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Monday, July 6, 2020

The Place of the Book of Acts

Luke's gospel account was obviously written post-resurrection of the Lord. That would place its creation in the Acts Age. We first see Luke including himself on Paul's journeys as late as Acts 16. In his gospel account, Luke tells us he is transcribing the witness of others. We have to put all these thoughts together to find the first piece of the Acts puzzle.

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
Luke 1:1-4

We see that the "things instructed" to Theophilus were still active in the Acts Age. This ties these two time periods together. In previous studies we have proposed that there is a greater time period starting with the call of Abraham, through the Kingdom of Israel, through the time of Messiah, all the way through the Acts Age. There are variances in this large bloc of time (the addition of the law in Exodus, the Establishment of the House of David, etc.), but this period has as its overreaching goal, "the hope of Israel" as given to the fathers. This involves a land and a kingdom on earth.

This represents a Hebrew/Jewish age which will one day culminate in the Tribulation, the return of the Messiah King, and the re-establishment of the kingdom in Israel. All of this would have come to pass had Israel repented (as we will see below).

Let's look at that last hope in light of Luke's account in Acts 1. First we'll note the connection to his gospel account.

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. 
-Acts 1:1-3
Luke tells us at the end of his first account, Luke chapter 24, that "He [the Lord] opened their [the twelve's] understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures." At the start of the Acts, Luke adds that the Lord spent 40 days "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." 

As we have noted in other studies, after having their understanding opened that they might understand the scriptures (Luke 24) and then teaching them for forty days about the kingdom (Acts 1) with that supernatural understanding, they had but one question.

“Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

How often have we (dare I use the word?) blaspheme the enlightened and chosen vessels and Apostles of God by suggesting they misunderstood what the risen Christ had been teaching them for forty days. These men, each of whom is promised to sit on one of the twelve thrones judging one of the twelve tribes of Israel in that future kingdom.

What we are seeing at the start of the Acts is the promise of a land and a kingdom made to the Hebrews fathers. Promises about which the Lord came to confirm. Paul states this in the fifteenth chapter of Romans, a book written late in the Acts Age which is replete with references to the Law and the Prophets.

Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers.
-Romans 15:8 

Note that the Lord's earthly ministry was to "the circumcision" (Jews) for the expressed purpose of confirming the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). The Lord confirmed this in Matthew 15 when he tells the Canaanite (Gentile) woman that he was "sent to none but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel" as the Son of David (their king). We've covered that encounter in other studies. For our purposes here, we note it as a parallel to Romans 15. Again, we see the Lord's earthly ministry crossing the boundary of Acts 2 all the way to the Book of Romans.

Romans teaches us why the Gentiles were grafted into Israel (not into "the church" as we know it). Gentiles were brought in, apart from the Law, for the purpose of making Israel jealous (Rom 19:19; 11:11). The grafting in is NOT salvation as these same Gentiles are told they could be "cut off" from the root as easily as they were grafted in. And the blessings of Gentiles, as noted in the two verses referenced from Romans 10 and 11, was prophesied. It was known.

Let's stay in the Book of Acts itself and see Paul's testimony late in that book in regard to the promises to Israel and the patriarchs.

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. 
-Acts 26:6 
For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. 
-Acts 28:20

Now that we have seen that the calling of the Acts Age was a witness to the promises made to the Hebrew Patriarchs and the hope of the restoration of the kingdom in Israel, we turn back to the Lord's response in Acts 1 to the question about the reestablishment of that kingdom.

And [the Lord] said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
-Acts 1:7-8

The twelve will be witnessing to Jew in the land and in the dispersion. Note Peter's and James' epistles. Peter addresses his to the dispersion (1 Pet 1:1) and James to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (James 1:1).

This is the witness of the Book of Acts. Peter's words in Acts 3 will now make more sense to us. It is a long passage. For our sake here, I will edit down to the salient points so we can see the continuing Jewish nature of the Acts Age and the connection all the way back to Abraham in Genesis 12.

So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this?... The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go... “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 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.”

There is is so much here. Ask yourself, can I can come preach this at your local church? This is Peter, post-Pentecost, referring his brethren, the men of Israel, back to their prophets and their promises and their patriarchs. They had a covenant and no one else. They had promises given to no one else. This is not simply the gospel of resurrection life, it is the promise of a restoration and times of refreshing.

