by Karl Edwards
A discussion of the division between the Old and the New Testaments. This division is marked in most Bibles by the insertion of an additional page – 'the blank page', being blank one side with the words ‘The New Testament’ printed on the other. The implications, both good and bad, of what that page has come to represent within Christian circles is the subject of this article.
There are many Christian groups today who include the word Berean in some part of their church name. The word comes from the name of a city or town in Acts 17:11 where a comparison is made between the Jews of Thessalonica and the Jews of Berea. It states that the Jews in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they received the word eagerly and searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was saying was true. Consequently an association with the name Berean conjures up the idea of searching the Scriptures so that one may better understand what God is actually saying, as opposed to what man is saying, even if that man is the apostle Paul. For the Bereans, the Word of God was the primary source of truth and they went to the only Scriptures they had at that time, which was the Old Testament.
It’s interesting to note how the early Jews approached the Scripture that had been delivered to them by Moses. Because they believed these Scriptures to be the Word of God, they would never add to them, even when assigning titles to them. Instead, to refer to any of the books of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), the Hebrew titles they gave them were all taken from words found within the first verse of the books themselves.
Bereisheet – In the beginning (Genesis)
Shemot – Now these are the Names (Exodus)
Vayikra – And the LORD called Moses (Leviticus)
Ba Midbar – Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness (Numbers)
D’varim – These are the Words (Deuteronomy)
It’s a fair assessment to say they had a healthy respect for the Scriptures and the words in them, as did the Bereans of Acts 17:11. Our English translations of the Bible have not been given such discerning treatment. Much has been added to all of the current versions and in this respect a little of the Berean attitude will go a long way in helping us to get a better understanding. Chapter headings, chapter divisions, verses and cross references, have all been added by man, not by God. While they are not without their uses (as it would be very difficult to navigate without them) they can sometimes be misleading. For instance, the chapter division placed between the gospel of John chapters seven and eight, sits right in the middle of a verse. In chapter seven the Lord is teaching in the temple, and the people and the Pharisees are debating His authenticity. In the last verse of John chapter 7, verse 53, it says, ‘And everyone went to his own house’. John 8:1 then begins with the words, ‘But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives’, which, when read together, naturally concludes the events of chapter seven. Chapter eight should logically begin with the words, ‘Now early in the morning…’ which would be a more sensible starting point.
Such an addition is not really a serious problem but it serves to illustrate that the believer must be aware that the things added by man do not constitute the Word of God. There are, however, some additions and divisions which are quite misleading and one in particular, which I call ‘the blank page’, has in some respects hidden important Biblical truths from Christians for centuries. By ‘the blank page’ I mean the division between the Old and the New Testament, which usually takes the form of an additional page, blank one side with the words ‘The New Testament’ printed on the other. Of course, I have no objections to the page itself but rather that which the page has come to represent within Christian circles.
As Bereans, we hold a literal, historical and grammatical view of the Scriptures. Literal, because we take the words for what they mean in their plainest sense; historical, in that we consider what the words meant to the people to whom they were originally written to; and grammatical, in that we endeavour to follow the rules of literature. With the current Christian view concerning the difference between the Old and the New Testaments, the historical rule in particular is disregarded, which, of necessity, leads to a breaking of the other rules to compensate.
What do I mean by such a bold statement? Quite simply, the perceived division between the Old and the New Testaments removes the original recipients from the picture. Consider the following statements:
- The Lord’s earthly ministry was to and for everyone at that time.
- The healings in the gospels were for everyone.
- Anyone who wanted to could have participated in the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
- Anyone who believed was added to the church on the day of Pentecost.
- Signs, miracles and wonders were available to anybody and everybody.
If, however, we take note of the historical context and the people to whom the Scripture and the promises were given, we will see a stark contrast to the above statements in that:
- The Lord’s earthly ministry was only to Israel.
- The healings were only for Israel.
- Only Jews were present on the day of Pentecost.
- Only Jews were added to the church.
- The signs, miracles and wonders were for Israel only.
