Times and Seasons

By Dr. Samuel M. Frost

In Luke’s work concerning the very beginning of the function of God’s people under the new leadership of Jesus of Nazareth (otherwise called, The Book of Acts), Jesus, having ascended in glory to the ‘throne of David’ (Acts 2.30; cf., Luke’s history of Jesus, Luke 1.32), now ‘rules in the midst of his enemies’ (Psalm 110.2; cf., with Acts 2.34-35, where Luke records Peter quoting Psalm 110.1).  This ascension to the ‘right hand’ of God’s power, to the ‘throne of David’ in terms of what David’s throne ultimately meant (to even David himself, for he was a ‘Prophet’ – Acts 2.30), would be followed by an indefinite time of ruling ‘in the midst of’ the enemies of God, until they are all made ‘a footstool for his feet.’  Conquered, and vanquished.

For terms of covenant, ‘removal of enemies’ from the land was the ultimate ‘blessing’ (Deuteronomy 28.1-ff.).  Under the leadership of Solomon, ‘son of David,’ such serene existence was had by Israel (1 Kings 4.24) for forty years.  It was the apex of Israel’s existence.  However, it was not to last.

Luke, thoroughly familiar with this history, opens his work with Jesus’s ministry for ‘forty days’ (Acts 1.3).  Jesus, having been raised from the dead, glorified, and seen as the ascending one, ministered to them concerning ‘the kingdom of God’ (1.3).  In a strict outline of prophetic motif, the ‘Holy Spirit’ is mentioned (1.2), and is ‘poured out’ in terms of empowering the believers for the missionary task (evangelization) focused on Jerusalem, Judea (south) and Samaria (north, in the Galilean areas), and finishing those boundaries, commencing the furthest reaches of land mass, wherever that would lead (Acts 1.8, expressed in a common term, ‘last parts of the land,’ where ‘land’ with the article means ‘earth’ in general; land where ever land may be found.  In common Greek usage, it had no geo-political boundary markers).  One could imagine it being somewhat in reference to the idea of ‘where ever your foot may step’ (on land; Deuteronomy 11.24; Joshua 1.3, echoing still, Genesis 13.17)[1]

It is in this vein, after forty days of the Jesus seminary (!), a disciple asks, ‘Lord, if (ei) in this time (chronos) are you restoring the kingdom to Israel?’  Jesus’s answer is not, ‘no.’  It is ‘it is not for you to know the times (chronoi) or seasons (kairoi) the Father has set (tithemi) in his own power’ (Acts 1.7).  It is often supposed that the question means, “immediately, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  However, this is a conditional clause, ‘if’ with an indicative verb.  In Greek, this is a ‘simple condition.’  The speaker assumes the reality of what is asked.  In this case, the kingdom will be restored to Israel.  What is in doubt is, ‘when.’  The speaker is not expressing immediate restoration, or ten-years-from-now restoration, and so on.  The kingdom will be ‘restored’ to Israel, but ‘when’ this will happen is not for them (‘you’ is plural) to know the times and seasons that are set by the Father.  In other words, the time for Israel’s restoration has been set.  It is future.  It is unknown.  This is what the text tells us.

As for the term for ‘restore’ (apokathistano/-thistemi), it is found in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (known to the NT writers) concerning Israel’s restoration: Jeremiah 16.15; 23.8; 24.6; 27.19; and several others.  A notable description of what ‘restoration’ means, see Daniel 4.36-37.  After forty days talking with Jesus, this was their final question: ‘if, in this time, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel?’  Jesus’s answer is, ‘yes, I am.  But as to when, it is not for you to know this, except that the times and seasons are set by the Father.’

