The four Gospels tell us that Jesus made numerous appearances to his followers during the forty days after he rose from the dead, and then he ascended into heaven. Luke begins the Book of Acts with a summary of this period:

After his suffering, he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  (Acts 1:3)

Apparently, Jesus’ main goal during this time was to teach them “about the kingdom of God.”  That’s really what he had been doing throughout the three years of his public ministry before his crucifixion.  In the Gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus is directly quoted as mentioning God’s kingdom more than forty times.  Teaching about the kingdom of God was his major ministry mission.

Well, all this had to be leading somewhere, so it was natural for the disciples to ask,

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  (v. 6)

It’s clear from this question that they had not absorbed the heart of Jesus kingdom teaching, for they still talked in terms of “restoring” the traditional throne of Israel, in independence from Roman oversight.  Jesus had been trying in every way possible to introduce them to the spiritual dimensions of the eternal kingdom of God, of which the earthly kingdom of Israel had only been a shadow picture.  Obviously, he had a lot more to teach them.

In answer to their question, Jesus said,

“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.”  (vv. 7-8)

“Witnesses” to what?  Witnesses to the spiritual reality of the kingdom of God, which they were having trouble understanding.  But they would understand it “when the Holy Spirit {had} come upon them” a few days later.  They would understand why he had to die and rise again for the new phase of the kingdom of God to become a reality in the lives of women and men.  They would understand it so profoundly that they would go “to the ends of the earth” to proclaim it.

Ever since then, the Christian church has vacillated between experiencing and proclaiming the true kingdom of God and falling back into attempts to “restore” some earthbound imitation.  Two major errors have kept reappearing through history.  The one is to see the church itself or some “Christian” government as the kingdom of God on earth, which has led to many abuses and injustices in the name of Christ.  The other is to emphasize the “times or periods” of literal end-times prophecies, which has allowed people to focus on future events rather than living their present life in God’s kingdom.

As he did to his disciples after Easter, Jesus offers us a true alternative, promising us a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit which will lead to an exciting new awareness of living in the kingdom of God right here and right now.  As we experience this, our daily activities will be a way of expressing the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

— Pastor George Van Alstine