the end of exile and the coming of the Kingdom.
Thus, when Jesus preached —
(Luk 6:20-21 ESV) 20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
His listeners heard, “The exile is almost over! Good news is here! The kingdom is coming!” You see, these blessings are blessings closely tied to the coming of the kingdom. Jesus was speaking in the language of the prophets, promising the realization of God’s promises.
This is the meaning of Acts 1:3.
* Were you aware that “Christ” means “king”? Does it change your image of Jesus to refer to “Jesus Christ” as “King Jesus”?
* What were you taught growing up about the Old Testament? What relevance did it have to the New Testament?
* We often describe the “kingdom” as the church. How is this approach to “kingdom” different? Is the church exactly the same as the kingdom? Do we think of the church as the place where Jesus reigns as king? Do we see evangelism as expanding the reign of Jesus, that is, calling people into Jesus’ rule? How would our approach to evangelism change if that were our approach?
* None of this contradicts the importance of forgiveness of sins, which comes up in chapter 2 very prominently. But does it surprise you that Acts leads with Jesus as king rather than Jesus as the source of forgiveness? Why does Luke introduce Jesus this way?
* Why do contemporary Christians present the “good news” solely in terms of salvation from sins when Luke sees it as that — and so much more?