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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Immediate Return of the Lord in the Acts and Now

We have recently looked at the Plan of God for the ages. No matter where we fall on the details or the order, one element is beyond contradiction: Israel will one day have all the promises to her fulfilled. These promises are all through the New Testament. Israel is specifically mentioned and the promises and covenant are looked at as being yet future. If we do not see Israel and distinct from the Body we will make a mess of Bible study. There is a Kingdom coming to Israel (Acts 1:6). It will be "restored to Israel."

One of the distinguishing marks of the Lord's earthly ministry and the Acts Age is the continued references to the closeness of the kingdom. It was "nigh" and "at hand" after "a little while" and "soon," as "the ends of the ages are come."  Some who were "alive"  would be "caught up" in the clouds upon his return. Some were expecting to "be changed." All because "the judge standeth before the door." Peter states, "the end of all things is near." All these things (and more) consistently given in the Acts Age.

Were all these apostles wrong?

This coming kingdom was inexorably connected to Israel and her promises and to the promises to David and his descendants. These promises had nothing to do with Gentiles. They are an "everlasting covenant" promised to Israel.  The Lord Jesus "is He who has been born King of the Jews." The Body is not "Jew" and we can never be "the house of Jacob." 


He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. -Luke 1:31-32
And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the [Jewish] fathers. God has fulfilled this for us [Jews] their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’ And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure blessings of David.’ -Acts 13:32-35
Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure blessings of David. -Isaiah 55:3

The promises to Israel and David are absolute. Although a time of testing and chastisement will come, the covenants are sure.

“If his sons forsake My law
And do not walk in My judgments,
If they break My statutes
And do not keep My commandments,
Then I will punish their transgression with the rod,
And their iniquity with stripes.
Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, Nor allow My faithfulness to fail. My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, And his throne as the sun before Me; It shall be established forever like the moon, Even like the faithful witness in the sky.” Selah
-Ps 89:30-39

A colossal error is made in placing the start of the current dispensation at Pentecost in Acts 2. Peter's Pentecost message, spoken to Jew only as no Gentile had any claim to Pentecost, is specific to Israel. The entire chapter here is important, but for the sake of this study, I pull out verse 39.

For the promise is unto you [Men of Israel, v12], and to your children, and to all that are afar off [the dispersion], even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

This centering on Israel is continued in the 3rd chapter of Acts. Again, it is good to read the entire chapter, but we will simply quote a few verses. The key to the coming of the Lord is in Acts 3. Israel had to repent.

Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go... 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 before was preached unto you...

This is the condition the Lord had during his earthly ministry. As we saw in our study on the Parable of Matthew 13, the gospel of the Kingdom had gone out to Israel alone (Matthew 4, Matthew 10) and was rejected (Matthew 12). But the offer was always present. The Lord was presented to Israel by Pilate and Israel chose Barabbas. But the Lord prayed that they may not have this held against them, thus Peter offered the kingdom to Israel again in the Acts.

Going only to Israel is consistent with the Lord's calling (Matt 10; Matt 15) to Israel alone ("sent to none but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel") as Paul also notes in his letter to the Romans.

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

James' epistle is addressed to "the twelve tribes scattered abroad" (the dispersion) as are Peter's epistles. Peter uses the specific term "dispersion,"

When the door to the kingdom is opened to Gentiles (Acts 10, for the expressed purpose of making Israel jealous, Rom 11), Peter says in part to Cornelius, "The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ..." again stating that the word of peace by Jesus Christ was sent to Israel. This is true all through the Acts and Acts Age epistles. Paul teaches clearly that Gentiles were "grafted in" to the root and were told they could also be "cut off" from the root. This is not a loss of salvation, but a loss of status.


For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you [leaders of the Jews, v.17] and to speak with you: because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. -Acts 28:20

Israel was still front and center in the plan of God. Paul speaks of the "twelve tribes" in the present tense as late as Acts 26 at his trial before Agrippa.  We've noted that James writes to the "twelve tribes." Israel had not yet been put aside. the "secret" of the "one new man" revealed in Ephesians (Post Acts) which God had hid in himself "since before the foundation of the ages" was unknown.

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. -Acts 26:6-7

As an aside, we note that Paul does not say "Judah" or "two tribes," but all twelve tribes serve God hoping to attain the promise. There are not ten "lost tribes" and Christians are not Jews nor are we Israel. These are gross errors which will cripple your understanding of scripture.

We may also see the differences between the Acts Acts and the Post Acts Age in Paul's epistles. We previously looked at Paul's instructions for widows. In light of the "near" coming of the Lord, Paul recommends widows not bother to marry (1 Cor 7). After the change in dispensation, he states that widows should marry (1 Tim 5). No contradiction, bit a change in administration and conditions.

Those who want to have an "Acts church" need to read the conditions in Acts 2 and 4. They sold everything and had everything in common. When I pointed this out to a Sunday School teacher who told me his church is an Acts 2:42 church ("And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers"). 