Can I promise your congregation that if they repent God will send Jesus Christ and that times of refreshing will come and the restoration of all things? No! This is specific to Israel. And what do we make of the warning that those who reject Christ will be destroyed from among the people? What people? This is all Israel-centric. This message is a continuation of the "Gospel of the Kingdom" the Lord preached to Israel alone.



Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. 
-Matthew 4:23



Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
 
-Matthew 9:35



These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
 
-Matthew 10:5-8

This "gospel" had nothing to do with the death of the Lord. That was not known until the Lord explained it to his disciples in Matthew 16 (and they rejected the idea). The suffering servant was in scripture, but not understood. And it was not proclaimed here or at any time in the gospel accounts. It was privately explained to the disciples who were told to tell no one. Is that for today?

What we see in Matthew is the proclamation that the King was here to fulfill the promises made to the fathers as Paul confirmed in Romans 15:8. We also note that the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 must be understood in this light. We cannot have the sowing of the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ before it was understood.

We recall the Gentile woman in Matthew 15 again here. The Lord clearly states that, as King, as the Son of David, he was sent to NONE but to the lost sheep of the House of ISRAEL. These are his words, not mine.

Note all the miraculous deeds which accompany the pronouncement of the Kingdom. We refer you to the acts that will follow all believers in Mark 16. Do these acts follow you? Can I come and preach this at your local church? Is this how you understand "baptism?" Is your commission?

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
-Mark 16:15-18

Mark 16 sounds like the Book of Acts wherein we see all these things (but not after).

The Acts Age is post-crucifixion, so Peter in Acts 3 brings that in to show the guilt of his audience (Israel) and God's willingness to cleanse the nation. Peter refers to the "covenant God made with our fathers." The New Covenant was not yet active (Hebrews 8:13), it is conditional upon the repentance of Israel as a nation. God made no covenant with my "fathers." Peter is addressing unbelieving Israelites, so we cannot claim that Abraham becomes the father of all who believe to make it fit us. It does not fit.

The Tribulation will sift the wheat from the chaff (true, believing Israel from the false). The Levites will be cleansed. The King will return and the promised kingdom will be reestablished!

This is the setting of the Book of Acts. It is the third sowing of see from the first parable of the kingdom in Matthew 13. (See our study on that Parable)

Before we leave Peter in Acts 3, I want to note an extremely important detail. Peter explicitly states that what he is preaching is known to the Prophets. It was revealed to Israel in scripture. Specifically, Peter is speaking of that restoration promise: "the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." These were not hidden truths, only misunderstood.

We see here the promise of blessings for Gentiles through Israel to whom God must visit "first." Note this truth, reiterated in the Acts Age books of Romans and Galatians, "And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Gentile blessing was always known.

Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:

“For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles,
And sing to Your name.” [2 Sam; Ps 18]
And again he says:
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” [Deut 32]
 
And again:
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles!
Laud Him, all you peoples!” [Ps 117]
 And again, Isaiah says:“There shall be a root of Jesse;And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles,In Him the Gentiles shall hope.” [Is 11]

Let's look at the Acts Age epistle of Galatians in this regard.

Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 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...  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
-Gal 3:7-9; 13

  • Not all Jews, but just believing Jews are sons of Abraham
  • Scripture revealed that God would bless Gentiles via Abraham

This is all connected to the promises of the land and the kingdom for what hope would Adam or Noah have? How could either become a "son of Abraham?" All of this was misunderstood until God brought understanding, but it was all known and revealed in scripture. It is truth made know "since the world began" (Acts 3).

But the blessing of Gentiles in that age would only come through Israel. We note in the Acts that it was Paul's practice, in any town where there were Jews, to go to the JEW FIRST. The gospel in Romans is said to be to the JEW FIRST. In fact, you will not see a gentile from Genesis 12 on who is not in contact with a Jew. Even mighty Nineveh is only know in scripture when a rebellious Jew by the name of Jonah visit her.

But in our age, Gentiles do not need to come through Israel. And Gentiles were never spoken to by the prophets (save Jonah who had no law to give). We have no hope of a land or an earthly kingdom. We have no hope of a being a kingdom of priests. This age was hidden from the Prophets.

So when did this current age begin? What are its characteristics? How does it differ from previous ages? When was it revealed? These are vastly important questions and if we find understanding, scripture will come alive like you've never known before.

As this study proposes that the Acts Age is a continuation of the Gospel Age, which is the culmination of the Age from Abraham (Genesis 12), we will see that the current age started at the end of the Acts Age.

Next time, will examine these questions concerning the current age.

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