“…So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set 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, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Read full text here
I often joke with my friends that ‘wait’ is the ultimate four-letter word. It is easy to say, but pretty much no one likes to be on the receiving end of it. And more often than not when we actually do hear it, it sounds far more like a “no” than a “not yet”.
Some of this is due to our impatience—we want the things we want in the time that we want them, exactly as we want them—and are frustrated when, despite our determination and best efforts, things don’t go our way.
But it is also true that very often the difficulty we face in learning to wait lies in the fact that the things we are waiting for touch on some of the most sensitive places in our hearts—our deepest wounds, our greatest fears or aspirations—and the experience of unfulfillment in these areas, day in and day out, seems to become our greatest reality, rather than the hope that anything could or will ever change.
From a twenty-first century perspective it is difficult to imagine how much something like this would have lain behind the disciples’ question to Jesus: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” They had been given countless promises by the Father through the prophets about the restoration of Israel, and their imminent fulfillment had recently been ensured by Jesus. And yet in light of literally centuries of waiting, one can detect a certain urgency to their question as they pose it to Jesus, a sense of how much longer will we have to wait?
Their question was not off by any means. To the contrary their very expectation of such a fulfillment lay in the promises that God, himself, had given them. But as hindsight has made clear to us, their expectations were off—not because they were too big or grandiose, but because they were not big enough. God was preparing something far greater, far more beautiful in, through and for them than they could even begin to imagine, which is why, at first glance it seems as if he doesn’t answer their question:
“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set 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, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus is not cleverly evading their question with his answer. He is pointing to the extraordinary way in which this long-awaited fulfillment will soon take place: it will do so when they receive the very life of God—the Holy Spirit—into their hearts and, in so doing, are suddenly impelled to share that life with everyone around them: in Judea, Samaria and even to the ends of the earth.
However, it is not until the end of Chapter 2 that we see both how this is to take place, and how it fulfills God’s promises—and the disciples deepest hopes—regarding the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear…Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
In Jesus, the kingdom has been restored, not only in Palestine, nor even simply in the broader region the Davidic empire encompassed during its glory days, but over all of creation and for all eternity. Jesus, who in having completely assumed our humanity became the consummate Davidic king and offered up the perfect sacrifice for our sins through his life, death and resurrection, now sits at the right hand of the Father, exalted as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords
And in so doing he has made possible a far greater restoration and liberation than could have ever been obtained through simply reestablishing the earthly kingdom of Israel. He has made it possible for them—and us—to be freed from the greatest enemy of all: our bondage to decay (Rom 8:21) and fear of death (Heb 2:15), and to receive, in its stead His abundant and eternal life (John 10:10).
It is this which accounts for the fact that, within a short span of time the disciples went from cowering in fear behind locked doors to boldly proclaiming the Gospel to all the ends earth. Their hopes had been fulfilled in a far more glorious way than they could have ever imagined.
Far too often we miss this reality—or at least I know I do—as we focus intently on our unfulfilled desires and unhealed wounds. But the greatest reality of all is the unfailing love that drove God to become man “so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius) and the trust that He who did not spare his son for us, will also give us all things (Rom 8:32).
In the words of St. Paul, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” This is the freedom we see evidenced in the lives of the disciples as they received power from the Holy Spirit catapulting them into a dramatic worldwide ministry, facing the very people they had most feared just days prior. And it is the freedom that is available to each one of us if we will but surrender to God and trust in the plans He has for our life.
For they are good, as He is good. He who is Love cannot but act in love and order everything in our lives according to that same love.
And as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, He works for those who wait for Him (64:4)
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.