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The Imminence of the Kingdom in Acts 1: "Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
by Don Preston
Acts 1 is, interestingly, a text that commentators struggle with, when it comes to eschatology. The respective eschatological paradigms have a tendency to view the disciples’ question regarding the establishment of the kingdom in one of two ways:Acts 1 is, interestingly, a text that commentators struggle with, when it comes to eschatology. The respective eschatological paradigms have a tendency to view the disciples’ question regarding the establishment of the kingdom in one of two ways:1.) The millennialists insist that since the disciples asked about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, that they retained their nationalistic hopes, but, Jesus’ answer supposedly informed them that the promise of the kingdom had now been postponed.1
2.) The amillennial and postmillennial commentators have a tendency to state that the disciples were in fact still deluded with the nationalistic hope of the kingdom, and that Jesus chided them for this, instead telling them to go into Jerusalem.2 One writer goes so far as to say that the disciples were still, “contaminated with the earthly kingdom virus!”3
While this article could become quite lengthy, I will confine myself to making a very few salient, but powerful points.
1.) Regardless of their concepts of the kingdom in Acts 1, the context proves that Jesus was very powerfully telling them that the establishment of the kingdom had not been postponed, and that the time for its initiation was near.
2.) That since the initiation of the kingdom was near, this demands that the parousia of verses 9-11 would occur in that generation as well.
When one examines the O.T. prophecies of the outpouring of the Spirit, there are several things that are easily established:
1.) It would be a “Last Days” phenomenon (Joel 2:28f).
2.) It would be for the purpose of raising Israel from the dead, i.e. The restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 37:12f).
3.) It would be poured out during the time of the giving of the New Covenant, the establishment of Messiah on the throne of David, the establishment of the New Covenant Tabernacle (Ezekiel 37)..
3.) It would be a sign of the Great And Terrible Day of the Lord (Joel 2:28f).
4.) The result of the Spirit’s work would be the inclusion of the Gentiles into the blessings of the restored Israel (Joel 2:31).
THE KINGDOM AND JOEL 2-3
Many commentators take note of the fact that Jesus, in direct response to the disciples’ question about the kingdom, said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NKJ). He had also just told them to go to Jerusalem and await that outpouring: “And being assembled with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me, for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5). Were Jesus’ words intended to chastise the disciples for their misunderstanding, or to tell them that the kingdom had in fact been postponed? Neither! Jesus’ words, when properly understood, were powerful indicators that the kingdom was about to be initiated!
Let me state this as succinctly as possible, the outpouring of the Spirit was a Last Days sign of the full establishment of the kingdom at the Day of the Lord. Thus, in Matthew 3, John’s promise that the Messiah would baptize with the Spirit was another way of saying “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” Furthermore, and this is important, the promise of Acts 1 is the same promise of Matthew 3. There is no doubt that it is. Therefore, since John made the promise of the Spirit well before any imagined “postponement” of the kingdom, this verifies that the promise of the Spirit in Acts 1 was indeed linked with the inauguration of the eschaton and the impending establishment of the kingdom.
In other words, the kingdom was near in Matthew 3, and the promise of the Spirit found there was part of the promise and indication that the kingdom was near. But, in Acts 1, when Jesus told the disciples to go into Jerusalem to await the Spirit, they remembered John’s promise that the Messiah would baptize with the Spirit! Thus, Acts 1, with the re-affirmation of the imminent out-pouring of the Spirit, is a powerful affirmation that the kingdom message of John was now even nearer than before!
There are few millennialists, if any, that deny that the promise of Joel 2:28f was a promise of the outpouring of the Spirit to establish the kingdom. There is scant necessity to document this, as it is well known by anyone that has studied the millennial literature. That being the case, notice the following:
1.) In Acts 1, Jesus was promising the disciples the Spirit.
2.) The promise of the Spirit in Acts 1 is the promise of the Spirit from Matthew 3.
3.) The promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 is given in the context of the promise: “the kingdom of heaven as drawn near.” There is no hint of a postponed kingdom in Matthew 3.
4.) Acts 2 is the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit from Acts 1.
5.) Since the promise of the Spirit in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of the promise of Acts 1, it is therefore the fulfillment of the promise of Matthew 3.
6.) The promise of the Spirit in Joel 2:28f was the promise of the Spirit for the last days establishment of the kingdom.
