The walk back to Jerusalem (( Acts 1:12)) was surreal. On the one hand, they had witnessed Jesus enter heaven, where they knew he was going to be with his father. They praised God for what they had seen. ((Luke 24:52)) On the other hand, they were confused. Jesus had not done what they expected from a triumph Messiah. Why choose such an unusual method to establish his kingdom? What king had ever been victorious by retreating? It seemed to them a very strange way to restore the kingdom to Israel.
Alone, without either Jesus or the holy spirit, their minds grappled with what they had just witnessed. Though Jesus had tried to prepare them for this moment, it was beyond what they could imagine. It would take some time before they realized it was a lesson about what it meant to be the kingdom of God.
If Jesus had marched into Rome and taken control, like countless dictators before and after, it would have satisfied the disciples, but it would not have fulfilled God’s purpose. A leader like that, no matter how good and just, would always find opposition from others who wanted supremacy. Even if he could defeat every insurrection and coup, the war would be endless and the body count staggering.
If Jesus had set himself up as the supreme overlord of earth, it would have met the expectations of his followers, but destroyed their unity. Already prone to jockey for position, each one would have been at the others’s throats, constantly scheming to secure his own promotion and stop the rise of those below. The seat at Jesus’s right hand would always be contested, and the hierarchy of those struggling to reach it would crush those at the bottom.
If Jesus had remained as a earthly teacher, dispensing wisdom and settling disputes, it would have pleased his followers, but it would have made them useless. Given the choice between listening carefully to the holy spirit or asking Jesus what to do, the easy way would win every time. Why experiment with something new when you have the perfect teacher who can give you all the answers? The kingdom could never grow beyond the area that one man could govern.
Instead, he gave his followers the chance to discover his kingdom for themselves. Without him they would struggle, and sometimes fail, but they would grow. The men in white had said Jesus would be back, but they hadn’t said when. All the disciples knew was that they were to wait in Jerusalem. ((Acts 1:4))