"Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 2:6). That was the long-held expectation. That Messiah would come and deliver Israel from the hands of Rome and restore the Davidic dynasty. That the glory held during the time of Solomon would once again return to the land, where everyone lived "under his vine and under his fig tree" (1 Kings 4:25). At least that is what Zechariah prophesied (see Zech. 3:10).
We're often quick to jump on the disciples and Jewish people of that day for having the wrong expectations, for looking for a physical kingdom instead of a spiritual one. But, if we look at the prophecies, we see that they were looking for exactly what was foretold. We shouldn't discount those expectations. We just need to learn to look at them in a different light.
The yearning within the disciples represents a yearning that is within us all. For peace and justice within our borders. For freedom from oppression. For a name that we can be proud of. For a place to call home. These are the things that Messiah, the righteous branch of David, was supposed to bring. But, when Yeshua left this earth, things seemed still very much unchanged. If anything, things began to get worse, leading up to the destruction of the second Temple and the second exile. What happened? Zechariah's prophecy gives us two clues.
First, notice what leads up to the restoration of the Kingdom. In verse 9 we see God declare that He will "remove the iniquity of the land in a single day." This was preceded by an entire picture of Joshua the priest being purified of sin. Nowhere is there any mention of Rome or any other nation or enemy in this chapter. The principle obstacle to restoration was not those with swords and chariots. It was what resided in the hearts of every man: sin. We know this to be true throughout the rest of the prophets as well. The oppression of foreign nations is always attributed to Israel's sin. Deliverance is always predicated on repentance. But, that requires something more than sheer willpower. That requires a transformed heart.
Secondly, notice the method by which God says He will accomplish the vision. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit" (4:6). In other words, deliverance isn't coming with a sword and an army. It's coming by the power of God's Holy Spirit. Indeed as we read through the acts and words of the Apostles, we see that Spirit alive and active throughout the lives of both Jews and Gentiles. An awakening begins.
I think all too often we lose the practical significance of what one seed planted accomplished. Back in the time of Yeshua, the world was mostly pagan. Today Christianity dominates a third of the globe. Back then, access to the word of God was not that readily available. Today there's a copy of the Bible in almost every household making it the most popular book ever. And now, because of Christian Zionism, Israel has their own nation again. To be sure, the radical transformation that God began in the hearts of men is long from over (and will never be truly complete until Messiah returns). But, one cannot help but notice how God seems to be accomplishing His purpose, even restoring the kingdom of David, not by might nor power but subversively through the work of the Spirit moving among the Gentiles. Only, this way it takes the promise much higher.
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isa. 49:6 ESV)
God will indeed restore the Kingdom to Israel (though it is not for us to know when). But, He'll do that as part of a much greater work powered by the Holy Spirit to bring redemption to the ends of the earth.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Act 1:8 ESV)