PRINCIPLES AND METHODS

Chapter 10



AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE VALUE OF CONTEXT

THROUGH A STUDY OF THE PASSAGE ACTS 1:4-8

What did the apostles have in mind when they asked the question recorded in Acts 1:6? It is usually assumed that their question was ill timed and inappropriate because of the answer Jesus gave them in verse 7. The normal conclusion is that they were anticipating a restoration of the political, physical nation of Israel, in contrast to the immediate concern of Jesus, which was the evangelization of the world (Acts 1:8). Was their question really based on their lack of understanding? Was it an ignorant question? Perhaps. But any conclusion must be based upon comparing verse 6 with the surrounding verses, as well as the rest of the Bible. We must not rest our case on what seems to be evident from a straightforward reading of verse 6 alone.

First of all, the apostles' question follows verses 4 and 5. We shall appeal to the relevance of context by trying to first understand something about these two verses, and then see if they help us understand the apostles' motivation and interest behind their question.

The word "he" of verse 3 is the subject of the verb "command" in verse 4. So we know that the apostles remained in Jerusalem with orders from Jesus Himself to wait for the "promise of the Father, which saith he, ye have heard of me." The words "of me" mean that Jesus is referring to the fact that He had Himself told them about that promise previously. What could the apostles expect from the Father? Did they know what Jesus meant when He spoke in Acts 1:4? Consulting a listing of the word "Father" in a concordance, and reflecting upon those references in which Jesus Himself is talking to the apostles about the Father, we discover that the answer is, "yes." The apostles did know what Jesus meant in Acts 1:4. A few weeks before, Jesus had said, "And I will pray the Father and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever" (John 14:16). That is what the Father would send to the disciples.

More than that, we learn that the gift was purposeful. "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, ... He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). Furthermore, the gift of the Father was more than just for

the personal edification of the apostles. They were expected to do something with what the Father's Comforter would teach them. According to John 15:26 & 27, of the things which the Spirit of truth would teach them concerning Jesus, they must "bear witness." This whole idea is repeated and emphasized in John 16:13-15. The promise of the Father was that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would come and enable the apostles to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "When the Spirit of truth will come He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). "He shall glorify me" (John 16:14). "He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you" (John 16:15).

Therefore, one thing the apostles knew very well was the nature and the purpose of the promise of the Father which they heard of previously from Jesus. God promised to enable them to testify about Jesus to the world.

Acts 1:5 begins with the word, "For." This alerts us that it is a continuation of what Jesus is saying in verse 4. We should expect that, since the two verses are part of one remark by Jesus. The phrase, "John truly baptized with water," is a reference to Matthew 3:11. Whatever John the Baptist did, it was in contrast to ("but" in verse 5) the preparation the apostles would have for their task of bearing witness to Jesus. In verse 5 and in Matthew 3:11 the promise of the Father is expressed by being baptized by the Holy Ghost. We know that the baptism by the Holy Ghost is related to the promised Comforter because verse 4 is part of the context of verse 5 and ought to be talking about the same thing. Matthew 3:11 tells us in John's own words that his baptism served only toward repentance. He brought people to the law of God to show them how sinful they were. He was an Old Testament prophet, preaching before the cross. He brought the law and could only point ahead to the Savior which was to come (Matthew 3:3), who would deliver men from the curse of the law. John emphasizes in that same verse (verse 11) that a time will come when Jesus Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire. By tracing the words "baptize" and "Holy Ghost" through the New Testament we arrive at such verses as Acts 22:16 and Titus 3:5, that teach us baptism in the Holy Ghost means to be saved. Again we arrive at the conclusion the apostles, who knew all that past history, realized Jesus was talking about salvation from sin. The apostles, obedient to Christ, were to wait for the Comforter, who would enable them to preach this word of salvation in Jesus Christ.

It is stated in Acts 1:5 that they personally would be baptized, but verse 5 states this not because they had yet to be saved (for we know from other scriptures that they were), but because God would now identify being baptized with the Holy Ghost (a phrase used for salvation) with enablement to preach the Gospel (the promise of verse 4). From now on everyone who is saved would be specifically qualified and mandated to bring the Gospel of salvation.

Now we can directly tie all we have researched to the apostles' question in verse 6. Notice for one thing the word "therefore." This word signifies a cause-and-effect relationship and removes all doubt about the relevance of verses 4 and 5 to verse 6. The apostles knew what Jesus was saying in verses 4 and 5. Therefore, they asked the question in verse 6. Jesus had just reminded them of a few things they ought to know, namely, the spiritual task of witnessing that was ahead of them. With this in their minds, they "therefore" came together and asked, "Wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?" Whatever we think this question might mean, by applying the context, we know that the question must be related to the bringing of the Gospel. And in fact, a little research into the extended context will show that this is so.