I bring this up because in the restoration of ‘the kingdom’ to Israel there shall be ‘peace on all sides’ as we saw under the rule of Solomon, ‘son of David.’  The ‘son of David’ theme plays a large role in Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2), noting that one of David’s sons would be heir.  This heir is Jesus.  Hence, it is not that Peter immediately had some sort of epiphany concerning Psalm 16, or 110, but that just ten days earlier, for forty days, Jesus was speaking to him ‘concerning the kingdom to God.’  What Peter is teaching in his first sermon is what Jesus taught them.  Jesus is David’s son, and David was promised that a son would sit on his throne, “forever.”  The dimension of “forever” finds its fulfillment in the human being who cannot ever die: Jesus, son of David, raised immortal, seated on the throne immortal, raised from the dead.  Therefore, it is quite in line with seeing this event (ascension, Psalm 110) as being the ‘time’ when God would restore not only the Davidic Throne (he has), by raising up a King for Israel (done), and bringing swift judgment to the world (he is), but also for the peace of Israel forever as Israel, God’s people, would spread peace.  The word, ‘time’ (chronos) does not mean in this context, “this second,” but, ‘if, in this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’  The verb is in the present tense.  Jesus is restoring things, like the Davidic throne.  But, there are ‘times and seasons’ (plural) to this restoration.  For right now, King Jesus, King of the Jews, King of Israel, King of Kings, is fulfilling Psalm 2 (see Acts 4.25, where the disciples said, ‘who spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant’).  In that psalm, David’s son is seen as ruling ‘with a rod of iron’ and ‘breaking the nations to pieces.’  His wrath is stated to ‘flare up quickly’ during this time of ‘ruling in the midst of his enemies.’  How long this rule will continue is not known.  It is for times and seasons that the Father has set.

We may refer back to the rather ‘hard saying’ of Jesus in Matthew 10.34.  ‘I have come not to set peace, but in strong contrast, to set a sword.  I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, a daughter in law against her mother in law.  The enemies of a man will be his own household.  Whatever man loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…everyone who confesses me before the face of men, I will confess him before the face of my Father, who is in heaven.’  How does Jesus confess the names of followers before the face of his Father, ‘who is in heaven?’  Precisely because Jesus ascends to heaven, where he stands before the Father.  What happens to the followers of Jesus who are still on earth?  ‘You will be hated of all men on account of my name’ (Matthew 10.22).  Jesus is in heaven.  Carrying the cross is on earth (Matthew 10.38).  However, the Spirit is promised to them (Matthew 10.20).  The most startling announcement is that Jesus stated that before they completed the task of going through the cities of Israel (Judea, Jerusalem, Samaria), he, the ‘son of man,’ would come (10.23).  This ‘coming’ (erchomai) cannot be the ‘coming’ (10.34) of which has already commenced.  Jesus has already come (erchomai) to bring a sword, not peace (this is a picture of Messiah in Psalm 2, and 110).  What ‘coming’ is hinted at here?  One that will happen before they even finish, or begin to finish (as the word means) the small mission of the cities of Israel (which they already began, see Matthew 10.1-ff.)?  Daniel 7.13-14 speaks of a ‘coming’ (erchomai) of the ‘son of man’ to heaven, where the Ancient of Days resides, the ‘Father who is in heaven’, before who Jesus confesses the names of his followers.  This ‘coming of the Lord on heaven’s clouds’ is Jesus’s ascension to the right hand of God, and it is a description of his rule and reign ‘upon the clouds of heaven’ that commences with his exaltation.[2]

With this understanding, Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2 launches with the Prophet, Joel.  Undoubtedly, Jesus reviewed ‘all the law and the prophets’ with his disciples for forty days.  In Luke 24.27, Jesus reviewed ‘from Moses and all the Prophets’ to those walking with him.  There, Jesus taught that the Prophets taught that the Messiah must ‘first suffer and enter into his glory’ (24.26).  This entering into his glory is found in Daniel 7.14, where upon entering, ‘glory’ is ‘given’ to him.  He entered into the glory of the Ancient of Days.  Peter is more descriptive: Jesus is he ‘who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him’ (1 Peter 3.22).  This is the same conflation of Psalm 110, and Daniel 7.13 we find in Matthew 26.64.

                Therefore, the disciples’ question in Acts 1.6 is entirely within the scope of what Jesus spoke to them for forty days.  With a clear insight in his teaching, and the Scriptures, Peter strings together Isaiah 2.1 with Joel 2.28 (Acts 2.28-ff.).  There, Joel speaks of the ‘restoration’ of Israel, while he is ‘in the midst’ of them (same phrasing in Psalm 110.2, ‘rule in the midst of his enemies’).  Indeed, Jesus is pictured, invisibly (like a thief), as one walking ‘in the midst’ (same phrase) of the congregations (Revelation 2.1).  He rules with a rod of iron (Revelation 2.9; 12.5 where his birth and ascension are seen; 19.15).  For a time, ‘the nations do rage’ (Psalm 2.1; cf., Revelation 11.18).[3]  He is gathering together his people, in heaven and on earth.  He is saving them from the ultimate enemies in heaven (sin, death, evil), and on earth.  He is preparing them for the time of resurrection.

