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We approach God, not by making Him the object of our thinking, but by discovering ourselves as the objects of His thinking. (A. Heschel, The Prophets Vol. II, p. 267).


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It Is Not for You to Know Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 April 2007

The NT does not say much about the land or the kingdom of Israel. All the more attention is paid to those few verses that do. Among these is Acts 1:6-7. The passage is understood in different ways, but one thing is clear: most end-time books stand in flagrant contradiction of this direct statement of Christ.

When asked by his disciples: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”, Jesus answers: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” According to a common interpretation, this clearly implies that the kingdom of Israel will be restored at some point. After all, Jesus does not correct the expectation of his disciples; he merely declines to satisfy their curiosity. There are, however, two problems with this interpretation.

1. There is a second, very different interpretation of these verses. In most cases, this alternative is either not mentioned or simply brushed off the table as “obviously” untenable. Most of the time, no real interaction with it takes place.

The alternative is based on the immediate context of the passage and on the overall picture given in the NT. It is odd, to say the least, that this question is asked after Jesus has just spent forty days with his disciples “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). It suggests that the disciples have still not understood what Jesus is really about (it would not be the first time). Their expectation of Jesus continues to be what the Jews in the first century were generally expecting: a national, political empire Israel. To them, redemption still means: liberation from the Roman yoke. However, both the salvation and the kingdom about which Jesus speaks in the gospels are radically different from the understanding of his contemporaries.

In addition, it is feasible that the commission in 1:8 is an implicit correction of their expectation. It establishes the way in which the kingdom promised by the prophets will come about: the disciples proclaiming the Lordship and rule of Christ in all the world. Israel’s Messiah is no super-David. He does not establish his rule through military conquest. He is neither a nationalist nor a Zealot, a Jewish freedom fighter. Had he lived today, he would not be a Christian Zionist either.

The immediate context of these verses and the NT understanding of the kingdom of God make for two good reasons to reconsider the first interpretation. Whether one accepts the alternative or not, it is worthy of careful consideration.

2. Even if the first interpretation is correct, and there must be a national restoration of Israel, it still holds, that it is not for us to know the times or the seasons. Put bluntly: it is none of our business. Whether and when there will be a national restoration of Israel is God’s prerogative. Our responsibility is described in Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

A clear assignment. This makes it all the more surprising that many Christians continue to wrestle with the question of the disciples: Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And how? Hundreds of books boldly claim to provide answers to these questions.

Judging by Christ’s answer to his disciples, this can only be a waste of time.


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