The context of our passage is the resurrected Lord Jesus speaking to his disciples before he ascends into heaven. He has been speaking to them with respect to the kingdom of God, and the gracious nature of it. In Luke 24, we read that he explained to them how the prophets wrote about his suffering and death.
The kingdom of God is his redemptive rule. Christ is the king of the kingdom. He frees captives in bondage to sin, death and the devil. The kingdom’s message to the sinner is he must no longer throw the fault upon others, nor blame circumstances, nor plead weakness for his sin. But plead guilty to the indictment of God, and find mercy and grace in Christ. That is the meaning of the cross of Christ.
The disciples have a question for Jesus that shows they still had a lack of understanding about other aspects of the kingdom. We see it in verse 6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” The question reveals that the extent of God’s grace in Christ isn’t fully clear to them.
They still see the kingdom as essentially Jewish in nature, and believe the consummation of the kingdom is at hand. Jesus admonishes them for the timing aspect of the question in verse 7, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
Paul gives instructions to Christians in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, regarding the return of the Lord Jesus. He wants us to know that Christians who die before Christ returns are not going to miss out on the glory of the event simply because they are not alive at the time. Also, he stresses the suddenness and judgment aspect of Christ’s coming.
Paul’s application can be summarized this way: knowing the finality of his appearing and how many will be shocked by it, the Christian is to be alert, walk in the light of Christ, live for his glory and encourage one another. Whatever else we believe about the return of Christ, it is plain the Lord directs us to godliness in anticipating this great event.
The extent of the graciousness of the kingdom is emphasized in verse 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 end of the earth.”
Instead of speculation about the future, the Lord tells his apostles they are to concentrate on being his witnesses. They will receive power because the Lord Jesus is ascending to the throne of God, and then the Father will send the holy spirit to apply the work of redemption.
The Lord Jesus has been given all power and authority, as was written of him in the prophets. In Psalm 103 we read, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules overall.” This is a prophetic of the ascended Lord Jesus.
Because he is on the throne, his apostles will not fail to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. The gospel will inexorably spread because of his grace and power. And so, it has. The apostles were Jewish, and at first they did not understand the outreach to Gentiles the Lord planned. The Lord is always more gracious than we can think or imagine.
An application of this truth is to be thankful if you know Christ. You can trace the origin of the eternal life you have, in Christ, to this command to take the gospels to the end of the earth. Be thankful to the faithful witnesses through the ages the Lord used to spread the gospel.
Secondly, if you would be a witness for the gospel of the Lord, you need to know the details of his life and work; what the prophets wrote of him, his birth, sinless life, his death on the cross, his resurrection, ascension and his return in glory. As the wonder of his glory and grace permeates our souls, we long for his rule to extend to other souls; that they may know his salvation.
Another application is to be encouraged if you know the Lord. He is indeed raised from the dead, and he has ascended to the throne of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ is over all, and though it is through many tribulations we enter the kingdom of God, the Lord will deliver us from them all.