“Acts 1:6-7 and the Restoration of Israel” by Matt Waymeyer
Does the Bible teach that the nation of Israel has a distinct role in the future plan of God?
Many Christians deny that it does. According to Bruce K. Waltke, “no clear passage [of Scripture] teaches the restoration of national Israel” because “the Jewish nation no longer has a place as the special people of God.” In the words of Herman Ridderbos, “The church . . . as the people of the New Covenant has taken the place of Israel, and national Israel is nothing other than the empty shell from which the pearl has been removed and which has lost its function in the history of redemption.” The words of Waltke and Ridderbos represent well the belief of many—no future for Israel.
One of the many passages which present a problem for this view is Acts 1:6-7. In this passage, just before Jesus ascended into heaven, the eleven disciples asked Him: “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) This question is profound, and its meaning unmistakable. In fact, even covenant theologian O. Palmer Robertson—who denies a future restoration of Israel—summarizes it well:
What can be said about the nature of this kingdom as understood by the disciples? The fact that they spoke of its being “restored to Israel” indicates that they were thinking of it as a national entity with its center located in Jerusalem and its domain encompassing the land of their fathers. They were expressing the Jewish hope that God would establish his rule, so that Israel would be freed from its enemies and reconstituted as the great nation that it once was.
The significance here is obvious: At the time of Christ’s ascension, the disciples were still expecting a future restoration of the kingdom to the ethnic nation of Israel. How, then, is it reasonable to deny a future for Israel?
One response is to say that the disciples were significantly misguided in their thinking. According to John Calvin, “[T]heir blindness is remarkable, that when they had been so fully and carefully instructed over a period of three years, they betrayed no less ignorance than if they had never heard a word. There are as many errors in this question as words.” Similarly, according to Robertson, “these disciples’ understanding of the nature of Christ’s kingdom was little better than had been displayed by the Jews in the days of the Maccabees or by the Zealots in Jesus’ own day.” In other words, even though the disciples fully expected the kingdom to be restored to the nation, this expectation was in vain, and it betrayed an astonishing ignorance of both the nature and the recipients of the kingdom.
Although the disciples were certainly misguided and in need of correction on several occasions throughout the ministry of Christ, it is difficult to believe that this was one of them. Instead, Acts 1:6-7 clearly indicates that there is indeed a future for the nation of Israel in the redemptive plan of God. (emphasis added) I say this for two reasons: the context of the question and the answer to the question.
The Context of the Question
The disciples’ question did not arise in a vacuum. It came at the end of the 40-day period between the resurrection and ascension of Christ in which He appeared to the disciples and continued to teach them. It is reasonable to assume that Jesus taught them many things during this time, but Acts 1:3 mentions only one: “the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
As Jews, the disciples were certainly aware of the OT prophecies concerning the kingdom that would be restored to Israel, and during the earthly ministry of Christ, they continued to expect this very restoration. And although they did not initially understand that the death of Christ was necessary for its establishment, they listened to the resurrected Jesus teach about the kingdom over a 40-day period, and at its conclusion, one thing remained clear in all of their minds: the kingdom would be restored to Israel. . . .[Continue reading at the Cripplegate]
Matt Waymeyer teaches hermeneutics and Greek at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, California.
“Church History and Israel’s Future” by Nathan Busenitz