Famous Last Words – Acts 1:6-8

All that I have for you this evening are some random thoughts, tying things together. Nothing too heavy; nothing too challenging and not too long. I’m calling this message “Famous Last Words.” These are the very last words out the lips of the Lord Jesus, before His ascension into Heaven.

Let’s think about five things: The Ascension, the question; the restoration; the deflection and the occupation.

First, the ASCENSION.

I plan to deal with this more fully next week, but I want you to see the context. As we have said several times, Jesus had met with His apostles several times in the previous 40 days. After a special breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee the Saviour arranged to meet them again in Jerusalem. I think that verse 4 was kept at the appointment of the Lord Jesus, and He told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfilment of the Father’s promise about the Spirit. But that didn’t mean that they couldn’t follow the Saviour out of the city for a brief respite.

Verse 6 refers to one last assembly, some time following the meeting in verses 4 and 5. This gathering took place at or just outside the tiny community of Bethany which was just beyond the crest of the Mount of Olives. Turn to the last words of the Gospel of Luke: “And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.

And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.”

Verse 12 here in this chapter says, “Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.” A sabbath day’s journey is variously described as anywhere from 1/3 of a mile to a mile. It was certainly not very far. Anyway the ascension of the Lord took place not far from Bethany on the slopes of the Mount of Olives.

Secondly, we come to the QUESTION.

“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”

40 days earlier, when the resurrected Lord Jesus was first appearing to the disciples, they were very fearful. At first they were afraid to look at Him or touch Him, and then they began to worship Him. It took some time before they regained the familiarity that they used to have for their pastor. But as the weeks and the visits continued some of that old relationship began to return. And on the eve of His departure, the disciples again asked the Saviour about the restoration of Israel..

At this point, it’s not so much the question that I’m interested in, but the questioning. I think that we can see that throughout the relationship which Jesus had with the disciples that they were never discouraged from asking their questions. They may have been chided for not knowing the answers, based on things that they had earlier been taught. And they may have gotten answers that they weren’t expecting sometimes, but the Lord didn’t discourage the questions themselves.

I think that there is a lesson here for us. The Lord is not against our asking questions. There is nothing wrong with probing the Word of God and even questioning our understanding of the Bible. It’s a good thing to analyze whether or not what have been taught is truly consistent with the Bible. The nobility of the people of Berea was that they heard the apostles message with just enough scepticism to force them to compare it with the Scriptures. They accepted the truth as the truth of God, not necessarily as the truth of the preacher. That doesn’t mean that we should be in constant doubt about our beliefs. It means that we shouldn’t be afraid to turn the microscope of the Word of God on our doctrines now and then to make sure that they haven’t become contaminated in some fashion or another. And secondly, there is not necessarily anything wrong with wondering why the Lord does certain things to our lives. It is good to ask the Lord, what He wants us to do with the providential circumstances that He creates around us. Just so long as we are asking out of humility and submission.

We have no right to demand anything of God, even explanations. But, on the other hand, if our hearts are right, there is not necessarily anything sinful in our questions.

In this case, I think that the disciples’ question was honest and submissive.

Thirdly, there is the subject of the RESTORATION.

“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”

Three years earlier, when they first met the Saviour, the disciples were thinking of little else but the Millennial Kingdom. Like most of their contemporaries they were tired of the Greeks and Romans. They knew that the scriptures promised an eternal kingdom to the family of David. And they knew that there was going to be fulfillment of a host of other promises of God related to this. But then when their Messiah was crucified, their myopic vision of that kingdom was dashed. And then when the Lord Jesus arose from the dead and reconfirmed that He truly was the Messiah, their perspective on everything changed. Eventually all that the Saviour had taught them about the necessity of His sacrifice began to sink in, and they rejoiced that they had been saved by the blood of the Crucified One. So now, that that had been taken care of, NOW was it time for the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel under their Messiah?

The thing that I’d like you to notice at this point is that Christ did not deny the reality of their dream. There are a great many who think that the future kingdom will not have anything to do with Israel. The Roman Catholics have their version of that kingdom ,and it centers on the Pope, the vicar of Christ. And the Protestants have their version of that kingdom that it refers to a spiritual kingdom which belongs to “the church” and the baptized. And there are a lot of Baptists who carry-on that Protestant way of thinking.

But all these groups miss the point: There will be a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, just as the Old Testament clearly declares. There is no reason to spiritualize the scriptures which speak of future Israel, saying that they are really talking about the redeemed, or the Lord’s churches. Yes, there will be an inclusion of saved gentiles and gentile nations in some very special ways. But when the Son of David comes to sit upon His father’s throne, it will be in Jerusalem and it will be foremost over the nation of Israel.

Notice that the apostles’ question contained the word “restore.” They were not talking about a new kind of kingdom, but a re-establishment of the old kingdom. And although Jesus did not directly answer the question, He did not dismiss it or change it. He didn’t correct their perceptions and say that there wouldn’t ever be a restoration of old Israel. He didn’t tell them that they were already in that kingdom, even though in some ways they were.

What they were asking about is an aspect of the kingdom of God, which will be literally fulfilled, BUT it was not yet God’s time.

So we see the Lord’s DEFLECTION of the question.

“And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”

This same question had come up earlier and the Lord said that not even He knew the day and hour of His return and the establishing of the Millennial Kingdom. But in this case He didn’t put it that way. Perhaps at this time He did know. And yet He didn’t even argue that point, because it was so distant and therefore so unimportant.

De Witt Talmage was commenting on this verse, and it reminded him of something: He said, “Dr. Ludlow, my professor in the Theological Seminary, taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. While putting a variety of questions to him that were perplexing, he turned upon me somewhat in sternness, but more in love, and said, ‘Mr. Talmage, you will have let God know some things that you don’t.’”

It’s all right for God to know things that you and I don’t. In fact it’s more than all right, it is wonderful.

And that brings us to the OCCUPATION.

“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” We’ll deal with this more fully Sunday night.

What the Saviour did was essentially to say, “Let the Father take care of His business and you take care of yours.”

You are going to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to do a special service for me. Forget about everything else and focus on your job. You are to be my witnesses!