Dispensational Studies in the New Testament

The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament and the New…by His Maiesties speciall Commandement. Appointed to be read in Churches (London, 1611-13)

This is a series of articles originally published in Spiritual Blessings Magazine under the covering title of ‘Dispensational Basics’. Most of the content focusses on dispensational aspects from the book of Acts, and has been written by Athol Walter, however there is also a contribution by Michael Penny. Note that the original series also included ‘When Did The Church For Today Begin?’ by Santiago Chua, which we have now published as a stand-alone article elsewhere on this website.

  • No.1: Prophecy in a Parable – Matthew 22 (Part 1)
  • No.2: Prophecy in a Parable – Matthew 22 (Part 2)
  • No.3: Will the Real Pentecostal Miracle Please Stand Up?
  • No.4: The Destruction of the Temple
  • No.5: Review – What We’ve Done So Far
  • No.6: What Kingdom Is That?
  • No.7: Cornelius – A Good Man in a Crisis
  • No.8: Cornelius – The Timing of His Conversion
  • No.9: Not More Christians (by Michael Penny)
  • No.10: … Now Let’s Pause and Consider
  • No.11: Stephen

No. 1: Prophecy in a Parable – Matthew 22 (Part 1)

It is not overstating the case to say that the Acts of the Apostles is the crucial area as far as understanding the New Testament is concerned. Acts has proved to be a crossroads, and if we take the wrong turn here, we will be wrong all the way through. Conversely, a correct understanding of Acts will necessarily put everything else in the New Testament into its right place, including the Gospels. The important issue that arises out of all this is the question concerning the beginning of the ‘Church’.

We should first take note of the main interpretations about the start of the church that exist amongst believers. The most traditional view is that Acts tells of the establishment of Christ’s Church on the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. Israel had rejected and crucified their Messiah, and as a consequence, God rejected Israel, and the Christian Church was commenced. Acts is the record of the early days of this Church. A corollary of this view is that the ‘Church’ has taken Israel’s place, or in other words is ‘spiritual Israel’. This is termed the Acts 2 position.

Another view is that Israel was not rejected after the Cross, but given a second chance. The coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 was to empower the apostles to make the second offer of the Kingdom to Israel, the signs and wonders confirming their witness. But by the time we get to the end of Acts, it was evident that Israel would still not accept Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah, so it then became apparent that what God was really doing throughout Acts was to start building the church. This view sees Acts as a transition from Kingdom to Church.

Still another interpretation also sees Acts as the second offer of the Kingdom to Israel. However, the people of Israel rejected this second offer, the climax of this rejection being the murder of Stephen. It was at that stage that Saul – later to become Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles – first appears on Scripture’s page. This interpretation says that it was with the conversion of Paul that the Church, the Body of Christ, was commenced, and that from that point on, Gentile believers became members of the Body of Christ, not part of Israel. This is called the Mid-Acts position. A variation of this interpretation is that the Body of Christ started in Acts 13, when Paul first turned to Gentiles after being thrown out of the synagogue.

The final view is that the Church which is His Body, to use the correct term, did not begin until after the people of Israel were set aside by God through Paul at the end of the Book of Acts. This is recorded in the last half of Acts 28. Once this point was reached, Acts stops rather abruptly. This abrupt ending worried me in the past, until I understood the purpose of the book of Acts. This interpretation is called the Acts 28 position, and is the position of this Fellowship.

The theme of Acts is the second offer of the Kingdom to Israel, and the purpose of Acts is to show why God’s chosen people were rejected by Him and lost, temporarily, their position of privilege. I know that the last sentence is a bald statement, and it is one of the main purposes of this ministry to show the Scriptural foundations of it. It is obvious that the doctrinal structure held by believers will differ greatly, depending on which of the above positions is believed to be the true one. It should also be obvious that the outcomes from each position are not only very different, but far-reaching.

We believe there are many supporting Scripture passages for our view of Acts, but the one I wish to focus on now is the parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son that we find in Matthew 22:1–14. It would help to read the previous chapter as well, where it is obvious that the subject is the Kingdom of Heaven (or God) and the very real possibility that the Chosen People were about to lose it if they did not change their rebellious attitude. It is in that context that the Lord told them (the Pharisees) another parable and said, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.’ I hope you can see that God is the king and the Lord is the son.

Notice in verse 3 that the servants were sent to call ‘those that were bidden’ to the wedding. This sounds a little strange to western ears, but it apparently was quite common in eastern societies for people to get an early intimation about a wedding, and later receive the notice of time and place We don’t have to think too deeply to understand that the people of Israel were ‘those who were bidden’ and that the prior bidding had been through the inspired writers of the Old Testament, promising the future glorious Kingdom of God for Israel.

So, the people knew the ‘wedding’ was coming, and there is much historical evidence, as well as the Gospel records themselves, to show that when John the Baptist appeared, followed by the Lord Himself, the expectation of the coming of the Messiah was wide-spread amongst the Jews. So what corresponds in fact to the invitation of verse 3? Nothing less than the ministry of John the Baptist followed by the Lord and his disciples, as recorded in the Gospels. What was the result? We know full well that the last words of verse 3 are tragically true, ‘and they would not come’. Remember, the Lord had just told them in the previous parable that the leaseholders of the vineyard had slain, not only the servants who had been sent, but also the owner’s son, 21:38,39. At this point in our parable, we have arrived at the crucifixion.

Verse 4 goes on, however, to tell us that the king sent forth other servants – to the same people who had been previously ‘bidden’ – and this time we have not only the invitation to the wedding, but an added statement: ‘Tell them which are bidden, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and ALL THINGS ARE READY: come unto the marriage’. Let’s pause here for a moment.

In the proclamation of the Kingdom to Israel during the Gospel years, there was no mention of the Cross. Indeed, when, towards the end, the Lord started to prepare the disciples for His coming death, Peter was not only shocked, but he tried to dissuade the Lord from such a course. It is obvious that the servants sent with the first invitation in the parable could not have said that all things were then ready for the feast. But those with the second invitation could, and did.

Need I ask who these second invitation servants were? Obviously, they were the apostles filled with ‘power from on high’, who went back to the very same people to whom the first invitation had been given, and said in effect: ‘Come to the wedding, the oxen etc. have been slain, and all things are now ready’. There was only one thing needed now for the glorious programme of the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth to get into full swing. That was the positive response of the ‘bidden guests’ to the invitation to come to the wedding.

Look at Peter’s words to the Sanhedrin in Acts 3:19,20: ‘Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; AND HE SHALL SEND JESUS CHRIST which was before preached unto you: whom the heavens must receive until the TIMES OF RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS, WHICH GOD HATH SPOKEN BY THE MOUTH OF ALL HIS HOLY PROPHETS SINCE THE WORLD BEGAN.’

The passage of time is difficult to track in the book of Acts, but it was less than three months after the Crucifixion when Peter stood before the Sanhedrin, the very same Council of Israel that had crucified Jesus of Nazareth, and told them that though they had killed their Messiah, if they would but repent and accept God’s invitation, God would send the Lord Jesus back to them, and the times of refreshing and restitution would begin. Please note, every bit of what Peter said is in the Law and the prophets, and none of this has anything to do with the Church of which we are a part.

Now why did God give them this second invitation? Why did He not put His people Israel aside at that point? Because the Lord prayed, as He was being nailed to the Cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ In spite of the traditional view and the teaching of a number of hymns, the Lord was not praying for sinners generally, but specifically for that generation of Israel who knew not the hour of their visitation, and who had cried out before Pilate, ‘We have no king but Caesar’. Christ’s prayer was answered, and the book of Acts, which is the historical record of the second invitation of the parable of Matthew 22, is the answer to that prayer.

Again, we must ask what the result of this second invitation was. Verse 5 tells us: ‘But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.’ What a marvellously succinct and inspired commentary on what happened during the years of the book of Acts. And how tragic!

The Jewish authorities killed Stephen and James to start with. Saul accounted for quite a few more unnamed heroes of the Faith. Don’t miss the severity of the persecution handed out to the believers during Acts by the Jews. There were very few instances where Gentiles persecuted them, but Israel did. The Lord had warned His disciples before His death, that as the world had hated Him, it would also hate them.

Now, please, give careful consideration to this next point. What was the king’s reaction to the rejection of this second invitation in the parable? Verse 7 has the answer for us, and I can never read this verse without marvelling at how exactly these words were fulfilled: ‘But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.’

There are two other references that I want you to consider as you think about this verse. Firstly, Matthew 21:40,41. After the Lord told His listeners about the wicked husbandmen killing the owner’s son, He asked them, ‘When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They said unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their season.’ Just in case anyone misses the obvious, they pronounced their own doom.

Now look at Matthew 23, a chapter full of woes. I hope you read the whole chapter, but I will quote only verses 37 and 38 where the Lord said, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings , and ye would not! BEHOLD, YOUR HOUSE IS LEFT UNTO YOU DESOLATE.’

After all that has been brought forward in this study, when I now ask why God did not destroy those wicked murderers and burn up their city immediately after the crucifixion, but waited another forty years before He did it, you will be able to answer straightaway. But note this significant fact: The Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, and there has never been a Temple in Jerusalem since that time right down to this very day. No Temple services, no sacrifices, no priests, and the Jewish people persecuted and scattered throughout the nations of the world, yet still a separate and identifiable people. And it is interesting, to say the least, that in the lifetime of many of us – in mine, certainly – there is once more a nation of Israel in existence, and rumours abound about the rebuilding of the Temple. But it is not there yet.

This is quite a long study, so I will very briefly summarise the last verses of the parable. In verses 8 and 9, the king sends servants out into the highways and the byways to bring in guests for the wedding to replace the original invitees who had counted themselves unworthy. Some teach that this refers to the preaching of the Christian Gospel since the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and is largely centred on John’s Gospel. I have a problem with that view, because Paul claims that nothing had been said either in prophecy, type or plain teaching, about what God would do if and when Israel defected. Because of that, I can’t accept that anything in the parable refers to this present dispensation. I believe the last invitation in the parable refers to the time after the close of this present dispensation, when God takes up His purposes for and with Israel again, and Jewish believers will go out into the nations to conduct a missionary campaign the likes of which the world has never seen.

Lastly, what about the man at the wedding feast who was not wearing the specially provided garment? I’ll leave that for you to work out for yourself.

No. 2: Prophecy in a Parable – Matthew 22 (Part 2)

In Part 1, we looked at the parable of the marriage of the King’s son, and saw how the first invitation corresponded with the ministry of John the Baptist, the Lord, and various groups of disciples before the crucifixion. The second invitation, with its added message, ‘everything is now ready’, is the ministry of the apostles and others, recorded in the Book of Acts. The third invitation looks forward to a future time of evangelisation by Jewish believers to furnish the wedding with guests.

I also said previously that the Book of Acts is the crossroads of the New Testament. Take the wrong turn in Acts, and you will be wrong in your interpretation of the rest of the New Testament. I also stated that the theme of Acts was the second offer of the Kingdom to Israel – the same Kingdom that John the Baptist and the Lord had spoken about in the earlier ministry – and that the purpose of Acts was to show why Israel passed off the scene.

In the parable, the Lord clearly states that the first two invitations to come to the marriage feast were refused by ‘them that were bidden’ – the people of Israel, in other words. The corresponding realities to those two refusals are not difficult to find. The first, of course, is when that generation of Israel crucified their Messiah, saying in effect, in the words of another parable, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’, Luke 19:14. The second refusal is actually in two parts. At the time of the Lord’s earthly ministry, many Jews lived outside the land of Palestine. They were known as the Diaspora or the Dispersion. These two parts of the nation were given a chance to accept Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah during the years covered by Acts.

