The Disciples Thought That the Kingdom of God = the Kingdom of Israel
Whatever the disciples understood about the kingdom of God and the role of their Messiah, as the book of Acts opens, they still thought the kingdom was about a restoration of the political fortunes of the physical nation of Israel:
WEB Luke 24:21 But we were hoping that it was he who would redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.
We see this same thought from the Eleven in Acts 1:
WEB Acts 1:6 Therefore when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?"
It's of note that Jesus did not correct their misunderstanding, but left them (and Luke's readers) believing the kingdom would be restored to physical Israel in the future.
The Resurrection Is a Physical Resurrection, not Spiritual
Some might object that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven, but this phrase appears to be an idiom referring to corruptible flesh and blood. The same phrase, “flesh and blood”, is also used in Heb 2:14, where it seems to refer to a deathly condition which humans were not created for but were made to share in. At any rate, Jesus stressed that he was flesh and bone, a real re-animated “It’s really me” which the disciples had known before he was executed, that ate and drank with them over a period of forty days after his resurrection. And it was this physical Jesus who went into heaven, not leaving a rotting physical body behind.
WEB Luke 24:2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They entered in, and didn't find the Lord Jesus' body.
The angels stressed that he was living, and thus not in the tomb, explaining the absence of a body:
WEB Luke 24:5b They said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He isn't here, but is risen.
WEB Luke 24:39 “See my hands and my feet, that it is truly me. Touch me and see, for a spirit doesn't have flesh and bones, as you see that I have."
WEB Luke 24:43 He took [food], and ate in front of them.
All this was in response to the disciples supposing they were seeing a spirit (Luke 24:37).
This body was more than just physical though; it could appear in a different form (Mark 16:12), teleport from one location (Luke 24:31) to another, through locked doors (John 20:19), and fly into heaven without aid of space-craft or -suit (Acts 1:9). His body, perhaps like Adam's before he sinned, causing it to become subject to corruption, is physi-spiritual.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he took his raised, physi-spiritual body with him. It was not left behind, and ever since he was raised from death, it was impossible for him to again die (Rom 6:9), or for his body to see corruption (Acts 2:31).
The Disciples Worshiped Jesus
The word “worship” (Greek proskenuo) is a verb that specifically refers to bowing or bending or prostrating one’s self in a submitting manner, as you may have seen Muslims do on their prayer rugs as they bow until their face is on the ground; this is the literal meaning of proskenuo. It does not refer to having a feeling (adoration), nor does it refer to any other action, such as singing or praying or giving or making a burnt-offering. Whereas those things can be a result of a worshipful spirit, they are not, in and of themselves, “worship”; they are different verbs from “bowing”, just as “running” is a different verb than “talking”.
Technically you can not “worship in song” (although you can “praise in song”); you can only “worship” in submissive bowing; that’s what the word means. Nor are you worshiping because you are singing; you may be (and should be) worshiping while you are singing, but in so doing, you are doing two different things at the same time; singing is different than worshiping; they are two different verbs. You can wrap your brain around this a little better if you’ll get in the habit of mentally substituting the Greek meaning of the word, something like “bow submissively”, whenever you come across the English rendering of “worship”. For example, “They bowed in submission to him”. This bypasses the influence and bias of the translators and gets you closer to the Greek as God originally inspired it.
It is also instructive to note that Jesus said that submissive bowing was no longer a matter of physically bowing in the location of this church-house on this mountain or in that church-house across the street, but in the location of one’s spirit, in a real, truthful manner. And when should you not be bowing submissively, in truth, to God, in your spirit? Mowing your lawn is not worship; those are two different verbs. But while mowing, your spirit should be bowing submissively to God. You can, and should, worship and mow at the same time, just as you can, and should, sing and worship at the same time. Conversely, you can not hold up a bank and worship at the same time; while these are still different verbs from one another, they are also mutually exclusive from one another.
These disciples knew that their worship was to be reserved for YHWH God and him only. They had come to understand Jesus in a new way, as had Thomas:
WEB John 20:28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
WEB Luke 24:52 They worshiped him....
Jesus Teaches a Four-fold Division of the Bible, not a Two-fold One
Our modern-day Bibles are divided into two main divisions, the Old and New Testaments. But that's not how Jesus divides the scriptures. He divides them into:
- "My words" (the NT)
- The Law (or Torah)
- The Prophets (or Nevi'im)
- The Psalms (or Ketuvim, or Writings (which includes just about everything else that's not the Torah or the Prophets))
The three divisions of what our Bibles erroneously label as "Old Testament" are sometimes referred to by the initials of their Hebrew names, TNK, and pronounced as TaNahK (tah-nahk).
