The inauguration of the kingdom in Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit directed believers’ hopes toward a coming consummation of the kingdom, when the King now enthroned in heaven would return to earth as the rescuer of his people and the judge of all. This is the promise that two “men” in white robes, angelic messengers from God’s heavenly court, announced to the dazed disciples as they stared upward after their departed Master: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
The inauguration of the kingdom, especially in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, secures the kingdom’s future consummation at the end of history. This theme emerges in Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s portico (Acts 3:11-26). Through faith in the name of Jesus, a man born lame had been healed, so that he could not only walk but also leap for joy in the sanctuary of God. This act of power and mercy became the occasion for bold declaration of the gospel, in which Peter announced that Jesus, the Author of Life, had been raised from the dead by God himself (3:15). Peter then called the crowd to repentance, promising “that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets” (3:19-21; emphasis added). Several features of this striking sermon command our attention.
1. Jesus returns as king.
First, the future hope of refreshment and restoration, which should move Peter’s hearers to repentance, is bound up with the return of Jesus the King. Peter’s description of Jesus as “the Christ appointed for you” resumes the point he had made on the day of Pentecost: Jesus’ resurrection constitutes God’s declaration that he is “both Lord and Christ,” the rightful heir to David’s royal throne (2:25-36).
2. Jesus returns to heal the whole world.
Second, God’s ancient prophets had foretold the “times [or seasons] of refreshing” and “the time for restoring all things” for which God’s people were longing. Visions granted to Isaiah and other Israelite seers previewed a complete reversal of the curse that had entered the world and human experience through Adam’s sin. “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from the earth” (Isa. 25:8). This global healing would be bound up with the return of Jesus the Messiah “whom heaven must receive” until the time appointed by God the Father, at which time the King will appear to consummate his royal reign.
3. Jesus returns to change everything.
Third, the scope of “restoration” that the King will bring is greater than Peter and his fellow apostles had envisioned when they asked about restoring the kingdom to Israel. Peter now knew that the kingdom “restoration” that God’s prophets promised would be wider than Israel and deeper than politics. It would, in the end, embrace “all things,” a whole new heaven and a whole new earth, as Isaiah foretold (Isa. 65:17-25; 66:2-23). Peter would later encourage Christians to anticipate “a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). The restoration of the beggar’s ankles, so that he leapt for joy in God’s courts, was a preview of a coming healing of the whole cosmos.
4. Jesus returns to judge everyone.
Fourth, the consummation of his kingdom at the return of the King entails not only the comforting prospect of “refreshment” and “restoration,” but also the sobering prospect of judgment. Peter proclaimed Jesus not only as the messianic King, but also as the prophet like Moses whom God would raise up, and whose voice must be heeded. “And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people” (Acts 3:23, alluding to Deut. 18:15-19).
Later sermons in Acts identify Jesus himself as the final Judge of the living and the dead. Not only will the word of this ultimate Moses-caliber prophet be the norm by which all people will be judged, but Christ himself is also the royal Judge, authorized by God to render the momentous, eternity-determining verdict on every human life.
5. Jesus waits to return to save more people.
A fifth and final implication of the promise that “the Christ appointed for you, Jesus” will return from heaven to restore all things concerns God’s purpose for the lengthy interim between the King’s ascension and his second coming. As the once-lame man leapt in the temple court, Peter’s sermon concluded: “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:26). Christ’s resurrection from the dead did not immediately precipitate cosmic renewal, which would have entailed last judgment on every human rebel, precisely because, as John’s Gospel says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
The risen Servant Jesus now comes through the power of his Word and the presence of his Spirit to rescue rebels and turn them from the path of eternal destruction. Writing later to Christians dismayed by their Lord’s delay (as they perceived it), Peter reminded them, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance….Count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Pet. 3:9, 15).
Although it may feel like needless tardiness to suffering saints, in fact the timing of the coming consummation, sovereignly decided by the Father and known only to him, is determined by his gracious resolve to redeem all his elect among all the peoples of the earth. God’s patience in determining the moment of his Messiah’s return and the consummation of his kingdom is motivated by his resolve to keep his promise to Abraham, bringing blessing to all of his elect among every nationality “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
When everyone whose name is inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life has been drawn by the Spirit to trust in the Son, then at last, and at just the right time, God will send Messiah Jesus to consummate the kingdom, bringing the times of refreshing and the era of total restoration the prophets foretold, and for which we still long. Until then Christ’s church heralds the good news of our risen, reigning, and returning King to every ethnic group, calling all to repentance and faith as we eagerly anticipate “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) and the consummation of his rule in the new heavens and earth.
Adapted from Dennis E. Johnson, “The Great Assurance;” “Acts 6: The Consummation of the Kingdom” Modern Reformation, Nov/Dec 2011. Used by permission.