The first part of Acts (chapters 1–12) records the offer to the Jews of the homeland, and their refusal of this second offer came to a head with the murder of Stephen in Acts 7. It is at that point in the record that we first read of Saul, who later is called Paul. Peter is the central figure in the first part of Acts, but as the focus changes from Jerusalem to Antioch and the Dispersion, he disappears from centre stage and Paul comes to the fore.

The sad story of the first part of Acts is repeated in the second part (chapter 13 onwards), for nearly everywhere that Paul and his co-workers went, the Jews turned on them and persecuted them. It is important to notice that Paul and his co-workers always went to the Jews first, right up to the very last chapter of the book.

The rejection by the Dispersion of the second offer comes to its climax when Paul arrived in Rome, called the Jewish elders to confer with him and preached Jesus out of the Law and the Prophets in a day-long session. The majority would not listen, and so, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Paul quoted Isaiah 6:9,10 to them, and brought the curtain down on Israel. That is the point at which God set Israel aside, not after the crucifixion. And it was after that rejection by God of the chosen nation that the Lord revealed through Paul a Secret that God had kept hidden in Himself from before the foundation of the world.

Here is the crucial point that seems to have been missed by Christendom at large. Paul claims, in both Ephesians and Colossians, that the Secret had never been revealed in any way before he revealed it at that point in time following the day-long conference in Rome. To state the obvious, this means that there is no reference to the Church which is His Body in Old Testament type, prophecy or statement, neither in the Gospel records nor the Acts of the Apostles, NOR IN THE EPISTLES WRITTEN DURING THE TIME OF THE BOOK OF ACTS. The believers’ hope in the Acts epistles is the hope of the Kingdom, not the later hope connected with the Church which is His Body.

But back to the Acts period. You may say that quite a few Jews did believe. Was that not good enough? No, unfortunately it wasn’t. We must remember that the NATION of Israel held a special relationship to God. He had chosen them to be His people, His nation, and the Lord offered Himself to that nation as their King, not just to individuals. A kingdom is an entity, and while made up of individuals, it stands or falls as an entity. A king cannot reign if only a few of the population support him. So the response of Israel to both invitations had to be a national one. That is why Peter was back in front of the Jewish ruling body less than three months after the crucifixion, offering them restitution, forgiveness and salvation if they would repent of their rejection of their Messiah. The whole nation, from the leaders downwards, had to accept Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah and Saviour.

The New Covenant, spoken of by Jeremiah in chapter 31, must also be looked at in the same way. God will, at that future time, write His Law, not on tablets of stone as with the Old Covenant, but on the fleshy tablets of their hearts. Whose hearts? Not the hearts of individuals who make up a church, but the hearts of the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, His kingdom people. Then they will accept their Messiah when He comes to them the second time

It is obvious that we could range far and wide over many subjects, but my intention in these articles is to focus on the special position of the Book of Acts, and with that in mind, please turn with me to Luke 19. As David Tavender rightly stresses in his ‘Overview of the Bible’ series, the context is very important. We must keep the context in mind with the parable that starts at verse 12. If we don’t read verse 11, we will miss the reason why this parable was told. It reads: ‘And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, AND BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD SHOULD IMMEDIATELY APPEAR.’

Here we are told the reason for the parable of the talents, as it is sometimes called. I am not here concerned with the money that was given to the servants and how they handled it, although of course that is important in the parable. Our concern is with the fact that the nobleman went away into a far country to receive a kingdom, after which he would return. (Notice how there is a break in continuity, or a gap, either stated or implied in many of these parables.) Now verse 14: ‘But his citizens hated him, (compare: He came unto His own, and His own received Him not) and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. In fulfilment of this, the Jewish leaders stood in front of Pilate, and said, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ But they got a second chance as a result of the Lord’s prayer for their forgiveness, and true to the parable, in the Acts period they sent a message after their King who had gone away, saying in effect that they still would not have this man Jesus to rule over them.

Please read Stephen’s address to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. It is all about Israel’s kingdom and Israel’s Messiah. It has nothing to do with the Church of this Dispensation. And the same sad tale of opposition and rejection by Israel that we find in the early section of Acts continues right through to the last chapter. So, once more the period of the second offer is inferred in this parable. The nobleman is the Lord, of course, and it is while He is absent that they refuse His rule. The outcome of their refusal is in verse 27.

I want to go to another parable now to emphasise a pertinent point. This one is in Matthew 21, starting at verse 33. It is about the owner of a vineyard, who leased it out to husbandmen while he went away. They, however, would not pay what they owed the owner, beat up his servants and finally killed his son whom he sent to them. Please note the context of the parable again. The Lord is talking to Pharisees, religious leaders of Israel. In verse 40, the Lord actually breaks His story and asks His listeners a question: ‘When the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do to those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.’

We read over and over in the Gospels that the Pharisees were trying to trap the Lord, so they could discredit Him, eventually plotting to kill Him. But He turned the tables on them. They pronounced their own sentence without realising what they were doing. If we link this with a verse in the next chapter, a verse I have quoted more than once in these articles, it completes the detail for us.

Matthew 22:7: ‘But when the king heard thereof (that is, of the brutal treatment meted out to his servants) he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.’ The Pharisees’ judgement of the husbandmen who acted so wickedly, was that they should be executed, and the Lord foretold that not only would many of that generation meet their deaths, but that their city and their Temple would be destroyed.

I think that many believers have not faced the question of why Jerusalem was destroyed forty years later in AD 70 and not immediately after the crucifixion. The answer we give to that question determines which turning we take at the crossroad of Acts. But you may be thinking that to base our interpretation on details in parables could be building on shaky ground, so let me take you to several passages of Scripture that say the same things in a direct way. Come with me to the letter to the Hebrews.

Firstly, note the address on this letter: To the Hebrews. I hope you won’t re-translate that in your mind to something like: To Spiritual Israel, meaning the Church. Notice also that this epistle was written during the Acts period. Let’s look at the opening verses of chapter 2. I will intersperse my comments in the verses, enclosing them in brackets:

Verse 1: ‘Therefore, we (i.e. the current generation of Hebrews at the time the epistle was written) ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.

Verse 2: For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast (this refers to the giving of the Mosaic Law), and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward (the word ‘reward’ originally included punishment as well as what we understand as reward)

Verse 3: How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation; which at first began to be spoken by the Lord (the first invitation of the Parable, or in other words, the ministry of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus in the Gospels), and was confirmed unto us (that generation of Israel) by them that heard him (that is, the apostles and others during Acts, the second invitation of the parable)

Verse 4: ‘God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?’

We could not get a better description of the witness during Acts than that, could we? Here we have a clear statement as to the reason for the ‘Pentecostal miracles’. They were confirmatory signs to unbelieving Israel of the authenticity of the message preached during Acts, and of the authority of the apostles and others, such as Phillip and Stephen.

I want to really spell it out, because I know that I, for one, completely missed the significance of these four verses for a long time. Paul is saying here that if any disobedience under the Law of Moses received swift punishment, how could the Hebrews think that they could escape swift punishment if they neglected this offer of the Kingdom through firstly the Messiah Himself, and then through those He sent with a second offer, an offer that was confirmed by signs, wonders, many miracles and gifts from the Holy Spirit? The answer is obvious. There would be no escape.

Now we must look at Hebrews 6. Please read verses 4–6. Who are those referred to in 4 and 5? Surely they are Jewish believers who had responded in repentance and faith to the ministry recorded in the early chapters of Acts. They had tasted of the heavenly gift – the power from on high – and were partakers of the gifts poured out by the Holy Spirit. In verse 5 the good word of God is linked with the powers of the world to come, so don’t make it too general. Again, the miraculous signs and wonders recorded in Acts are the powers of the world (or age) to come. That, I believe, refers to the time of God’s future Kingdom on earth, when the wonderful things of Acts will be commonplace.

Verse 6 is important, and I know that I will be misunderstood by some, but I must tell it as I believe it is. If any of those who had responded to the Acts ministry turned back, there would be no further chances for them, because they would, in effect, be crucifying the Son of God a second time. I have known Christians who think this means that if any believers today turn away from Christ, then there is no way back for them. Rest assured, these verses are not referring to believers today at all. They were addressed to, and apply strictly to, that generation of Israel who had crucified their Messiah. Here is where I could be misunderstood: the Lord certainly died for me, but it was that generation of Israel, whom the Lord said did not know the hour of their visitation, who crucified Him. So they, and only they, could put Him on the Cross again, by turning their backs on all the wonderful things that God had sent to them as a result of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

Maybe someone is wondering why the Lord was not explicit about what would happen if Israel rejected this second offer of the Kingdom? For instance, take the disciples’ pointed, and I believe very relevant, question in Acts 1:6: ‘Wilt Thou restore the kingdom to Israel at this time?’ Did the Lord know what was going to happen? Of course He did. But He could not reveal it at that time for at least two reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, the people of Israel had to be given a genuine chance to accept the second invitation. If the Lord had given any hint that the second offer would be refused, it could have been said later that it was not really a genuine chance for them, and therefore they could not be held responsible.

The second reason, I think, had to do with the apostles themselves. All of them were going to be asked to suffer persecution, and some would give their lives. How would they have felt, do you think, if the Lord had said something like this in answer to their question, ‘Well, no, the Kingdom will not be restored now, because Israel will reject it for the second time. But we have to go through the motions. James, you are going to be executed. Peter, you will end up being crucified. The rest of you will be hounded from pillar to post, but cheer up, I will be with you and it will work out alright in the long run.’ I can well imagine that some of them might have felt like going home at that point if that had been the Lord’s response. No, He could not tell them what was going to happen. So He simply told them that the timing of it was not their concern. Their task was to go and make the offer to Israel, and they would be given power from on high to enable them to do it.

They waited in Jerusalem for that power to come. While waiting, they appointed Matthias as a replacement for Judas Iscariot, because there had to be twelve apostles to sit on the twelve thrones of Israel when the Kingdom came. Some expositors teach that the apostles made a mistake here. They should, they say, have waited for Paul. Not so. They did not make a mistake, as was shown when the Holy Spirit’s power fell on Matthias as on the rest of them. That took place on the day of the Feast of Pentecost, and thus strengthened, they went out and faithfully carried out the task given them by their Lord.

Much more could be said, and will be said as the Lord enables, but I pray that these things will help you to see something of the purposes of God through the Gospels and Acts, and with that correct understanding, you will then go on to see the wonderful riches in God’s Word as the principle of Right Division is applied.

No. 3: Will the Real Pentecostal Miracle Please Stand Up?

As I stated in the first study of this series, not only are there many different interpretations of the Book of Acts, but these differences have far-reaching effects. One of the most obvious and important of these differences is in what could be termed the charismatic experience. The charismatic phenomenon has grown from being something of a side issue among Christian denominations when I was a boy sixty years ago, to being a major force in Christian circles these days. This phenomenon comes as no surprise to Dispensational students of prophecy.

Many denominations have succumbed to the pressures of ‘Charismatics’ in their midst, even though they instinctively feel that the charismatic approach is unscriptural. The bottom line is, however, that if there is no recognition of the dispensational boundary at Acts 28, then there is no answer to the claims of the charismatics. If the Church did begin at Acts 2, or even at Acts 9 or 13, then the charismatics are right – we should all have a gift of some sort, like healing or speaking in tongues, as the believers did in the Acts period.

The claims of charismatics about miraculous healings is the area I want to examine, for not only is this one of the most controversial areas, but I think it can be shown clearly from the Word that their approach is unscriptural. If that is true of the gift of healing, then it is also true of the parallel gifts which were the common experience of believers in the Acts period.

