Acts: Chapter 1:1 – 1:3 (The Dawn of the Kingdom)

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

* citizens

* borders

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).

Exile

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.

Questions:

* 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?

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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15 Responses to Acts: Chapter 1:1 – 1:3 (The Dawn of the Kingdom)

  1. John says:

    The image of Jesus as king is one that is understood by those who have already become disciples of Christ and growing in their understanding of the Bible, when and to whom it was written.

    However, to many people today who have no experience with the Bible the image of Jesus as king means nothing. Luke’s gospel, with its stories of the Christ child being sought and found by lowly shepherds, of a lost child being welcomed back by a loving father, and its inclusiveness of women and outsiders, is what gets the attention of those who feel they do not belong. Acts comes later in Bible studies where they finally feel welcomed.

  2. laymond says:

    couple of good questions right off the bat.

    Scholars differ as to whether Theophilus is a particular person.
    In my opinion, Luke was not writing “Two books” taking up, only God knows how

    much of his time to inform a single person, whom he knew., and lived with contemporaneously . No Luke was leaving a record for ALL Christians who loved God. ( evidently, Luke thought all other records were insufficient, I wonder why Luke would think that ? )

    As previously noted, Luke’s theology shows through immediately when he refers to the Gospel of Luke as merely the beginning of Jesus’ work.

    Act 1:1 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
    Act 1:2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:

    If Luke as you say believed Jesus would continue to teach the general public through the spirit whom he ask God to send to guide his appointed apostles, why would Luke point out the fact, that this spirit was specifically sent to guide the apostles.

    Jhn 17:4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.

  3. Emmett says:

    I have come to view the Church as a temporal subset of the Kingdom of Heaven. Those of us who are restricted to the temporal, physical world, versus those other citizens of the Kingdom who exist in the spiritual realm. Like those Princes Daniel wrote about, etc…

  4. Charles McLean says:

    The borders of a kingdom are the limits of the rule of the king. I would suggest Ephesians 1 reveals those borders. Pretty broad, I would say. And I like Daniel’s description of what a kingdom is. Not at all democratic and no hint of the “consent of the governed” to be found.

    Now, in a kingdom, there may be dissident residents, even rebels. They are not outside the kingdom just because of their stance. Indeed, whether they like the rule of the king or not, it certainly applies to them. See Luke 19.

    Emmet is correct in the idea that the church is a subset of the kingdom. We are the loyal human subjects. There are others here as well.

  5. rich constant says:

    Jay?
    anyone, anyone?
    how bout those clouds…

    i wonder…
    old test prophetic language .
    clouds, presence of GOD.
    any of you make that study and the clouds in acts. 1?

  6. Price says:

    Given that Luke writes so much about the inclusion of the Gentiles it is not beyond reason that Theopolis might have been an influential Gentile to whom Luke felt compelled to encourage and further inform. To whom it is written doesn’t seem to diminish the teaching and it’s application for the whole body.

    It seems that the ancient Hebrews would be considered a part of the “Kingdom” but they certainly were not a part of the church… that would seem to confirm that the Kingdom is much more than the N.T. church as we think of it… Even hell is under His control. One can’t begin to imagine His sphere of influence.

    I like Daniel’s description in Chapter 7:9ff of the Ancient of Days taking His seat on the throne…I’m looking forward to seeing that for myself one day.

  7. laymond says:

    rich constant, on November 29th, 2011 at 6:34 pm Said:

    Jay?
    anyone, anyone?
    how bout those clouds…
    Rich, according to channel 51 on my TV there was a spaceship parked behind that cloud. I can’t prove there wasn’t. If you can be taken up in a chariot , why not.?

  8. Doug says:

    Jay said:

    “Now, a kingdom requires –

    * a king

    * citizens

    * borders”

    For sure, Jesus is the KIng and those who profess their faith in him are the citizens of His Kingdom. I recall someone teaching me that the Kingdom is the place where the King lives. No real King would ever define the boundaries of His Kingdom and then choose to live elsewhere. So I see the Kingdom as being anywhere the King lives and since the King lives inside HIs believers, the Kingdom’s boundaries must include anyplace where His believers live and exist. The boundaries aren’t physical, i.e. inside the Church roster, but meta-physical in my way of thinking.

  9. Two items:

    First,
    “Now, a kingdom requires –
    * a king
    * citizens
    * borders”
    I find that this, and any “requires” statements, limits thinking.

    Second,
    ” Were you aware that “Christ” means “king”?”
    No, I wasn’t. Actually, everywhere I look I read that “christ” means “the anointed one.”

  10. laymond says:

    “Christ” means “king”?”
    I would like to know from where that is derived myself.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwayne,

    Yes, “Messiah” and “Christ” both literally mean “anointed one.” But that’s a metaphor. What does the metaphor mean?

    (Dan 9:25 NIV) “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.

    Why is Jesus called “Anointed One”?

  12. laymond says:

    Hbr 1:9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, [even] thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

    1) to anoint
    a) consecrating Jesus to the Messianic office, and furnishing him with the necessary powers for its administration

    Dan 9:25 Know therefore and understand, [that] from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince [shall be] seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.

    I believe this refers to Jesus as “the prince” the son of a king.

    Hbr 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast [our] profession.

    Hbr 5:9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

    2) to consecrate, fill the hand
    b) (Niphal)
    1) to be filled, be armed, be satisfied
    2) to be accomplished, be ended

    I don’t believe I have ever read where Jesus claimed to be “king” of this world.

  13. Price says:

    Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

    Matt 21:4-5 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,”Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and* on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”

  14. Jay,

    I’m not talking about ‘why’ Jesus is called the Anointed One. I am talking about the translation of the word “christ.”

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwayne,

    I would certainly agree that “Anointed One” is a fair translation of “Messiah” or “Christ.” But I said it “means” king. And I think that’s true. It’s a metaphor meaning king, because the ancients installed kings through the ceremony of anointing.

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