The restoration of the kingdom to Israel

Acts 1:6-8

Then indeed, having come together, they were asking him, saying, “Lord, do you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And he said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father appointed by his own authority, but you will receive power with the Holy Spirit coming upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth/land.”

I remarked in my post about Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire that there is “no reason to generalize or spiritualize” John’s prophecy of a coming judgment on Jerusalem: he is saying no more and no less than that the city faces military destruction as a consequence of the sins of its residents. KarenL picked up on this point and suggested that by the time we get to Acts 1:6-8, we do indeed have to generalize the narrative because the whole world has come into view: the disciples are sent as witnesses to the end of the earth, and soon the Gentiles will be granted “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

She rightly points out that the disciples here “express very clear Israel-centered eschatological expectations”, but in what way or to what extent does Jesus correct these expectations? Do we see here the beginnings of a generalization of the “Israel-centered” perspective, a move beyond the Jewish narrative? I don’t think so, for the following reasons.

First, the conversation has to do only with the timing of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. The disciples are not to know exactly when this will happen, but Jesus’ response surely means that the timing of exactly this event has been fixed by the Father’s authority.

Secondly, Jesus has been speaking about the kingdom of God for the last forty days (Acts 1:3), and it would be very odd if the disciples had still got the fundamental point wrong that this was not about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.

Thirdly, in Acts 3:19-26 Peter says that Jesus must be received by heaven “until the time for restoring (chronōn apokatastaseōs) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago”. The nations are not in view here. Peter calls the Jews to repent in order that they might not be “destroyed from the people” (3:23); in this way, they will be blessed, and then all the families of the earth will be blessed through them. The restoration of all things—which is clearly also the restoration of the kingdom to Israel—will entail the repentance of a number of Jews at a time of judgment, and the outcome of this will be the blessing of the nations.

So I don’t think that this passage takes us beyond the narrative framework of John’s preaching, and I can quote Robert Wall in support of this contention:

Jesus’ vague response to their query is nothing like “an indirect denial that it is Israel to whom the Kingdom will be given.” Nor does it point to “the rule of God over human hearts,” since Acts steadfastly refuses to substitute a distinctly Christian or spiritualized meaning for the more traditional Jewish hope of Israel’s restoration.1

In the meantime, however, the disciples are given the critical task of bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Whether or not Jesus has the Gentiles in view here and not merely diaspora Israel, what the disciples will bear witness to is the significance of the resurrection for the fate of Israel. The resurrection is taken as evidence that Jesus has been given authority to rule over the people of God, for the sake of both judgment and restoration. It will soon become apparent that this extraordinary coup d’état will have dramatic implications for the nations, but the “restoration” theme has reference only to Israel.

  • 1. R. Wall, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. X (Abingdon, 2002), 41-42 (he quotes R. Maddox and L.T. Johnson).