While these statements may be confronting to traditional beliefs, all of them can be easily verified from Scripture itself, not least of which is Romans 15:8 which clearly states that: ‘…Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision (that is, Israel) for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.’
The current prevalent view can be attributed to the thought that the Old Testament is largely concerned with Israel, and the New Testament with Christianity. Some might even go as far as to say that Christianity begins in the gospel of Matthew, but if we look at the testimony of the people of the New Testament and their view concerning the coming of the Christ, we can clearly see that the New Testament is also largely concerned with Israel.
There are a number of possible reasons as to why this truth has been marginalised: the 400-year gap between Malachi, the last Jewish prophet, and the Lord’s coming; that the Jews only recognise the Old Testament as Scripture; the fact that there has been centuries of antagonism between Judaism and Christianity helping to create two distinct systems of belief. Regardless, these things do not nullify the clear testimony of Scripture itself.
There are a number of witnesses in the early pages of the gospels who testify as to what the arrival of the Lord meant to them. The angel Gabriel, on delivering the good news to Mary, is the first witness. It is interesting to note what he says: ‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Luke 1:31–33
Gabriel clearly establishes the close connection between the Lord’s coming and the prophecies concerning Israel, in that Christ would sit on the throne of David and that He would rule over the house of Jacob forever. This immediately tells us that His coming was not expected to begin a new religion called Christianity, but instead to fulfil the promises that God had made with His people, Israel. Mary, on receiving this news, is no less Israel-centred when she meets with Elizabeth and speaks concerning the great privilege bestowed upon her: ‘He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever’. Luke 1:54,55. She recognises the event as a work of God in relation to the words He spoke to the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Also in the gospel of Luke we see Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, prophesying concerning Christ: ‘Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.’ Luke 1:67–75
A closer look at this prophecy shows us what Zacharias was thinking concerning both the news from Mary and the birth of his own son John the Baptist. It is important to note that Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit – he was not speaking on his own behalf. The words that Zacharias spoke were the words that the Spirit gave him to speak, and the first thing he says is ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel’. He then, like the angel Gabriel, mentions the promises made concerning David’s throne and differentiates between Israel and her enemies, ‘and the hand of all who hate us’. Like Mary he also acknowledges the promises and the covenants that God made with the fathers.
It is clear that Zacharias did not see the arrival of the Lord as the beginning of something new for all the peoples of the world, but as a specific event unique to the prophecies concerning Israel. If it wasn’t for the fact that Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, some may consider this to be Jewish prejudice, but these witnesses were only doing as the Bereans did – they were comparing the things that they were hearing with the word of God that they knew, and they could clearly see that the Scriptures were being fulfilled.
In Part 2 we will look at some more testimonies from these early witnesses and consider the Old Testament Scriptures that they would have been familiar with. Consequently we will see that there is no difference between the Scriptures and their view of the events taking place in Israel around the time of Christ’s birth.
In Part 1 we considered how the current perceived division between the Old Testament and the New Testament fosters the view that the Old Testament was largely concerned with ancient Israel, while the New Testament is entirely directed toward Christians. This view was not held by the people of the New Testament who, like the Bereans, considered the Old Testament to be the Word of God and the coming of the Lord to be a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, rather than the beginning of a new movement alien to ‘their hope’. We looked briefly at the testimonies of the angel Gabriel, Mary and Zacharias, and how they linked the arrival of the Lord with the Old Testament hope of Israel.
In Part 2, we will look at some more of these early witnesses and exactly why they thought the way they did when they understood that the time of the Messiah had come.
Following Zacharias in Luke chapter two we find Simeon, who is described as a just and devout man, who waited on the consolation of Israel, and who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. It is interesting to note that in Luke 2:25, ‘the Holy spirit was upon him’, and in 2:27, ‘he came by the Spirit into the temple’. This is a very strong pronouncement that whatever Simeon was going to say would come, not from his own mind, but from the Holy Spirit. Simeon speaks in Luke 2:29–32, ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.’
