This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 28, 2017.
After Jesus’ resurrection, he showed himself to be alive to the disciples and many of his other followers over the next forty days. Jesus continued to talk with them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) as his time of departure approached. His final conversation with the remaining eleven disciples took place on a Thursday before he ascended from earth back to heaven. The main theme of the conversation still centered around the kingdom of God.
The disciples thought if their king had risen from the brutal death he endured, then their ideas of the coming kingdom must be alive once more. Perhaps now was the time Jesus would free them from the ongoing Roman oppression they had endured as Jews since 63 B.C. Now would be a wonderful time to put their occupiers out of their sights and cleanse their promised land of Israel of all foreign rule and idolatry that had crept in over the past half millennia plus. Thus, the final recorded question to Jesus from the disciples before his ascension is an important one that helps us understand their ongoing expectations.
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Jesus tells them such timing is not the main issue for them to concern themselves and instead redirects their question to a promise and a purpose for them. The promise is that power is coming to them in the form of the Holy Spirit. The purpose is for them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Luke groups his letter of Acts in this succession of chapters: Jerusalem (1-7), Judea and Samaria (8-12), the ends of the earth (13-28).
The theme of “witness” saturates Acts as the word “martures” in various forms is found thirty-nine times. We get our English word martyr from this Greek word for witness as the two became linked through the stories of persecution of the faithful ones who shed their blood as martyrs of the faith as they witnessed about their risen king named Jesus.