7.) The promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 and the promise of the Spirit in Joel 2 are both the promise of the Spirit for the establishment of the kingdom. Since Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Matthew 3, it is therefore, irrefutably true that Acts 2 was the fulfillment of Joel 2! Of course this is precisely what Peter affirmed.
THIS IS THAT WHICH WAS SPOKEN BY THE PROPHET JOEL
On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit was miraculously poured out, manifested in the speaking in tongues on the part of the disciples (Acts 2:1-5). Now, unless one is willing to completely divorce the events of Acts 2 from Jesus’ promise in Acts 1, then patently, Acts 2 must be seen also as the fulfillment of John’s promise in Matthew 3, as seen just above. But of course, that is not all.
In response to the spectacular and stunning display of the Spirit, the apostles were accused of being drunk. Peter’s response dispelled that charge:
“17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: 19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: 21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
In virtually all circles, it is acknowledged that Joel 2 foretold the establishment of the Davidic kingdom. The out pouring of the Spirit was to be a sign of that great event. Of course our millennial friends, due to their belief that the kingdom offer had been withdrawn and the kingdom postponed, insist that the events of Pentecost are unrelated to the prophecy of Joel. Fruchtenbaum says, “Virtually nothing that happened on Pentecost was predicted in Joel.”1 Dwight Pentecost, says that the events of Pentecost were not the fulfillment of Joel, but simply prove that Joel will one day be fulfilled.2 In a radio debate with Thomas Ice, I cited a work Prophecy Watch, that he co-authored with Timothy Demy.3 In that book, it says that Joel “partially fulfilled at the day of Pentecost.” When I gave that citation, Ice vehemently denied believing that Joel was, in any way, fulfilled on Pentecost. When I documented, in follow-up private correspondence, that I had not misrepresented the quote, Ice admitted that I had cited the book correctly, but that he did not believe what was in the book that he had co-authored.
In subsequent writings and radio programs, I have noted that while dispensationalists do not use the specific words “this is not that” for Peter’s quotation, their position on the text is that Joel definitely was not fulfilled on Pentecost. So, Peter’s “this is that” in actuality, for some millennialists means, “this is something like it will be one day” or, “virtually nothing” foretold by Joel was fulfilled on Pentecost,” or some other kind of denial that Joel was in fact being fulfilled on Pentecost.
In a recent email exchange, I invited Thomas Ice to debate me publically, again, in Carlsbad, N. M., in 2008. His rather curt response was “Don, No.” His reason was that I constantly misrepresent him–in fact he called me a “liar”-- and the key area of his accusation was that I twist his words on Joel 2. Ice claims that I tell people that he and other dispensationalists specifically say that Peter said, “This is not that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” As already noted, I have never accused Ice or any other millennialist of using those specific words. What I have and do say is that their position on Acts 2 and Joel, their denial of fulfillment of Joel, their obfuscation when pressed to explain what Peter might have really meant, and their over all refusal to deal with Peter’s emphatic words, demands that while they may not use the specific words, “this is not that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” they do not believe or accept Peter’s words, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” This was proven by the correspondence with Thomas Ice.
As our correspondence proceeded, in order to get at the root of what Thomas actually believes, I asked him to clarify his true position on Joel/Acts 2. I asked him if Peter meant:
1.) This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.
2.) This is like that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.
3.) This is not that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.
So far as I can tell, these would be the only real choices for a person, any person, to take on Peter’s words. Although I repeated my questions to Thomas repeatedly, he adamantly refused to offer any answers whatsoever. So, if the millennialists do not believe that Peter truly meant “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” and if they do not believe that Peter said, “this is like that which was spoken by the prophet Joel”, and if he did not say, “this is not that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” what in the name of reason did Peter say, and mean?
The reader has to see how devastating Peter’s emphatic statement really is. If Peter was declaring that the outpouring of the Spirit was in fact the fulfillment of Joel, then the entire house of cards called dispensationalism comes crumbling down. Now, since Peter said “this is that” and did not use any of the Greek words for “like that” or “similar to that”, and since he certainly did not say “this is not that” we can safely conclude that his words, “this is that” truly meant, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.”
Peter’s words on Pentecost, as we have suggested, must be seen in the light of Matthew 3 and Acts 1. Remember that in Matthew 3, the promise of the Spirit was given in the context of the soon coming kingdom. The chronological setting of that promise is so significant, because the millennialists claim that the kingdom truly was near in Matthew. It had not yet been postponed. So, the promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 must be seen as the promise of the Spirit in Joel, as the last days sign of the nearness of the kingdom.
