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Lesson Five: The Spread of the Kingdom in Acts
1. To understand how Jesus’ parting words to His disciples form a map of the ideal Davidic kingdom.
2. To see how the structure of the Acts of the Apostles follows that map.
3. To see how Luke paints the nascent Church as the Davidic kingdom perfectly restored.
- The Mission
- The Kingdom Restored
- The Good News
- Discussion Questions
In the previous lesson, we saw how Luke’s Gospel painted a picture of Jesus Christ as the perfect Son of David, King of Israel.
After writing the story of Jesus’ life, Luke turned to the sequel: the establishment of Christ’s Church in the world. We call this second book the Acts of the Apostles.
Since in his Gospel Luke had painted Christ as the perfect fulfillment of the Davidic king, in Acts Luke naturally paints the Church as the perfect fulfillment of the Davidic kingdom. The Kingdom will be the theme of the book - a theme laid out by Christ himself.
It will also be the key to the message the Apostles have to bring to the world - the message that the Church is built on. And to spread that message, the Apostles need some preparation.
The kingdom theme begins almost immediately in Acts. For forty days after the Resurrection, Luke tells us, Jesus taught his disciples about the Kingdom (see Acts 1:3).
"Lord," his disciples ask him, "are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (see Acts 1:6).
Perhaps they still expect something mundane from the Kingdom - something that involves expelling the Romans and setting up an Israelite civil authority. Or perhaps, after all Jesus’ teaching, they are beginning to understand that the Kingdom Jesus proclaims "does not belong to this world" (see John 18:36).
But Jesus does not give them an answer. It is not their business to know exactly when things would happen, he tells them. They will "receive power" when the Holy Spirit comes. As for when the Kingdom will be restored - that is what they will spend the rest of the book finding out.
What He does tell them is that it will be their business to restore the Kingdom. They will be His witnesses
· in Jerusalem,
· throughout Judea
· and Samaria,
· and to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8).
As we’ll see, this forms a kind of program for the whole book. Just as Jesus said, the spread of the Gospel begins in Jerusalem, then moves to Judea and Samaria, and then to the rest of the world.
But more than that, it’s also a map of the ideal Davidic kingdom - the kingdom that was promised to the Son of David, but was never fully realized until the coming of Christ.
Instead of David building a house for God, God would build a house for David (see 2 Samuel 7:11). That is, He would promise David that his son would rule after him, and the kingdom of the sons of David would be established forever (see 2 Samuel 7:16).
Psalm 89 puts the covenant with David in poetic terms. The Davidic king will be "Most High over the kings of the earth," God has promised (see Psalm 89:28), and his throne will last as long as the sun and moon (see Psalm 89:37-38).
For a while it had looked as though the promise would be fulfilled very quickly. David himself ruled over Judah (the Judea of the New Testament) and Israel (the Samaria and Galilee of the New Testament), and he conquered large outside territories (see 2 Samuel 8:1-13, 10:6-19). His son Solomon ruled over a considerable empire (see 1 Kings 4:21-24).
Yet in Psalm 89 the psalmist wrote almost in despair. Things were going very badly for the kingdom (see Psalm 89:39-46). God seemed to have forgotten His promise (see Psalm 89:50). Instead of an exalted position higher than all other kings, the Lord’s Anointed bore the insults of all the nations (see Psalm 89:51-52).
The ideal and the reality seemed to be poles apart. God had promised an eternal kingdom to rule over all the kings of the earth; instead, David’s descendants ruled over a tiny buffer state that was constantly in danger of being overrun by the mighty empires around it (see, for a few examples, 2 Chronicles 32:1-19, 2 Chronicles 33:11, 2 Chronicles 36:3-4).
Bit by bit, the sons of David lost everything: the outside territories (see 1 Kings 11:14-25), Israel when the northern tribes rebelled (see 2 Chronicles 10:16-19), then most of Judah, until finally the son of David was shut up in Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 25:1-3). Finally, Jerusalem itself fell (see 2 Kings 25:4-10).
David’s kingdom had collapsed like an old hut. Yet it would not lie collapsed forever (see Amos 9:11).
Isaiah foresaw a time when all the earth would acknowledge the God of Israel (see Isaiah 45:22). Israel would return from exile (see Isaiah 48:20-21). The King of Israel really would rule to the ends of the earth (see Isaiah 49:6-7).
With this history in front of us, we can see now what Jesus had commanded the Apostles to do. He had sent them to restore the kingdom: starting in Jerusalem, then taking back Judah, then Israel, then the ends of the earth, undoing all the destruction since the death of Solomon, until the promise to David was fulfilled completely, as the prophets had foretold that - against all odds - it must be (see, for example, Isaiah 2:1-4, Amos 9:11-12, Zechariah 14:16).
That is exactly what Luke will show the Apostles doing in the rest of the book.
We can see the pattern first of all in the outline of the book.
Acts begins in Jerusalem (see Acts 1-7).
With the death of Stephen and the ensuing persecution, the Gospel spreads throughout Judea and Samaria (see Acts 8).
