Acts 1:4–14

If you had the opportunity to ask a question of the Lord Jesus Christ, what would you ask? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul turns to Acts 1 and discusses Jesus’ answer to a question from His disciples about the restoration of the kingdom.


And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:4–14)

One Question for Christ

I was deeply moved a few moments ago when I looked up and saw Mitch and Florence Cherkes come in the door at the back of the church. I have to say, I immediately thought that there was nobody I was happier to see, yet at the same time there is One who would even bring me more happiness if I could see Him: the Lord Jesus. Yet I am as convinced of Jesus’ presence today as I am of the presence of Mitch and Florence. He is come. He awaits us at His table. He promised His presence among us, but He is invisible to our eyes at this time.

If we could exercise our imaginations for a moment, suppose our Lord manifested Himself visibly to us this morning, that our eyes could behold Him in His resurrected glory, and He spoke to us audibly and invited us each to ask Him one question. If you had the opportunity now to see Him, hear Him, and speak to Him, what question would you ask? I am sure each one of us would have a different question for Christ if we could see Him and hear His voice this morning.

In our text this morning, we have the record of the last opportunity the disciples of Jesus had in His physical presence to ask a question. Here was the greatest teacher that ever lived, the supreme and divine rabbi, whose disciples studied at His feet for three years, and who must have peppered Him endlessly with theological question after question. Now it came down to His departure time. They had time for one more question. Let us look at it.

A Question of Restoration

We are told that the disciples were assembled, and He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father. That in itself deserves a whole sermon because one of the most difficult things for any Christian to do is wait for the promises of the Father.

But Jesus was about to depart, and He said: “I’m leaving. You’re staying. What I want you to do right now is not to run out onto the highways and the byways engaged in evangelism. I don’t want you to take care of the orphans and the widows this week. Rather, for a short time, wait. You need to wait for the promise of God, which you have heard from Me. For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

It was on the occasion of this mandate given by Jesus to His disciples that they presented their last question to Him. What do you think they would ask? I would think they were going to say: “What will this baptism of the Holy Spirit be like? What kind of power are You going to pour out on us? How does it differ from the baptism we saw John performing by the river Jordan?” Or maybe: “What’s it like where You’re going? What are You going to be doing there?”

Those are all options, but they were not the question raised by the disciples. Listen to what they asked: “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” They asked a question about time. They asked a question about a kingdom. They asked a question about Israel. They asked a profound question about restoration.

The Prophesied Restoration of Israel

The disciples were all advised of the prophecies regarding Old Testament Israel. They, like every other pious Jew down through the centuries, looked forward to the day when the glory of Israel would be restored, when as Amos had prophesied, the fallen booth of David would be righted anew.

At the present time, David’s kingdom was hidden under the suppression of the Roman government. There had been no restoration of the kingdom of Israel. That was why so many people were disappointed in Jesus; they looked to Him to bring the kingdom to Israel, to bring the restoration, and to right the fallen booth of David.

This past summer, we had the opportunity to visit many of the places the Apostle Paul visited on his missionary journeys, as well as the island of Patmos, where John received his vision for the book of Revelation. Two places stand out in my memory: our visit to Ephesus in Turkey and our visit to Corinth in Greece. Those two towns have the most comprehensive rebuilding and restructuring of ruins from antiquity that can be found anywhere in the world. Number one is Ephesus. Almost the whole town has been reconstructed from the ruins.

Even though so much of the towns are reconstructed, there are still many pieces of buildings, pillars, and columns in Ephesus and Corinth lying in the weeds. We were reminded again of the artistic information we learned in school about the three kinds of columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. How many of you could identify the differences among those three right now? Not many. But many of us learned it at one time. I failed the quiz when I was there, until we had it drummed into us as we saw one example after another. The most adorned of the three types of columns was the Corinthian column. We saw multitudes of those lying in the weeds—slabs of beautiful artwork with weeds growing around and obscuring them and moss on the sides.

As I looked at the ruins, I thought, “This is the image Amos had in his mind of the throne of David.” Where he had once reigned in glorious splendor, now David’s throne was turned over. It was smashed into pieces. The weeds were growing all around it. It was covered with moss and dirt. Amos had spoken the word of the Lord that someday, God would restore the throne of David.