                For the NT authors, the last times, or latter times, commences with the ascension of the son of man to the Ancient of Days.[4]  There, Luke clearly portrays Jesus as being “received” (dechomai) in a “cloud” as he is “taken up” to heaven.  The logical formation of such a picture is that Jesus is being enveloped by a divine cloud as he ascends into heaven, ‘coming on a cloud’ to the Father.  There is no more clear presentation of Luke than the one given in Acts 7.55-ff., where Stephen sees the conflated images of Psalm 110.1, and Daniel 7.13-14.  Stephen becomes the model ‘servant’ (diakonate) of the Risen Messiah.  While he is dying, he prays for forgiveness; he blesses his enemies. He asks the Lord to “receive” (dechomai) his spirit in heaven.  He is able to do this because Messiah has all power and authority.  Jesus took up his cross, and so does Stephen.  Stephen confesses his Name, and Jesus confesses Stephen’s.  As for those who killed Stephen, one of them, Paulus, is converted by the risen human being he thought was dead, and body was hidden somewhere.  Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, lets him know that he was dead.  But now, he is very much alive.  He is the Messiah, the Seed, the Prophet, the Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He is with the God of David and Jeremiah; Paul’s God.

                With all of this in mind, we find two places that confirms our understanding.  Peter dominates the first major part of Luke’s retelling of the early Jewish history of Messiah’s followers.  The powerful sermons of Peter recorded for us to read sheds incredible light on early formations of what later became ‘eschatology.’  For Peter, Jesus has gone into heavenly glory at God’s right hand, fulfilling a number of the Psalms, as we have seen.  This exaltation in heaven, however, means that the man, Messiah Jesus, a son of David ‘according to the flesh,’ is also in heaven.  He is, certainly, made present on earth, but this is through his relationship/union with the Holy Spirit (who receives great emphasis in Acts).  It is through ‘knowledge’ given by the convicting power of the Spirit that ‘reveals’ the truths of Jesus’s true identity in heaven.  This is not ‘empirical’ evidence, though that certainly in Peter’s day could be provided for by living witnesses (provided that you take them at their word).[5]

                First, the disciples preaching of the resurrection of the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, was adamantly opposed in Jerusalem’s leadership.  The idea that Jesus of Nazareth, some fifty or so days earlier, rose from the dead and entered heaven, where he now is, meant one thing: the Jewish leadership acted with great ignorance (Acts 3.17).  The idea that they “killed” the Messiah is fresh on the lips of Peter and Stephen.  If they killed him, then God raised him back up.  Jesus’s resurrection, then, and entrance into heaven at God’s right hand, on the throne of David (the real throne which David saw), meant that Jerusalem would not be the place of exaltation and glory.  In Jesus, then, the ‘resurrection of the dead’ can be seen in the fact that 1. Jesus was raised, and glorified.  2.  His followers would also be raised, and glorified.  This is the import of Acts 4.2, where ‘the resurrection of the dead’ is preached ‘in Jesus.’  That is, ‘the hope of Israel’, her ‘restoration’ is ‘the resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 23.6; 24.15).  Even though Jesus alone is raised, Israel’s ultimate hope of restoration and resurrection will come through Jesus; the man these leaders killed.

                Peter stated that Jesus is the Prophet Moses spoke about in Deuteronomy 18 (Acts 3.22), that is, that God would “raise up” (anastaseos, resurrect).  Jesus, then, in heaven, is still functioning as ‘the Prophet.’  He then, as noted above like Jesus, goes through Moses, Samuel and ‘all the Prophets’ that have foretold ‘these days’ of Jesus’s execution, and his being raised again, and his exaltation as the son of David to the throne of God, according to the Psalms.  ‘These days,’ of course, are the ‘times and seasons’ and ‘the latter days.’  What marks ‘these days,’ however, is that Jesus ‘must remain in heaven until the times (chronoi) of restoration of all things’ (Acts 3.21).  It is quite plain here that Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, is ‘in’ heaven, where the heavens have ‘received’ (dechomai) him.  The end point of heaven receiving him, where he abides, is “until the times of restoration”, which the logical inference being that he will no longer be received in heaven, but will descend from heaven wherein he currently “is.”  This is speaking of the human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

