I was one of those who’d read the end of a book first.
Perhaps you can identify. The tension of the story would be so great or I’d find the story so tedious, I’d flip to the last few chapters and see how it ended. This removed the tension, tediousness, and allowed me to choose whether or not I’d read what was in the middle. Often I would go back and read the entire book.
It’s part of our human nature: the future can be scary because we don’t know it. By it’s nature, it’s unknown to us. That can be very intimidating. The fog of the future can cause great fear for today.
Two weeks ago, we started a nine part series on Acts 1:6-8. Continuing this trip, we’re focusing on verse seven. In its context, here it is:
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Their collective passion for a territorial, national, and immediate restoration of the Davidic Kingdom of Israel (verse six) was now set at some point in the future.
In this one statement by Jesus, the Apostles’ unbridled passion felt the uneasiness of uncertainty: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
He corrected their obsession with times and dates by completely removing it from the conversation; these times were not for the Apostles to know. They were not to engage in some cosmic countdown. They were not set a doomsday clock. Jesus knew that if He had revealed that to them (and subsequently to us), we would do just that: set our clocks and wait for it to unwind. Instead, Jesus reminded them these were dates that were set by the authority of the Father.
Imagine how the Apostles felt:
- They were called out from among all of Israel to be his Apostles.
- They were there when Jesus healed the sick, made the lame walk again, gave sight to the blind, and opened deaf ears.
- They were with Him with He rode the donkey into Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday.
- They were ready then to remove the Romans from Israel and set it free.
- They were there when He said, “this is my body…”
- They were there when He said, “this is my blood…”
- They were there when Judas kissed Jesus and said, “greetings Teacher…”
- They were there when Jesus was arrested.
- They saw Him beaten.
- They saw Him crucified.
- They saw Him alive again.
- For the better part of the forty days between the resurrection and the ascension, they were with Jesus.
- And now, at the moment when the world would have absolutely no doubt that this was the Messiah of Israel—the very Son of God, Jesus pulled the rug out from under them and said, “the Kingdom of God will not happen that way…”
Wow. Initiative gave way to intimidation. We can identify with their issue: what’s unknown to us often intimidates us.
The mission they felt so ready to accomplish by riding Jesus’ coattails was now being cast into the unknown. What would happen? Jesus rose from the dead, why delay? What do we do? Now what? There must have been so many questions in their minds and hearts as Jesus popped their bubble.
As the true, faithful remnant of Israel, the Apostles and early church would fulfill Israel’s mission to be a “light for the Gentiles” so that God’s salvation might reach “to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). In short, to speculate on times and dates is an exercise in futility. The Lord’s return does not revolve around such speculation, but around the Father’s own purposes. And those purposes embrace the salvation of the world.
The mission, in their minds, was to establish Jesus’ kingdom (in which they wanted to enjoy places of honor at His right and left sides). But Jesus was reminding His church of another truth in the journey with His message: we trust the ending up to Him to avoid the intimidation that would cripple us to inaction.
Keep walking. Don’t be intimidated. He’s already written the ending, and the best is yet to come.