The old testament (or better, in more modern English, old covenant) is not all 39 books of our "Old Testament", but only that portion between about Exodus 12 and the end of Deuteronomy.
- The promise to Abraham came 430 years before the old covenant was established (Gal 3:17).
- The definition of marriage taught by Jesus (Matt 19:4-7) was not his fiat declaration, but an appeal to scripture that was contrasted with that old covenant (Matt 19:7-8), and which was unaffected when that old covenant became of none effect.
- The old covenant was written and sealed in a book, to which nothing could be added, a book that was lost for years and found again later during the days of the Kings (2 Kings 22). Obviously then, the events of this losing and finding could not be part of that sealed covenant.
- The old covenant was made when God led his people out of Israel, according to God's own definition hundreds of years later when he spoke through Jeremiah (Jer 31:31ff). Obviously then, the words of Jeremiah, coming hundreds of years later, were not part of that old covenant.
- The psalms, while collected into book form while the old covenant was in effect, were not themselves part of that covenant, and like the creation definition of marriage before it, were unaffected when that old covenant became of no effect. In fact, the psalms are used often in the NT as authoritative teaching material, such as in Acts 1, and we are even told to use psalms in our teaching of one another (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).
This usage of the phrase "rightly divide the word" is commonly used as I have used it here, but the reader should be aware that this usage is not what is meant in 2 Tim 2:15. But this incorrect usage serves my point, so I'm taking the liberty to use it as many of us have understood it for generations.
When we divide our Bibles into two divisions, we fail to "rightly divide the word".
The Holy Spirit, in Various "Measures"
One might remember that the Greek word for "breath", pneuma, is the same as that for "spirit". Although the passage below is not from Luke, it's interesting to read:
WEB John 20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit!"
In doing this, Jesus is declaring that his air, his breath, his spirit, is the Holy Spirit, and that he is giving a portion of this Holy Spirit to the disciples. Jesus goes on to tell them that in not many days, they will be baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5).
This baptism in the Holy Spirit was different, at least in amount, than the giving of the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them. I'm not confident we can say it was different in type. The miniscule amount of radiation you'd get from standing next to a microwave oven is much smaller than what you'd get standing in the core of a nuclear power plant, but it's the same type. It's the same radiation, but different doses, with vastly different results. Likewise, the Holy Spirit you have as a Christian is the same as what the disciples had on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, but in a different dose.
It's instructive to note that when one is baptized in water, they get thoroughly inundated, being submerged completely in the water. But they don't stay submerged, or even wet. Baptism changes their status permanently, but it changes their state only for a short while; very soon, they become dry.
Likewise, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, poured out on those disciples, changed their status permanently, but didn't necessarily change their state; by and large, their ability to speak in tongues was something that happened to them "at the beginning", as Peter relates years later (Acts 11:15).
Promise, What Promise?
Jesus tells the disciples that they will receive the promise of the Father. He says it's the promise they've already heard of from him (Acts 1:4). In John 14, 15, and 16, Jesus promises to send to them a Counselor, the Holy Spirit, after he leaves them, who will both remind them of what he had taught/said (14:26), and inform them of what is coming (16:13). Now just before he leaves them, he speaks of a promise of the Father, in essentially the same breath that he speaks of them being empowered from above (Luke 24:49) and being baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).
The disciples, however, seem to be associating this promise with the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Paul later speaks of being on trial for holding to the hope of the promise made by God, a hope for which "the twelve tribes" were working earnestly in order to obtain (Acts 26:6-7).
Between these two times (just before the Ascension, and years later at one of Paul's trials), in Acts 2, Peter seems to associate the promise with more than just the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the speaking in tongues, but also with the restoration of peace and freedom and prosperity to Israel, and also with a salvation of a remnant. He quotes from Joel 2, which speaks of all these things. It seems that few Christians realize that Acts 2:39 is a continuation of that quotation from Joel 2. In his speech, Peter refers to receiving the Holy Spirit, and then to "the promise [which] is to you and to all whom God calls", followed by a reference to being saved. All these points come from Joel.
Peter had Joel in mind, and he knew his quotations would cause his listeners to think of Joel.
It would appear then that Peter understood this promise to be the whole package mentioned by Joel: the restoration of Israel, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all, and salvation for all who are called by God.
Having said that, it should be stressed that the text simply isn't clear as to what this promise is.