                In the meantime, however, God sends “times (kairoi) of refreshing” directly from the “presence of the Lord” (where he is, in heaven), bring Christ “to you” (Acts 3.20).  This is the operation of the Holy Spirit, who conveys “the Christ” in terms of presence, and knowledge; even though the man Christ Jesus, body and soul, is in heaven.  It is quite noticeable that Peter is using “times and seasons” (kairoi kai chronoi) as we have seen in 1.6.  The “times” of refreshing are now until the “times of restoration”, and these multiple “times” in both senses of the Greek usage, are heading toward “the time” (chronos) of restoring the kingdom to Israel; a new heaven and a new earth.

                The term, “refreshing,” is found a few times in the OT, and it means a time when God ‘refreshes’ the soul (Psalm 66.12; 1 Samuel 16.23, and a few more).  It is in this context that the Spirit is “sent” in order to “comfort.”  By the Spirit’s work, Jesus is “manifested” to believers, but not “to the world” (John 14.22).  The world “will not see me” because Jesus is “going to the Father” in heaven (John 14.19).  Here we find the NT teaching of the Spirit “revealing” the Son so that in the Spirit, the Son is “present,” while yet at the same time, the “man, Messiah Jesus” is “in heaven” and “heaven must receive him until the times to restore all things.”  It is in the tri-persons of the one God that NT theology worked.  By understanding, also, the divine nature, and human being of the Son of God, the NT writers can speak of Messiah “in you”, and yet also, “in heaven, at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3.1).  The ‘coming’ of the Lord cannot be reduced to his coming in Spirit (John 14.18, where the present indicative is used), nor can it be reduced to his descending (coming) “from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 4.16), or “out of heaven” (Philippians  3.20) in the end, to raise the dead.  Peter’s call to repentance so that ‘times of refreshing’, and the sending of ‘Jesus Christ’ mark the Spirit’s work in the believer.  His being in heaven “until” the “times of restoration of all things” is the end.

                These “times and times” (kairoi kai chronoi) are known to the Father.  We find one more instance (there are several), where Paul mentions that the world (which does not see Jesus) will be judged “through a human being, who he has appointed” (Acts 17.31).  There is a “day” in which this will happen.  This is very much in keeping with Jewish theology in their time.  God has “set certain times (kairoi)” (Acts 17.26) for nations, and their boundaries so that out of the world, people “would seek him” because he is not “far away,” but “near” (Acts 17.27; cf., Romans 10.3-ff.).  This is typical of Paul’s threefold ‘eschatological’ outlook.  God ‘in times past’ (Acts 17.30, chronoi) did not bring about “the appointed day” of judgement on the whole world (mentioned several times in the Prophets).  However, because of the “resurrection of the Jesus from the dead”, it is now certain that he will bring that Day (Acts 17.31).  It is certain because Jesus has been raised from the dead, which is the nature of what “that Day” will be when the “dead are raised” in order to be “judged.”  Thus, “times past” (OT times), the “present time” (now; the last days), and “that Day” mark the threefold divisions of NT eschatology, bringing in the ‘age to come of eternality,’ the ‘restoration of all things.’  OT times “from the beginning of creation” to the time of the resurrection of Jesus, where the same OT message of grace is now preached in Christ, marks the “ends of the ages” times and seasons, the latter days times and seasons.  This is the preaching of the gospel of God, which was preached in the past times, but now is made manifestly plain (Romans 3.20) in the person of Jesus Christ marks the “latter days” until the “restoration of all things” or “the Day” when God judges the world occurs.  Until then, Jesus of Nazareth remains “in heaven”, though he is made manifest through the Spirit, sent by the Father.

                By understanding rather simple theological expressions, the NT writers came to understand that the “fullness of the godhead” was entirely at work in salvation, with the goal of redeeming creation itself.  In participation of the godhead, the believer, even in the OT times, was regenerated by the Spirit, through the Son, at the Father’s will.  This is what the NT reveals of the OT.  It reveals how the godhead worked in the OT, and the incarnation of Jesus is given to mankind in order to plainly explain what God has been doing “all along.”  This view incorporates the OT so that it is entirely relevant for today (“these things are written for our examples” – 1 Corinthians 10.11), understands the “times” of the NT eschaton (“the latter days” of time), and keeps very close by the sacred “hope” of both the OT and NT believers “together” (Hebrews 11.39-40) the OT and NT saints will participate in the ‘resurrection of the dead’, and inherit “all things” which are “restored” in heaven, and on earth.

