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Acts 1:3 by Robert Dean
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 35 secs

The Kingdom of God (Part 1). Acts 1:3

 

As Luke opens up Acts he addresses it to the same person that the Gospel was addressed, a man by the name of Theophilus. So this is really the Gospel of Luke part two, or the Gospel of Luke is Acts part one. It is all just part one and part two of the same story by the same writer. As Luke is writing to Theophilus, especially at the beginning, there are terms and phrases that are used that assume that we know something from having already read part one. That is true of the phrase that we will run into now.

Acts 1:3 NASB "To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over {a period of} forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." The period of forty days takes place between the day of the resurrection to Pentecost. Pentecost was fifty days after Passover and there is a period of ten days left over between the ascension and the day of Pentecost when the church actually began. During that time Jesus was giving instructions and was teaching the apostles "things concerning the kingdom of God." This is a phrase there is a lot of discussion about and controversy over. Because it comes up a few more times in Acts and is fundamental to understanding the ministry of Peter and John and the apostles in the first section of Acts when there is still a heavy Jewish emphasis we have to understand what is going on in this phrase "the kingdom of God."

The Greek word for "kingdom" that is used is basileia [basileia] and it refers to a royal administration or ruling over an entity. So it always involves the authority to rule, it always involves a group of people who are ruled over, and it involves the ruler himself. These three things have to come together in order for there to be a kingdom.

The usage of the term "kingdom of God." The phrase occurs 33 times in the Gospel of Luke; the word "kingdom" by itself is used another 12 times. So that is 45 times that there is a reference to the kingdom in the Gospel of Luke. In Acts it is only used seven times, and most of that is in the early part of the book; but in Acts 28 it is mentioned in vv. 23 & 30. So there is this thread that runs through Acts related to the things, the doctrines concerning the kingdom. Why is that so important? The phrase "kingdom of God" is used 70 times in the New Testament; the word "kingdom" is used 158 times. But when we break that down we see that 127 of those times it is used in the Gospels, so the emphasis in this word is in the Gospels and not so much in the epistles. In Matthew the phrase "kingdom" is used 55 times, and there is also the phrase "kingdom of heaven." Some older dispensationalists used to stress that there was a difference between the two. However the phrase "kingdom of heaven" is only used by Matthew and in parallel passages in Mark and Luke the phrase "kingdom of God" is used rather than "kingdom of heaven." It doesn't appear that there is a significance to the difference other than in relationship to the audience to whom Matthew was writing, and Matthew was writing a Gospel that was primarily oriented to a Jewish audience to answer the question: if Jesus was really the Messiah why didn't the kingdom come in?

Most of the time when we hear people talk about Matthew the focus is: Matthew is writing to present Jesus as the Messiah, the King. He is doing that but even more so he is answering the question: because Jesus is the Messiah and we expect the King, why didn't the King come in? One of the phrases used from the Old Testament related to the kingdom has to do with the kingdom of heaven, so this would have significance more for a Jewish audience than a Gentile audience.

To understand this word, being Theophilus, where do you go to figure out what this word meant? You would go to Luke. Luke had already written concerning the birth and the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first time we see the phrase in Luke is 1:33 NASB "and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." This is in the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary concerning the fact that she would soon give birth to a son, and the role ministry of that son. This initial announcement that tells us about the role and the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ is important because it focuses on two aspects of a kingdom: the throne and the operation of the authority which is to reign over a people. From the very beginning we see that He is given the throne of His father David, and so that tells us that we have to go even further back in order to get an understanding of the significance of His kingdom. We have to go back to the Davidic covenant and the promises that were made subsequent to the Davidic covenant that in the Old Testament all point to a ruling and reigning Messiah. When Gabriel announces this to Mary she already has a frame of reference for understanding what he is talking about because of her knowledge of the Old Testament.

The first thing that Gabriel said was that He would be called Yeshua (Heb.), which comes from the verb Yasha meaning to deliver or to save. It is the same root as in the name Joshua and so this indicates His purpose in His human life: that He has come to save His people. Secondly, Gabriel says that He will be great, magnified. Third, he says that he will be called the Son of the Most High. This is really important to understand because the phrase "Most High" in the Septuagint which is normally used in the Septuagint to translate the phrase El Elyon, the tile "God the Most High" in the Hebrew and indicates full deity. When Son of" in front of this, this is a typical Hebrew idiom not who one's father was but the point that he has the same identical characteristics. So Son of the Most High means He, Jesus, had the identical characteristics, all of the attributes of the Most High. We will come back to the term "Son of Man" where there is that same emphasis, that He is full humanity. So these phrases "Son of God" and "Son of Man" are titles that talk about the attributes and characteristics that are very special to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then fourth, he states that He will be given the throne of His father David. That is important because of the promise that God made to David in the Davidic covenant, that his dynasty would be established forever and his kingdom would be established forever, and the only way there can be an eternal dynasty and an eternal kingdom is if there is a person who rules who is eternal; He will not die. So this is the first hint or foreshadowing of the fact that the person who will reign on the throne of David will be something other than a finite human; He will be eternal.