We have to remember that Simeon was said to be waiting for ‘the consolation of Israel’, yet in this statement he clearly declares that the babe in his arms was the salvation that God had prepared for all the peoples of the world, which would extend the circle outside of Israel. However, there is still a distinct separation made between Israel and the Gentile world in his statement, ‘A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel’. To understand why he said this we have to be aware of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:2,3: ‘I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
That all nations would be blessed through Abraham was one of the promises made to the fathers, mentioned by both Zacharias and Mary earlier in their testimonies. Simeon was not saying anything different. He also was linking the coming Messiah with this Old Testament promise. It was common knowledge in Israel that the Gentiles would be blessed when Messiah came, but their blessing was always to be through Israel. So Simeon, along with Mary and Zacharias, recognised the coming of the Lord to be part of the hope or consolation of Israel.
The question to ask then, is why they thought that way. Some expositors would indicate that they should have thrown off all Jewishness, forgotten about their Old Testament Scriptures and embraced the new light that Christ came to bring. However, thirty years later at the beginning of the Lord’s ministry, we find more witnesses who hold the same Old Testament view of the Messiah. In the Gospel of John, Andrew (Simon Peter’s brother), says of the Lord that He is the Messiah, John 1:41. There was never any talk about a Gentile Messiah; Andrew’s statement was solely based on his knowledge of Old Testament Scripture. The Lord himself found Philip, and then Philip finds Nathaniel and tells him that they have found ‘Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’, John 1:45, and Nathaniel declares to the Lord, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel’.
There are many other witnesses whose testimonies also associate the Lord’s ministry with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah and the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, not least of which is John the Baptist, whose description and personage is taken straight from Isaiah 40:3,4.
Closer scrutiny of the words of the above witnesses will show that they expected the Messiah to be born in the city of David, of the lineage of David, and that He would sit on the throne of David, as the King of Israel, to reign over the house of Jacob and save them from their enemies, and that His kingdom would have no end. In this kingdom they, Israel, would serve Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of their lives. For them, this meant that God was remembering His Holy Covenant, the oath that He swore to Abraham and that this was the mercy promised to the fathers.
All of the above statements are made of the Lord in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. To sever the Old Testament from the New Testament is to extract the Lord’s first coming out from its rightful context and to miss the point completely.
When one considers the Scripture with which these people would have been familiar, it is easy to see why they anticipated that the arrival of the Messiah also meant the realisation of the Jewish hope. Isaiah 9:6,7, ‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder: and His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.’
Isaiah 9:6 is an often quoted Scripture, but not as much notice is taken of verse seven which places Christ on the throne of David ruling over his kingdom. To them, this meant nothing less than the Lord occupying the literal throne of David, in the city of Jerusalem, in the land of Israel. This sentiment can be found in the statements made by the angel Gabriel, Mary and Zacharias, and there are many similar references scattered throughout Isaiah which would have revealed to them a literal kingdom, such as Isaiah 24:23: ‘…For the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously’. There was nothing wrong with their perspective – it came straight from the book of Isaiah.
The book of Jeremiah also has a number of references which they would have related to the events that they saw unfolding before their eyes. Jeremiah 33:14–17: ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah: in those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. For thus says the LORD: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.’
At that time Israel was under the yoke of Rome, a Gentile nation. ‘That good thing’ that the Lord had promised meant the salvation of Israel, and safe dwelling for them in Jerusalem, with the Lord ruling over them instead of a foreign power. Much later, after the Lord’s death and resurrection, after the day of Pentecost, Peter’s speech to the Jews at Jerusalem shows that his thinking also had its root in these same Old Testament promises. Acts 2:29,30: ‘Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne…’
As far as Peter was concerned the Lord was raised to sit on the throne of David; the throne of David meant nothing less than a united Israel, a sovereign nation ruled by the Lord himself. He interpreted the things that he had seen in those days as the fulfilment of prophecy, and he clearly says so in Acts 3:24–26: ‘Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED. To you FIRST, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.’
