The Kingdom Question: Acts 1
It was recently brought to my attention that the first chapter of the book of Acts refutes the idea of Christ's present reign. Historically the church has seen the Biblical understanding of God's kingdom as a present reality that becomes fully actualized at Christ's second coming. In contemporary evangelical circles there has been a push to set God' kingdom out after Christ's second coming during a 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth. In light of this question and the one put to me I went back to the text and this is what I found.
The claim that Acts 1 refutes the idea of an existing kingdom comes from a question raised by the disciples. The question was this:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “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 1:6-8 ESV)
The argument by the millennialists (those who would like to see God's kingdom established in a future millennium) is, if in fact God's kingdom is a present reality why wouldn't our Lord just say it here in this passage? In other words His response to this question should have been something like, "the kingdom is presently being restored to Israel." Since He did not say that then the kingdom must be a future reality not a present reality. We would call this argument fallacious since it creates a false dilemma. Either Jesus uses this question to explain a present reality or the kingdom must be a future reality. Obviously when we think of the numerous reasons why a thing isn't so we realize this is overly simplistic reasoning. In fact it is the kind of reasoning John Mac Arthur employs in his lecture "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Is Pre-millennial".
Since we do not know the thinking of our Lord when He answered the question in the way that He did, we are left with the task of having to figure this one out by looking at the text of Scripture. First we know that Jesus began his earthly ministry proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand (Matt 3.2, Mark 1.15). It is clear from our Acts passage that some of the disciples still believed that the Messiah was a political ruler who would stomp out the Romans and reclaim Israel. However, Acts 2 Peter tells a different story.
Before looking at Acts 2 there are some remarks to be made with regards to Acts 1. Notice, our Lord begins by saying "It is not for you to know." As students we need to be aware that there are things that are not for us to know and we have to be careful that we don't speculate about these things. However, what our Lord does tell them is that they will receive power and they will be witnesses not only in Jerusalem, not only in Judea and Samaria, but to the end of the earth. This was very different from the popular notion of the concurring Messiah. Now we turn the page to Acts 2.
In Acts 2 we see these very things take place. That is they received the power of the Holy Spirit and their witness has spread to the end of the earth. However, there is something important to notice in Peter's interpretation of David's prophecy. Namely, the one that they thought would rule from David's thrown and restore Israel 2 Samuel 7 is none other than Christ our Lord.
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all 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 yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:29-36 ESV)
Therefore, Peter is using David's prophecy to show its fulfillment in our Lord's Ascension to the right hand of the Father where He is ruling and reigning. Peter gives us no indication of a return to OT type and shadow, and no indication of a second or a future reign. Peter is saying this is the fulfillment of OT prophecy so that when we see the Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost we can then know and understand Christ's kingship. Prior to this the disciples couldn't fathom what a true restoration of Israel's kingdom would like. Now they see what they thought restoration was greatly underestimated by them.