[1] There is much to be said here concerning the promise of ‘land’ to Abraham.  Paul understood it to mean ‘the world’ (Romans 4.13), which in light of what Abraham saw, the sun, moon, stars, and the land ‘as far as the eye can see’ and ‘where ever your foot stands’ could encompass ‘the land’ as it originally was created (Genesis 1.9,10); see Walter Brueggemann, The Land¸ Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1977; for an excellent survey, William Barclay, F. F. Bruce, Eds., The Beginning of History, Abingdon Press: New York, 1963, pp. 65-ff.; also, Duane L. Christensen, Word Biblical Commentary 6(A): Deuteronomy 1-11, in loc., 11.24, where the description here is well beyond the limited geographical boundary of modern Israel, even to ‘the Atlantic ocean’ (p. 219).  The ancient world was well aware of existing lands and people far beyond their own locations (see Isaiah 66.19).

[2] This is thoroughly documented in my book, The Parousia of the Son of Man, Lulu Press, 2020.

[3] It is largely noticed in Revelation that Psalm 2 is used as a template throughout.  In Revelation 11.18 we have a clear allusion to Psalm 2.1, 12, where the ‘wrath’ of the ‘son’ is ‘quickly’ (en tachei, LXX; Revelation 1.2) flared.  This expression of wrath against the nations is not a ‘one time’ flare up.  It is multiple flare ups ‘en tachei’ (with speed, quickly) of the Son of God (Revelation 2.18) during the ‘time’ of his reign and authority, which has arrived (Revelation 1.3).  It is in this vein that the Lord Jesus is ‘near’, even ‘in the midst’ of the congregations, ruling against his enemies, and, though they suffer as pilgrims, saving those who endure patiently.  God’s wrath is ‘daily’ (Psalm 7.11) displayed, daily ‘flares up’, and does so ‘with speed.’  We should find Jesus operating in the same authority of YHWH in the OT; that is, for now, invisibly in divine power, as a thief in the night to the unsuspecting who walk in the night, and not in the Day.

[4] Our earliest creeds reflect the very same sentiment, noting that “in these last days, for us and our salvation”, where “us” is for those who believe, who wrote this creed – Chalcedon, 451 AD.  It is very well attested that “the last days” in terms of Isaiah 2.1 commenced with Christ’s ascension, and spreads til the end of time, where “we look forward to the Age to Come” (Apostles’ and Nicene expression).  Hence, the “last days” forms the entire period of the “times and seasons” the Father has set, until “the last day” when all the dead are raised, and the living changed.  This would be “the end of the age.”  This rather simplistic structure of ‘eschatology’ has served the church in all four corners of the earth well.  It is thoroughly derived from Scripture, and only recently (19th century) has become entangled in complicated “systems,” notably in forms of Preterism, Chiliasm, Dispensationalism, and the like.  This is not meant to minimize the rather often bizarre landscape of diverse opinions in the first three centuries, but that what found its way into the creeds was unified.  These diverse opinions were not made subject matter of the creeds; see Richard Bauckham, The Fate of the Dead: Studies on Jewish and Christian Apocalypses, Supplements to Novum Testamentum, Volume XCIII, Brill: Leiden, 1998.

[5] Paul appeals to more than ‘500 witnesses’ in 1 Corinthians 15.3, but does not address the issue with following generations, long after these witnesses have died.  Peter is fully aware of this, noting that his disciples have not seen Jesus, yet love him as if they did (1 Peter 1.8).  In John’s evangel, Jesus is reported as saying virtually the same thing, John 20.29.  It would be through the conveyance of the Holy Spirit of God, and by the Spirit that Jesus operates ‘in the midst’ of both the congregations and his enemies while at the same time, as concerns the human being, the son of man, his location is ‘in heaven.’  It is within these two aspects of the NT Christology the later theologians of the second and third centuries worked out a formula that respected the scriptural phenomena: One Person, Two Natures, Human and Divine.  By “human”, the early fathers meant “a rational soul and body,” (ek psuches logikes kai somatos – ex anima rationali et corpore) in heaven. 

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