But what did they practice in regard to these three things? We need to keep reading.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need [apostles' doctrine]. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple [prayer], and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart [breaking of bread].

Blindness in Part

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. -Rom 11:25

The first thing we must note is that there is still an Israel at this time and that Israel's blindness was "in part." Israel was not "put aside" at the cross or at Pentecost. Our minds go back to the blind man healed by the Lord who had partial vision at first. Also, Paul's own blindness in Acts 9. One day Israel will have the scales afll from her eyes and see her Savior. Zechariah lays out this future realization beautifully is his prophecy.

And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. -Zechariah 12:10

In the Acts we see this blindness in picture in the actions of Peter and Paul. Israel had a choice between blessing or being blinded. Peter and John, in healing the man in the temple in Acts 3, use the example as a type of blessing awaiting Israel. This act is the catalyst for the preaching of Peter in Acts 3 to which we referred already. It is what leads to him saying "Ye men of Israel... Repent ye... 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 before was preached unto you..."

Paul, in Acts 13, "preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews" and called down blindness upon a Jew there. 


Where do you draw your line?
 
The Lord is "the King of the Jews" and he will "reign over the house of Jacob." These have never been fulfilled. We cannot say that Israel has been set aside forever. Some draw their line at the cross or at Acts 2 and say God is forever finished with the Jews. But even for those who say Israel was set aside at Pentecost until the "Rapture," does your line fit scripture?

We've noted how the Acts 2 line does not fit Peter's preaching at Pentecost. We saw how it does not fit Paul's teaching in regard to widows. We saw how, until the very end of the Acts, Paul was still witnessing to the hope of Israel (also note how miracles such as healing followed his ministry in the Acts, but not after, etc.). Again, from Acts 3:

Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed...

Israel is promised to be the channel of blessing to the nations one day. Her covenants are hers alone and no Gentile can claim them apart from Israel (Eph 2:12). This condition was true from Abraham through the Acts Age. We hear of no Gentile in scripture apart from a connection to a Jew or to Israel as a nation.

We go back to Paul in Acts 13. To whom was he giving this warning if the Jew was done at Acts 2? Who is the "you" in this warning? The Holy Spirit tells us: "Men of "Israel" and "Jews." 

Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you:
‘Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish!
For I work a work in your days,
A work which you will by no means believe,
Though one were to declare it to you.’ ”

Paul continues in the chapter:

Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first..."

Again, who is the "you" here? Paul was still going "to the Jew first." Israel was not yet put aside. The Jew was still first.

Let's move on to Paul's ministry in Acts 17.

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures

Paul still going to the Jew first. The "Jews" here are not Christians as some heresies teach (we covered this in our review of the booklet, "Who is a  Jew?"). These are still of the nation of Israel which has a hope of the earthly kingdom and covenant before them.

There are other verses in the epistles of the Acts Age and in the Acts which treat Israel as still in the picture and Jewish believers as separate from Gentile believers for certain purposes.

If you are interested in a wonderful summation of Israel's repentance and the return of the Lord, you can listen to Stuart Allen's message here CLICK HERE


Our Hope Now

The underlying doctrine of this blog is an understanding of the Dispensation of the Mystery. That is, after the Acts Age ended, Paul revealed the "one new man" in his epistle to the Ephesians. It is after the Acts Age that "the middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile was taken down. This current dispensation was hidden in God from BEFORE the overthrow (foundation) of the ages. It was not know to Moses or the Prophets.

This dispensation cannot be "gentile salvation" as that has always been possible (by grace through faith). From Adam to Abraham to Nineveh to the Centurion in Matthew 8 to the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 to the malefactor on the cross, the gift of resurrection life was always available to the uncircumcised.

But even though in this age we are not looking for the Davidic, earthly kingdom, we do have a blessed hope. Whereas in the Acts Age believers were on the earth awaiting a restoration of the kingdom in Israel predicated on the repentance of  the nation, in this age, our hope has always been imminent, but the expected end differed.  Although always in the hearts of believers, Paul sets out the conditions of its immanency in 2 Tim 3.

Regardless, the "blessed hope" of his manifestation and appearing to his own warms our hearts and drives us to be more like him.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. -Titus 2:11-14

As this hope had no time-frame, we can see why Paul instructed young widows to marry.  Whether in marriage or not had no bearing in the appearing, but in the Acts Age, expecting the Day of the Lord and the kingdom, on earth, meant all were better off untangled by family matters (1 Cor 7).

The Lord's warning in Matthew 24 states:

And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day.

 We also see the Sabbath noted here. This passage (which we covered in previous studies) has a Jewish context and points to the Revelation. Israel and the Jews have a future. They will once again be God's timepiece when the current dispensation of the Mystery is ended.

We must be careful to "mark the things that differ" in scripture and not confuse Israel's hopes, promises, blessings, and warnings with our own. This error is at the heart of much error in Christendom.

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