When the Lord initially offers the disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit, the disciples respond by asking if He is finally going to restore the kingdom of Israel. That they are still fixated on this idea of an earthly kingdom shows that they are lacking the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, for it is only after Pentecost that they come to fully understand the goal of the Lord. Christ came not to restore the kingdom of Israel, but rather to restore Israel and all of the world to the kingdom of Heaven.
This is important for us in the West to understand. We are so often guilty of doing exactly this. We come to the faith and begin seeking contemporary role models. In so doing, we end up aligning ourselves with a particular political party. We turn to those media outlets which promote those contemporaries and, lacking the discernment of the Holy Spirit, immediately accept those ideals instead of the concepts that we see in Scripture. Ultimately, we assume a reductionist approach theologically, mentally assenting to the existence of God, rather than coming to true faith in Him. We distill our faith from the supernatural kingdom down to a political demographic, replacing dogma with policy and miracles with legislation. We teach that miracles ceased with the close of the canon, and that the power of the Holy Spirit is evident only through those concrete actions which we could easily attribute to the power of the will. Our faith ultimately becomes evident solely based on our voting attendance and political stances. Most Americans, when they hear that someone is a Christian, rightly assume certain things about them, politically speaking. Unfortunately, when we do this, we display to the world that we are seeking a governmental system rather than a Church, and that our faith is in politics, in man, rather than in God.
Then Jesus ascends into the heavens, and the disciples stand there, until the angels come and ask why they are just standing there. One of my favorite images in all of Scripture. See, we are called to faith and the action which that faith demands; not standing idly gazing into heaven, neither sitting idly staring at books. Jesus Himself warned us, “You search the Scriptures, thinking that in them you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40). The Scriptures are given that we may know about God, that we may learn about Him, but that knowledge can never replace our relationship with Him. So often, we mistake knowledge for maturity, forgetting that Satan himself quotes Scripture constantly. And He prescribes for us what this relationship must look like. “If you love Me, keep My commandments,” (John 14:15), He warns us. “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). And what does He tell us? “I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; naked and you did not clothe Me; in prison and you did not visit Me…inasmuch as you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for Me.” (Matthew 25:42-43,45). James warns us to be “doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22) and that “pure and undefiled religion before God is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27).
See, before Pentecost, the disciples sought the Messiah to establish this earthly kingdom, a government that would uphold their values. One that would defend and strengthen their nationalism. They were from a great kingdom historically and wanted to Messiah to restore that greatness. Remember, they didn’t ask the Messiah if He would finally build a new kingdom, they asked if He would restore the kingdom to Israel. But, after they had received the Holy Spirit, they understood more clearly that His purpose was not to save one nation, but rather to restore all nations to the kingdom of Heaven. With no ethnic barriers, no walls, no elect people to be saved; but rather to display the mercy, love, the compassion, the forgiveness of the Lord to everyone. And, as His followers, it is our responsibility to actively participate in that work. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the prisoners and the infirmed, to truly love our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot be followers of Christ and build barriers to keep out those that we don’t like; we cannot choose whom we deem worthy of sharing in the very gifts that God has blessed us with, unworthy though we be to have received them to begin with. In sharing the love of Christ with all, regardless any earthly label which separates us, we truly stand apart from the rest of the world.
Our salvation is not in a national government, it is participating in the life and saving work of Christ, and displaying those traits, His love, His mercy, His charity, His compassion to all. He never sought to restore any earthly kingdom, to make any nation great, but rather to restore the entire world to the kingdom of Heaven. In 2010, there were 2.19 billion people in the world who claimed to be Christian, who claimed to be ambassadors of our Lord Himself. Consider for just a moment what the world would look like if, rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted by worldly politics, or disputes over “works vs faith,”, all of us just stopped and did the work which He so plainly calls us to do.
Christ is in our midst.