However, if the promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 is the promise of the Spirit in Acts 1– and that is undeniable, then since the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Acts 1, that proves beyond doubt that the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 was, after all, the fulfillment of Joel!
Our argument would take the following form:
The promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 was the promise of the Spirit of Joel 2.
The promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 was the promise of the Spirit repeated in Acts 1.
But, the promise of the Spirit in Acts 1 was fulfilled in Acts 2.
Therefore, the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, being the fulfillment of Acts 1, and Matthew 3, was the fulfillment of Joel 2.
Since the promise of Matthew 3, as shown, was inextricably linked with the establishment of the kingdom and fulfillment of Joel, this proves beyond all dispute that the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost was not the sign of a postponed kingdom, but was, in fact, the sign that the kingdom glory was near!
It is only by ignoring or denying the relationship between Acts 1, Matthew 3 and Joel, that one can deny that Acts 2 was the fulfillment of Joel. And this has, as we have already suggested, devastating implications for the millennial view.
If Acts 2 was the fulfillment of Joel, as Peter affirms, and as the connections with Acts 1 and Matthew 3 confirms, then there was not postponement of the kingdom on Pentecost. There was no delay, no establishment of the church as an emergency interim measure, unforeseen by the O. T. prophets. All was on schedule. All was as God originally planned. And, this is confirmed even further by a brief look at something else Peter said on Pentecost.
SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND!
In Acts 2:33f, Peter affirms that Christ had received the promise of the Spirit. That promise was that Messiah would be raised to sit on the Davidic throne (v. 29f). Then, Peter said that Christ had ascended into the heavens, there to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High. This statement is incredibly important, and supports our thesis that the kingdom was in fact nigh, more, it was coming into nascent reality that very day!
When Peter said that Jesus had been made “Lord and Christ,” and had ascended to the right hand of the Father, he cited Psalms 110:1. It is significant that Psalms 110 is cited, alluded to, and quoted more by the N. T. writers and speakers than any other O. T. prophecy! In all, scholars calculate that Psalms 110 is cited some 33 times in the N. T..4 The significance of this should not be lost on the modern reader. If the N. T. writers and speakers cite a particular prophecy that many times, perhaps we, as modern students, should ask ourselves why? What was it about that one O. T. prophecy that so impacted the inspired writers? More specifically, how does Peter’s affirmation that Psalms 110 was being fulfilled through Christ’s resurrection/ascension relate to the question of the postponement of the kingdom, and the imminence of the kingdom in Acts 1 and 2?
You need to understand two critical tenets of dispensationalism:
1.) They believe that due to Jewish unbelief, the Messianic kingdom offer was withdrawn, and the kingdom postponed.5 In other words, nothing that occurred on Pentecost had anything to do with the David kingdom promises.
2.) They do not believe that the church was foretold anywhere in the O. T. by any prophet. Walvoord stated: “The present age (of the gathering of the church by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ) is a parenthesis or a time period not predicted by the Old Testament and therefore not fulfilling or advancing the program of events revealed in the Old Testament fore view.6
With these things in mind consider now Acts 2 and its use of Psalms 110. What cannot be doubted is that Peter was saying that the Psalms was being fulfilled in Christ and his resurrection/ascension. Furthermore, this is admitted by virtually all millennialists! Now, you just have to catch the power of this!
Let me state this succinctly to help us understand what is at stake here.
The events of Pentecost, based on the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father, were the fulfillment of Psalms 110:1f.
But, the events of Pentecost included the establishment of the church, the body of Christ.
Therefore, the establishment of the church was foretold by Psalms 110.
Now if, as cannot be denied, Christ’s ascension to the Father’s right hand was the fulfillment of Psalms 110, and if Christ’s session at the right hand was his establishment of the church, then this means a couple of things:
1.) It means that Psalms 110 foretold the establishment of the church. (Again, if Psalms 110 foretold what happened on Pentecost, then since Pentecost was the establishment of the church, this means that Psalms 110 foretold the establishment of the church.)
2.) If Pentecost was the fulfillment of Psalms 110, then this means that YHVH’s prophetic plan was right on schedule! Let me say this one more time: If Pentecost was the fulfillment of Psalms 110, and I currently know of no millennialists that denies this, then this is prima facie, irrefutable proof that there was not delay in God’s kingdom plans! Everything was right on schedule. Just like Galatians 4:4 said, God sent His Son at just the right time!
