At the beginning of Acts, Jesus’ apostles ask him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Yeshua shifts focus from the kingdom to the Spirit, and alludes to a mission beyond Israel’s borders: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8). Traditionally, Christian commentators have understood this response as a rebuke of the apostles’ question, and asserted that Jesus’ spiritual vision dispenses with Israel’s carnal concerns. Is this traditional interpretation correct, or will the kingdom be restored?
When John Calvin read the apostles’ inquiry—“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)—the Protestant reformer wrote, “There are as many errors in this question as [there are] words.” According to Calvin, the apostles “dream of an earthly kingdom” but they are “greatly deceived”; when they “limit Christ’s kingdom to the carnal Israel,” they miss Christ’s universal vision of a kingdom “spread abroad, even to the uttermost parts of the world” (Commentary on Acts, 1:6). Yet, with respect to Calvin, there are as many errors in this interpretation as there are words.
After the apostles ask about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, Jesus replies, “It is not for you to know times (χρόνους; chrónous) or seasons (καιροὺς; kairoùs) that the Father has placed in his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). When Jesus refers to the “times” and “seasons” that God has ordained, he draws on biblical language to express the surety of the kingdom being restored to Israel in the future. According to Qohelet, “for everything there is a time (זמן; zeman/LXX: χρόνος; chrónos) and a season (עת; et/LXX: καιρὸς; kairòs) for every matter under heaven” (Eccl 3:1). In drawing on the imagery of Ecclesiastes, Yeshua affirms that there is a time and season for Israel’s restoration.
Indeed, Jesus himself speaks of this dominion when he tells his disciples, “You may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (βασιλεία; basileía) and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). It is to this eschatological kingdom that Jesus assigns a divinely authorized “time” and “season.” Therefore, the apostles were quite right to inquire about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, but their timing of the question was off. First, the good news would need to go from Israel to the ends of the earth.