I am continuing an ongoing series on platitudes, which are frequently uttered intended to deflate enthusiasm to study biblical prophecy, shutting down discussion of God’s Word about our Lord’s coming. Here is the next platitude I want to address.
“Acts 1:7 Teaches We Should Be Concerned with Evangelism Not the Second Coming”
(6) So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (7) He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. (8) 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 farthest parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:6–8)
This is a favorite proof text for those who want to shut down conversation about the future second coming of Christ. The platitude, however, is erroneous since it is a false dichotomy, shallow, and taken out of context. Further, it does not dawn on those who invoke this platitude that the platitude directly contradicts the many biblical exhortations and commands to understand the events surrounding our Lord’s return, found explicitly in Jesus’ teaching in his Olivet Discourse, Paul’s Thessalonian epistles, and the book of Revelation.
So what does Acts 1:6–8 teach us? Incidentally, I like to call this the “mini-Olivet Discourse” since it was also given on the Mount of Olives by Jesus concerning his second coming. The meaning of this text is not really that difficult. Jesus has been on earth after his resurrection almost forty days with his disciples teaching them on the future kingdom of God (v. 6), along with other doctrinal and ethical matters.
Now try to put yourselves in the situation of the disciples. They have given up their lives the past few years to follow Jesus of Nazareth, who they believe is the expectant Messiah that was predicted by their prophets of old. They have just experienced the crucifixion drama, denied Jesus, only to witness his glorious resurrection and be reunited with him. Then for almost forty days the disciples are being taught about the kingdom and other matters.
So their natural response makes perfect sense: “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” In other words, they are asking, “All of these teachings are good, but will this happen now?” They should had known better because a few days before the crucifixion Jesus taught them the sign and the conditions that must first be met before he returns to establish the kingdom (Matt. 24). But his disciples—as the Gospels reveal—needed to be reminded often of what they had been taught.
Jesus replies to the disciples by reiterating two points he taught them over a month ago on the Mount of Olives. Here is the first point:
“You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. (Acts 1:7)
“But as for that day and hour no one knows it—not even the angels in heaven–except the Father alone.” (Matt 24:36)
Jesus reminds them that the timing is the Father’s domain, not theirs, or even his. Notice the second point between Acts and the Olivet Discourse:
“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 farthest parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)
Jesus teaches that it is necessary for them to be witnesses to the world before his return. In the Olivet Discourse, the disciples ask what is the “sign” of his return, while in Acts they are more impatient with asking “is this the time.” So about forty days after the Olivet Discourse just before his Ascension, Jesus did not feel the need to reiterate his entire Olivet Discourse, only to give a couple highlights from his previous teaching. (To be sure, Jesus may have reiterated his entire Olivet Discourse just before the Ascension, if Luke decided to record these as summary highlights).
I want to give one last example showing that this platitude is vacuous. Later in the book of Acts we see Paul uses the second coming of Christ (judgment) as the basis for his evangelism when he was witnessing to the Athenians: “because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31). So the false dichotomy between the second coming and evangelism here, as well, fails.
Takeaway: This facile platitude “Acts 1:7 Teaches We Should Be Concerned with Evangelism Not the Second Coming” ignores the context and cherry-picks Scripture, attempting to nullify or minimize God’s revelation about the events surrounding his return taught in the Olivet Discourse, Thessalonian epistles, and the book of Revelation.
Acts 1:7 does not not contradict, nullify, or minimize other portions of Scripture, it complements it.