Some years ago now, a charismatic healer came to my town and held a number of healing meetings. It caused a great stir, with even much favourable coverage in the local newspaper. I went to one of the meetings with a friend to see for myself whether or not the Holy Spirit was working, as He had in the Acts period. The speaker claimed, as he got to the healing part of the meeting, that we were seeing the Acts miracles in operation that very night. Then he said that not everyone would be healed, because not everyone would have enough faith. I immediately said to my friend that, in that case, it was not the same as what was happening in Acts, because we are distinctly told there that the apostles healed EVERYONE who came to them, as in Acts 5:16. The claim, by those who say that they have the gift of healing today, that the one seeking healing has to have enough faith, is not only a cop-out, but also it is not the way things were in the Book of Acts. So let’s examine a real Pentecostal miracle and see what actually happened.

In Acts 3:1–11, we have the account of Peter’s first miracle of healing after being endued with power from on high – the healing of the man born lame, at the Temple Gate Beautiful. Charismatics today would have us believe that the recipient must have sufficient faith. Is that what happened in this case? Please read the verses.

Peter and John came to the Temple for the 3 p.m. prayers. Sitting at one of the entrances to the Temple was the man born lame. Don’t miss the significance here. Everyone would have seen this lame man sitting in this spot for years, begging for alms. The rulers of Israel would not have been able to deny that this man really was a cripple. They all knew he had been a cripple from birth. I wonder how many times the Sanhedrin members had passed this poor wretch and not put anything into his begging bowl? In any case, the Lord could not have picked a more public and well-attested case of physical handicap to demonstrate His challenge to Israel.

The inspired record tells us that as Peter and John approached him, the lame man asked for a donation. He had no idea who these two men were, nor what they could do for him. Peter and John both looked intently at the lame man, and Peter said, ‘Look at us’. Please notice verse 5 carefully: ‘And he (the lame man) gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.’ We are told exactly what his faith was. Actually, hope would be a better word than faith here – he hoped that they might give him a few coins. Now note carefully what Peter said to him. Let me paraphrase it: ‘I haven’t got any silver or gold, as you are asking for, but I will give you what I have got. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ No, Peter, you’ve got it wrong. What you should say to this fellow is that if he has enough faith you will be able to heal him. That is what the modern charismatics think you should have said.

So, who is right, Peter or the so-called healers of our day? Well, look and see what happened. Verse 7: ‘And he (Peter) took him (the lame man) by the right hand, and lifted him up; and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.’ And the man, who had never walked in his life, straight away began to walk and leap around and praise God. There were no tentative steps, or limping around getting used to this new thing. Not at all. Straight away it was as if he had never been a cripple. AND THE MAN WHO HAD BEEN LAME HAD NO IDEA THAT PETER COULD GIVE HIM SUCH A GIFT.

Let me spell it out, as so many seem to have missed it completely. The miracle did not depend in any way on the lame man having faith, for he had no idea who Peter was, or that he had any miraculous gift. The whole thing depended on what Peter had – the gift of healing. Peter, and other apostles, could and did exercise their gift regardless of the amount of faith the recipient had. ‘What I have, that I give to you. Rise up and walk’ were Peter’s words. I have yet to see any of the modern-day faith healers speak or act like that. This is a real Pentecostal miracle.

I would like to give you two other examples. Acts 9:36–43 gives us the account of Peter bringing Dorcas back to life. How much faith did Dorcas have? Think about it, the poor woman was dead! But again, Peter exercised the power given to him by the Holy Spirit and brought her back to life and health. In Acts 20:6–11, Paul is the central figure. He preached for many hours, and a young man named Eutychus, sitting in a window of the upper floor room, went to sleep and fell to his death. Paul immediately went down, restored Eutychus to life, and then went back upstairs, and continued preaching till dawn, as if nothing untoward had happened. They might even have admonished Eutychus about sitting in windows! Again, as he was dead, how much faith could Eutychus have had? So here again we have a real Pentecostal miracle.

We could multiply examples, but I think the point has been made. Perhaps the only other thing to be said is that after the end of Acts, Paul and his fellow-workers were unable to heal in this way, and had to do what we must do, which is to rely on prayer and medical help.

Which brings me to my last point. Do dispensationalists believe that God can heal today? Yes, indeed we do, but in answer to prayer, not by the exercise of the special gift of healing as it operated during the Acts period. In our own fellowship groups, we have wonderful answers to prayer in many ways, but we recognise that sometimes, for His own reasons, the Lord’s answer to a prayer is no. So many believers are like little children in this respect. They think that if they do not get a yes in answer to their request, God hasn’t answered them. Not so, for a no is just as much an answer as yes.

When the Book of Acts is seen and understood in its true light as the second offer of the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel, and the reason for the sign-gifts of that period is understood, then this issue of whether the gifts and signs of the Acts church are for today will be seen clearly, and we will not be led away by the specious claims of the modern charismatics.

Perhaps the final verses from Mark’s Gospel make a fitting, closing quote: ‘And He (the Lord) said unto them (the apostles), Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature… and these signs shall follow them that believe… So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they (the apostles) went forth, and preached everywhere, THE LORD WORKING WITH THEM, AND CONFIRMING THE WORD WITH SIGNS FOLLOWING. AMEN.’ Mark 16:15–20

No. 4: The Destruction of the Temple – When and Why

 It is a well-known fact – or at least, it should be – that the Christian Faith is rooted in history. The same also is true of the Jewish faith recorded in the Old Testament. Yet it seems that Christians generally are blissfully ignorant of many historical facts that underpin their faith. The main details of the Lord’s death and Resurrection are generally known, although many may not know the connection the Crucifixion has with the Jewish Passover. Some even know that the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was fifty days after the crucifixion, and that Pentecost is a Jewish feast associated with the beginning of the yearly harvest. But there is much more to it than that, and while it is not essential to know all the historical connections to accept that the Lord ‘died for my sins’, the more we know, the greater is our understanding and appreciation of what God has done for us In Christ.

The Bible itself recounts history in many of its books, and it is not without significance that its historical accuracy has been relentlessly attacked throughout the centuries. The reason for this is simple. If the Bible can be shown to be historically inaccurate, then it can be discarded as a meaningful record that has any claim on intelligent people. Believers can rest assured, however, that wherever archaeology or any other field of learning have uncovered data that bears upon the Scriptures, never once has the Bible been found wanting.

The historical details I want to examine are those connected with God’s dealings with Israel and Jerusalem after the Crucifixion. It is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to assign firm dates to many events recorded in Acts because sufficient information is not given. It is interesting that right from Adam in Genesis to the end of the Gospel period, the Bible gives us definite chronological information.

In case you hadn’t noticed, in Genesis, the ages of various men at the birth of their first sons is given, but only for those who are in the line of descent to the Messiah. For example, we have ages given for Seth and his descendants, but not for Cain and his line. It is possible to build a complete chronological table from Adam to the Lord Jesus. For example, see Appendix 50 in the Companion Bible.

When we move past the records of the earthly ministry of the Lord, however, this chronological detail ceases, and apart from the beginning of Acts, the death of Herod in Acts 12, and then, moving outside the pages of Scripture, the destruction of the Temple and much of Jerusalem in AD 70, it is difficult to give exact or even approximate dates for the events recorded. There are clues, of course, and many scholars have done painstaking work to arrive at dates that may be taken as reasonable guides, although there certainly is no unanimity among them.

Even the date of the Crucifixion is contested. Some say, with great conviction, that the Lord died in AD 29. Others say, with equal conviction, that the Crucifixion was either AD 30, 31 or even 32. In this study, I will go with AD 30, remembering that it is not set in concrete.

The question I want to consider is this: if the destruction of Jerusalem, and particularly the Temple, was to be part of the punishment for Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, and if God set Israel aside as His chosen people just after the Crucifixion, why was not Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed then, say, within ten years, instead of forty years later in AD 70? It really is a simple question, and in my experience, most believers have not faced it, let alone answered it.

First, let us establish that the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the city itself was a punishment from God for Israel’s rejection and murder of their Messiah. Let me remind you of the points from the several parables we discussed in the previous two articles:

Matthew 21:41: ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, they replied, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants …’

Matthew 22:7: ‘The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.’

Matthew 23:37,38: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left unto you desolate.’

Matthew 24:1,2: ‘Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. Do you see all these things? he asked. I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.’

Our knowledge of the secular history of the period is based largely on Josephus’ account in his book The Jewish Wars. The Encyclopedia Britannica gives the bare bones of the story:

In the fifties and sixties, under several governors, of whom Festus was one, Judea was in a state of unrest. There were a number of rebellions led by various zealous patriots. Matters came to a head in AD 66, when the Jews expelled the Romans from Jerusalem and much of the country. Nero was the emperor at the time, and he sent Vespasian with an army to subdue the country and teach them a lesson. Nero was killed about this time, and there were several emperors in quick succession, but in AD 69, Vespasian went to Rome and became emperor. He sent his eldest son, Titus, to lead the army in Judea, and in AD 70, they overran Jerusalem. In the ensuing carnage, the Temple was set alight. The gold that lined the inside of parts of the Temple melted in the heat and ran into the cracks between the stones, and the soldiers tore the building apart stone by stone to get the gold, thus fulfilling the Lord’s prediction.

It is historical fact that since that time, right to the present day, there has not been a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and the Jewish people have not been able to conduct their sacrifices and Temple worship. In the lifetimes of those of us who are older, we have seen the name ‘Israel’ appear in our atlases again, after nearly two thousand years. No Temple there yet, but it will come.

Back to the first century AD. It took the Romans about four years to overcome Jerusalem, during which time terrible sufferings were endured by its inhabitants. Obviously, God used the Romans to carry out His sentence on the people of Israel, as He had used the Assyrians and Babylonians in earlier times. Now, if we take the four years as a reasonable time table, or even round it out to five, and come back to the Crucifixion, and if the majority view is correct, that is, that God finished with Israel immediately after they crucified the Lord, we should have seen Jerusalem destroyed, say, by about AD 35. But it was not destroyed then, as we well know. Why not?

The answer is plainly writ on the pages of Scripture for all to see, if they will but look. We read in Luke 23:34 these words: ‘Jesus said, Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’ Leave aside for the moment the matter of how the Jews could be ignorant of who the Lord really was. The point is that the Lord said they (that is, the people of Israel) did not know that they were crucifying their Messiah. Peter re-affirmed this in Acts 3:17 and promised the people that the times of refreshing depended on their repentance. He also told the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:12 that healing (or ‘salvation’ – it is the same word in Greek) could only be had by the nation in and through the name of Jesus, the despised Nazarene.

The point is that the Lord prayed that His Father would forgive that generation of Israel who did not know the hour of their visitation. Was His prayer answered? If it wasn’t, then it is the only prayer of the Lord recorded in the Gospels that was not. Of course it was answered, and the years covered by the Book of Acts is when God answered that prayer and gave that generation of Israel their second chance to accept the lowly Jesus as their Messiah.

Because of this, the threatened destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple was postponed until the Jews of both the Homeland and the Dispersion had the chance to respond to the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom. However, as history shows us, and as the parables we considered previously also show, they refused the second time, and the King sent His armies and destroyed their city.

Acts 28:25–28 is the cut-off point, not Acts 2. This is where Israel went into her present LO-AMMI condition. (LO-AMMI is Hebrew for ‘not my people’. Read Hosea’s prophecy.) And it is after this that Paul was commissioned to reveal the truth of a new dispensation, the Dispensation of the Mystery (or Secret) that has nothing to do with Abraham, covenants, Moses’ Law or Israel, but is based on a promise of eternal life made by God before time began (Titus 1:1,2), and in accordance with an election made by God before the foundation of the world.