Welcoming the Gentiles
When Jesus told the disciples that they would be his witnesses to all nations (Luke 24:47; Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8), this was revolutionary. In Jewish thinking, "the Nations", that is, everyone who was not Jewish, had no part in the coming restoration of the Israelite nation, and no part in the coming Messianic age (except as subjects), and no part in salvation. But here Jesus was telling his disciples that repentance and remission of sins in his name is for the whole creation, not just for the Jews. The disciples didn't get it yet; they didn't even start to get it until years later, in Acts 10, and some time later still Peter still needed a public scolding to remind him of this new acceptance of the Gentiles.
Even more revolutionary, Jesus said nothing about circumcising these Gentiles, these non-Jews, but only mentioned baptizing them.
Had the disciples realized at this point what Jesus was saying, about welcoming non-Jews into the kingdom, they likely would have been overwhelmed.
A New Gospel Message
Reading through the Gospel accounts we see several "Gospels" taught by Jesus.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
When Jesus began his ministry, he preached the good news ("Gospel") that the kingdom of God had arrived. Israel considered this as good news, because they likely understood this as the fulfillment of a promise from God to restore to Israel her "rightful" place as a nation free from foreign influence, and even more, as the world power. Their understanding would have made this not good news to "the Nations" (non-Israelite/Jewish nations), who would be defeated/crushed by this Kingdom of God. This good news according was only preached to Israel, not to the Gentiles:
WEB Matt 15:24 But he answered, “I wasn’t sent to anyone but the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
WEB Matt 10:5 Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. 6 Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’"
This good news of the kingdom arriving was the first "Gospel" which Jesus preached.
The Gospel of Physical Redemption
The first public sermon by Jesus, which Luke records as the beginning of his ministry, announced good news to the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind, the crushed (Luke 4:16-21).
This good news of healing the physical ills of society was also an early "Gospel" preached by Jesus.
The Gospel of Spiritual Redemption
Even when people mistreated the Messiah, his response was not retaliation against them, but to say, "[T]he Son of Man didn't come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:56).
It seems the devil also expected the promised Messiah ("the oil-anointed Appointed One") to be a political figure, as one of his temptations of Jesus was centered around such.
It would seem that early in his ministry, Jesus was hinting that the Messiah, the Son of Man, might have something to do with the non-Jewish nations, in that one of his first offensive (to the Jews) statements pointed out that Elijah ministered to non-Jews when there were plenty of Jews around needing help (Luke 4:23ff).
This affinity for the Gentiles was heightened when Jesus sailed to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and spent time at a Gentile city there.
Luke, in his first book, points out that Jesus associates with sinners, not "churchy" people, and is offensive to the standard Jewish "churchiness", challenging their views about the Sabbath, and blessing the poor and sad and down-trodden while woe-ing the well-to-do "in" folks.
This good newsof healing the spiritual ills of society was an early "Gospel" preached by Jesus.
The New Message of the Gospel of the Remission of Sins
Now, on the cusp of the arrival of the promised new covenant, Jesus announces a "Gospel" of a different sort, the good newsof repentance and remission of sins in his name.
WEB Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures. 46 He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
This remission of sins was not truly available via the blood of bulls and goats (Heb 10:4), but only via the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
The Gospel That Gentiles are Welcome
As mentioned above, just before his ascension, Jesus tells the disciples that his salvation of Israel also includes the Gentiles. Later, Paul expands on this, saying that this good news was preached to Abraham, but yet was a mystery hidden throughout the ages until the first century:/p>
WEB Gal 3:8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Good News beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you all the nations will be blessed.
WEB Eph 3:4 ...[Y]ou can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the children of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, 6 that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of his promise in Christ Jesus through the Good News...".
WEB Col 1:26 [T]he mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations ... has been revealed to his saints ... which is Christ in you...".
WEB Rom 14:24 ...[M]y Good News ... which has been kept secret through long ages, 25 but now is revealed ... is made known for obedience of faith to all the nations...".
The Gospel That There is a Resurrection
This is the good news that most people think of when asked to define “the Gospel”, although they usually stop their definition after the resurrection of Jesus,without including the good news of the resurrection of the rest of us.
WEB 1 Cor 15:3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers at once, most of whom remain until now, but some have also fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all, as to the child born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. ... 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruit of those who are asleep. ... 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. ... 52b For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must become imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable body will have become imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?” ... 57 [T]hanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul says at one of his trials that is it this very message for which he was on trial:
WEB Acts 23b "Concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”
The Original Disciples Never Stopped Being Jews
This is an important point, one which many post-first-century Christians miss (or refuse to see).
For a week after Jesus ascended, and continuing on for years thereafter, the disciples were continually in the Jewish temple, praising and blessing God (Luke 24:53). The normal Temple activities, especially the feast-day activities in the first few days of the church's beginning, were going on in this temple wherein the very first church of Christ assembled and praised God, including the burning of incense, instrumental music, and animal sacrifices. These disciples felt no need to remove themselves from these activities.
