The kingdom of God in Acts 1

We are beginning a sermon series looking at the kingdom of God, and I started by consider the opening three verses of Acts 1 and what they say about the kingdom. There are a number of striking statements that Luke makes in this short passage.

First, his reference to Theophilus reminds us of the opening of his gospel (volume 1 of his two-volume work). There, he explains how he has done careful research based on the evidence of eyewitnesses and their early records, and he locates the activities around the kingdom and Jesus’ ministry in the context of world events and secular powers. One of the notable things about Luke-Acts is that he names local rulers, and is careful to get their different titles right. The kingdom of God isn’t merely about spiritual generalities, but comes to transform specific times and place in history.

And Luke emphasises that Jesus gave the disciples ‘many convincing proofs’ that he was alive. Jesus wanted the disciples to be confident about the kingdom, and Luke wants the same for his readers.

Secondly, it is very striking that Luke begins Acts by telling Theophilus ‘In my first book, I wrote about all that Jesus began to teach and to do…’ This second volume, then, is all that Jesus continued to teach and to do—through the Holy Spirit, who now makes his presence and power known through the apostles and the early Christian communities.

But Luke leaves the story hanging in chapter 28, with Paul ‘teaching about the kingdom of God without hindrance.’ Luke seems to imagine that there is a continuing Chapter 29—in which successive generations of Christians continue the teaching and wonderful signs done by Jesus. We are invited to be collaborators in the kingdom of God with him.

Thirdly, Jesus teaches them for ‘forty days’ about the kingdom, and ‘forty’ in the Bible signifies a period of preparation, whether it is forty years in the wilderness preparing Israel to enter the Promised Land, or Jesus’ forty days in the desert in preparation for his ministry. But it is remarkable that Jesus teaches them ‘through the Holy Spirit’.

If we are to be equipped for being partners and collaborators in kingdom ministry, and being confidence in that, we need to attend to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles (See Acts 2.42), which we have in Scripture, and we need to be filled afresh with the Spirit of God on a daily basis. Word and Spirit together will prepare us to be confident and continue the ministry of Jesus.

You can watch the whole sermon here (about 14 minutes):


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34 thoughts on “The kingdom of God in Acts 1”

  1. I dont see too many ‘wonderful signs’ these days…Instead we have silly people praying at gravesides in the US for the dead to be raised and unsurprisingly failing. We rarely if ever see the quality of ‘signs’ that Jesus performed, and it’s not because people dont believe enough. When was the last time anyone (particularly an unbeliever) witnessed a genuine spontaneous physical healing on the level of what Jesus did – man born blind, able to see completely within a few minutes of prayer? Or a disabled man unable to walk since birth able to suddenly walk and run? And that’s just healing, never mind power over nature.

    Sorry, just being honest.

    Peter

    Reply
    • I guess there is a place between the ‘silly people’ and ‘no signs’. I could talk first hand of a smattering of significant healings over the past 40 years – though perhaps not to Jesus’ level – but I could tell of a whole lot more second hand, close to ‘Jesus standard’ but all through people I know and/or trust as reliable. Yet I could also talk of masses of unanswered prayer. Without questioning anyone’s believe, I’m afraid that here in the West we have created a faith that either rationalises away signs and wonders, or magnifies them to a silly level comparable to party tricks. I’ll continue to pray for the real thing…..

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      • Jon
        Im from a charismatic tradition and have been around many of the big signs n wonders names in the past 30years – I have been part of a church tradition that prays for the sick weekly – and have personally prayed for hundreds if not thousands including praying over several dead persons in the hope of resuscitation. I can count on one hand the ‘miracles’ I have witnessed. My father is a Reformed non charismatic. I think he has more success in seeing healing achieved through his mid-week prayer meetings when they pray through the sick list, than I have witnessed in all my charismatic contexts. I do wonder why? We all can offer up evidences of a handful of healings, I’m sure – but they are few and far between if we are honest. What we cannot offer up is the sort of testimony that we read in Acts with the apostles. They of course preached the gospel to outsiders and worked miracles – today’s apostles’ preach miracles to insiders and show scant evidence of such. I am still gonna pray for the sick, and hope to see miracles, but 30 years of scant evidence suggested a miracle is just that, not normal.

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    • I think PC1 has a point. One cannot help thinking that if the church was able to demonstrate the kingdom through the healing power of God to a level anywhere near that recorded in the book of Acts then we might see more people coming to church. It would certainly raise our profile! It does seem to me that while there are instances of miraculous healings today, they are not at the intensity or frequency that we read in ancient times.

