When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?…
They asked of him saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time... the earth? The question of the apostles of which St. Luke here tells us we do not find either in his Gospel or in that of any of the other evangelists, one among many indications of the probability that during "the forty days" much may have transpired between Christ and his apostles not left on record. It may nevertheless be noted, in passing, that the incident happens to be in interesting analogy with such another as that of which we read in John 21:20-23. And except for the fact that it is not put down to the account of Peter, we might probably be pardoned for surmising that it was he again who was the prime mover in it. We have here -
I. THE SIGNS OF EVEN APOSTOLIC CRAVING AFTER FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE.
1. Whoever may have promoted the question, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel most eagerly, we can feel no difficulty in admitting its very natural character. Nor is it at all necessary to affix too mean a construction to the motive of the apostles. Let it be granted only that their mind was not thoroughly delivered from the idea of a "kingdom of Israel" on earth, and we need not straightway therefore conclude that their chief thought or wish was to a "kingdom of Israel" of earth, rather than "of heaven" or "of God."
2. And as the question was not an unnatural one in itself, so also it was one that bears the traces of that deeper impression which had been most legitimately made on the apostles by the marvels of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Whatever might be in store or might not be in store for them in this matter of the long-cherished hope of a kingdom, their conviction was stronger and stronger grown that Jesus was One who could do this thing, who could be the Founder of such a kingdom, and establish it on no doubtful, hazardous, merely adventurous sort of footing, but worthily, strongly, and for ever. If other miracles were for a sign of his authority, and for a grand moral witness of him, this yet more than all else whatsoever: his own death issuing in resurrection! The space of one moment may have awakened again and ripened the impulse to dwell with a fascinated interest on this subject - the moment that in which "these sayings sank down into their ears," namely, that "they should not depart from Jerusalem," that they "should wait for the promise of the Father," and that they should "be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence."
(1) Nevertheless the issue, if nothing else, convicts the question of being the wrong one. How often the thins that are abundantly natural, and to which the warmest impulses seem made to lead us on, are for all that the forbidden - forbidden, perhaps, by Divine word of mouth even, otherwise by deeper sense in our own self and life! Christ apprizes his interrogators that on the merits of the case, not on any mere ceremony, the subject was one too high for them - "they cannot attain to it." It is for us to remember at the present time that nothing that we know is plainer than the some things we do not know, in matters of religious thought and speculation, that these "some" things which we do not know are often of the intensest speculative interest, are at the same time things not in the position of the not clearly "revealed," but of the clearly not "revealed," and that the more than likely reason for this is, that they are too high for human reason at present, and are kept for "yet the little while" of earth," in the Father's power. Let it, however, be granted that there may be other things left unrevealed, which rightly and designedly keep awake the intense speculative thought of the whole Church. They challenge not the presumptuousness, but the reverent diligence, of the Church's intellectual life.
(2) At a moment of confessed intense practical significance, the question of the disciples was the suggestion of a departure to an inopportune subject. In instances of far inferior magnitude how certain it is that we should remark upon the untimeliness of the interruption that broke in upon some supreme crisis of one kind with matter possibly quite foreign to it!
(3) Any way, the question looked too much in the direction of the old oft-reproved thing - of hankering for the form, the show, the handling of dignity and superiority and authority, not of the intrinsic but of the unreal kind.
(4) The condescending familiarity of the Savior should not have hidden for so much as a moment from the apostles reverence, or from their quickened apprehensions as to the nature of their Master, the interval that was between him and themselves. There can be no doubt that they had learned this, that the seed of conviction and godly impression had not fallen on trodden, impracticable soil, and that their opportunity of intelligent appreciation of Christ had been increased a thousandfold. Therefore the time - all the time - was what courted the attitude of adoring waiting and most heedful listening, rather than of suggesting the course in which such a Master's instructions, such a Lord's vouchsafings, should go. The language of a prophet better suited it: The Lord is in his holy temple: let all... keep silence before him!"
II. THE DISTINCT DENIAL ON THE PART OF CHRIST OF THE KNOWLEDGE CRAVED, Christ at once replies in language that we in modern times, at all events, would feel to be very emphatic: "It is not for you to know times and seasons, which the Father hath placed in his own power." Notice:
1. The freedom of this direct denial from asperity. If positive, it is not arbitrary; if severe in its strictness, it is not harsh; if decisive, it is not uncourteous or ungracious.
2. The loftiness, on the contrary, of the reason implicitly contained in the denial. The knowledge begged is not withheld as so much punishment or rebuke. It is withheld in this light, that it is not a thing of man, but of the Father - possibly Christ might still mean of the Father alone (Mark 13:32). But we cannot affirm this with any strong conviction, as he now speaks subsequently to his resurrection. Now, not the most sensitive disciple-temperament could have need to feel wounded at not sharing knowledge affirmed to belong either exclusively or all but exclusively to the supreme Father.
III. THE SUBSTITUTE IMMEDIATELY PROMISED. How often this is the method of Divine wisdom and kindness! How often the analogy of providence illustrates it, in the individual life. So rooted is it in the spirit of Christ's encouraging and bracing doctrine, "Ask, and ye shall have," that even when we ask amiss we very often do have something, and have something that we might have missed of had we not asked at all. So much does heavenly care appraise a hungering nature, an open mind, a craving heart, if it be anything at all within the compass of a right outlook that our desires go forth. And while the new gift is not what we asked, how sure it is to prove itself very superior in kind, and in its being the correctly adapted gift!
1. The substitute now proffered to the anticipation of the interrogators consists in an early and immense accession of power.
(1) It is real power.
(2) It is power guaranteeing at one and the same time holiness to self and usefulness to others.
2. The substitute both illustrated and was the outcome of very noteworthy principles.
(1) The principle of diverting mere speculative thought, or sentimental thought, or brooding, disheartened thought, by the bracing activity of work - work arduous and beneficent. Wonderful is the effectiveness of this corrective. It is an alterative safe, healthful, sure of compassing the desired end. Nor a whir less so in the light of one of the axioms of Jesus, "He that doeth,... shall know.
(2) The principle that the servants of Christ are witnesses, not prophets. They are hereunto called," to witness to the world's ends, and world without end. They are to be quite absolved, if, being faithful witnesses, they refrain from trying the wings of prophecy. In all directions, those of philosophy and of science, as well as of Christianity, human duty, human strength, human advance, lie rather in meditating and digesting the material of memory than in attempting the horoscope; in interpreting the past for the edification and helpful guidance of the present, than in forecasting and hazarding prediction. These last tendencies nourish dogmatism, for they bring forth what may not be able to be disproved, though it cannot be proved. And they nourish "lofty imaginations," and "high thoughts," and luxurious idleness, that consume the very time, when every heart should be humility and every hand should be industry. Thanks to Jesus, still Master, Teacher, Friend - fresh thanks to him from his modern disciples, who, when earth and air vibrate again with the shock and the clash of discordant theological polemics, still keeps his own band faithful to the memory of his own commission, that they should be "witnesses unto" him throughout all the world! - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?