Acts 6: The Consummation of the Kingdom

Dennis E. Johnson
Tuesday, November 1st 2011
Nov/Dec 2011

We have observed that the risen Lord Jesus corrected the assumptions behind his apostles' question, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). (1) He gently squelched their curiosity about the timing of God's kingdom agenda, as such "inside information" was not theirs to know (1:7; see Matt. 24:36; 25:13; Mark 13:32; 1 Thess. 5:1-2). He also expanded their mental horizons, showing them that the kingdom would loom larger than Israel and Israel's political status. Through the apostles' Spirit-empowered witness, the light of God's comprehensive salvation would radiate out to the Gentiles at the end of the earth (Acts 1:8, echoing Isa. 49:6-7; see Acts 13:46-47).

Although the apostles were mistaken about the timing and scope of the kingdom, they were right to recognize that Jesus' resurrection marked the turning point in the history of the world. The forces of evil had been decisively defeated by the Messiah's sacrificial death and resurrection, and a chain of events had begun that would lead to the utter "undoing" of sin, sorrow, suffering, and death itself. Jesus' ascension to heaven, borne by a cloud into the presence of God, (2) initiated an era in which he would be absent physically from his church yet powerfully present through the Holy Spirit whom he would soon send. On the day of Pentecost, the descent of the Spirit enabled believers to give voice to God's mighty deeds in the tongues of the nations, and Peter declared that these extraordinary events signaled that Jesus the Messiah had assumed his royal throne at God's right hand (Acts 2:32-33).

The inauguration of the kingdom in Christ's death, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit directed believers' hopes toward a coming consummation of the kingdom, when the King now enthroned in heaven would return to earth as the rescuer of his people and the judge of all. This is the promise that two "men" in white robes’angelic messengers from God's heavenly court’announced to the dazed disciples as they stared upward after their departed Master: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

Some weeks earlier, as Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, his traveling companions were abuzz with speculation that he would consummate God's reign when he reached the City of David, presumably by expelling Rome's occupation forces: "They supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately" (Luke 19:11). But Jesus poured cold water on their feverish eschatological impatience. He told a parable about a nobleman who entrusted "minas" to ten servants before taking an extended journey to "a far country" in order to be appointed king (Luke 19:11-27). (3) That parable gave a wide-angle preview of the era that would span from the kingdom's launch (through his death and exaltation) to its consummation (at his bodily return). Jesus himself was the "nobleman." Before his departure, he entrusted treasures to his servants to invest in his absence. Upon his return, the king would deal with his servants according to their faithfulness, and he would inflict righteous wrath on enemies who resented and resisted his rule (19:14, 27). In retrospect, at least, should not the apostles have grasped the parable's hint that the era of Christ's physical absence from earth would be prolonged’long enough for faithful servants to make a profit for their Master and for defiant subjects to persist in resisting his reign?

In addition to preparing his church for his prolonged absence, Jesus' parable also affirmed the absolute certainty of his glorious return from heaven to consummate the kingdom at the end of the age. He made the same point repeatedly (Luke 12:35-48; 17:20-30; 20:9-16; 21:25-28, 34-36). So the heavenly messengers were simply reminding the stunned disciples that their risen and ascended King had announced his glorious return in no uncertain terms. The promise of the King's coming is as certain as its timing is unpredictable.

The inauguration of the kingdom, especially in Jesus' resurrection from the dead, secures the kingdom's future consummation at the end of history. This theme emerges in Peter's sermon in Solomon's portico (Acts 3:11-26). Through faith in the name of Jesus, a man born lame had been healed, so that he could not only walk but also leap for joy in the sanctuary of God. This act of power and mercy became the occasion for bold declaration of the gospel, in which Peter announced that Jesus, the Author of Life, had been raised from the dead by God himself (3:15). Peter then called the crowd to repentance, promising "that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets" (3:19-21; emphasis added). Several features of this striking sermon command our attention.

First, the future hope of refreshment and restoration, which should move Peter's hearers to repentance, is bound up with the return of Jesus the King. Peter's description of Jesus as "the Christ appointed for you" resumes the point he had made on the day of Pentecost: Jesus' resurrection constitutes God's declaration that he is "both Lord and Christ," the rightful heir to David's royal throne (2:25-36). By raising Jesus from the dead, God confirmed his identity as the anointed King anticipated in Psalm 2:7: "You are my Son; today I have begotten you" (see Acts 13:32-35). As Paul said in his Epistle to the Roman believers, Jesus "was declared to be the Son in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4).

Second, God's ancient prophets had foretold the "times [or seasons] of refreshing" and "the time for restoring all things" for which God's people were longing. Visions granted to Isaiah and other Israelite seers previewed a complete reversal of the curse that had entered the world and human experience through Adam's sin. "He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from the earth" (Isa. 25:8). "'For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth….The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,' says the Lord" (Isa. 65:17, 25). This global healing would be bound up with the return of Jesus the Messiah "whom heaven must receive" until the time appointed by God the Father, at which time the King will appear to consummate his royal reign.

Third, the scope of "restoration" that the King will bring is greater than Peter and his fellow apostles had envisioned when they asked about restoring the kingdom to Israel. Peter now knew that the kingdom "restoration" that God's prophets promised would be wider than Israel and deeper than politics. It would, in the end, embrace "all things"’a whole new heaven and a whole new earth, as Isaiah foretold (Isa. 65:17-25; 66:2-23; the ESV's "restore" at Acts 1:6 and "restoring" in 3:21 reflect the echo in the Greek original). (4) Peter would later encourage Christians to anticipate "a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet. 3:13). The restoration of the beggar's ankles, so that he leapt for joy in God's courts, was a preview of a coming healing of the whole cosmos.