      I am not sure why that is. It would be interesting to know if there is any record of this level of healing activity in the writings of the early church fathers in the first few centuries of the church, but like PC1 I do not see it happening today.

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      • “One cannot help thinking that if the church was able to demonstrate the kingdom through the healing power of God to a level anywhere near that recorded in the book of Acts then we might see more people coming to church. ”

        No, that wouldn’t happen because unbelief is characterised by such obstinacy, pride and wilfulness (as scripture describes it: hardness of heart), that it cannot be reversed by supernatural intervention, A prime example of this is Balaam’s unbridled wilfulness which was only temporarily averted by the appearance of the Angel of the Lord, but not by the miracle of supernaturally imparted speech to the donkey (Num. 22:27 – 31).

        Christ alludes to this ultimate sin of insurmountable unbelief (cf. Mark 3:28 – 30; Heb. 3:12) in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:
        ““He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
        “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
        “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
        “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

        So, while a resurgence of healing activity would probably lead to significantly increased in church attendance, this would not necessarily bring forth (as JTB put it) “fruits worthy of repentance” .

        A resurgence of miracle-working can no more provoke anyone to produce the fruits of repentance, than Lazarus’ (or Jesus’ return) from death would have provoked the Rich Man’s five brothers to cease to emulate his self-centred love of wealth and mean-spirited contempt for the sick and destitute.

        So, in 2009, my father, while suffering terminal prostate cancer) was admitted to St. Georges Hospital bleeding profusely from his bladder.

        For several days, he received transfusions amounting to six pints of blood a day, but to no avail. He also had clots in his lungs, which prevented the doctors from either operating to locate and close the haemorrhage, or from administering a clotting agent to stanch it.

        So, the doctors, in recognising his terminal condition, sadly decided that they would have to end the futile transfusions the next day and let him die.

        However, I had been estranged from my father for decades;, So, as I stood around the bed with my half-brothers, I pleaded with the living God through Jesus Christ for even a few months to get to know my Dad, with whom I had only just made peace.

        Now, I can take anyone to St. Georges Hospital in Tooting and they will produce the records which show that the massive haemorrhage from his bladder stopped inexplicably the next day. As a result, I got to know and become close to my estranged father and only only after reconciling properly, he died ten months later.

        It’s worth remembering that the majority of early Christian converts were either Jews, or Gentile god-fearers who attended the synagogue. All of them set great store by the scriptural history of God’s dealings with Israel, the hope of God’s deliverance through His anointed and miraculous corroboration of God’s messengers. For many, Rome’s imperial occupation and brutal tyranny were widely interpreted as agents of divine chastisement for Jewish failure to adhere faithfully to the Mosaic covenant.

        That first century context bears little resemblance to our modern situation. Paul’s mission in Athens comes closest to our contemporary Western context. So, that’s probably our best comparator.

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    • A clue might be that it tends to be the same rare people each time (e.g. Reinhard Bonnke) whose presence elicits the requisite faith.

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      • That sounds more like they are followers of the late Bonnke rather than Jesus, something that Paul spoke against. I think Bonnke’s ministry was, like many, overhyped with genuine complete healings of serious diseases rare.

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        • This is an extremely interesting question. Everything around us changes our overall state of health and/or wellbeing: it is constantly in flux. This includes things that change our state very much for the better or very much for the worse. Being around anything good has a good effect on us. Sometimes this very thing may be the tipping point for our overall state. Think how many things that we call diseases, e.g. depression, are often the result of negative attitudes and/or ungenerous/selfish attitudes and/or unforgiveness and/or lifestyle and/or inhabiting an unhealthy culture. The antidote will therefore be the opposite of these things.

          I do not think we have delved nearly deeply enough into all this. Derek Prince read in Proverbs that God’s Word is (as well as being food, also) medicine. He resolved to put this into practice, having been plagued with acne. He was remarkably healthy from then onwards, albeit he was coughing a lot just before he died, as a public speaker needs a lot of puff in their latter eighties. Martyn Lloyd Jones, a surgeon, had the same medical sort of perspective: the work of the Spirit and the Word on an individual is comparable to that of a medicine.

          There is no law more obvious nor more biblical nor more Newtonian than ‘sowing and reaping’. The above is bound to be true if ‘what you sow you reap’ is true, as it not only is but must be.

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          • Thanks Christopher – I liked Bonke. I think he did genuinely see many miracles – but he was a pioneering evangelist often in Africa in contexts of poverty where people had no access or ability to afford medical help. The miracles taking place in the context of poor people and the gospel proclaimed I think is a significant equation.

            And Derek Prince is often dismissed in some of our British circles, party due to his Zionism, and also his ill judged involvement in the Shepherding movement – however he was a man of God who knew the Word and Spirit and always worthy of close attention.

