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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.





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