For centuries, hope burned in the breasts of the Jewish people for that historic moment to come. And now, when Jesus was about to ascend, the disciples asked: “Is it now? Are You now going to do it? Are You going to restore the throne to David? Are You going to restore the kingdom to national, ethnic Israel?”

A Kingdom Beyond Israel

The disciples were still thinking of the kingdom strictly in terms of earthly, national boundaries, restricted to the borders of Israel itself. They had not yet grasped the central teaching of Jesus during His lifetime when He proclaimed that the kingdom of God would go far beyond the boundaries of Israel. The greater Son of David would initiate a kingdom that would have no end, that would be spiritual but at the same time have manifest implications for this world.

The disciples forgot what Jesus taught them to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, when He said, “When you pray, pray like this: Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” where? “On earth as it is right now in Heaven.”

The Lord Jesus reigns right now as the King of kings and the Lord of lords in Heaven. That is what the ascension was all about. But in the meantime, like His disciples, we yearn for the day when His kingdom is manifest, when He consummates it, bringing the new heaven and new earth and the kingdom to its fullest consummation. We still look forward to that even to this day. Every day, we say, “Lord, are You now going to do it?”

Jesus Empowers the Church

How did Jesus answer the disciples’ question? Let me first tell you what He did not say. He did not rebuke His disciples and say: “How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not going to restore the kingdom of Israel? How many times do I have to tell you that from now on, the Jews have no part in My kingdom? How many times do I have to tell you that My kingdom is completely spiritual?” That was not what He did.

Listen to what Jesus said: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Beloved, if there is a thematic passage for the book of Acts that defines the whole scope of the book, it is the verse I just read to you. Let me read it again: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

For centuries, the church has recognized this passage as part of the Great Commission. This is the passage in which our Lord gave His marching orders to His church. He was saying, in effect: “It is none of your business when the kingdom is going to be consummated. That’s in My Father’s hand. It’s under My Father’s authority. What you are called to do now in My absence is to be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost parts of the earth. For now, wait, because I am going to leave and ascend unto My Father and go to the throne, where I will be seated at the right hand of the Father and be given all authority on heaven and earth, and reign as the King of kings and Lord of lords and enter My kingdom, which will be invisible. As soon as I get to My coronation, as soon as I receive My crown, the first edict I will declare is the sending of the Holy Spirit upon you, upon My church, to empower My church for its mission.”

The mission of the church, the reason we exist, is to bear witness to the present reign and rule of Christ, who is at the right hand of God. If you try to do the mission in your own power, it is as if Jesus said: “You will fail. That’s why I’m not going to leave to you alone the earth-shattering task of bearing witness to Me throughout the whole world—not just in Jerusalem, not just in Israel, but to the Gentiles as well. I am not going to leave that to the flesh. I am going to empower you.”

We will look at the empowerment Jesus mentions when we study the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Jesus said: “The reason for the outpouring of the Spirit is not to make you feel spiritual. It’s not to give you a spiritual high. I’m going to give you My Spirit so you can do the job I’ve given the church to do.”

A Missionary Church

Recently when I was in Washington, I had lunch with an extraordinary man who spoke at our church about his ministry in the Sudan. As we were eating, he showed me a picture of his family, his wife and kids. He also had a picture of many people carrying guns, the adults with AK-47s and the younger children with different kinds of rifles and shotguns.

I asked: “What’s that? The militia?” He responded, “No, they’re going to church.” I said: “They’re going to church? What are they doing going to church? Why are they carrying guns?” He answered: “The church has been bombed ten times by the Muslims there. We must have our guns, or they won’t stop shooting at us.”

This man is on the frontline of mission work every single day of his life. As I listened to his story, I was astonished. I thought, “We need to be in touch with people like that at Saint Andrew’s, like Palmer Robertson with his missionary work in Malawi, those working in Iran, and others, because that is an extension of Saint Andrew’s.” Saint Andrew’s lives by the same Great Commission. It is our responsibility not just to minister to Sanford locally, but to make sure that Christ’s kingdom is being witnessed to throughout the world. We are called to be a missionary church.