Brethren, rightly divide the Word of Truth, 2 Timothy 2:15, or as Philippians 1:9,10 says, ‘abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the Day of Christ.

No. 5: Review – What We’ve Done So Far

In the last articles, I have put forward a number of basic points relating to the Dispensational interpretation of Scripture known as the Acts 28 position. I thought it might be helpful if, before pressing on, I reviewed the ground that we have covered, so that we have a clear picture of our direction.

I started by saying that the Book of Acts is the part of Scripture where, perhaps, most care is needed, as it is our understanding of the events recorded in Acts that either points us in the right direction, or sends us off on a fork in the road that may look attractive but which takes us to the wrong destination.

There are various interpretations of Acts current among believers. The usual view is that God finished with Israel as a result of their rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah, and that the ‘Christian Church’ was started by Peter and the other apostles in Acts 2. Then there is a group of ‘variations on a theme’, each of which say that a second offer of the Messiah to Israel was made following Pentecost in Acts 2, but they differ as to where that offer finishes, some saying that the birth of the Body of Christ is the conversion of Paul, others saying it was not until Paul first turned to Gentiles that the Body of Christ was commenced.

The view-point of those publishing this magazine is similar in some respects to the last group above, in that we see Acts as the second offer of the Messiah to Israel, but we differ on where the cut-off point is found. We believe it is in the last chapter of Acts. Obviously, this is why we are called Acts 28 believers.

The Acts 28 position is sometimes referred to by those who oppose it, as ‘ultra-dispensationalism’. Indeed, we take the Lord’s command through Paul to rightly divide the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15) further than the other groups so in that sense we are ‘ultra’, but it seems to us to be nothing less than the logical conclusion to which the Scriptures lead.

The Acts 28 position states that the WHOLE of the Book of Acts, with the exception of the last two verses, is about Israel, recording the second offer of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and Saviour, and that it is not until Paul pronounces Isaiah 6:9,10 to the Jewish leaders in Rome that God sets Israel aside. It is following that event that God introduces a new calling, the Church which is His Body. The early church seems to have missed what Paul had to say when God revealed this new dispensation through him after the end of Acts. I intend to touch on that in a later article.

It is important to note at this point that the Book of Acts is in two main sections. The first twelve chapters deal with the second offer of the Kingdom and its King to the Jews who were living in the homeland. Peter is the central character in this section. This offer was rejected, culminating in the murder of Stephen.

The scene changes after the conversion of Cornelius and Paul takes over from Peter as the central figure. Paul and his various helpers then move out into the Mediterranean world on ‘missionary journeys’, but they are specialised missionary journeys in that the Jews are always visited first with the witness. It is only after repeated and persistent opposition and persecution by the Jews at large, that Paul turns to Gentiles. Please note that these Gentiles were to be found in the synagogues at first. The only exception to the ‘Jew first’ policy throughout Acts was in one or two places where there were no Jewish communities.

The rejection by the Jews of the Dispersion reaches its climax at Rome, where the leaders of the Jewish community there do not agree about Paul’s witness, and they are dismissed by Paul. Thus the record of the second offer of Jesus to Israel as their Messiah and Saviour comes to a rather abrupt close.

If one reads Church history carefully, it becomes obvious that within a few short years of the death of Paul, the church had turned back into Judaism, and tried to ‘christianise’ things that belonged to Israel and the Old Covenant dispensation.

In my earlier articles, I used some of the Lord’s parables to show how, even before the Crucifixion, He taught that there would be a second offer of Himself as Israel’s Messiah. What the Saviour did not reveal was what God would do if Israel rejected the second time. That had to wait until Israel had been given their second chance and, to use the language of Hebrews 6:6, crucified their Messiah the second time.

The other subject touched on that should be mentioned, is the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in AD 70. The climax of Acts 28 took place seven or eight years earlier, and the Lord had warned Israel, (Matthew 23:37–39 and Matthew 24:1,2) that their house was to be left desolate, and not one stone of the Temple left standing on another. The destruction of the Temple, especially, was the result of Israel’s rejection, and was a very visible sign that Israel had already entered her ‘LO-AMMI’ state (see Hosea’s prophecy for the meaning of ‘LO-AMMI). As we are all well aware, there has been no temple in Jerusalem since that time nearly 2000 years ago.

It is difficult to say what might be the most important point out of those mentioned so far, but the Saviour’s prayer as He was being placed on the Cross must surely be up at the top of the list. That prayer underlies everything that transpired from the crucifixion on for the next forty years. We find the prayer only in Luke 23:34: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’. It seems to be the usual thought that the Lord was referring to sinful humanity in general, and that thought is expressed very well by Charles Wesley in one of his wonderful hymns, the first line of which says, ‘Arise, my soul, arise, shake off thy guilty fears.’ In the third verse, where Wesley speaks of the wounds the Saviour bore on the cross, he has these lines, ‘Forgive him, O forgive, they cry, Nor let that ransomed sinner die.’

I love Wesley’s hymns for they contain much Scriptural truth, but I believe he got this point wrong. We only have to ask a few simple questions to get the right answer. Who put the Lord on the Cross? Who instituted the arrest? Who sat in judgement on Him throughout the night? Who took Him to Pilate because they were determined to put Him to death but did not have the authority to do so? Who said, when Pilate wanted to release the Lord, ‘We have no king but Caesar’? The leaders of the nation of Israel!

Peter was in no doubt about who was responsible. On the Day of Pentecost, when he gives his first address under the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), he tells the assembled crowd whom he has addressed as ‘Men of Judea’ (verse 14) and ‘Men of Israel’ (verse 22), ‘Therefore let all the House of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED, both Lord and Christ.’ (verse 36).

It comes again in Acts 3, where, after healing the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, Peter tells the assembled crowd of Jews ‘But you denied the Holy One and the Just… and killed the Prince of Life…’ (verses 14,15).

As a result of the turmoil in the Temple precincts following the healing of the lame man, Peter and John are put in jail overnight, and in the morning brought before the Sanhedrin, who challenge them about the miracle they have performed. Don’t overlook that it was this very same Sanhedrin who had condemned the Lord only a couple of months or so before this. And what is Peter’s message to them? ‘Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.’ (4:10) It is interesting to note that the members of the Sanhedrin did not deny that they had indeed killed Jesus of Nazareth. What they were concerned about was preventing the spread of the witness to His resurrection.

It seems to me that words cannot be clearer. ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do’ must refer to that generation of Israel, who did not know the hour of their visitation, and spurned the wonderful love and grace of God.

The question that each of us must answer personally is this: Did the Father answer the Lord’s prayer? Did He forgive them for their terrible osin? I believe He did, and the Book of Acts gives us the record of the gracious second chance God gave that perverse generation who were favoured beyond any previous generation of their nation in that the Word made flesh walked and taught in their midst.

In future articles, we will look, as the Lord enables, at significant signposts along the road throughout Acts.

No. 6: What Kingdom is That?

In these series of studies dealing with Dispensational Basics, we are concentrating on the Book of Acts, for it is in this Book that we can miss our way more easily, perhaps, than anywhere else in the New Testament. To put it another way, at the end of the Lord’s earthly ministry which, of course, came to its climax with His death and resurrection, one phase of God’s Plan of Redemption came to an end, and the next phase commenced with the instruction the Lord gave to the disciples before He left them. Shortly after that, the disciples were ‘clothed with power from on high’ on that momentous Day of Pentecost.

It is precisely at that point that many believers have turned onto what seems to me to be the wrong road. It should not be hard to keep on the right track for there are a number of signposts along the road – namely, statements and events – that show us the right way. The signposts seem to be ignored by many, however. Why this should be is difficult to explain, and most of the explanations would be guesses anyway, but one thing is sure, I believe. Christendom missed the signs along the road, and I think that was because, even before his death, most of the early believers had turned away from the Apostle to the Gentiles and the special truths that God had revealed through him.

Paul tells Timothy in his second letter to his son in the faith, in 1:15 ‘that all those in Asia have turned away from me…’ This was not just a shunning of the man. It was also the shunning of his teaching. It is not without significance that the spark of the Reformation was Luther coming to understand the truth of justification by faith taught in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.

It should also be remembered that Paul alone, of all the New Testament writers, speaks of the position of the Gentile believer relative to Israel during the Acts period, and, as we continually emphasise in these pages, it was through Paul alone that God revealed the Secret which had been kept hidden in Himself from before the foundation of the world, showing for the first time, what He would do after Israel’s dismissal at the end of Acts. But we get ahead of ourselves.

The Book of Acts opens with Luke addressing a person called Theophilus, and mentioning the ‘former account’ he had written of the life and work of the Lord Jesus. That former account, of course, is the Gospel of Luke. I have to admit that for quite a number of years in my early Christian life, I did not realise that there is considerable overlap between the end of Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Acts. It is also true that the closing parts of the other Gospels give us details of the forty days between the resurrection and ascension of the Lord to varying degrees, and it is only by putting all these accounts together that we get as full a picture as possible of what must have been a very exciting few weeks.

Acts covers that period of the forty days in the first nine verses, which is not much, but those few verses contain information that is extremely significant. We are told that during those forty days, the Lord appeared to the disciples and taught them about the Kingdom of God. He also told them specifically to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Now look carefully at verse 6: ‘Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?’ New King James Version. There are expositors who do not hesitate to say that the apostles completely missed the point with this question. I must disagree with them. I think the question of the disciples was spot on. Look at the context. Verse 3: ‘…He also presented Himself alive… speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.’ Verse 6: ‘Therefore… they asked Him, saying, Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’

Don’t overlook the word ‘therefore’. It means ‘because of this’ or ‘for this reason’. The Lord taught them about the Kingdom of God, and because of that, they asked whether that kingdom was going to be set up at that time. How can this be a mistake? In addition to the word ‘therefore’, think about this: In Luke 24, from verse 36 on, we read about the Lord’s sudden appearance to disciples in the upper room. After inviting them to handle Him to see that He was indeed real, and also eating some food in front of them, He does something very significant. It comes in verse 45: ‘And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures’.

Please read the sentence again, and let its meaning sink in. It is impossible to say just when that happened during the forty day period, but regardless of that, it means that they listened to the Lord’s teaching about the kingdom of God with minds opened to understand. Notice this was before the coming of the ‘power from on high’ on the Day of Pentecost. In the light of all this evidence, how could they possibly have been mistaken?

Some expositors will tell you that the Lord berated them for asking such a ‘silly question’. John Calvin actually says that by their question they proved what poor students  they were of such a good Master! I’m afraid I can’t see any berating in the Lord’s answer. Their question related to when the Kingdom would be set up, and that is the point that the Lord responds to. Look at His answer, verse 7: ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power… and you shall be witnesses to Me…’

I have touched on this in earlier studies, but let me repeat the salient points. The apostles were to go back to the people of Israel with the message of the Kingdom of God and its King, as was done during the Gospel period. What is added now is the good news of His death and resurrection, which prove beyond doubt, that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah. I’m sure the Lord knew what the outcome of this renewed offer of the Kingdom to Israel would be, but He could not reveal that at this time, for not only would it have disheartened the apostles, it would have also given Israel an excuse for their rejection. No, the timing of the setting up of the Kingdom was not to be revealed at that time, but the Lord neither corrected their so-called misunderstanding about the Kingdom of God, nor said that the Kingdom had nothing to do with Israel. The apostles’ job was to go out and make the offer, witnessing to Christ’s death and resurrection, and they were given special powers from the Holy Spirit to do their job.

