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It’s sometimes not as hard as we make it.... This note is not meant to be sarcastic (OK, a little, but delivered good-naturedly) .  Its g...

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Paul's Post-Acts Ministry

I our last study, we noted Paul's declaration at his trial late in the Book of Acts. There, he still refers to the hope of the "twelve tribes." In the last chapter of the book, he refers to the hope of "Israel."

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

 At Paul's trial in Acts 26 he gives the third account of his conversion story. In his second and third telling, he adds details. In Acts 26, his final witness to his conversion, he adds this detail:

[Jesus said]... rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.

We note that both Peter and Paul refer to truths revealed "since" or "from" the beginning of the ages. Paul heavily relies on the witness of scripture. We noted last time that the blessing of Gentiles through Abraham and Israel was not fully understood, but clearly revealed by Moses and the Prophets. Paul testified that he spoke nothing that was not revealed by Moses and the Prophets as late as Acts 26:22-23.

Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come—  that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

Note that he again reminds us that the proclamation of light would go to the Gentile (knowing that the message must first be preached to Jews). Paul had also stated that he "kept back nothing" from believers (Acts 20:20) and that he proclaimed "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

The Acts come to an end. Paul's Acts-Age epistles are replete with references to Abraham, David, Moses, the Prophets, and Israel, etc. When we look at his Post-Acts epistles, we see a dearth of these references. Here are just the words Jew, Israel, Israelite.

Before Acts 28 After Acts 28
Jew 25 1
Israel 14 2
Israelite 3 0

We recognize that is circumstantial. We present as just one thing to consider.

After the Acts Age ends, Paul turns fully to the Gentiles and reveals his new ministry in the Book of Ephesians. Israel is placed aside (for the moment) and the preeminence of the Jew.

The Book of Romans, late in the Acts Age, speaks clearly of a current Israel in its pages. The Gentile believer of that age was "grafted in" to Israel and could be "cut off" (Romans 11). That is, grafted in to the coming earthly blessings to Israel expected during that age. However, the Jew was still first in the plan of God. Paul always went to Jews first ("as his manner was") in any place where Jews lived among Gentiles.


For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 
-Romans 1:16


The Jew, because of his calling and special case, was also subject to the harsher judgment. This is true in any age. Those with greater light and privilege receive the harshest judgment. The Jew had "the oracles of God" and the Law.

But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 
-Romans 2:4-8

What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.
 
-Romans 3:1-2

In Ephesians, the middle wall of partition between Jew and Greek is set aside and Paul reveals the "one new man" (GK: sussomos) of the Dispensation of the Mystery. And this gospel differed from the Acts Age gospel as it was only revealed to Paul and could not be found in the witness of the Prophets.

The first 3 chapters of Ephesians and the first 2 chapters of Colossians should be read in full. We only point out a few verses here.

This current age differs from the previous. We noted the almost complete absence of references to the Prophets and to Israel. We also noted the unique revelation to Paul alone (Eph 3). But we also have introduced the idea of blessings, not on earth, not in the land, not in a kingdom, not in the New Jerusalem which comes down, but in "heavenly places" ("far above the heavens," "super-heavenly places"). 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. 
-Eph 1:3-6


Paul notes in Ephesians that he is a prisoner "for you Gentiles" and no longer "for the hope of Israel."

Ephesians 3 has to be carefully read lest it seem like Paul is contradicting himself, To Paul was given the ministry of taking the grace of God to the Gentiles. The emphasis on the Gentiles is also referenced in the prison epistle of 2 Timothy 4:16-17. So let me present a more clear rendering of Ephesians 3:2-11 from Charles Welch.

‘If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery;
(as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets), 
that the Gentiles, in spirit, should be fellow-heirs (fellow-members) of the same body, and fellow-partakers of His promise in Christ, by the gospel whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power. Unto me, the less than the least of all saints, has this grace been given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the untraceable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all as to what is the dispensation of the mystery which has been hidden away from (or since) the ages by God, Who did all things create, in order that now, unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be made known, by the church, the exceeding complex wisdom of God, according to the purpose of the ages which He made in Christ Jesus our Lord’

Here are riches that are
Unsearchable
Here is a dispensation of the
Mystery (Secret)
This mystery was effectually
Hidden
The wisdom unfolded is
Very complex
The whole was discovered by
Revelation
Paul was commissioned to
Enlighten all
(Welch)

The secret character of this dispensation, and Paul’s special trust regarding it, is seen in Colossians 1:24-28.

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking [left behind] in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship [dispensation] from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill [complete] the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

We now have one Body. We have one church, the church which is His Body. This is not the Bride. This body has Christ as its head. The Bride has her own head. The Bride is Israel. We've covered this previously in several posts.


--------------------------------------------

There are many implications to understanding the Dispensation of the Mystery, and I encourage the curious or convicted to search this blog for entries which may enlighten you on some of these implications. I also link you to a very informal discussion of the Mystery:

https://www.spreaker.com/episode/27433533

Listen to "Episode 10 - The Dispensation of the Mystery (Michael Muddies the Water)" on Spreaker.


And here is a short discussion of the place of the Book of Acts:

https://www.spreaker.com/episode/37110549

Listen to "Episode 25 - The Place of the Book of Acts, Baptism, Lord's Supper, and Hawkeye Goes Nuts" on Spreaker.





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.