From there, the Gospel spreads to the great city of Antioch (see Acts 11:19-30), then to Cyprus (see Acts 13:4-13), to Asia Minor (see Acts 13:14-14:28), to Greece (see Acts 16-20), and finally to Rome itself (see Acts 27-28).
Rome was the capital of the Empire that covered most of the known world. In that way, Rome could truly be called the ends of the earth.
Thus the outline of the book itself shows the Apostles restoring the ideal Davidic kingdom in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, following the mandate of Christ himself at the beginning of the book (see Acts 1:8).
In fact, the book itself on a large scale, like Jesus’ commission, is a map of the ideal Davidic kingdom, now coming to life in the spread of the Church.
As soon as Jesus gives his last orders to the disciples, He is "lifted up" into heaven (see Acts 1:9). As Mark tells us, He is enthroned "at the right hand of God" (see Mark 16:19, and compare Acts 7:55-56).
Luke shows us the divine enthronement of Jesus with an instantly recognizable image: "a cloud took him from their sight" (see Acts 1:9). Throughout the Bible, a cloud is the visible sign of God’s presence, hiding the blinding glory of divinity (see, for example, Exodus 13:21, Exodus 16:10, Exodus 40:34, Leviticus 16:2, Numbers 11:25, Isaiah 19:1, Matthew 17:5).
The vision reminds us in particular of the "Son of Man" in Daniel, who is carried to the Ancient One on a cloud (see Daniel 7:13).
Like God the Father, Jesus - God the Son - is now hidden from sight by a cloud. But the heavenly Kingdom has not disappeared from the earth. On the contrary, it is only beginning.
If the true Davidic kingdom was to be restored, that would have to mean all twelve tribes, the descendants of the sons of Jacob (see Genesis 49), united under the King of Israel.
That was what the prophets had foretold: Judah (the tribe that had been loyal to the sons of David) and Ephraim (the prophets’ name for Israel, the kingdom of the northern tribes) would be united again under the Son of David (see, for example, Ezekiel 37:15-28).
We remember from the previous lesson how Jesus had given His Apostles "thrones" from which they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel (see Luke 22:30), echoing the description of Jerusalem at peace in Psalm 122: the tribes all gathered together to give thanks to the Lord, and above them "the thrones of the house of David" (see Psalm 122:4-5).
Peter told the rest that it was necessary for them to have another "witness" to carry on in Judas’s place (see Acts 1:21-22), quoting two psalms that curse the enemies of God (see Acts 1:20; the quotations are from Psalm 69:26 and Psalm 109:8).
Matthias was chosen, and from that point on he was numbered among the Twelve (see Acts 1:23-26).
Twelve tribes, twelve thrones: it was necessary to establish the Kingdom properly from the beginning.
The Twelve thus took their positions as the King’s ministers. Just as David and his successors had had ministers to sit on thrones and judge the people (see, for example, 1 Kings 4:1-19, and compare Psalm 122:4-5), so Jesus, the ideal Davidic King, would have His ministers.
And just as in the original Davidic kingdom, one of those ministers would be the leader of the rest.
David had Joab (see 1 Chronicles 11:6), and every one of his successors had what we today would call a prime minister.
Following that pattern, we see that Jesus, too, had a prime minister.
As soon as He told His disciples that they would sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (see Luke 22:28-30), Jesus turned to Simon Peter and told him that he must strengthen the others (see Luke 22:31-32).
Peter was the "Rock" (which is what the name Peter means) on which Jesus had promised to build His Church (see Matthew 16:18).
All the Apostles were Jesus’ ministers, but Simon Peter was the prime minister.
Now we see Peter exercising that authority. It is Peter who announces to the Twelve and the rest of the church in Jerusalem that Judas must be replaced (see Acts 1:15-22), and his decision is accepted without debate (see Acts 1:23-28).
We see him acting as the unquestioned leader at Pentecost, too, when he speaks for all the Apostles in front of the astonished crowds (see Acts 2:14).
Peter speaks for them again before the leaders of the people and the priests (see Acts 4:8). He exercises a healing power like Christ’s (see Acts 3:1-12), pronounces God’s judgment on Anananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5:1-11), and gains such a reputation that people line up just to be touched by his shadow (see Acts 5:15).
Finally, it is Peter whose word determines the whole future course of the Kingdom on earth. When some converted Pharisees have argued that Christians are bound by the whole law (see Acts 15:5), Peter is the one who interprets the will of God for the rest of the Apostles (see Acts 15:7-11).
James, summarizing the decision of the Apostles, refers to Amos’s prophecy about the fallen hut, in which the restoration of the Davidic kingdom comes about so that the rest of the world may also come to God (see Acts 15:14-18).
A kingdom that includes "the rest of humanity" is what God had promised through the Prophets, and the mission of the Church is to be the fulfillment of that promise.
Luke leaves us in no doubt whatsoever: Peter has taken over as leader of the Twelve, just as Jesus had ordained. He interprets the will of God, and he decides the course of the whole Church.