Many believers today are unclear as to what Kingdom was being spoken about. The centuries-old tradition that the Lord was speaking about a mystical body, the Church, and not a physical kingdom for Israel, has become so entrenched that it is accepted without question. Why has this happened? I think the answer is not difficult to find. As intimated above, Paul is the only one who was given any revelation about what would happen if Israel rejected the Lord the second time.

In the Book of Acts, and also in the epistles written during the time covered by Acts, it is plain that there were many ‘teachers’ travelling around after Paul, trying to undo his work, especially among Paul’s Gentile converts. We can call them ‘Judaizers’ who believed that Israel was the be-all and end-all of God’s work of Salvation, and if Gentiles were to be allowed in to the company of believers, a point that they were not altogether convinced about, then those Gentiles MUST become Jews in name and deed. The deed referred to is circumcision. Paul had to spend much of his time and strength in combating these people, who, although believers and sincere in what they believed, were nevertheless wrong, and their work, unfortunately, was undermining the progress of the true work of God. It seems to me that, after the death of Paul, these Judaizers won the day, and the company of believers, en masse, turned back to the expression of the Gospel that belonged to Israel, but not to the Gentile group of believers.

Another cause for the confusion of the church in general at that time, was the fate of Israel and Jerusalem in AD 70. I doubt that words of mine can convey the shock and bewilderment of believers when they either saw, or learned, that the Temple in Jerusalem was no more. Israel finished? We didn’t expect this! What is God going to do now? I want to scream out, ‘Read Paul’s epistles, and believe what he says, for it is ONLY in his writings that we learn that there will be no further chance for Israel if they refuse the second time’.

Also, it is ONLY in the epistles written after Acts closes, particularly Ephesians and Colossians, that God reveals His secret strategy for the very event of Israel’s defection. That secret is, of course, an entirely new company for believers called the Church Which Is His Body.

But Christendom turned away from Paul and came up with the alternative that the Church must have taken Israel’s place, and this led in time to the belief therefore, that when we read of Kingdom promises and prophecies in the Old Testament God was really referring to the Church. This then leads inexorably to the mistaken belief that when John the Baptist and the Lord came to Israel proclaiming repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) was at hand, they did not mean a ‘carnal’ kingdom at all, but a ‘spiritual’, that is, opposed to ‘carnal,’ and mystical church.

And thus, we arrive at Acts 1:6, where, when we read that the Lord Jesus instructed His disciples about the Kingdom of God during the forty days, He was not meaning ‘any sort of Kingdom in or for Israel’, but the Church. The inevitable conclusion to this is that the disciples were a bunch of no-hopers, who could not get this idea of a kingdom for Israel out of their minds and had missed the point of the Lord’s instruction completely. If that was indeed the case, I can well imagine that the Lord would have dumped them and started with a fresh lot.

Before we look at what transpired in the days and weeks that followed the Lord’s ascension, I think we should look at just a few things said about the Kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament. We do not have space to examine the great amount of material available, so I will summarise some, and highlight the most important parts.

The territory that had been promised to Abraham was very extensive. See Genesis 15:18–21. Moses told the Children of Israel that they would ask for a king when they got into the Promised Land, (Deuteronomy 17:14–20, and that they should take care to follow God’s rules about a king. Saul was chosen as the first king of Israel, but is typical of the Antichrist at the time of the end, who usurps the kingdom in the place of the true King, the Lord Jesus Christ. David, of course, typifies Christ as the conquering warrior-king, and both David and his son Solomon greatly extend the territory of the Kingdom.

The important thing is to see, and understand, what the Lord promised David. It is in 2 Samuel 7:5– 16. The covenant the Lord made with David is unconditional. Note the last part of verse 11: ‘…the Lord Himself will establish a house for you.’ And then verse 16: ‘Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’

Before moving on, notice a small point in verse 10 that we might easily overlook: ‘And (which connects this with what has just gone before) I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.’ God Himself has connected establishing a house for David (meaning his royal dynasty) with providing a place where His people Israel can dwell in safety. We must pass over much material, but I hope you will read the account of the Kingdom in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.

For our purpose, we can just say that after Solomon the Kingdom split in two, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah remained loyal to David’s line, so that indeed, David’s throne was still in Jerusalem with David’s seed on it. But trouble was brewing. The northern kingdom, Israel, was eventually overrun by the Assyrians and taken into captivity. The kingdom of Judah lasted about 150 years longer, and then Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, carried the last king in the line of David away, and world sovereignty passed from Israel to Gentile powers. This point seems to have been missed by many.

Look at Daniel 2, where the Lord tells Daniel the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had and also its interpretation. Go to verse 37: ‘You, O king, (Nebuchadnezzar) are the king of kings. The God of Heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory.’ Ezekiel 21 is relevant here. Verses 26 and 27 have this: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Take off the turban, remove the crown… I will make it a ruin… It will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.’ By the way, don’t miss the word ‘restored’ there, will you. That’s the word the disciples used in Acts 1:6.

Joel chapters 1 and 2 speak of what the plague of locusts had done to the land. The locusts are the forerunners of the Assyrians and those who followed them, who were the instruments of punishment in God’s hands. They all denuded the land and reduced the proud kingdom of Israel (I mean the whole twelve tribes) to nothing. But notice the change at 2:18. Please read right through into chapter 3.

I want to focus on verse 25 onwards for now: ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…’ and so on. Where the New International Version uses the word ‘repay’, the Authorised Version has ‘restore’. Again, make the connection with the disciples’ question, ‘Will you RESTORE…’

I hope you know your Old Testament prophets well enough to know that they are filled with promises of restoration for Israel, and look forward to the time when David’s greater Son will set up His kingdom and reign in Jerusalem. But because of space limitations, I will mention only one other reference in the Old Testament.

Let me quote a couple of verses from the Authorised Version without giving you the reference just yet. I wonder if you can finish the quote: ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’ Do you know what the next verse says? You will find it in Isaiah 40 from the first verse onwards. And these are the words that follow: ‘The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’

Now come forward with me to John 1:19–23. Priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem to ask John who he was. He told them he was not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet (that Moses had spoken of). ‘Well, who are you then? I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said.’

Can you imagine the effect of John’s pronouncement on the people who heard him? Every one of his hearers, being Jews, would know immediately he said those words, where the quote was from. Even if we could not make the connection, they would have thought without hesitation, ‘Comfort ye my people. Say to Jerusalem her sins have been pardoned, etc.’ And they would know exactly what John was out when he said to the crowds, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’. And when Jesus of Nazareth started His ministry, He said exactly the same as John.

I would like you to read further on through John this first chapter. A couple of John’s disciples followed the Lord when John pointed Him out. Philip joined the little group the next day, and he went and found Nathanael, saying that they had found the promised One. Look at Nathanael’s reaction, in verse 49,  after he met the Lord: ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.’ Notice the immediate connection in this Jew’s mind between the Messiah, the Son of God and the King of Israel.

Again, I must pass over much material, but we cannot leave out Luke 19. I don’t want to focus on it now, but please read the parable the Lord told starting at verse 11, and notice particularly verse 27. Then from verse 28 we read of what we call the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Here the Lord deliberately fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. Jerusalem was filling up with pilgrims coming for the Passover Feast in a few days, and notice what they cried out in verse 38: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord’. When the Pharisees told the Lord to stop the people calling that out, the Lord replied, in effect, that He couldn’t stop them if He wanted to. The crowds, as well as the Pharisees, knew what it all meant. Here was the promised King.

Then comes what surely must be amongst the most tragic verses in Scripture. Read from verse 41 to the chapter’s end. The Lord weeps over the city saying in verse 42: ‘If you had known, even you, (that is, Jerusalem and her leaders), especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’ The next verses tell of the coming destruction, which was carried out to the letter from AD 66 to 70.

All this took place only a few weeks before the disciples were instructed by the Lord concerning the Kingdom of God, and their resultant question: ‘Will you restore the Kingdom to Israel at this time?’ Surely, they were not wrong.

No. 7: Cornelius – a Good Man in a Crisis

I propose to jump over quite a few of the early chapters of Acts for the moment, and consider the conversion of Cornelius recorded in chapter 10, for if we can see the far-reaching ramifications of his conversion, it will sort out a number of other common misconceptions about the Book of Acts. I have used the figure of signposts throughout Acts in earlier studies, meaning by this that various people and the events in which they figure, are pointers to the progress of God’s purpose in those critical years from the Lord’s ascension to the setting aside of Israel at the end of Acts.

The conversion of Cornelius, together with the group who were with him, is one of the largest of these signposts. Because this study covers a number of different, though associated, topics, I will break it up into sections to make it easier to get a hold of.

I’m having a little play on words in this study’s title. There is no doubt that Cornelius was a good man. Read what is said about him in verse two. But more importantly, the conversion of Cornelius and his friends does indeed mark a real moment of crisis in the progress of the witness of the apostles and their fellow workers. If you think I am exaggerating when I say that, please be patient, for that is exactly what I intend to show you. But, in the meantime, consider a couple of things.

Read Acts 10 through if you haven’t already done so, and notice the extraordinary lengths the Lord had to go to in order to get Peter to visit Cornelius. Then, notice that it is very soon after this event that Peter practically disappears from the pages of Acts, and his position as the key figure in the story is taken over by Saul of Tarsus, who was also called Paul. Connected with that is the change of ‘headquarters’ from Jerusalem to Antioch in Syria. I think that these few things by themselves should shout ‘crisis’ to us.

Who was Cornelius? He was a Roman military officer, a Centurion, meaning he was in charge of one hundred men. It does not automatically follow that he was a naturally-born Roman, but because his ‘regiment’ is said to be the ‘Italian Band’, it could well be so. We are certain, however, that he was a Gentile and not a Jew, if for no other reason than it took so much to get Peter to go to him.

It is obvious that Cornelius was devout and charitable. Many thoughtful people in the Roman world had become sickened by the multitude of Greek and Roman gods and the depravity that was often connected with their worship. It is understandable, then, that when they came into contact with Judaism with its teaching of the One God who could not be represented by an idol, and who demanded of His followers a moral and upright life, they found themselves attracted to it. Some of them even became Jewish proselytes and underwent circumcision. Many, however, did not deem it necessary to take that step and were content to be ‘fellow-travellers’, as it were. There were many such folk in the Mediterranean world, as the record of Acts itself shows us, for in many of the cities that Paul and his helpers visited, there were large numbers of Gentiles attending the synagogues. These became a fruitful field for Paul.

Acts 10 recounts how Cornelius received a vision from God in answer to his prayers. He is told to send to Joppa for Peter, who would tell him what he must do. Cornelius, a man of action, immediately dispatched a little delegation to find Peter.

The next day at midday, Peter was at prayer on the flat roof of the house while waiting for lunch to be served. He was hungry, and fell into a trance, during which he had an extraordinary vision. You already know the details, but I hope you realise just how abhorrent it would have been for Peter to eat any of the animals in the vision. They were unclean as far as the Law of Moses was concerned, and as Peter said, he had never eaten any of them in his whole life. Whose voice was it that told Peter to eat? Peter knew that voice, for he said in reply, ‘Not so, Lord.’ I doubt that Peter would have taken notice of anyone else but the Lord. Even so he argued. Can you imagine it? The Lord gives His Apostle a command, and Peter says, ‘No way, Lord’, to put it colloquially. And he did it three times! It shows the strength of Peter’s commitment to the Law of Moses. Then the sheet was withdrawn.

Peter came out of his trance and was trying to work out what the vision meant, when the delegation from Cornelius knocked at the door and asked for him. The Holy Spirit told Peter that he was to go with them, doubting nothing, for the Spirit had sent them. I suspect that if we put the Spirit’s words into plain, everyday English, they would read something like this. ‘Peter, there are three men at the door looking for you. Go with them, for I have sent them, and don’t argue about it. Just go!’