He will be given the throne of His father David. That takes us back to the Davidic covenant and promise in 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89:3, 4; Psalm 89:28, 29. The verses in Psalm 89 is a meditation on the Davidic covenant. Then we are told that He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. "House of Jacob" is an alternate name for Israel. Jacob was given the name Israel by God later in life after he had wrestled with the angel at Penuel at his return back to the land after his years up north with Laban. But when Jacob is dying and he gives a prophecy for each of his sons he makes a statement concerning one son, Judah. Genesis 49:10 NASB "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh [Messiah] comes, And to him {shall be} the obedience of the peoples." This is the first real hint of an ongoing ruler and a kingdom. This indicates, again, the eternality of this kingdom. The last thing the angel said was that His kingdom will never end, also a reference back to the key passage on the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7:13-16.

So the first time that we have word "kingdom" mentioned in Luke is in the announcement of the birth of Jesus by the angel Gabriel, and it makes it clear that He is going to come and will rule over a physical kingdom that is connected to the kingdom of David. If you are Jewish and you hear at this time about the kingdom of David what is going to be your frame of reference? You are going to think about a physical, geographical, social, economic kingdom on the earth, just like only greater than what David and Solomon had. This takes us back to a literal understanding of the kingdom.

The second use of "kingdom" in the Gospel of Luke is found in chapter four. Luke 4:43 NASB "But He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose." The other cities that He is speaking about here are in Galilee and Judea. He is not talking about proclaiming the kingdom outside of Israel. He is talking this kingdom message and it is focused on the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It is not focused on the Gentiles.

What is the kingdom of God? That is really the $64,000 question. This is a term that has really been bandied about both within strict evangelicalism and outside of Christianity where there are various false ideas and philosophies that have been influenced by Christianity, but they have really distorted and warped the idea of the kingdom so that it basically becomes some sort of utopia. This especially happened in the 19th century as a result of the influence of Protestant liberalism that came out of Europe. The term "kingdom of God" became shifted away from its historical literal roots in the Old Testament to refer to something spiritual, something that was subjective, or something that was a socio-economic kingdom that man would bring in through his own efforts. 

Some of the false concepts:

1.  The first is that the phrase "kingdom of God" is simply a synonym for heaven, the eternal state. In this view there is really no physical or material aspect to it. Jesus isn't coming back to Jerusalem; He isn't going to sit on a literal throne and rule over a specific space-time kingdom, and that Jesus is out there somewhere in heaven and the kingdom just refers to going to heaven. This really plays havoc with understanding and interpreting the Scriptures. If the kingdom meant a literal kingdom at one time and now it means something else, then how do we ever find any kind of stability in our understanding of Scripture.

2.  That this refers to a purely earthly socio-economic utopia brought in through human means. Marx picked up on this idea of this kind of utopic state and sort of massaged it and brought it into his Marxist philosophy that eventually the workers will overcome the capitalists and bring in the utopic state. This was picked up in what was called the social gospel at the end of the 19th century. Liberal theology and the social gospel movement stared to pick up socialistic ideas for social justice, various Marxist ideas, and the idea that the role of the church is to bring in the kingdom. This is a liberal post-millennial view rather than a conservative post-millennial view—evangelicals who believe in the Bible, that it is the literal Word of God, but they just believe that Jesus comes at the end of the Millennium, that the church will bring it in but it is done through the power of the Holy Spirit, it is not a manipulative thing. But in the liberal view of post-millennialism it done through government, social programs, the church's primary mission is to solve the problems of poverty, disease, etc. It comes out of the late 19th century and it fits within the rise of progressivism that was taking place at the same time. It borrows the idea of a future perfect state but then it twists it into something that is different.

3.  Another view of the kingdom of God looks at it just in terms of a nationalist hope for Israel, a pure nationalist movement based on the state of Israel. There is no spiritual dimension to it at all, it is just a nationalist movement for establishing the state of Israel.

4.  A view we may run into among some evangelicals is that the kingdom of God refers to the visible organized church: anyone who claims to be a Christian and this includes both believers and unbelievers. This is based on the parable of the wheat and tares. This is also a wrong view of the idea of the kingdom.

