In a previous chapter I remarked that the gospel of the glory of Christ was the gospel that Paul preached. Understanding now why the gospel is called this, I want to bring out in greater light the history of its development in the book of Acts and its greatest connection with the apostle Paul. The conversion of Saul is simply a marvelous story of God’s sovereign grace and glory in every way. His conversion experience fully shows forth the definitive choice of God as Sovereign. It was a choice absolutely apart from the will of the flesh, or the will of man (John 1:12-13). Saul’s experience demonstrates, in a sense, the range and scope of God’s choice, and becomes an example of the truth of God’s ways for all believers.
I Timothy 1:11-16
“…according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
Paul’s conversion is a pattern and example for all. The range I refer to is exemplified by the differences between what might be thought of Paul as an unbeliever then as a believer. First, what you see in his former life before he met Christ on the road to Damascus:
The Confidence of the Flesh
“…though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Paul had thought highly of his own natural descent and accomplishments in the religion of the Jews. This gives you an idea of what Paul would have gloried in before Christ intervened. But his birth, his works, and the religion itself was all the product of the flesh, the natural man. I am convinced that Paul, at the time and in his thinking and conscience, felt he lived a life very pleasing and of great service to God. He most likely thought his persecution of believers, putting them in chains and responsible for their deaths, was religious service to God (John 16:2-3). It was all in the flesh and offensive to God.
After Paul was saved, he had a more enlightened view of his former life, and his testimony became quite different. He calls himself formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violently arrogant man. By his own witness he was the greatest of sinners. Nevertheless, Paul understood and realized the working of God, saying,
1 Corinthians 15:9-10
“For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
The Apostle of the Destruction of Christ becomes the Apostle of the Sovereign Grace of God
Paul was the enemy of the name of Jesus Christ and this new sect of Judaism called “the Way.” He imprisoned and murdered many disciples, breathing out hatred and threats. He was the greatest of sinners against God right up to the point outside Damascus where he saw the glory. As a consequence, Paul knew he was not deserving of anything, but by the sovereign choice of God he was what he was, chosen and saved. And even in his labors for Christ he understood, saying, “Yet not I, but the grace of God working in me.” Paul simply was a chosen instrument of God (Acts 9:15). He is now the apostle of the sovereign grace of God, which was his personal experience. Paul also, by experience, is the apostle of the glory of Christ, as being an eye-witness of His heavenly glory. Paul’s gospel that he would preach is the gospel as he received it. It is not of man or from men, but by direct revelation from Christ in glory. The ministry of this apostle and the gospel he preached was directly related to his personal experience with Christ.
“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.”
Paul becomes the apostle of the glory of Christ by virtue of seeing Christ in glory. He receives the gospel he preaches by direct revelation from Christ in glory. He makes the point that he did not receive anything from another man, especially the other apostles in Jerusalem. Paul’s gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ (II Cor. 3:18, 4:4-7).
Apostles Testify to what they are Eye – Witnesses of
What we find is that this is true of the other apostles. Their testimony was based on their personal experience with Christ. The other twelve certainly were chosen vessels as well (John 15:16, 19), and so, had personal knowledge of the sovereign grace of God in the gospel of Christ. But there was a distinction in their testimony from that of Paul’s. This difference may be seen in John’s gospel when Jesus is speaking of the Comforter.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
Paul could have no part in this last verse, for he was not with Christ from the beginning, nor at any time did he know Christ in the flesh. His experience was seeing the Son of Man in heavenly glory. But the twelve certainly did have this distinction and difference in their experience, they walked with a Christ in the flesh from the beginning and they were witnesses to His resurrection. John and Peter give a certain emphasis concerning their testimony here:
1 John 1:1-3
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 1:16-18
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
The Testimony of the Twelve – a Christ in the Flesh and a Christ raised from the Dead
The twelve would bear witness to all that they saw and touched, as eyewitnesses of Christ in the flesh and then raised from the dead. After the resurrection, Christ appeared to them showing them His hands and His feet, saying, “Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” He adds, “Have you any food here?” They gave Him a fish and honeycomb and He ate in their presence (Luke 24:36-45). They would bear witness of everything up to the time He was taken up from them into the cloud (Acts 1:9) and they lost sight of Him. After the Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost the testimony of Peter by the Spirit was according to their experience. It was the Man, Jesus of Nazareth, whom they walked with on this earth, raised up from the dead by the power of God (Acts 2:22-24, 3:15, 26);
“This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.”
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
“The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— 37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.”
