The disciples gathered at the Mount of Olives1 with growing expectation. They could tell that Jesus was leading up to a big moment. The triumphant Messiah was untouchable. Death itself could not stop him. He could now travel anywhere in the world in an instant, and they had already known he was a miracle worker. Their imaginations ran wild with scenarios: He could appear inside the Holy of Holies and announce himself to the startled high priests as their new king. For that matter, he could show up in Tiberius’ bedroom, strike down that false “son of a god”, and declare himself the world’s rightful Caesar.
The world had no power over him now, and the disciples knew that victory lay ahead. They could be forgiven a moment’s thought to their own impending reward, as those who had chosen to follow when he had been a little-known Galilean construction worker turned rabbi. They were ready to see the dreams of their ancestors fulfilled. Today could be the day when Israel returned to its rightful place as a world power. Was it? They had to know, and so they asked him.2
For Jesus, this question posed three problems:
In some sense, the answer was “no”, and would always be “no”. Their culture’s view of what the Messiah was meant to be had muddied the waters so much that having the kingdom restored was unimaginable to them without wars and conquests, but that had never been the real plan.
In another sense, the answer was “yes”, and actually “that has already happened”. He, as Israel’s one righteous representative, had battled and defeated death. The announcement of his rule had already gone out to all of creation. If they could not see it, it was only because of the deep-rooted rebelliousness of mankind.
In the most important sense, it simply wasn’t helpful. Jesus knew many people who were so obsessed with foretelling the Messiah, and finding every shred of scripture pertaining to him, that they had missed him when he was standing right in front of them. “That’s God’s concern, not yours”, he told them.3 “I have a different mission for you, but you can’t do it without the holy spirit’s power. I need you to announce my kingdom to the entire world.”4