From the first announcement of the coming of the Lord, right through to Peter in Acts Chapter 3, the Scriptures show that those who lived at that time placed the events they were witnessing within the context of the Old Testament Scriptures that they knew. Nor does it end there. The apostle Paul, in his dealings with the Jews all throughout the book of Acts, appeals to the Old Testament to identify the person of Christ as the fulfilment of prophecy. Any other context would not have made sense to them and neither should it to us. Christ’s earthly ministry and the events of the book of Acts can only be truly understood in the light of the Scripture that had gone before.
There is no ‘blank page’ between the Old and the New Testaments. The blank, rather, is in our understanding of how they fit together.
In Part 3, we will take a closer look at the nature of the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament, with a view to why that kingdom has not yet become a reality.
In Part 2, we saw how the believers in the gospel period lined up the events that they were witnessing concerning the birth of the Lord with the Old Testament Scriptures that they knew. As far as they were concerned, they were seeing Old Testament promises being fulfilled right before their eyes. This, however, is far from the current Christian view where those events are seen to be the beginning of something previously unknown which rarely, if ever, takes into account the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and by extension the nation of Israel; often going as far as to say that these events initiated the removal of Israel as a nation from God’s prophetic plans altogether, further strengthening the idea of the ‘blank page’ between Malachi and Matthew.
In this part, we will take a brief look at what the arrival of the Messiah meant to those believers. What did they expect would happen from here on in, and what did they expect would be the outcome for Israel and the rest of the world? Looking back at the statements made by Simeon we note that he made reference to Gentile enlightening in Luke 2:30–32: ‘For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.’
While it is true that Christ would be salvation for all peoples and a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, it must always be kept in the context of what that meant to an Israelite living at that time. Simeon did not exclude Israel in his statement or indicate that Israel would cease to be of primary importance in God’s plans; rather he drew a distinction between the Gentiles and Israel. No Israelite at that time would have taken issue with what Simeon said because it was exactly the same message found in the Old Testament Scriptures. The promise of Abraham included a blessing for all nations, but this blessing would only come through the Jews. Paul echoes this sentiment in Galatians 3:8 by quoting Genesis 12:3: ‘And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed”.’ This was not a secret, nor was it ever hidden and every Israelite who knew the Scriptures would have expected nothing less.
We have to remember that the Bible is primarily about the redemption of mankind, but it also clearly shows that there was an established order which set Israel as the channel through which this salvation would come. This order can be seen in a number of prophecies with which all Jews would have been familiar. Isaiah 42:6: ‘I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles.’ Isaiah 49:6: ‘Indeed He says: it is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’
In reading the full context of these prophecies it can be seen that Christ is identified with Israel and a position established that identifies them as a light to the Gentiles, which is exactly what Simeon said. Paul also, when conversing with antagonistic Jews in Acts 13:46,47, reminds them of this positional relationship: ‘Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: I HAVE SET YOU AS A LIGHT TO THE GENTILES, THAT YOU SHOULD BE FOR SALVATION TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH”.’
Paul spoke these words to unbelieving Jews halfway through the Acts period. At this time Christ had come, died, was resurrected, and had ascended back up to heaven. Still nothing had changed with regards to the role of Israel in God’s plans. Paul was of the same opinion as those believers who witnessed the birth of the Lord. In quoting Isaiah 49:6 he affirmed, as did Simeon, the superior position of Israel. That this relationship between Jews and Gentiles would exist in a future earthly kingdom where Christ rules the entire earth from Jerusalem is not in question. Micah 4:1,2 gives a vivid description of this kingdom: ‘Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem”.’