Later New Testament texts affirm that these disciples still kept the law of Moses zealously, as well as all the Jewish customs, and that Paul himself, decades after his conversion, walked according to the Law, kept Nazirite vows, ended those vows with animal sacrifices, participated in temple purification rituals, and proclaimed himself to be a Pharisee (speaking in present, not past, tense), and that he was arrested while trying to prove that he was not teaching the Jews to stop keeping the law of Moses or their customs (Acts 8:18; 21:17-end of Acts).
As Jews, they considered the Seven Feasts of Israel to be significant. Those feasts bear a closer look.
Feast of Passover, the First of Seven Feasts
In first-century Judea, the Passover Feast had undergone some changes from how God had originally instituted it. Originally the lamb was to be slain by families, and eaten in homes (Ex 12:3ff). Hundreds of years later, the slaying of the lamb moved to the Temple courts, to be done by the priests (cf Ezra 6:17). Hundreds of years later, there was a mix of these two, with those who kept Passover in the homes (such as Jesus and his twelve) eating their Passover meal after dark as the Passover day was starting in the evening, and those who kept Passover at the Temple (such as the ultra-religious Pharisees and the Sadducees) eating it at the close of the Passover day about 24 hours later. This is why you see hints in the NT of Jesus eating the Passover before he was arrested (Luke 22), and his arrestors being wary of getting "dirty" and thus being unable to eat the Passover after he was arrested (John 18:28).
Over the next few years, the Holy Spirit would enable the disciples to realize that Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7), having been sacrificed on the day of Passover, and that he was the fulfillment of the first of the Seven Holy Feast Days of Israel.
Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Second of Seven Feasts
The next day after Passover was the beginning of the second, unrelated feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The first and last days of this seven-day week were "high" (or "special") Sabbaths (Ex 12:16), which may or may not have fallen on Saturday, the normal weekly Sabbath. It was the first of these "high Sabbaths" (John 19:31) that compelled the Jews to ask Pilate to take down the bodies from the crosses. Two days later was the regular weekly Sabbath, and Jesus then rose from the dead on the following day, the third day of burial, and the first day of the week, our Sunday.
When Jesus broke bread later that day, it was unleavened bread, being as it was the middle of the week of that feast. Over the next few years, the Holy Spirit would enable the disciples to remember that Jesus had said he was the bread of life, sinless (without "leaven"), and they would consider him to be the fulfillment of the second of the Seven Holy Feast Days of Israel.
Feast of First Fruits, the Third of Seven Feasts
That resurrection day wasn't just any Sunday; it was the "next day after the Sabbath" (Lev 23:11) during the week of Unleavened Bread, marking the Feast of First Fruits. Over the next few years, the Holy Spirit would enable the disciples to realize that Jesus was the firstfruits of resurrection (1 Cor 15:20,23), the fulfillment of the third of the Seven Holy Feast Days of Israel.
This is where the book of Luke wraps up, and where the book of Acts begins.
Feast of Pentecost, the Fourth of Seven Feasts
Just forty-seven days later would be the next, the fourth, of the Seven Holy Feast Days of Israel. Forty of these days are spent by the disciples in further training with the Messiah after his resurrection. Jesus leaves the disciples just seven days shy of the Feast of Pentecost, after telling them to wait in Jerusalem, when not many days hence they would be clothed with power from on High (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5).
Note that on the first Pentecost, when the Law of Moses was inaugurated, the event was attended by fire and loud noises. In Korah’s rebellion, about 3000 souls were removed from God's people.
On this Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Law of Christ (a prophet like unto Moses) was inaugurated, the event was attended by tongues as of fire and the sound of a rushing wind. About 3000 souls were added to God's people.
Just For Completeness - the Last Three Feasts
Although not really very relevant to the book of Acts, it just seems wrong to mention the first four feasts without completing the list of all seven.
As mentioned above, the fourth feast was the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus fulfilled all four of these on their respective days of observance. Although no one knows the day or hour of Jesus' return, one can't help but wonder if the last three feasts will see a similarly-timely fulfillment.
The Feasts of Trumpets
Keep your ears tuned for the sound of a trumpet.
The Day of Atonement
There is coming a day of atonement, the salvation of Israel, who although currently enemies of the good news (so that we Gentiles could be brought into the family), are still God's elect, because that's the irrevocable promise God made out of love to the fathers of Israel; they're currently disobedient, but they too will be shown mercy. God's ways are inscrutable. (Rom 11)
The Feast of Tabernacles
We groan to be clothed with our new, eternal, tabernacles (1 Cor 5:1ff).