Last night for dinner, we had special guests with us. They were recently in Ecuador, and they told me the story of going to church in Quito, and unexpectedly, who happened to be present but Nate Saint’s wife, Rachel Saint.

One of the great books of our time is called Through Gates of Splendor, which chronicles the slaughter of Elisabeth Elliot’s husband and four other missionaries, including Nate Saint, who were missionaries to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. When they had dropped gifts and tried to make a visit, they were ambushed and all of them murdered. It made the front page of Life magazine. There were pages of photographs from the scene of those five missionary martyrs.

Later, Elisabeth Elliot went back and continued to minister to the Auca Indians who had killed her husband. She raised her daughter among that group and converts among the Auca Indians babysat her daughter. The same people who killed her father were the babysitters.

The same thing happened with Rachel Saint. She was back in Ecuador, and our friends told us that just the other day when they went to a church, there was Rachel Saint, along with some of the Auca Indians who were numbered among the ones who murdered the first missionaries to them. They were together in the same church.

That is the Great Commission. That is the church obedient to the instructions Christ gave them at the moment of His departure: “You shall be My witnesses.” Jesus was saying, “You must be My witnesses here, there, and everywhere.”

Witnesses in All the Earth

Calvin said that the kingdom of God right now is invisible. It is the task of the visible church—that is, us—to make the invisible kingdom of Christ visible, to manifest to people what it would be like to live in a commonwealth ruled by Jesus. We bear witness to a reign based on righteousness, truth, mercy, and charity as we try to show the world what the reign of Jesus looks like.

I believe that within thirty years, the largest and strongest branch of Christendom will be in Africa. I think it is absolutely critical that the church in the United States pour as many resources as we possibly can into the emerging churches of the Third World, particularly in Africa.

I asked the missionary to the Sudan, “How can we help?” He answered: “Our people over here are on fire, but they don’t have a whole lot of study materials. But they get the gospel. They grasp the Bible. They believe Reformed theology. Your books are here in some measure, and they devour them.” I said: “What can I do? How about we send you ten thousand copies of The Holiness of God?” He said, “They’d love that.”

Why stop at ten thousand? Why not fifty thousand? Why not one hundred thousand? We have the materials they need to be grounded and strengthened for future generations. They cannot provide it, but we can. As we continue in the book of Acts, we will see the first-century church in action, the first-century church crawling over glass, pouring out blood, and giving their lives to obey this last command, “Be My witnesses,” in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Jesus Taken to Heaven

After Jesus said these things, while the disciples were watching, Luke says that He was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight. This was the shekinah cloud. This was predicted in the book of Daniel, where the Son of Man appears before the Ancient of Days, arriving on the shekinah cloud of glory. It is His return to heaven from whence He had come in the first place.

Jesus came in humiliation to this planet. He returned on the glory cloud, being elevated into heaven, to the right hand of God. The disciples stood there transfixed, and they watched until the ascending Jesus was nothing more than a speck on the horizon.

We live in Central Florida, not very far away from Cape Kennedy, where we have rocket launches periodically. When those launches happen, you’ll see the roads jammed from here to the Space Coast with cars of tourists because they want to be able to see the lift-off of one of the rockets. But we know the secret. We do not have to drive over there. We just keep the TV on, and as soon as they announce the launch, we do not have to watch it on TV. We just walk outside.

How many of you have done that—just walked out and watched the launch? You can watch it from your front yard. You can stand there and see the rocket go up. It is an amazing thing. You never get tired of seeing it, do you? How long do you watch it? When I watch it, I watch until the last contrail disappears and I cannot see it anymore. I say, “That’s amazing.”

That is what the disciples were like, only it was not a rocket ship they were watching. They were watching the King of kings going to His coronation. They were watching it, and two angels appeared to them with a question: “Men of Galilee, what are you doing? Why are you standing here gazing into Heaven? This same Jesus, who is departed from you before your very eye today, will return in the same manner as He departed. He will return in glory. In the meantime, it’s time to go to work, fulfilling the Great Commission.”

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.