          • On Zionism, yes. Derek Prince’s epistemology was excellent (his quasi-medical model makes me think he’s on the right track; and he has the most marvellous analytic mind), so even though his position on Zionism looks wrong to me I think it likely that his process of arriving at his position (and secondly his integrity in holding it) are unimpeachable.

            On the Shepherding I’m not sure. As with Iwerne in the 70s-80s we need to think back to how shocking the new behaviours of the youth will have been to the older folks, and so often even today the call goes out ‘What the young men need is mentors.’. The approach had never been tried. DP withdrew as soon as he saw its unpredicted bad consequences.

          • I think trying to deal with genuine diseases and illnesses as primarily psychosomatic is inappropriate. Whilst depressive episodes of course involve psychological and emotional factors, it is a proven fact that the physical workings of the brain is a very important factor, to the extent that neuroscientists can now see physical differences between a ‘normal’ brain and a depressed person’s brain. Thank God for the likes of John White who wrote The Masks of Melancholy many years ago. At long last a leading Christian dispelled the church-nonsense around depression and went to the core truth. You’ll find that some of the most genuine believers suffer from depression and anxiety, and such suffering does not reflect on their faith in any way.

          • The confusion over ‘depression’ could be that it is too broad a term. There are heritable, emotionally-alive and altruistic depressions etc as well as the as-you-sow-you-reap depression I was speaking of. A case of needing more exactitude.

    • Dear Peter,
      Regarding your opening sentence. Do you know of any these days outside of conferences or other Christian gatherings?

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    • Peter.
      I think you are doing a disservice and discredit to the overall burden of the talk, which is excellent. Just being honest!
      It may be useful to check out the Acts 29 network of churches to see how they see the outworking, today, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s probably somewhat different in parts from the New Wine group. Or by gospel antagonists in the CoE, to whom Apostolic teaching, doctrine, is anathema.
      Yours,
      Geoff

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      • I don’t think I am. It’s reality. Any genuine complete healings from serious disabilities or diseases are rare and the experience does not seem to fit with Jesus’ words regarding all his followers, not just a select few. Even many pastors in the Vineyard church dont talk much about healing now. I’m not doubting that such healings occur but rather their frequency, completeness and effect on both the church and an unbelieving world.

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        • I agree with you – I wish i didnt – but the evidence seems compelling. Yet I am not prepared to give up praying – as Wimber said, something like, ‘if I dont pray for someone they wont be healed, if I do, they just might’

          In an article in the Tablet where Gavin Asheden spoke of his journey to Rome, he tells of a lunch he had with Tom Holland: ….during a meal with Tom Holland as he was writing Dominion. “I don’t understand,” he said, “why the Church is so ill at ease with its competence and experience of the supernatural. Of the whole dimension of heaven and hell; of angels and demons. It’s the one thing you bring to the public table that nobody else knows anything about? Why does it insist on trying to offer a political discourse that everyone else does better?”

          Reply
        • Peter,
          We must have been watching, hearing a different talk. Try taking notes of it.
          Healings, signs were part, but not the whole emphasis, which it has been reduced to.
          It is a separate, if substantial topic.
          Having been raised as an adult convert in the charismatic movement, through, Alpha, HTB, Sunderland revival, Brownsville, Toronto Blessing, Vineyard, Colin Urquard, Patches, David Watson, Wimberer and yes, Derek Prince, I do not think it can all be brushed off as hype. Spiritual gifts and gifting, remains a hot potato today.
          To use another agrarian expression, following Christopher, in history it seems to go in seasons, Edwards Whitfield, Welsh Revival, Scottish Revival.
          It is a big topic in itself, but I would again suggest it is a sidetrack from the overall gist of Ian’s message with teaching and daily filling. Word and Spirit, even if I could suggest, study and lectio divina, a Practice of the Presence of God, with safeguards and boundaries.

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          • I havent reduced but rather picked up on one aspect. I think that’s quite reasonable. I think a false impression is being given of the church continuing Jesus’ own ministry, when healings, as an example but which were probably the biggest aspect of Jesus’ ‘doings’, simply do not happen the way one would think they should be happening if the church was genuinely continuing Jesus’ ministry. They are few and far between, that’s reality. Im not saying that no healings occurred under the ministries of some of those you list, but complete healing, as in Jesus’ ministry, was rare and I maintain that there was much hype about all of them, and that continues today. You only have to attend a healing conference to witness that.

          • How is one supposed to have no hype? There was massive hype at Jesus’s ministry. There necessarily will be where people think that actual miracles could be in the offing.

