Jesus’ Response and Its Significance
In response to the disciples’ question, Jesus answers:
“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8, ESV)
Jesus does not directly address the disciples’ expectation of a restored kingdom for Israel. Instead, he redirects their focus to the coming of the Holy Spirit and their mission as his witnesses. The fact that Jesus does not offer a straightforward answer to the disciples’ query has led to various interpretations of this passage throughout Christian history.
Interpretations of Acts 1:6
The Traditionalist View
The traditionalist interpretation of Acts 1:6 maintains that the disciples were misguided in their understanding of Jesus’ mission. According to this view, Jesus’ response is meant to correct their misconception of the Messiah’s role. Rather than establishing a political kingdom, Jesus came to usher in a spiritual kingdom. This would be built through the proclamation of the Gospel and the transformation of human hearts.
In this interpretation, Jesus’ answer serves as a gentle rebuke, reminding the disciples that God’s plan and timeline are beyond their comprehension. The focus is shifted away from the establishment of an earthly kingdom to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the mission to spread the Gospel throughout the world.
The Dispensationalist View
Dispensationalism, a theological framework that emerged in the 19th century, interprets Acts 1:6 as evidence of a future restoration of Israel’s kingdom. According to this view, Jesus’ response is not a rebuke. Instead it is an affirmation that the restoration of Israel’s kingdom is part of God’s plan, albeit at an unspecified time. Dispensationalists argue that Jesus’ statement about the Father’s authority over times and seasons indicates that the restoration will indeed occur, but only when God deems it appropriate.
This interpretation also holds that the Church Age, which began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is a temporary “parenthesis” in God’s plan for Israel. Once the Church Age concludes with the Rapture, God will turn His attention back to Israel and fulfill the promises made to the nation, including the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. Dispensationalism thus views Acts 1:6 as a prophecy of a literal, future kingdom for Israel, with Jesus returning as a political and military leader.
The Covenantal View
The covenantal interpretation of Acts 1:6 sees Jesus’ response as an indication that the disciples’ expectations were partially correct but needed to be reoriented. According to this view, Jesus does not dismiss the idea of a restored kingdom but reframes it in a spiritual and global context.
Covenantal theologians argue that Jesus’ teachings and actions throughout his ministry consistently subverted traditional expectations of the Messiah. Instead of establishing an earthly kingdom, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant, which fulfills and transcends the promises made to Israel. In this context, the restoration of Israel’s kingdom is reinterpreted as the establishment of the Church, which is the spiritual Israel.
In this view, Jesus’ response in Acts 1:7-8 is meant to refocus the disciples’ attention on their immediate mission: to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and bear witness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The covenantal interpretation emphasizes that the Church’s mission is to bring the Gospel to all nations, ultimately culminating in the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham that all peoples would be blessed through his offspring (Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:8).
Acts 1:6 presents a thought-provoking question from the disciples to Jesus, reflecting their expectations of a restored kingdom for Israel. Jesus’ response, while not providing a clear answer, emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and the mission to spread the Gospel.
Throughout Christian history, various interpretations of this passage have emerged, reflecting different theological perspectives. The traditionalist view sees Jesus as correcting the disciples’ misunderstanding, emphasizing a spiritual kingdom rather than a political one. The dispensationalist perspective interprets Acts 1:6 as a prophecy of a future, literal restoration of Israel’s kingdom. Finally, the covenantal interpretation suggests that Jesus reorients the disciples’ expectations towards a spiritual and global fulfilment of the promise.
Despite these differing interpretations, one common thread emerges. This is the centrality of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and the mission of the Church. Regardless of how one understands the restoration of Israel’s kingdom, Acts 1:6 serves as a reminder that Jesus’ followers are called to be his witnesses, bringing the message of hope and salvation to a world in need.
King James Version (KJV)
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
New International Version (NIV)
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
New American Bible (NASB)
So, when they had come together, they began asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
English Standard Version (ESV)
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
The Living Bible (TLB)
And another time when he appeared to them, they asked him, “Lord, are you going to free Israel from Rome[a] now and restore us as an independent nation?”