The following comments are designed to help you better understand the passage and stimulate your thinking on the implications of the scripture.
The opening scene in Acts focuses on the risen Jesus surrounded by his disciples. Jesus is giving his disciples missional directives that they don’t fully grasp or understand. As we read Acts 1:6, we start to realize that the disciples are very confused as to what is going on and what is about to happen. To fully comprehend the confusion that the disciples felt, one must understand their misunderstandings of why Jesus came to the earth in the first place.
Jesus’ disciples had all grown up under the harsh Roman rule over Israel. At the same time, they were incredibly familiar with the Old Testament and it’s many promises about a future Messiah who would come to establish his kingdom and destroy his enemies. This Messiah, it was assumed, would be akin to the powerful warrior-king David and would reestablish the Jewish monarchy and lead his people into a golden era of peace. When Jesus showed up on the scene, the twelve disciples genuinely thought that he would destroy Rome and liberate the Jewish people once and for all. In short, the disciples had a completely wrong view of the kingdom. John Stott explains:
In the English language, of course, a “kingdom” is usually a territorial sphere which can be located on a map, like the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, the Hindu kingdom of Nepal, the Buddhist kingdom of Thailand, or the United Kingdom. But the kingdom of God is not a territorial concept. It does not — and cannot — figure on any map. Yet this is what the apostles were envisaging by confusing the kingdom of God with the kingdom of Israel…They were still dreaming of political dominion, of the re-establishment of the monarchy, of Israel’s liberation from the colonial yoke of Rome. (Stott, The Message of Acts, 41-42)
The response given by Jesus to his apostles must have shocked and dazed the disciples:
It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:7-8)
Rather than Jesus sending his apostles to destroy Israel’s enemies, Jesus sends his apostles to proclaim the good news to them, starting in Jerusalem and eventually taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. The kingdom of God was very different than what anyone could have anticipated. John Stott comments:
The kingdom of God is his rule set up in the lives of his people by the Holy Spirit. It is spread by witnesses, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force of arms, political intrigue or revolutionary violence. (Stott, The Message of Acts, 42)
What happened next was even more unexpected. After Jesus calls his disciples into this radical mission and commands them to wait in the city for power from the Holy Spirit, Jesus ascends into heaven. The importance of the ascension is impossible to overstate. Jesus doesn’t float away into the sky, disappearing from the earth, never to be seen again. Rather, Jesus ascends into heaven where he takes his rightful seat at the right hand of God. Jesus is overseeing, directing, and orchestrating his mission from the throne of heaven as the King over every king.
Nonetheless, the disciples did not immediately understand what was taking place. Luke records them staring off into space, confused and unsure as to where Jesus could possibly be going. John Stott, again, is helpful on this point:
There was something fundamentally anomalous about their gazing up into the sky when they had been commissioned to go to the ends of the earth. It was the earth not the sky which was to be their preoccupation. Their calling was to be witnesses not stargazers. The vision they were to cultivate was not upwards in nostalgia to the heaven which had received Jesus, but outwards in compassion to a lost world which needed him. It is the same for us. Curiosity about heaven and its occupants, speculation about prophecy and its fulfillment, an obsession with “times and seasons” — these are aberrations which distract us from our God-given mission. Christ will come personally, visibly, gloriously. Of that we have been assured. Other details can wait. Meanwhile, we have work to do in the power of the Spirit. (Stott, The Message of Acts, 51)