Fourth, the consummation of his kingdom at the return of the King entails not only the comforting prospect of "refreshment" and "restoration," but also the sobering prospect of judgment. Peter proclaimed Jesus not only as the messianic King, but also as the prophet like Moses whom God would raise up’and whose voice must be heeded. "And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people" (Acts 3:23, alluding to Deut. 18:15-19).

Later sermons in Acts identify Jesus himself as the final Judge of the living and the dead. Not only will the word of this ultimate Moses-caliber prophet be the norm by which all people will be judged, but Christ himself is also the royal Judge, authorized by God to render the momentous, eternity-determining verdict on every human life.

When Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius and his assembled family and friends, the apostle narrated Jesus' powerful earthly ministry, his shameful death, his resurrection, and his appearances to chosen witnesses. "And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42). Christ's role as coming judge heightens both the mercy and the urgency of the promise that Peter mentioned in the next breath: "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (10:43). Instantly the Spirit fell on Peter's Gentile audience, they believed, and "God cleansed their hearts by faith" (see 15:9).

Later, Paul observed to Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, the intellectual dilettantes of Athens, that a public inscription implied their awareness of a God whom, by their own admission, they did not know. This God created the universe, sustains life, and directs human affairs. Greek poets even glimpsed the truth that humanity bears his image. Though he is near to all his creatures, for ages this great Creator did not speak his redemptive word among the nations, not even to the sophisticated Greeks. But now, with the resurrection of Jesus, things had changed: "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead" (17:30-31). To these pagan intellectuals, whose worldviews were antagonistic both to the concept of bodily resurrection and to the prospect of a last judgment, (5) Paul declared the unbreakable bond uniting these two events of Jesus' royal career: his resurrection from the dead at world history's turning point signaled his designation by God as the judge before whom all people will stand at history's consummation. Vociferous derision from Paul's audience interrupted his presentation at that point (17:32). Nonetheless, some expressed openness to further dialogue, while others even came to faith, presumably through subsequent interaction with the apostle (17:33).

A fifth and final implication of the promise that "the Christ appointed for you, Jesus" will return from heaven to restore all things concerns God's purpose for the lengthy interim between the King's ascension and his second coming. As the once-lame man leapt in the temple court, Peter's sermon concluded: "God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness" (Acts 3:26). Christ's resurrection from the dead did not immediately precipitate cosmic renewal’which would have entailed last judgment on every human rebel’precisely because, as John's Gospel says, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17). The risen Servant Jesus now comes through the power of his Word and the presence of his Spirit to rescue rebels and turn them from the path of eternal destruction. Writing later to Christians dismayed by their Lord's delay (as they perceived it), Peter reminded them, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance….Count the patience of our Lord as salvation" (2 Pet. 3:9, 15).

Although it may feel like needless tardiness to suffering saints, in fact the timing of the coming consummation, sovereignly decided by the Father and known only to him, is determined by his gracious resolve to redeem all his elect among all the peoples of the earth. That is the implication of the little word "first" in Acts 3:26: "God sent his servant to you first." Peter had just cited God's great promise to Abraham, "And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Acts 3:25). The fulfillment of that promise would require sufficient time to convey the good news of Jesus, Abraham's offspring, throughout the world. Salvation comes by faith in Christ, and faith by hearing, and hearing by the proclamation of the Word (Rom. 10:17). God's patience in determining the moment of his Messiah's return and the consummation of his kingdom is motivated by his resolve to keep his promise to Abraham, bringing blessing to all of his elect among every nationality "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). When everyone whose name is inscribed in the Lamb's book of life has been drawn by the Spirit to trust in the Son, then at last’and at just the right time’God will send Messiah Jesus to consummate the kingdom, bringing the times of refreshing and the era of total restoration the prophets foretold, and for which we still long. Until then Christ's church heralds the good news of our risen, reigning, and returning King to every ethnic group, calling all to repentance and faith as we eagerly anticipate "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13) and the consummation of his rule in the new heavens and earth.

1 [ Back ] See Dennis E. Johnson, "The Power of the Kingdom," in Modern Reformation (January/February 2011), 4.
2 [ Back ] Daniel 7:13-14: "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. And to him was given a dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him."
3 [ Back ] Although this parable and that of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 share a similar main plot, there are significant variations between them. A "mina" (Greek mna, represented by "pounds" in older English versions) was a modest amount equivalent to 100 drachmas, roughly three or four months' wages for a day laborer. A talent was worth 60 mnas. In Matthew three servants are entrusted with different amounts, whereas in Luke each of ten servants receives the same amount. Also, Luke includes the subplot of the rebellious subjects. Probably Jesus told and then retold this story in two forms as he approached Jerusalem (Luke) and after his triumphal entry (Matthew).
4 [ Back ] In Acts 1:6, the Greek verb apokathistano, "restore," is used, and in 3:21 its cognate noun apokatastasis, "restoration," appears. In Luke's two books, members of this word family appear only in these two passages and in Luke 6:10, describing Jesus' healing of a man whose withered hand "was restored."
5 [ Back ] Concepts such as bodily resurrection and last judgment were unpalatable both to Stoicism (with its cyclical view of history) and to Epicureanism (which imagined the gods as blissfully indifferent to human behavior). For further information see Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), 194-201.
Tuesday, November 1st 2011

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