So Peter, with some companions, went with the men, and now we must look carefully at the record. Notice Peter’s attitude to Cornelius. Look at verse 28: ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.’ In other words, Peter is saying that if he hadn’t had the vision, he would not have come anywhere near Cornelius and would have considered him common and unclean. ‘Unclean’ is used in the ceremonial sense of the Law of Moses. It does not mean that Cornelius needed a bath! Also, don’t miss the fact that Peter, all these years after Pentecost, still considers himself a Jew under the Law.

In verse 29, Peter asks Cornelius why he sent for him. This is a strange request if Peter’s mission was to preach the Gospel to the ‘whosoever’. Cornelius tells of his prayers and his vision, and asks Peter to tell them what God’s message is. Peter gives something of a potted history of the earthly ministry of the Lord and their witness to Israel since Acts two. Notice verse 44 and 45: ‘While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Gentiles also.’ As a result, Cornelius and his friends started to speak in tongues and magnify God. It seems as if the Holy Spirit could wait no longer while Peter was, in a sense, babbling on, and just poured out ‘the power from on high’ on the Gentiles present.

Peter’s next words in verse 47 bear thinking about too: ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptised…?’ It sounds as if Peter half expected some of his party to try to forbid the baptism of these Gentiles. Notice also how these events fulfill the conditions outlined in the closing verses of Mark 16: ‘…he that believes and is baptised shall be saved…’

Before we move on, compare Peter’s words to Cornelius with Paul’s address to the men of Athens, which is found in Acts 17. Peter talks about the Lord’s earthly ministry to Israel, and mentions the witness of the prophets. Paul, on the other hand, does not quote the Old Testament once. He uses the altar dedicated to the Unknown God as his point of reference. He refers to God as the Creator of everything, and quotes from their own poets to prove his point. He points to the oneness of humanity, and stresses, that although God has overlooked humanity’s ignorance of Him in times past, the day had now come when God commanded all men everywhere to repent and turn to Him, because a day of judgement, together with a Judge, had been appointed. The only reference he made to the Lord’s earthly life was the resurrection.

If you say that this different approach was only to be expected because Paul was suiting his argument to his audience, my response would be to ask why Peter didn’t do the same? I think the truth is that Peter not only did not know any Greek poets to quote, for instance, but he did not need to know them. He was the Apostle of the Circumcision (Israel, in other words) and he not only was very well equipped for that task, he did it faithfully. Peter was as well suited to the task God chose him for, as Paul was to his.

Returning to the account of Peter and Cornelius, the sequel to it comes in the next chapter. Please read the first 18 verses of chapter 11. We can summarise this passage quite simply. When the assembly in Jerusalem heard that Peter had gone in to Gentiles and had actually baptised them, they called him to account. Peter recounted the whole story to them, and concludes in verse 17 with these words: ‘If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?’ It seems that the thought of withstanding God might have crossed Peter’s mind. He had needed the vision three times to be convinced that he should even go to Cornelius. By the way, ‘withstand’ is the same word as ‘forbid’ in chapter 10 verse 47.

Now look at chapter 11:18: ‘When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘so then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life’. Peter’s words silenced the protests, and you can hear the amazement in their voices as they come to understand that God’s salvation is going beyond the confines of Israel. We’ll think more about that in another section of this study.

It is vital that we understand why the conversion of Cornelius is such a critical turning point in the development of God’s plans. We need to remember that these events took place not long after the death of Stephen. That tragedy marked the climax of the rejection of the apostles’ witness to the Jews of the homeland. To use the language of Hebrews 6, they had, in effect, crucified the Lord the second time, and this time there could be no place for repentance. I think that Stephen’s death marks the end of the public witness to the Jews in the homeland, but the end for Israel is not yet.

As has been said before, Acts divides neatly into two parts. The first twelve chapters cover the renewed offer of the King and Kingdom to that part of the nation of Israel who lived in the homeland. In spite of repeated demonstrations of God’s wonderful power and the teaching of the Apostles, the people, together with their leaders, still said by their actions, ‘We will not have this man Jesus to rule over us’. Their refusal was made brutally clear when they took Stephen and murdered him.

There were, however, many Jews in the lands around the Mediterranean and they, too, must have the opportunity to accept the Lord Jesus as Messiah and Saviour. On this point, it is not an accident that Saul of Tarsus appears on the page of Scripture before we have the events of Acts chapter ten. It seems that no approach could be made to a Gentile before the future Apostle of the Gentiles has come onto the scene. We should also remember that the Dispersion, as the Jews outside the homeland were called, was not forgotten by those in Jerusalem, for James, for example, addresses his epistle to ‘the twelve tribes scattered abroad’.

One of the most important lessons to be learned from the conversion of Cornelius, and I ask you to consider it carefully, is this: It is the usual teaching of pulpit and commentary that the ‘church’ started in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, and there were many Gentiles, as well as Jews, saved on that day. But read the closing verses of chapter 2, beginning at verse 44. I will give the main points: The believers were together, and had all things in common. In other words, they shared everything. They worshipped daily in the Temple, and ate together in each others’ homes. Is there any doubt that Peter was in the midst of all that ‘togetherness’? If there were Gentiles amongst those believers, and they were all eating and sharing together, how is it that some years later, God had to give Peter a special vision to get him to go to Cornelius, and even then Peter is obviously a very reluctant volunteer? Do you remember his words to Cornelius? ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.’ These words are nothing short of ridiculous if Peter had been eating and sharing everything with Gentile converts straight after Pentecost. Isn’t it obvious that Peter, up to the time of his visit to Cornelius, knew nothing of any Gentiles coming into the fellowship of the believers?

The truth is that Cornelius, and those with him, are the first Gentile converts in Acts. And as we have seen, their conversion caused an uproar in the Jerusalem assembly, which would have been impossible if Gentiles were converted in Acts two.

By the way, if you think I have missed that we are told in Acts 2 that people in the crowd came from many different countries, and therefore were Gentiles, look at two particular verses: Verse 5: ‘And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.’ Verse 10: ‘…Jews and proselytes…’

The crowd was made up of Jews and proselytes who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost from all the countries listed, as well, of course, as the residents of Jerusalem. There were no Gentiles there, and the events of Acts 10 prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Another question now demands attention. If Paul was to be the only one appointed as the Apostle of the Gentiles, why was Peter used to bring the first Gentiles into the fellowship of believers? Should it not have been done by Paul? No, is the short answer. It had to be Peter for one simple reason. Look at Matthew 16:19: ‘And I will give you (Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

Peter was given the keys of the Kingdom. Did he get a bunch of keys? No, the meaning was symbolic. He was given authority. Did Peter use the keys to unlock a door to anyone? Yes, he did. He opened the door to the Kingdom in Acts 2 to believing Jews, and then, when the right time came in God’s purposes, he opened the door the second time for believing Gentiles to come in. Peter was faithful to the commission the Lord gave him: ‘Feed my sheep, Peter’, and he used his authority as the holder of the keys of the Kingdom to open the door to those who would receive Israel’s Messiah in the days of His rejection.

Two further questions that must be dealt with are these: Why did the Apostles and others in the Jerusalem Church find it so hard to accept Gentiles? What is the significance of the bringing in of Gentiles at that time? We will consider these matters in further sections of this study, as the Lord provides.

No. 8: Cornelius – The Timing of His Conversion

In the previous article, I suggested that the conversion of Cornelius came at a time of crisis, because it marks the turning point in Acts where the scene shifts from Peter and Jerusalem to Paul and Damascus. It also marks the end of the public witness to the Jews in the homeland and the moving of the witness to the wider audience of the Jews scattered throughout the Mediterranean lands.

A crisis had been reached because, in the murder of Stephen, the homeland portion of the nation rejected Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah for the second time. But they were only part of the nation, and the Jews living outside Israel were to be given a chance to accept the renewed offer of King and Kingdom as well.

It should reassure us as we read through Acts, that God not only knows what He is doing, but also knows how to do it best. The Twelve, who were clothed with power from on high in Acts 2, were undoubtedly the right men for the job. They were thorough-going Jews who had been brought up in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. They were zealous for the Law, and could match the best in Jewry in debate about the Law and the Prophets, and confound them.

It is possible, for example, that Saul had listened to Stephen’s discourses in various synagogues, and had not been able to better him. Were these the ‘pricks’ Saul had found it hard to kick against? However that may be, when it came time to send the message to Gentiles, God had his man ready. Saul was not ‘of Jerusalem’, but ‘of Tarsus’. This was not only a Gentile city, but was also home to one of the best universities in the Roman world. Paul received part of his education here, as well as studying as a Pharisee under Gamaliel, one of the best teachers in Israel. In addition to all that, Paul was born a Roman citizen, the value of which we moderns have very little understanding.

All these facts belong to the great work of God in bringing about the worldwide Kingdom of Righteousness, and although our lives and our work for the Lord are not on as high a plane as that of Peter and Paul, nevertheless, we can take heart from these things and know that ‘all things, indeed, work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to His purpose’.

As I look back over sixty years of Christian pilgrimage, I can see how, at each turning of the road, the Lord Himself was not only there, but He had the right people and the right circumstances ready to carry forward His plan for me. At some of those turning points, I could not see the road ahead or those who would help, but looking back now, it is quite plain. I also understand now that if I could have seen it all then, it would not have been a walk of faith.

Our question in this study is this: What was God’s purpose in bringing in not only Cornelius, but Gentiles in general, at that particular time in the Acts period? It is not without significance that we do not find the answer in any of the writings of the Apostles of the Circumcision, such as Peter, James or John. It is Paul alone who knew why it was happening, and it is to Romans chapters 9–11 that we must go.

The earlier chapters of Romans deal with profound doctrinal matters, many of which override dispensational boundaries, but in chapter 9, Paul turns to what are called dispensational matters. These centre around Israel and her privileges and standing with God and how God uses His sovereign will to achieve His purposes. I hope you will read these three chapters before going on.

In verse 21 of chapter 9, Paul uses the image of the potter and his clay and then speaks about God’s long-sufferance in putting up with the rebellion of the nations. In verse 24, he says that God has not called only Jews but also Gentiles, and quotes from Hosea. It is not possible in this study to comment on the many points in these verses, but don’t miss the reference to ‘those who were not a people’. That is just how the Jew thought of Gentiles.

Paul takes up the theme of the Gentiles again in verse 30, and shows that many Gentiles obtained righteousness while Israel at large, missed it. Please consider carefully the reason Paul gives for Israel missing the righteousness provided by God.

In chapter 10, Paul moves onto the subject of faith and its origin. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of God, and anyone who responds in faith to that Word is counted as righteous by God. The last three verses of the chapter, 19–21, are very significant. The quote in verse 19 is from Deuteronomy 32:21, where Moses says, ‘I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation’. The quote in verses 20,21 is from Isaiah 65:1,2: ‘But Isaiah is very bold and says, I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me. But to Israel he says: All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’

In the early part of chapter 11, Paul speaks of Israel’s long history of rebellion against God. Don’t miss that in verse 2, where Paul declares categorically that God has not cast away His people Israel. We get to our point particularly at verse 11. I will quote from the Amplified Version, as it brings out, very clearly, the deeper implications of what Paul is saying: ‘So I ask, have they (that is, Israel) stumbled so as to fall – to their utter spiritual ruin, irretrievably? By no means! But through their false step and transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, so as to arouse Israel [to see and feel what they forfeited] and so to make them jealous.’