The implications of either, or both, of these indisputable points is fatal to the millennial view. Since the church, in the millennial paradigm, is supposedly an unforeseen, un-prophesied reality, then the fact that Psalms 110 foretold the church crumbles that pillar of dispensationalism.
The postponement theory is so critical to dispensationalism that Ice admits that without a gap between the 69th and 70th Week of Daniel 9, dispensationalism would not exist!7 Well, the fact that Peter affirmed in no uncertain terms that the events of Pentecost were the fulfillment of Psalms 110 shows, definitively, irrefutably, that what was happening was according to God’s plan. It was no suspension of the prophetic clock! You simply cannot admit and agree that the events of Pentecost were foretold by Psalms 110, and then affirm that what happened on Pentecost–the establishment of the church-- had never been prophesied!
So, what this ever so short article has done is to show that Acts 1 is a reiteration of the promise of the Spirit iterated by John in Matthew 3. Yet, the promise in Matthew was in fact the promise of Joel, Ezekiel, etc. that in Israel’s last days, the Spirit would be poured out as an eschatological kingdom sign! Thus, when Jesus told the disciples, in response to their question about the restoration of the kingdom, to go into Jerusalem to await the out pouring of the Spirit promised by John in Matthew 3, he was, in the most powerful way possible, telling them that the kingdom was indeed very, very near! No postponement, no failure, no “Plan B!” God’s plan was right on course!
Also, when Peter affirmed so clearly that Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father was the fulfillment of Psalms 110, there could not be a more definitive refutation of millennialism! While it was, indisputably, the establishment of the church taking place that day, Peter’s declaration that what was happening was the fulfillment of Joel, and Psalms 110, proves that the church was indeed foretold by the prophets, and it was predicted to occur at the very time that it did! Again, no postponement, no failure, no alteration of the plan! The fulfillment of Psalms 110 in his ascension and enthronement at the right hand forever falsifies and destroys the foundations of dispensationalism!
How true were the words of the prophet: “Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, And distress them in His deep displeasure: "Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” (Psalms 2)
All that one has to do is to examine the fact that YHWH would laugh at man’s attempt to thwart His plan. He would hold them in derision! He would say, “Yet have I set my King on My holy Hill of Zion!” That “YET” is incredibly powerful, and is echoed in Luke 10 as Jesus sent his disciples to preach, “The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” He knew that the Jews would reject the message and invitation. And remember that this was early in his ministry before the kingdom offer was supposedly withdrawn! So, he told his disciples: "But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’” Catch the power of that nevertheless! It says that God well knew what was going to happen! It says that He knew that the message was going to be rejected! YET, He told them to tell the Jews that in spite of their rejection, rebellion and unbelief, “Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you!” There could hardly be a more positive declaration that Jewish unbelief would not alter, postpone or defeat God’s kingdom plan!
What great comfort it is to know that man cannot thwart God’s plans. How wonderful it is to know that He did not fail, He did not alter His plan! He has given to man what He wanted, what He planned, what He prophesied, and it is called the body of Christ! Believers today need to stop looking past and beyond the body of Christ, anticipating something “better” and glorify Him as He intended all along: “Now unto Him be glory in the church, by Jesus Christ, throughout all ages, age without end, Amen!” (Ephesians 3:20f)!
1 In a recent (May 1-4, 2007), four night formal debate in Memphis, Tenn., my opponent, Michael Bugg, insisted that Acts 1 proves the disciples were still expecting the restoration of national Israel, but that Jesus informed them it had been postponed.
2 Amillennialists Gareth Reese, New Testament History, Acts, (Joplin, College Press, 1983)1+ is representative of most amillennialists in claiming that the disciples were still mistaken about the nature of the kingdom.
3 Burton Coffman, (Austin, Tx., Firm Foundation Publishing, 1976)18+
1. “How the New Testament Uses the Old Testament”, Three page article sent to me by Thomas Ice.
2. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, )470
3. Prophecy Watch, Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, (Eugene, Or., 1998)137
4. See for instance David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand, Psalms 110 in Early Christianity, (New York, Abingdon, 1973)15
5. Cf for instance Thomas Ice, End Times Controversy, (Eugene, Or. Harvest House )85– “Because even after his resurrection, that nation rejected Him, it became impossible to establish the kingdom (cf. Acts 3:18-26).” We can safely ascribe this to Thomas Ice since the quotation is taken from the chapter bearing only his name, with no co-author.
6. John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1975)231.