Also in Zechariah 8:3 we see that ‘the Lord shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem and Jerusalem shall be called the city of truth’, and verses 20 to 23 clearly illustrate that Israelites shall be held in esteem by those Gentiles who seek the God of Israel. ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us continue to go and pray before the LORD, and seek the LORD of hosts. I myself will go also. Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’
However the Jews that will inhabit the land of Israel and represent the Lord at that time will not be like the unbelieving Jews whom Paul had to deal with in Acts. That Israel will have the law of God written on their hearts and in their minds – they will know the Lord. A dramatic change will have taken place because the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 will have finally been implemented, and it is only because of this that they will be in a position to enlighten Gentiles. Jeremiah 31:33,34: ‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD”, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’
There is no doubt that these are some of the Scriptures that Mary, Zacharias and Simeon would have had foremost in their minds when they learned that the Messiah had arrived. They foresaw a glorious future for Israel, one where Israel would not be ruled anymore by Gentile nations, but instead where they would rule over the Gentiles in righteousness, imparting the knowledge of God. The land of Israel would be the source of truth because of the Lord, and all other nations would be subservient to them, Isaiah 49:22,23; 60:12. They would be a light in a dark place to which the Gentiles would come bringing with them their wealth, Isaiah 60:1–7,11. They hoped for an earthly kingdom and a united Israel, Isaiah 11:11,12. For the destruction of their enemies, Isaiah 11:14–16, which would bring about a peaceful existence where no harm could come to them, Isaiah 11:6–9.
Everything they declared in the gospel of Luke came straight from the Old Testament Scriptures that they knew and believed. That their expectancy was for an earthly kingdom is without question. A reading of the above-mentioned verses in Isaiah reveals a kingdom that includes wolves, lambs, leopards, calves, goats, young lions, cows, bears, and all earthly creatures. Isaiah 60 names the names of many of the earthly kingdoms that will come to bring their wealth and to serve, such as Midian, Ephap, Sheba, Kedar, Nebaioth, Tarshish and Lebanon – again all earthly kingdoms, some of which still exist in some form today.
The description of an earthly kingdom is intrinsically bound up with the Jewish hope of the Old Testament. This then begs the question: When did the hope of God’s people become a heavenly hope? There is no doubt that something changed, as Ephesians and Colossians describe a calling and a hope for God’s people which are heavenly in nature. Ephesians 2:4–7: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.’
Colossians 3:1–4: ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.’ It is obvious, then, that a change, which takes the focus away from a specific people and a specific land to a place which is far above all, has taken place, Ephesians 1:21.
This change is not only concerned with location but also with the status of the Gentiles. In the earthly kingdom they were to be servants to the nation of Israel, but now they have a better hope in total equality with Israel. Many think this change occurred after the cross or after Pentecost, but we can see from Acts 13 that Paul still held to the Old Testament hope of a people and a land during the book of Acts. If we follow Paul further throughout the book of Acts we can see that he did not change this view, which is clear in various statements he made in both the book of Acts itself, and the epistles that he wrote throughout this time period.
In Part four we will consider when this change took place, what the nature of this change was and its implications for the believer today, and if, perhaps, there may be room for a blank page after all.
In the previous three parts to this series, we challenged the perception that the arrival of the Lord in the early chapters of the Gospels heralded forth a new or previously unanticipated event for those believers who were witnesses to it, as well as the thought that His arrival was cause for them to dispense with previous prophecies concerning the nation of Israel as God’s chosen channel of blessing to the rest of the nations. This traditional dividing of the Old Testament and New Testament blurs the connection between the people of Israel, the promises concerning the land, and the kingdom rule of their Messiah.
We noted also in Part 3 that the hope as expressed by Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets was indeed an earthly hope. However, a notable change had taken place by the time Paul wrote Ephesians and Colossians, which speak of a new calling that contains a heavenly hope.
Ephesians 2:4–7: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.’
Colossians 3:1–4: ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.’
Not one of the Old Testament prophecies placed believers in Christ Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God in heavenly places. Such language is alien to the prophets who prophesied concerning an earthly kingdom. One of the other significant aspects of this new calling, and a clear indicator that a change had taken place, is the new status of the Gentiles in relation to the nation of Israel. Ephesians 3:6: ‘That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.’ Gentiles are now on an equal footing with Israel.
Prior to this revelation of Ephesians, the Gentiles had no such position, always being subservient to Israel in the kingdom to come, a fact that is consistently hidden with the view that Christianity began in the gospels. While it has always been clear that a change took place from ‘earthly to heavenly’, from ‘Jew only’ to ‘Jew and Gentile’, an error has been made in the placing of that change at the birth of the Lord, hence the insertion of ‘the blank page’ between Malachi and Matthew.