Let me put it plainly – Paul is discussing the question of Israel’s standing before God in the light of the continued rejection of the witness concerning Jesus the Messiah. It is looking more and more as if the nation is not going to repent. Why is this happening? What will God do? Paul quotes from Moses and Isaiah to show that it was no secret that God intended to bless Gentiles, and also that He would use Gentiles – non-people as far as Jews were concerned – to provoke Israel to jealousy and emulation. Then he points out that God is doing exactly that by bringing Gentiles into the company of believers before all Israel were saved. God is, as a last desperate measure, using the despised Gentiles in an effort to stir Israel up so that they will take their blessings even in a spirit of jealousy.

I know I will be castigated for implying that God was down to a last desperate measure, but I speak after the manner of men. The underlying truth is that God did everything that was possible in order to bring Israel to repentance and acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah and Deliverer. That generation of Israel will have no excuses whatsoever when they stand before the Lord. What had the Lord said back in Matthew 23:37,38: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate…’ I hope you can see the parallels between these verses and what Paul is saying in Romans 9–11.

Remember that Romans is the last epistle that Paul wrote during the Acts period, so quite some time has passed since the promising beginning in Acts 2, and the sands of the hourglass are rapidly running out. It is becoming more evident with each passing day that, once again, Israel are saying to God, ‘We will not’.

I often wondered at the phrase ‘provoke to jealousy’ as a younger Christian, but later, when I had children of my own, I saw in their behaviour an illustration of what God was doing with Israel. One child would be playing, with several toys lying around. Some toys were ignored until little sister crawled over and put her hand out to take one. Immediately, the older child snatched the toy away saying, ‘No, that’s mine’. This is a simple illustration of what God was doing with Israel in the latter part of Acts. He was allowing the Gentiles to come in and take Israel’s special blessings in the hope that they, Israel, would reach out and grab them for themselves out of sheer jealousy. Unfortunately, they did not. Rather, they did what I saw my children do sometimes, that is, hit out at the other child.

Israel not only lashed out against the Gentiles, but also against God’s messengers who dared to take these things to the hated Gentiles. The Jews would not take them for themselves, but they also tried to prevent the Gentiles getting them. A disobedient and contrary people indeed!

So the conversion of Cornelius and other Gentiles during Acts, was to provoke Israel to jealousy. While it did not rouse them to jealousy, it certainly provoked a reaction, as I have said. Remember what happened to Peter after he got back to Jerusalem from his visit to Cornelius? There was a very strong reaction, and this was from inside the company of believers.

The only other incident that I would draw to your attention is found in Acts 21,22. Please read those chapters, and notice that it was because some Jews thought Paul had taken a Gentile into the Temple that the riot came about. Then, when Paul was allowed to speak to the crowd, they listened quietly until he used the word ‘Gentiles’ in verse 21 of chapter 22. I don’t think it is exaggerating to say that the crowd went berserk at that point!

Now, I have a question for you. I am opposing the general view that the ‘church’ commenced at Acts 2, and that from that time, Jews and Gentiles have been united in one unchanging company of believers until our present time. Paul tells us in plain and simple words that Gentiles were converted to provoke Israel to jealousy. If, then, there has been no change of dispensation since Acts 2, if it is all the same ‘church’ since that time, then Gentile conversions today should still have the same purpose as they had back then.

Dear reader, when you were converted and became a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, how many Jews were provoked to jealousy, or even anger, as happened in the Acts period? I suspect that it was exactly the same in your case as it was in mine. Not only was there no reaction from any Jews, I venture to suggest that there was no Jew anywhere in the world who was even aware that we had become Christians. And even if they had known, they would not have been the slightest bit interested. That’s humbling, but true, nevertheless.

There is one other point we should learn from Romans 11. Please read verses 13–24. Here Paul uses what was an established horticultural practice to make the same point as when he spoke about Gentile converts provoking Israel to jealousy. It was common practice that, when olive trees flagged in their production of fruit, the farmer would cut branches from wild olive trees and graft them into the flagging trees. This stimulated the production of fruit once more. Paul tells his Gentile converts that they are, in effect, wild olive branches grafted in to the olive tree of Israel to stimulate her to produce fruit meet for repentance. The olive tree is used throughout Scripture as a symbol of the nation of Israel.

I am well aware that some Bible teachers would say, that indeed, we Gentiles are still wild branches grafted into Israel’s olive tree, but my response is to ask a similar question as before. Where are the true branches that our grafting in is supposed to stimulate? They are simply not there. The truth is that, using the figure of the olive tree, God cut it down at the end of Acts. In other words, because of their second rejection of the Lord as their Messiah, the nation of Israel were set aside at Acts 28:28, as God’s privileged people, until the times of the Gentiles have been completed.

It bears thinking about, don’t you think?

 No. 9: Not More Christians (by  Michael Penny)

 When Mike and Sylvia Penny were with us in Australia in 2010, I asked Mike if he would contribute the next article in the Dispensational Basics series, and deal with the very negative reaction of the Jewish Church to the conversion of Cornelius and his friends. This article is Mike’s response, and I am very grateful that he has taken the time out of his busy schedule to give us this study. Athol Walter.

I read about this church where one of the leaders, while away from his own church on a ministry trip, went into the home of a person who was not fully accepted in the community. Anyway, when he was there this person and his family all responded to the ministry of the leader and all became believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, when the leader returned home, he was questioned and criticised by his church as to why he had visited such a person.

Can you believe it? Well I can, because I read about it. No, not in a newspaper or a magazine, but in the Bible! The leader was Peter. The person was Cornelius. And the church was in Jerusalem. See Acts 11:1–18. What was going on here?

A common error

One of the common errors in misunderstanding the Bible is to read truth revealed at one time into earlier books of the Bible. For example, if Abraham lived to be 175 years and there are 52 weeks in a year, how many Sabbaths did Abraham keep? This is not an exercise in arithmetic because the answer is zero. Abraham lived 400 years before the Law was given to Moses. Thus we are wrong to read Sabbath Law back into Genesis or into the earlier parts of Exodus. It is true that God wanted the message of Salvation to go to the Gentiles, but when did that come in?

God’s revealed plan up to that time

During the Old Testament, the Gospels, and into the Acts period, there were three strands of teaching which concerned the Gentiles:

First there was the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12:1–3, in which God said, ‘I will bless those who bless you.’

Second, as time went by, it became possible for Gentiles to join themselves to the people of Israel. To do this they had to be circumcised, observe the Sabbath, and do their best to keep the rest of the Mosaic Law, just like any Jew. See Isaiah 56:3–7. Such Gentile converts to Judaism were known as ‘Proselytes’.

Thirdly, there was also the ultimate plan; that Israel would become a Kingdom of Priests to the Gentile nations, teaching them about the Lord. See Exodus 19:4–6.

The Abrahamic Covenant

We see this in operation when our Lord was on earth. When He came to Capernaum there was a Gentile Centurion whose servant was ill and needed healing. The leaders of the Jews came to Christ and said to Him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue’, Luke 7:4,5. And our Lord healed the centurion’s servant.

And this was the same with Cornelius, of whom we read in Acts 10:2: ‘He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.’ As he was stationed in Caesarea in Judea the poor to whom he gave were obviously Jewish poor.

Proselytes and God-fearers

During the time our Lord was on earth, and into the Acts of the Apostles, a number of thinking Gentiles became disillusioned with the emptiness and hypocrisy of pagan worship. Drunkenness was the mode of worship in the temple of Bacchus; the temple of Zeus in Corinth had 1000 priestesses, well, prostitutes really, and intercourse was considered an act of worship; and orgies figured in the temple of Dionysius. However, throughout that Greco–Roman world there was a hard-working, moralistic group of people. Their worship consisted of singing songs, praying, reading from some scrolls and listening to someone talk about the reading. Slowly, a number of Gentiles started to attend the synagogues and in some places the number got so great, that when new synagogues were built there were special sections for these Gentiles, who were known as God-fearers. If these God-fearers took the step of being circumcised, then they became Proselytes and were fully embraced into both Jewish religion and society. However, God-fearers, while welcome in the synagogue, were not welcomed into Jewish homes and it was not acceptable for Jews to visit their homes. Cornelius was a God-fearer, Acts 10:2, and we read of many more in the synagogues that Paul visited.

The Kingdom of Priests

However, the big plan for the Gentiles would only be fulfilled when Israel became a kingdom of priests and this was on the mind of the disciples when, at the start of Acts, they asked the Lord, ‘Are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?’ (1:6). He gave them an evasive answer, but He did give them a road map – Jerusalem first, then Judea, then Samaria and then, ultimately, the ends of the earth (1:8). They embarked on this work gaining thousands of converts (2:41; 4:4). But opposition arose, headed by the Jewish leadership, and many Christians fled Jerusalem and Judea. Thus the task of converting Israel and of them becoming a kingdom of priests, was stalled so… go to the Gentiles? It’s not time yet!

A New Thing

It was no secret what God would do if the nation of Israel did not fully obey the Law. Deuteronomy 28:15–68 spells out the judgments. Also, Isaiah 6 made it clear that if the Nation hardened its hearts and became blind and deaf, it would be cut down like a tree, and taken into exile – which is just what happened at the hands of the Babylonians.

However, during Acts there was now a different problem in Israel; some believed and some opposed. ‘Israel has experienced a hardening in part’, is how Paul described it in Romans 11:25. What was God going to do about this? Romans 11:11–27 provides the answer. God sent some people, like Peter, to the Gentiles and His reason for doing so was to arouse Israel, to provoke them, and so to save them. Romans 11:11–14. The analogy given in Romans 11 is that of a wild olive branch (the Gentiles) being grafted into the cultivated olive tree (Israel). In olive farming this would frequently result in the cultivated olive tree producing more and better fruit. This was God’s desire for Israel, but this was something new and had been a secret (a better word than ‘mystery’ in Romans 11:25).

If all this is the case, then we can well understand Peter’s reluctance to go to Cornelius in the first place and the Jerusalem church questioning him about it. However, we must make it clear that this was the reason for Gentile salvation during the period covered by the Acts of the Apostles, that is, to provoke Israel through jealousy into accepting the Messiah. But that is not the reason why Gentiles are saved today.

Did it work?

As we read Acts we can see the Jews being aroused in a number of places. Some did believe while others were provoked, but not into believing that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God. Rather they became jealous, abusive and violent. Acts 13:45. And throughout the rest of the Acts of the Apostles this situation continued, but it could not go on and on for ever, and it seems that slowly the opposition grew. When we get to the end of Acts we read the final pronouncement of Isaiah’s sad prophecy. Israel had now hardened its heart. It was deaf to the teachings of the Apostles and blind to the Scriptures which clearly showed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. As that was the situation it is not surprising that, just as years earlier that nation had been taken into exile by the Babylonians, Israel were soon exiled throughout the Roman Empire when the Romans destroyed the city and the temple in AD70.

What was God going to do now?

Following the quotation from Isaiah 6 in Acts 28:25–28, we read that ‘God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles and they will listen’. And listen they did. This was the point where the Secret (Mystery) concerning the Church which is His Body was first revealed through Paul. This was God’s answer to the failure of Israel. They pass off the centre of God’s stage for the present time, and no longer do they have the privileged first place that was once theirs. When Christian history opens at the start of the second century, we find that the early church fathers were all Gentiles. There was not one Jew amongst them. And to this present day, God deals with us all simply on the basis of our kinship to Adam, not as Jew or Gentile.

No. 10: …Now Let’s Pause and Consider

The last three articles in the Dispensational Basics series dealing with the conversion of Cornelius– including Mike Penny’s article ‘Not More Christians’ – touch on significant developments in God’s plan for Israel and the nations. I believe they are important enough for us to pause now and ponder the implications of what happened during those early years of the Acts period.

