Acts 1:6 - “So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (ESV)
The well-known promise of Jesus that we find in Acts 1:8 - “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” - is preceded by a question raised by the disciples about the kingdom. At this point we might assume the disciples had a clear understanding on the nature of the kingdom after being with Jesus for three years. And even more in light of the fact that the resurrected Christ had been appearing to them during forty days speaking about the kingdom of God and asking them to wait for the gift of the Spirit (Acts 1:3-4).
But the question they put to Jesus in verse 6 reflects a clear lack of perception. As a famous theologian once said, “there are as many errors in the question as words.” The verb “restore” suggests a political idea on the nature of the kingdom. The adverbial clause “at this time” expresses the expectation of an immediate fulfillment. And the noun “Israel” communicates a narrow and nationalistic understanding of the kingdom. Why were they exhibiting so much doctrinal confusion?
I believe the disciples still struggled to be willing to follow Jesus in mission toward the unbelieving world. As Professor Richard Lovelace explains, “Still gripped by the common vision of immediate peace and prosperity through the Messiah’s reign, they are unconsciously trying to evade the long period of spiritual warfare needed to spread the kingdom, to gather the elect from all ages of world history, and to allow followers of Jesus to become like him through sharing the way of the cross… The apostles were revealing the natural gravitation of their hearts away from outward mission and toward self-centered enjoyment of kingdom blessings.”
It shouldn’t surprise us that the same self-centeredness that characterized the people of Israel in the Old Testament, that prevented them from being a light to the nations, was a present struggle for the disciples, just as much as it is a struggle for us. Therefore Jesus responds by pointing his disciples to the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Only the Spirit, by continuously driving us to the cross, is able to transform self-absorbed people into self-sacrificing.
No doubt the disciples needed the presence and the power of the Spirit in order to be able to follow Jesus in a costly mission. And as we clearly see in the book of Acts, it is precisely in the context of mission that they would experience the Spirit’s empowerment in its fullest way. Again, Richard Lovelace explains, “Jesus responds by telling them that the greatest blessing they can know within ordinary history – the full empowering of the Holy Spirit – will only come to them in the context of outward movement in mission.”
When we pray for revival, we are praying that by the work of the Spirit, people would be converted and believers would be spiritually renewed as the gospel continues to sink deeper into their hearts. As an outcome we expect an intensification of the church’s participation in the mission of Christ in the world. But, interestingly, it is precisely in this outward movement of mission that the church also experiences revival. For when the church seeks to follow Jesus into the world, it learns to abide in Him and grows in experiencing His presence (2 Cor 2:14, John 15:5).