But Peter is only the first among the ministers of the Kingdom. Jesus, as Peter himself will tell us, is still the King.
At Pentecost, Peter’s address to the crowd had one central message: the kingdom promised to David had finally arrived, with Jesus Christ as the King.
Now David, Peter argued, is dead and buried, and everyone knows where his tomb is (see Acts 2:29).
Therefore, David could not have been speaking about himself. Instead, as a prophet, he foresaw the coming of Christ, who would rise from the dead and sit on the throne of David (see Acts 2:30-31). Christ sits at the right hand of God, just as David had prophesied (see Acts 2:33-34).
The result of Peter’s sermon was amazing: three thousand people baptized in a single day (see Acts 2:41).
Even more significant was the variety of people who heard the Good News. Pentecost was an important festival in the Jewish calendar, and Jerusalem had filled up with "devout Jews from every nation under heaven" (see Acts 2:5).
There were "Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs" (see Acts 2:9-11).
This is nothing short of a verbal map of the known world, both inside and outside the Roman Empire. From Rome in the west to Parthia (a giant empire that included large parts of India) in the east, from Pontus in the north to Egypt and Arabia in the south, the people of God had come back together to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their King.
All the nations had Jewish populations because, after Israel and Judah were conquered, the Jews had been dispersed throughout the world.
Now "devout Jews" from everywhere in the Dispersion had heard and accepted the message Peter brought them: the message that the Kingdom was restored, and that the perfect King prophesied long ago was now reigning.
In this scene, Luke paints a picture of Israel reunited under Christ as king. It is the news that the Son of David, the Lord’s Anointed, the perfect Davidic King, has begun his reign that persuades three thousand people to accept Christian baptism.
The Kingdom is restored! This is the message the first Christians preach again and again throughout the book. It is always the Apostles’ most effective message. The news that the Kingdom had been restored is what brings thousands of souls into the Kingdom.
Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia (see Acts 13:14-42) has the same theme as Peter’s first sermon, and even quotes some of the same texts from Scripture.
Paul gives a brief summary of salvation history, from the Exodus to David (see Acts 13:17-22), and then announces that Jesus Christ was the promised Son of David who came to save Israel (see Acts 13:23).
Paul even makes the same argument that Peter did: that David died and was buried, so the promises could not have been for him (see Acts 13:36); instead, it was Jesus Christ in whom the promises were fulfilled (see Acts 13:37).
Once again, the message is received with enthusiasm, and many of the people who heard it are persuaded (see Acts 13:42-43) - especially among the Gentile "god-fearers" who believe in the True God but have not been circumcised.
When the newly converted Christians are suffering trials, it does not cause them to doubt the news of the Kingdom. Instead, the news of the Kingdom is what comforts and strengthens them (see Acts 14:22).
Not only are the dispersed Israelites being reunited under their true King, but His dominion is also being extended to all the nations of the earth, as God had promised the Son of David (see Psalm 89:28)
As a narrative, the Acts of the Apostles seems to end abruptly. Indeed, it may well have stopped at what for Luke was the present time.
Paul is in prison - really more of a house arrest (see Acts 28:16) in Rome. He had appealed to the Emperor (see Acts 25:10-12), which was the right of a Roman citizen, a privilege into which Paul was born (see Acts 22:25-29).
We do not know what happens to Paul after that - which seems a very strange lack of resolution by modern narrative standards.
But when we look at the structure of the book, we see that Luke has perfectly completed his program.
Jesus had told His followers that they would be His witnesses "in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (see Acts 1:8).
Now, having stopped at all the points between, here we are at the ends of the earth: Rome, the capital of the world.
Here Paul spends his time teaching anyone who will listen about the Kingdom (see Acts 28:23)
In fact, our very last glimpse of Paul, and Luke’s very last words to us, show him still proclaiming the Kingdom. The Acts of the Apostles ends with the news about the Kingdom still ringing in our ears.
The reason we don’t know what happens to Paul is this: it makes no difference. That is not the point of the book. The point is that the mission is accomplished. Paul has reached Rome, preaching the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
The Kingdom is restored, and whatever happens to Paul will not change that. Christ the King reigns, Most High over all the kings of the earth. He rules a Kingdom not built on conquest but on persuasion; not held together by force but by love. It is a kingdom infinitely more glorious than Solomon’s (compare Matthew 12:42), and it will last forever.
· At the beginning of Acts, who states the argument or program for the whole book?
· According to the covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, how long would the Davidic kingdom last?
· Jesus chose twelve Apostles, and Peter declared that a replacement for Judas was necessary to fill out the number. Why was the number twelve significant?
· What position did Peter occupy in the newly restored kingdom?
· What was the theme of Peter’s first sermon?
· Why is it important for us to know where the people in the crowd at Pentecost came from?
· Why does Luke end his narrative with Paul preaching in Rome?
For personal reflection:
Christ reigns as "Most High over all the kings of the earth." What does that mean for the way we live every day? Is Christ King over everything in our lives, or are there parts of our daily routine where we refuse to acknowledge Christ as supreme?