A correct understanding of the position and purpose of Cornelius resolves a number of contentious issues. These issues not only bear on events at the beginning of Acts, they also cast their shadows on what follows Peter’s visit to Cornelius. They also help to clarify our position today in the purposes of God. So let’s pause and review the more outstanding points in these three articles.

The passage of time is not obvious in the Book of Acts, but most commentators state that at least seven years – possibly more – had passed between the events of chapters 1–4 and Peter’s visit to Cornelius. We must remember those passing years.

Point 1:

Following the conversion of thousands of Jews in those early days, we read that all who believed had all things in common, and moved from house to house sharing meals and fellowship, (Acts 2:46; 4:31–33). The Apostles, and others, witnessed not only to the common people of Israel, but also to the leaders of the nation. The witness was accompanied by great signs and wonders.

Years pass and we come to chapter 10 where Peter goes to visit Cornelius after receiving an extraordinary vision The Scriptures testify to the upright character of Cornelius, yet Peter does not hesitate to tell him that he, Peter, would not have come to visit him had it not been for the vision. Cornelius and those with him were converted and began to speak in tongues.

Pause here for a moment. If there were Gentiles present and converted at Pentecost in Acts 2, as is usually taught, and if all those who became believers in Jesus as the Messiah had meals together, surely Peter, being thus accustomed to eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles, would have not needed any special prompting from God to go to the Gentile Cornelius. The truth is – and it is clearly stated in the Scriptural record – that there were only Jews and proselytes present on the Day of Pentecost, and that NO Gentiles came into the fellowship of believers before the conversion of Cornelius. He was the first Gentile to be converted in the Book of Acts, at least seven years after Acts 2.

Point 2:

Why were there no Gentiles early in Acts, and why, suddenly, is Peter sent to a Gentile? There were no Gentiles in the early years because it was necessary that Israel be brought into a state of righteousness with God, in order that they could become the nation of priests that God had destined them to be. So in the early part of Acts, the message is to Israel ONLY, and then after the conversion of Cornelius, it is to Israel FIRST. Obviously, Cornelius’ conversion is a moment of some importance.

Point 3:

So, what is the point of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert? Paul gives the answer in Romans 9–11. In spite of the ministry of Peter and his colleagues and the many miraculous signs performed by them, the nation of Israel as a whole was not responding positively to the witness. The heart of the nation was becoming hardened. Drastic measures were called for, so God sent Peter to Cornelius, opening the door to Gentile converts, in an effort to stir up the people of Israel to accept their spiritual destiny even out of a jealous spirit.

Point 4:

Acts 11 shows that Peter’s visit to Cornelius shocked the Jerusalem believers. Peter was almost put on trial! The reasons for their strong reaction are not hard to find, and Mike Penny has discussed them in his article. The Jewish religion emphasised the superiority of the Jew over the Gentile at every turn, and indeed, the various religions of the Gentile world were often thoroughly debauched. So, not only did their religion put a barrier between themselves and Gentiles, the immoral and shallow lives of many Gentiles disgusted Jews who came in contact with them.

However, many Gentiles were looking for something better. Judaism, with its high moral standards and the belief in one God, attracted them, and many of them found their way to Jewish synagogues. Here they were tolerated, but they were not received into Jewish homes or society. So, imagine then the thoughts and feelings of Jewish believers in Jerusalem when they heard that Peter had gone into a Gentile house and fellowshipped with them. How could people who probably indulged in grossly immoral practices be welcomed into their fellowship? Could they possibly be expected to eat with them and share with them, when their whole upbringing had forbidden it? It is hard for us to enter into their feelings, but we should try to understand their dilemma as much as possible.

Point 5:

Why was it Peter, and not Paul, who was sent to Cornelius, a Gentile? Simply because the Lord had given to Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter’s commission was to feed the sheep of the House of Israel, and he did his appointed task admirably. But when it came to Gentiles, Peter was just not the man. But it was Peter who had to use the Keys. He opened the door – figuratively, of course – to Jewish believers on the Day of Pentecost, and he also opened the door for Gentiles when he went to Cornelius.

But it was Paul and his colleagues who took the witness to Jews living outside of Palestine. Paul was as much a Jew as Peter was, but because of his upbringing in a Gentile city, and probably because of his temperament too, he was not at a loss when confronted by Gentiles. But always, throughout Acts, it is Jew first, and only when Jews oppose, does Paul turn to Gentiles.

As I said, it was Jew first all the way to the end of Acts, but that is not the situation we find ourselves in today. Reader, look around you. Do you know any Christian preacher who goes into the Jewish synagogue before preaching Christ to any Gentiles? No, it doesn’t happen. I am aware that there are missions to Jewish people, and all power to them, but that is quite a different thing. The conversion of a Gentile today does not cause a ripple on the surface of any Jewish community, as it did in Paul’s day. A change has taken place, and that change occurred at the end of Acts, at 28:17–29. This is the point where Israel was set aside by God. This is the point where the miraculous signs stopped.

It is after this that Paul receives the revelation of the Dispensation of the Mystery and the Church which is His Body. It is a grave mistake to read these later revelations of God back into the earlier dispensation of Acts. It is precisely this that has brought about all the confusion amongst Christian denominations.

As someone once very wisely observed: Distinguish the dispensations and the difficulties disappear. Brethren, think on these things.

No. 11: Stephen

When I looked at the conversion of Cornelius several issues ago, I mentioned that I was jumping over material that we would need to return to. So in this article, I want to go back several chapters in Acts to an event that is as significant in the plans of God at the time covered by the book of Acts as is the conversion of Cornelius. I refer to the witness and martyrdom of Stephen.

The witness of the Apostles in Acts was attended by some good successes. There were three thousand ‘converts’ in Acts 2:41, while the number of five thousand is mentioned in Acts 4:4, although this might be the progressive total, rather than another five thousand. Then in Acts 21:20, when Paul and some of his colleagues had come to Jerusalem with an offering for the Jerusalem church, he was told by the elders, among other things, that ‘myriads’ (i.e. thousands) of Jews had believed. Now, these numbers would be very gratifying to any evangelist today, yet, in spite of those ‘myriad Jews’ who had believed, it was not enough for God’s purposes at that time. Nothing less than the repentance of the whole nation was required, for it was the nation, not just a few thousand of them, who were to become God’s royal priesthood ministering to the other nations of the world.

There were, however, problems that arose in the community of believers because of these rather large numbers. The concluding three verses of Acts 2 are not only significant, but highly relevant. I quote verses 44 to 47 from the New King James Version: ‘Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.’

It is not apparent to most of us Gentiles why those early believers disposed of all their belongings, and pooled everything. The short answer is that they knew that the Lord’s return would usher in a year of Jubilee, in which all debts would be cancelled, and all Jewish families would regain possession of the land that was their inheritance in Israel. I will have to leave you to read about the Year of Jubilee for yourself in Leviticus 25.

In the beginning of Acts 6, we read of a dispute that arose amongst the believers. There were two groups, one lot called Hebrews, the others called Hellenists. That term does not mean what we might first think. They were not Greeks, but Jews from countries outside Palestine who spoke Greek, whereas the others spoke Hebrew, or probably, Aramaic, which is an offshoot of Hebrew. The dispute centred around the distribution of food, in which the widows in the Hellenist group were being neglected. In the discussion that followed, the twelve Apostles appointed seven men of good standing to take care of the food administration, and possibly, other business matters. These men were called deacons, and one of them was Stephen. The scheme worked well, and the company of believers grew rapidly.

In verse 8, the narrative focuses on Stephen, who through the power of the Holy Spirit, was able to perform remarkable miracles – called signs and wonders – amongst the people. He also reasoned with his countrymen in a particular synagogue, and verse 10 tells us that they were not able resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke.

By the way, note that the particular synagogue where this took place was attended by people who had come from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. We will learn a little later that a certain Saul, who is destined to play a big role in developing events, came from Tarsus in – Cilicia! I am making an assumption here, but it would be reasonable to expect that Saul would attend the synagogue where fellow Cilicians would gather. I also suspect that when the Lord said to Saul, when he was struck down on the road to Damascus, that it was hard for him to kick against the pricks, this referred partly to Saul’s inability to gain the better of Stephen in the Scriptural debates.

In verse 11, the men who could not prove Stephen wrong, stirred up trouble and had Stephen arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, as the word is in the Greek text. Here Stephen was falsely accused. Chapter 7 gives us Stephen’s defence, which is a marvellous recounting of Israel’s history. It is beyond our scope to go through the details of this chapter, but I do want you to notice the point Stephen makes using both Joseph and Moses as examples. Look at verse 13: ‘And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers…’

In verse 20, Stephen gets to Moses, and makes the point that Moses thought that the Israelites would know that he was to deliver them from Egypt, (verse 25) but he was rejected. Note the words said to Moses in verse 27: ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?’ In effect, Moses was rejected the first time he offered himself to his people, and it was not until he came the second time, that they followed him.

In verse 35, Stephen says: ‘This Moses whom they rejected, saying Who made you a ruler and a judge? is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush.’ Stephen finally charges these leaders of Israel with doing the same as their forefathers. They always resisted the leadings of God’s Holy Spirit, and, in verse 52, he accuses them of murdering the Just One of whom the prophets had spoken. These words made them furious, so much so, that ‘they gnashed at him with their teeth’. Stephen, however, was beyond their reach by this time. He was given a vision of the Lord – the Son of Man – standing at the right hand of God. They could not listen to this blasphemy, as they thought it, and rushed him out of the city and stoned him to death.

Stephen said two things as he was dying. Firstly, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’, and secondly, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ I have read that this was a similar prayer to that prayed by the Lord as He was being nailed to the cross, but I submit to you that it is different, and the difference is significant. The Lord prayed, ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.’ Stephen prayed, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ As we see the difference in what Stephen said, we will come a long way towards understanding what Stephen’s death was all about.

It may seem inexplicable to us, but it was true that the Jews did not know that Jesus of Nazareth was their Messiah. But in the years that passed between the Crucifixion and Stephen’s death – some scholars estimate about five years – a very clear witness had been made as to who Jesus really was. This witness had been accompanied by great signs and wonders, done by many others besides the Twelve, so that when they put Stephen to death, they were without excuse. Stephen’s prayer was not for forgiveness because of ignorance, but that they be not charged with their crime.

In the next two chapters, we are given details of various events that show us how the circle of witness widened from Jerusalem, following the pattern laid down by the Lord in Acts 1:8. But to all intents and purposes, the record of the witness concerning Jesus of Nazareth in the Jewish homeland of Palestine comes to its climax with the murder of Stephen.

There were, however, many Jews living outside of Palestine, and they too, must hear the good news concerning Jesus. This great Jewish company outside Palestine was called ‘the Diaspora’, a Greek word meaning ‘the Dispersion’. An important point to note is, that, while this second offer of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and Deliverer was being made, both in Palestine and in the world around the Mediterranean Sea, the Temple still stood in Jerusalem, Moses’ Law was still operating, and the Hope of the believers was inextricably tied up with the promises of God to the nation of Israel. This means that we must distinguish between the epistles written during the Acts period, and those written after the end of Acts, for the company of believers and their relevant Hope is different after the Acts period finished.

Back at Acts 7 and 8, the focus of the narrative quite quickly shifts from Jerusalem to places outside the borders of Palestine. Peter, after his mission to Cornelius, almost disappears and the centre stage is taken over by the one who came to be called Paul. Just as the witness in the homeland was rejected, so the witness to the Diaspora was likewise rejected, which brought the nation of Israel to a terrible end. But that comes later.

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