            The question of hype has no relationship to the question of genuine healings.

  2. Some years ago there was an expression doing the rounds, I think attributable to Clive Calver, but I’m not sure. It was a caution in opposite directions:
    All word and you dry up,
    All Spirit and you blow up,
    Word and Spirit and you grow up.

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  3. I think one needs to consider the circumstances of the reporting of Jesus’ healing. Are they first hand accounts or reports of stories passed by newly converted believers who may well have exaggerated them. And how do we know what happened to those who were “healed” in the days and months thereafter? The writers were in awe themselves and so could well have embellished the reports. Not wishing to cast any doubt on the healing powers of the Lord, but a pinch of salt goes a long way. The healing powers of the Lord are more subtle in my opinion. The clarity of thought that faith in Him brings is itself often enough to “heal” many ailments.

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    • Thanks–but I am not sure your mild scepticism is well founded. There are very good arguments that the gospels are drawn from eye-witnesses accounts, and the mention of specific names suggests that these people were well known in the early Jesus communities.

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    • I think that is unlikely given that both his followers and enemies (such as the Jews) accepted he was performing miracles – the question was where was he getting the power from.

      Peter

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  4. Acts 8:18: “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money.” Surely Simon is asking for the ability to transmit the charismatic gifts – note he did not ask Philip. I suggest this ability to transmit the gifts is a key “sign” for an apostle. It seems to me to be in accord with the rest of the NT, including Acts 19 and 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, and a great many other places. No more apostles means no more miraculous gifts “on demand”?

    Reply
    • I think that’s an interesting point Colin. Could it be that the miraculous gifts were limited only to the Apostles? It does not rule out them given to others but the Apostles clearly had a significant role in the early development and establishment of the Kingdom that caused the miraculous to be emphasised more than perhaps today?

      Reply
      • But does that understanding not contradict Jesus’ own words which seem to relate to ALL believers? He doesnt single out the 12, or any other close disciple.

        Peter

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      • Those that the apostles laid hands on could exercise the gifts, but could not transmit them to others. For example, Philip (Acts 6:5-6). Hence Simon’s request to Peter not Philip. And what is Paul saying in 2 Corinthians 12:11-12? It seems he could do something even the ‘super apostles’ with all their miracles could not. And what is Paul saying in Romans 1:11? And look carefully at Acts 2:1 – who are “they”?

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        • And compare carefully 1 Tim 4:14 with 2 Tim 1:6. It seems Paul is clarifying that although others were there at the laying on of hands for Timothy the spiritual gift came from Paul himself. As far as I am aware there is only a single exception to the transmission of the miraculous gifts by apostles in the NT – and that is in Acts 10. This is understandable – God was using the occasion to teach Peter a lesson about the inclusion of the Gentiles?

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          • Several bishops I have worked with have claimed that their particular charism is an apostolic one. Hence the view among some that bishops can make pronouncements with authority. One of them claimed particular gifts of healing and deliverance. I’m not sure if there was much by way of documented evidence and that particular bishop made some rather wild claims. The question often seems to me: how can we determine the genuine from the whacky and where’s the line?

          • I do think ‘apostle’ is quite a difficult terms since it implies such different things:
            (1) the 12 titular apostles so designated (proleptically, or in view of their forthcoming minstry? Or because of the sorts of missions in Mark 6?), who (Acts 8) were the only ones *not* to travel far and wide!
            (2) Church planters
            (3) Missionaries
            (4) ‘Apostolic ministry’ in the catholic sense of spreading the gospel far and wide
            (5) Those Christians with judicial functions (4th gospel has this in mind)
            (6) Traditional Christian ‘priesthood’ as being apostolic, as being a ministry inherited from the 12
            (7) A witness of the resurrection (1 Cor 9)
            (8) Someone who carries out a particular remit (e.g. ‘apostle to the poor’).

            These range far and wide re how far they are related to the apostello etymology.

  5. Again I think somewhat the opposite. (Hype and lies are often appalling in this area, worse than the nonChristian standards that were supposedly being turned away from.)

    If miracles increase with a Bonnke, then does it not follow that they will increase further with a more-than-Bonnke and further still with a more-than-more-than Bonnke?

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    • Yes the word apostle in Greek simply means sent. The context determines the meaning of any word with a semantic domain. For example: “I can kick a can down the road further than you can – can you get a can and then we can see whose can goes furthest.”

      The Christ-commissioned Apostles, the 12 minus Judas plus Paul (not Matthias?) are those it seems that possessed the transmission gifts which were a mark of their authority, one that Paul pulled rank on in 2 Corinthians – distinguishing himself from other apostles.

      Reply

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