Looking at the word "restore" in the concordance, we arrive at two significant passages. Isaiah 49:6 states that God will some day "restore the preserved of Israel." And in the same breath He continues on with the rest of the verse, which we know is a reference to bringing the Gospel to the world because this verse is quoted and explained in Acts 13:47. Certainly the context of one-half of a verse applies to the other half of the same verse. Therefore the restoration of Israel is the sending forth of the Gospel to restore Israel to the Gospel. Secondly, a reinforcement to the idea "restoration" means salvation is found in Psalm 85:1 and 2. Here "brought back the captivity of Jacob" is equated with forgiveness of iniquity, and covering for sin. The context (verse 2) tells us the meaning of verse 1. To bring back means that Jacob will be saved and Jacob refers to all God's people, the elect, because they are the only people who are saved from sin.

The word "kingdom" in Acts 1:6 must, according to the context, be related to salvation. And so it must be taken in the sense that Jesus meant it, as, for example, in John 18:36. It is not a political kingdom like all the others of the world. And yet it is a real, literal kingdom. And He is a King (John 18:37), King of all those who are redeemed. The Kingdom will be restored to Israel. In other words, God's people, those redeemed from sin, will inherit the Kingdom of God. Similarly, the word "Israel," already modified from its naturalistic and political sense to a spiritual sense by the Isaiah 49:6-Acts 13:47 couplet, can be related to the concept of salvation from sin by remembering such verses as Romans 9:6. "For they are not all Israel which are of Israel." Who then are "Israel"? The same passage in Romans 9 tells us that the "children of the promise" are counted for the seed of Abraham. They are the true Israel. Who are these "children of promise?" They are Christians, according to Galatians 4:28. They are all who have faith as we read in Romans 4:16.

Again we are left with the conclusion that the question in verse 6 was not an ignorant question. The apostles knew quite well what they were asking and were eager to see the salvation of God brought to the whole world. They wanted the Gospel to go to all the world so that all God's children would come to faith. Therefore the answer Jesus gave in verses 7 and 8 does not ignore or set aside their question but answers it. The restoration of Israel would come; but the complete restoration, in its fullest, would not be at "this time." Jesus says they do not need to know when the job of evangelization would be complete, and so they would not "know the times or seasons" when the job of restoration would be complete. The answer to the question in verse 6 is found in verse 8. Jesus is saying that He is restoring the Kingdom when they are bringing the Gospel. Jesus goes back to the promise of verse 4 and reminds them that the Holy Ghost would come upon them. And so they will be able to witness, as was promised in John 15:26 (the words witness and testify come from the same Greek word). The tie between John 15:26 and Acts 1:8 is direct and sure. Therefore, we know that Jesus is reminding them of something they already were aware when He directed them to be witnesses throughout the world.

In short, Jesus begins the conversation by telling them about the promise the Father would give. They quite naturally ask when that would be completely fulfilled. Jesus then tells them that it's not for them to know when the full evangelistic season would be complete, but nevertheless they are to go out and inaugurate it.

We might be surprised at the way that the apostles asked the question. Why did they not, for example, just use the words and phrases in the New Testament which are clearly identified with bringing the Gospel? They could have used words and phrases that come out of the passages in John 14 through 16, to which Jesus Himself refers. However, it is not so strange that they used the phrase "restore again the kingdom to Israel," when we reflect on a few facts. The Old Testament was the only portion of scripture that they had and it is the scripture that Jesus Himself used to explain His full salvation story, as we read in Luke 24:19-27. Since Luke 24:27 says Jesus expounded all scriptures concerning Himself, it would include passages that use "restore," such as Isaiah 49. The men who heard Jesus expound told the disciples what had happened (Luke 24:35). Another important fact is that while it is true that the apostles spoke the question, it is really God who spoke in Acts 1:6. Once this verse was set in scripture, it became the Word of God. Of all the things that the apostles could have said, God guided them to say what they did because it is what God wanted to tell us about this incident. Therefore, it is natural to expect God to tie together the Old Testament promises with the New Testament fulfillment. God, through the apostles' question, unifies the Old and New Testament promises. In fact, we learn that the context of any verse is all the rest of the Bible. That is the context which really matters and must be faced. As we assumed before we studied the Bible, we must gather all the data. Also, we must expect to use the immediate and relevant extended data before we can make a conclusion about a verse.

Perhaps the emphasis that the apostles were eagerly looking for the opportunity to testify of Jesus to the world seems to conflict with the story in Acts 10 in which God had to take special steps to convince Peter to evangelize the Gentiles too. But that is not a real conflict. For one thing the question in Acts 1:6 is a general question. When will the evangelistic program be completed? Whether some apostles actively worked to include the Gentiles in the Kingdom or not does not change the fact that they asked a spiritual question about evangelism.

Peter, for example, well understood the nature and goal of the Gospel. The proof is that before the incident in Acts 10, Peter was still an ardent evangelist. He preached widely, seeking to restore many from the bondage to their sin (Acts 3:12-26). Peter just had to be further instructed about the scope of the Gospel he so eagerly proclaimed. In fact, other apostles quite willingly preached to Gentiles. Acts 8 tells us that Philip was quick to preach to an Ethiopian. He had no reservations about preaching Jesus to a Gentile. And so our conclusion stands. No future physical restoration of the nation of Israel was anticipated by the apostles. The whole context of Acts Chapter 1 is the inauguration of God's program of evangelism. It was Jesus' main desire and to this all the apostles agreed and looked forward to its completion.

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