5.  Then there is the view that the kingdom of God is just a spiritual kingdom where Christ rules in the hearts of men. There is no literal physical kingdom whatsoever, it is just a sort of Christ is ruling from heaven and He is ruling through the hearts of men today until eventually He returns.

Sometimes these will be mixed together but they are the basic ones.

If we are going to think about a kingdom there are some basic inherent concepts: three key things that are part of the idea of having a kingdom:

1.  The right to rule or the authority, the sovereignty or the dominion of the ruler over a domain. It may not be exercised yet but what you just have is the authority that is given to a ruler. For example, Luke 19:11-17 we have a parable that Jesus tells of a nobleman who goes off to a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and then he will return. So he is given the authority when he goes off to the far country but he doesn't have the domain yet until he returns. That is a very important parable for understanding the principle that Jesus is going to leave and go to heaven at the ascension and when he is gone He will be given the authority but it is not until He returns and exercises that authority that there will be the kingdom. This is an important parable showing that we are not in any form of the kingdom today. The kingdom is something that is future. The idea is that someone is invested with authority to rule but they are not exercising it yet.

2.  A domain or realm. There is a realm and then there are people, subjects to rule over. Matthew 21:43; Mark 1:15 talk about the people that will be in the kingdom or the people that won't be in the kingdom. Then in Acts 1:6 NASB "So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, 'Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?'" The Lord doesn't answer that. He doesn't say no, you're wrong, there isn't going to be a kingdom; He says it is not for you to know the times or the seasons. This kingdom of God that Jesus is talking about is a restoration or reestablishment of a previously existing kingdom, it has a connection to something that already happened in the past. So they are connecting it to the historic rule of the house of David in the Old Testament.

3.  It is a realm that is ruled in reality. In other words, it is not just a potential or possible rule. When the nobleman goes off to a far country and is invested with the authority it is not until it is activated or exercised that there is a kingdom. That parable was based on a real historical situation. When Herod Antipas went to Rome after the death of Herod to get the authority to come back and rule (because Herod's will was all messed up) he was given the authority but it was not until he returned that he exercised his authority that he really had the operation of a kingdom.

The next thing we have to understand about the kingdom of God is that there are two different ways in which this is discussed in Scripture. First, that it refers to the eternal, timeless authority of God over creation:  that God is sovereign. He rules over His creation, it is part of His authority as the creator. But within human history there is the manifestation of God's rule and what we refer to as a theocracy, which literally means the rule of God over His people. There are two periods in the Old Testament where there is a direct theocracy. One is in the Garden of Eden and the other is in the early history of Israel from the time of Mount Sinai until 1 Samuel chapter eight when Israel rejected the rulership of God and wanted to have a king like all of the other nations.

It is timeless. Psalm 10:16 NASB "The LORD is King forever and ever; Nations have perished from His land." Psalm 74:12 NASB "Yet God is my king from of old, Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth." This is not related to the idea of the Davidic kingship, this is just related to God's general rulership authority over His creation. Jeremiah 10:10 NASB "But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, And the nations cannot endure His indignation." Psalm 145:13 NASB "Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion {endures} throughout all generations." Lamentations 5:19 NASB "You, O LORD, rule forever; Your throne is from generation to generation." The throne here is not talking about the Davidic throne, it is talking about the throne of God the Father in heaven.

This is a universal reign, it is not limited to a reign over the house of Israel and the house of Judah which was the reign of the Davidic king. Psalm 103:19 NASB "The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all." Psalm 139:7-10 NASB "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me." God is omnipresent and so His kingdom extends to everything in His creation.

Daniel chapter four has two or three key statements. This is the chapter where God challenged the arrogance of Nebuchadnezzar who thought that he was the great ruler and had all of this power from his own effort. So God humbled him by turning him into basically an animal for seven years. The purpose of this was to teach Nebuchadnezzar that he ruled by the authority of God. Daniel 4:16 NASB "Let his mind be changed from {that of} a man And let a beast's mind be given to him, And let seven periods of time pass over him. [17] This sentence is by the decree of the {angelic} watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men." This is the overall universal rulership of God the Father. [25] "that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes." So no ruler, whether they are elected by a democratic election or whether they are appointed in some other fashion, no ruler rules unless it is under the sovereign will of God. [32] "and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place {will be} with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes."

Amos 9:2 NASB "Though they dig into Sheol, From there will My hand take them; And though they ascend to heaven, From there will I bring them down." All of this is to emphasize the rule of God as timeless and universal. That is one meaning of the word "kingdom."

