Acts 1:1-5: Here we have the introduction to the second part of Luke-Acts. He offers a quick summary of what he had written in the gospel and adding a few remarks about the time between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The account here is different from the account in the gospel, where Jesus ascends into heaven on the evening of the resurrection. Here there are forty days of teaching about the kingdom of God. As he prepares to ascend, he promises the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is the same Spirit by which Jesus has taught (verse 2). Luke did not think of the ascension as an event that can be objectively dated, but as a way of expressing God’s act for Jesus after his death. God not only restored him to life and overcame death, but exalted him to be Lord of all (People’s New Testament Commentary).
The teaching about the kingdom of God was a central theme of Jesus’ message. Barbara Reid notes in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible that the Greek words we translate as “kingdom of God” can be difficult to convey in English. It is not a kingdom in terms of geography, but is meant to convey “the sense of God’s saving power over all creation, already inaugurated in a new way with the incarnation and ministry of Jesus, and continued in the faithful ministry of the believing community.” For those in the first century, any talk about a kingdom would have brought to mind “the Roman imperial system of domination and exploitation.” God’s reign, God’s kingdom, is meant to contrast sharply with that way of being, that system of organizing human life. The kingdom of God is a way of life, a dream for a world, that is healing and liberating, free of domination. That the authorities of Jesus’ time viewed his preaching and teaching about this alternative kingdom as a threat is evidenced by the fact that Jesus was executed.
Acts 1:6-11: Even with additional teaching about the kingdom of God, the apostles (Luke will now consistently call the original disciples of Jesus “apostles” meaning “those sent”) still remain confused about the nature of the kingdom of God. They still ask about the restoration of Israel as an independent nation. That is not the point, however. God’s kingdom is happening in a new way. The Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus) will come with power into the lives of the apostles, and they will share the good news of the kingdom, be its witnesses throughout the world. Luke is thinking beyond the original apostles to all those who in the name of Jesus are touched with power by God’s Spirit, including the Christians of his own day and time. Christians are not only to follow Jesus in the way they live their lives, by adopting his priorities and continuing to serve others as he did; they are also called to declare verbally why it is that they live that way (People’s New Testament Commentary). Today many of us are more comfortable with the idea of trying to pattern our lives after the way of Jesus, however challenging, than also sharing why we do that. Sharing our faith is an important part of living that faith. We need not do this obnoxiously or arrogantly, but it is a part of the life of faith to share that faith with others. The work of the Spirit in our lives and in our world is a story worth telling. After giving them both a promise and an assignment, Jesus ascends – it is the work of God raising him up. They stand watching, but are reminded by two men in white robes that there is work to be done, Spirit work. When I read this passage, I am often reminded of how often in the spiritual life we are tempted to cling to older realities. Instead, we are reminded that the journey goes on, even in the midst of great change. The apostles will miss Jesus, but they can’t spend their time wondering where he went or when he may return. They have the Spirit’s work to do.
Acts 1:12-26: The apostles return to Jerusalem. Some kind of headquarters for the Jesus movement has been set up. There is no single list of names for the apostles in the gospels. Anyway, the apostles, and other followers of Jesus, men and women, gather together regularly for prayer. Spirit work includes the work of prayer. Peter takes a leadership role in the early Jesus community/movement. The reference to the Scripture being fulfilled is not meant to imply a deterministic prediction of all that had happened, rather it was meant to convey that all that had happened was still within the purpose of God. Jesus crucifixion was considered a scandalous event, not something that should have happened to a righteous person. The early church claimed that this tragic death was part of the way God was at work in the world bringing God’s kingdom to the world. It was an audacious theological claim. Other events surrounding the death of Jesus were then also understood by consulting the Jewish Scriptures, including Judas’ death. There was a feeling that Judas needed to be replaced, and through prayer and the casting of lots, Matthias was chosen for the ministry of witness to the resurrection, the ministry of apostleship. Paul and other New Testament writers do not limit the ministry of being an apostle to these twelve. Luke later adds Barnabas to the list of apostles, but not Paul. Paul considered himself and apostle, however. All this points to a certain fluidity in the early church. While we would not choose church leadership by casting lots, we should affirm the importance of prayer in the process of choosing leadership and of the importance of listening for God’s Spirit.