So the important question to consider is when did the hope become heavenly and the recipients become Jew and Gentile, brought together as one new man? And if a divisional page is to be inserted, would it not be better to place it at such a juncture? Some believe that this change came at the cross and others at Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, but a brief examination will show that neither of these fits with the paradigm shift that takes place in the book of Ephesians and Paul’s other later writings.
We have already noted that Paul still recognised a distinction between Jew and Gentile in Acts 13:46,47, which is the same distinction that Simeon recognised in Luke 2:30–32. The status of the Gentile in these passages is irreconcilable with the ‘fellowheirs, and of the same body’ of Ephesians 3:6 and the ‘one new man’ of Ephesians 2:15. No Jew in the gospel period would have ever thought that such a thing would be possible.
Others might say that the Gentile position changed in Acts 10 when Peter converted Cornelius and his household, as this is the first clear reference to Gentile inclusion, but again this takes place before Acts 13. So, Cornelius’ conversion did not end the distinction between Jews and Gentiles.
Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, Romans 11:13, and if any Apostle was well placed to say that the Gentiles now held a position of equality with the Jews it would most certainly have been Paul, but this is not what we see as he continues with his ministry from Acts 13 onwards. There is no mention of the heavenly calling or being seated at the right hand of God, nor of Jews and Gentiles becoming a new entity. On the contrary, his writings of that time period clearly show that Gentile inclusion was in accordance with the promises made to Abraham. Galatians 3:8,9: ‘And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed”. So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham…’ Galatians 3:14: ‘That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’
Galatians was written around the time of Acts 15 and was very likely Paul’s first epistle. This would have been a perfect opportunity to mention that there is now no distinction between Jew and Gentile, but instead, Paul repeats the Old Testament promises made to Abraham as justification for Gentile salvation. There is nothing new added here, and once again we see Paul echoing the words of Simeon in Luke 2:32: ‘A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel’. Gentile blessing was to be through the Jew. Had it been otherwise, it is unlikely that we would have seen such a concerted effort by Paul to go to the Jew at all, as it always spelled trouble for him. Yet this is exactly what we see throughout the book of Acts.
After leaving Antioch in Acts 13, he goes to a synagogue of the Jews in Iconium, Acts 14:1. In Acts 17:1–3 he goes to a synagogue in Thessalonica; and in verse 10 to another synagogue in Berea. Even in a predominantly Gentile city, Athens, he seeks out the synagogue, verse 17. On arrival in Corinth, ‘he found a certain Jew named Aquila…’ Acts 18:2, and in 18:4 it says, ‘he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath…’ In verse 5 he was ‘compelled by the Spirit and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ’. In Ephesus, ‘he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews’, Acts18:19.
This distinction continues all the way up to Acts chapter 28 when Paul, a prisoner in Rome, calls for a meeting with the leaders of the Jews, Acts 28:17, and testified ‘concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets’, Acts 28:23. All this is in keeping with his statement in Acts 13:46: ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first’, and it is significant to note that it was after Acts 28 that Paul penned the epistles of Ephesians and Colossians which reveal both the new heavenly hope and Jewish Gentile equality.
In Acts 28:25–28 Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah to these Jews and, as far as the record goes, this is the last of such seeking out and meeting with Jews specifically. Acts 28:25–28: ‘So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying: GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY: hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them”. Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!’
This declaration appears to be definitive, the culmination of all Paul’s efforts to go to the Jew first, resulting in salvation being sent to the Gentiles. While a similar statement is made in Acts 13:46, the reality does not come until after Acts 28:28, which is when the new revelation is given to Paul. It would seem logical therefore to draw a dividing line – a blank page, if you will – at this point. Nowhere before this does Paul speak of a heavenly calling and a new man made up of both Jew and Gentile, and nowhere after this does he speak of an earthly kingdom where Israel is first and superior to the Gentile.
I’m not suggesting that you tear the blank page out from between Matthew and Malachi and place it after the book of Acts, but rather that an understanding of when this change occurred shows us more clearly where we fit into God’s plan, providing a better understanding of the parts of the Scripture specifically about us, ‘the church which is His body’, Ephesians 1:22,23.