Then we have another period which is described by Jesus in His parables in Matthew 13—the parable of the sower, the parable of the wheat and the tares, the parable of the pearl of great price, and several others—and they all talk about different mysteries of the kingdom. What is important to understand here is that in some English translations there is the translation "mystery form of the kingdom." What kingdom are they talking about? They are talking about the Messianic kingdom. So are we talking about a form of the kingdom or just about previously undisclosed information about the kingdom? He is talking about mysteries or something that hasn't been disclosed. What He is revealing at that point is that the kingdom has been postponed because in the previous chapter the Pharisees and the Sadducees had accused Him of using the power of Satan to do all of His miracles and this indicated the ultimate rejection by the people of the offer of the kingdom. So starting in Matthew 13 Jesus begins to cloak His teaching in parables so that those who are negative won't understand what He is talking about and those who are positive will understand and respond to the truth. Now He is going to talk about the fact that before the kingdom comes some other things are going to happen, and he is going to describe the characteristics of the intervening period of time between the time of the ascension and the time that He returns and establishes His kingdom. So this is the period of the mysteries, the church age. Then when Jesus returns at the Second Advent He will establish His kingdom. This is when there will be a King who has been given the authority by God to rule, the people over whom He will rule, i.e. those who have believed in the gospel, and there is a domain which is the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the twelve tribes are given their new allotments in the Millennial kingdom based on the divisions given in Ezekiel chapters 40-42. Then there is the last phase of the eternal theocratic kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth. 

Then there is the provision of an eternal dynastic rule, and that is really the foundation for understanding all of the prophecies in the Old Testament that point to a future Jewish kingdom that is ruled from Jerusalem by this person who is referred to as the Messiah. The use of the word Mashiach, the Hebrew word for Messiah, which means anointed or appointed one, and it is translated into Greek with the Greek word for anointed appointed one, christos [xristoj]. This term emphasizes Jesus as the anointed one but the use of the phrase Mashiach for this Davidic ruler is limited to only four or five or six passages in the Old Testament. That doesn't diminish its significance but He is usually referred to in terms of His role as the son of David, as the one who comes from the root of Jesse, the one who will fulfill this Davidic covenant. So the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7 is extremely important.

If we are not well grounded in the Old Testament then it is very difficult to understand a lot of things that are going on in the New Testament because it is assumed by the Gospel writers and assumed by Jesus when he comes that the Jewish people have a grasp of all of the Old Testament. 

The prediction of an eternal ruler. In 2 Samuel 7 God is going to enter into a covenant with David, and He addresses David and instructs Nathan to go and tell him he was not going to let him build a temple, a house for Me; instead I am going to build a house or dynasty for you.

2 Samuel 7:8-12 NASB "Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth. I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom." This is a reference to Solomon indicating that this kingdom now is going to, in terms of the immediate succession, come from David to Solomon.

2 Samuel 7:13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." This establishes the principle of this eternal kingdom. So the throne of his kingdom indicates his authority. [14] "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, [15] but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took {it} away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. [16] Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever." That is the key verse. So there is this eternal dynasty and eternal kingdom promised to David. This is the foundation for everything that comes later. As part of this there is the prediction of a divine Messiah. There are several passages that talk about this. Psalm 2:2 is prophetic, it refers to a future event that will occur when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to the earth and it depicts all of the kingdoms on the earth aligned with the Antichrist coming together in an alliance against the Lord, i.e. Yahweh, God the Father, and against the Meshiach. But often the Messiah is only referred to in terms of rulership and the Davidic covenant. For example, in Isaiah 9:6, 7 NASB "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of {His} government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this."

Birth indicates the birth of a human being. The term "son" here indicates something that goes beyond simply a human. "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace" are phrases that are used and applied only to God in the Old Testament. "Everlasting Father" (in some versions) is a mistranslation. Literally in the Hebrew it means "Father of eternity." It is a phrase for describing the eternal one. So this human child that is born is going to be called Mighty God, Father of Eternity or Eternal One, and Prince of Peace, indicating that He is more than simply a human. He is true humanity but also pure deity. He is going to be divine and human, and He is a descendant of David and will sit on David's throne.

The second passage in Isaiah is 11:1, 10 NASB "Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit." The stem of Jesse indicates that the root of Jesse has somehow been cut off and then there is a restoration that occurs because the Old Testament Davidic line gets basically stunted. There would be the Babylonian captivity and then a Branch grows out of those roots, which is a reference to the Messiah. "Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious." Now we see that this future kingdom doesn't just have a Jewish orientation but it is also going to reach out to the Gentiles.