Jesus of Nazareth is always a reference to Christ as the Son of Man. As man He came as Jesus from this town in Galilee. The testimony was always related as such and according to their experience. In this last reference from Acts above, when Peter was sent by the Holy Spirit to Cornelius’ household, he remarks that they were eye-witnesses to all the things Jesus did in the flesh. But further, he says that after Jesus was raised up, he was one of the few witnesses who ate and drank with Him. Clearly, the apostles were to testify of a Christ in the flesh and a Christ raised from the dead.
Paul’s Testimony – a Christ in Glory
Paul’s experience however is different than the twelve. As an apostle he too was an eyewitness, just from a different viewpoint. Paul’s testimony starts where the twelve leave off, they losing sight of the risen Christ in the cloud. Paul only sees and knows Jesus Christ in heavenly glory.
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The Gospel of the Glory
It isn’t any wonder that Paul would say, by the inspiration of the Spirit, we know Christ no longer according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16). His would be the preaching of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6). The revelations received by him (2 Cor. 12:1, 7), the dispensation of grace given to him (Eph. 3:1-6), the filling up of the word of God (Col. 1:25), the unfolding of the mysteries of God (Eph. 3:3-4), and the doctrines of the body of Christ, all are part and parcel of his preaching this gospel of the glorified Son of Man.
When we read the first two chapters of Galatians we see Paul defend the legitimacy of his apostleship and gospel. In this defense, the Spirit makes clear the uniqueness of Paul’s calling and ministry apart from that of Peter and the other eleven. The twelve in Jerusalem, among whom Peter and John were prominent, had an apostleship to the circumcised (the Jews), while Paul had one effective toward the uncircumcised (the Gentiles, Gal. 2:7-9). God had separated Paul from the twelve, so as not to come under their direct influence and authority, because of the importance of the work he was to do. God would have Paul independent from the others, so that He could fashion Paul as He pleased, a sovereign work of God, and not by the hands of men (Gal. 1:1).
Even when Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples, we see the providential hand of God drawing him away from Jerusalem and the twelve located there (Acts 9:1-2). Upon his conversion he is blinded by the glory for three days, a time no doubt of introspection concerning the realities of his former life in Judaism and his now discovered enmity against God (Acts 9:9). God is doing all this work. The gospel Paul preached he never heard from another man, nor was he taught it, but he received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12). Now how special is this? Again it is the Sovereign God at work, and absolutely nothing of the product of the hands of flesh (also compare Eph. 2: 11 with Col. 2:11 and Phil. 3:3). Upon Paul’s conversion he did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did he go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him (Gal. 1:16-17). The Spirit keeps him for three years in Arabia and Damascus. He only spends fifteen days with Peter in Jerusalem and then fourteen years away from Jerusalem in ministry to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:18-2:1).
The Testimony of the Spirit
Above we quoted from John’s gospel where Jesus said, when the Comforter came, He would testify of Me (John 15:26). This testimony is the same principle as that of the apostles and Paul. The Spirit would testify of all He saw and heard. This, I believe, is the sense of the following passage.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
There is a deeper understanding implied in this passage than just the truth that the Spirit sent would testify of Christ. All things that the Father has are given to Jesus Christ. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to reveal these things to the believer. Why? What is the importance? Because in that day, after Christ had gone back to the Father and the Spirit was sent, the believer would have an association and union with Christ. We are sealed by the Spirit, we are sons of God. We are brethren with Him. It is His God and our God. It is His Father and our Father (John 20:17). We are His body. All things of the Father’s are the Son’s. By the redemptive work of the Son as the Son of Man, there are many more sons of God. These sons are co-heirs with Christ of all things. Jesus now has all things as the Son of Man glorified, and by His work the believer has been brought into the same position as Christ. This is why he says there are still many things remaining to tell them but they could not bear them now. These things would have to wait for the Spirit to reveal (John 16:7, 25).
The Story of the Book of Acts
It is interesting and exciting when the Spirit of God begins to enlighten and instruct the believer as to the truths of God in His counsels and ways. We are privileged to apprehend the purpose and means by which God sovereignly works His plans. Allow me to share a bit of a story here that I believe is given by the understanding of the Spirit. At the end you may disagree with my conclusions, but at the least it is an interesting perspective. I will go through it quickly without over- elaborating (as is my nature) various points, for the sake of time and space.
The Sin against the Son of Man
On the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Do you think His request was granted? Absolutely it was. This was the forgiving of the nation of Israel for their sin against the Son of Man (Matt. 12:32, Luke 12:10). They nailed Him to the cross, but Jesus interceded for them. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent to testify of the Son of Man now raised from the dead (John 15:26). This testimony of the Holy Spirit would be Israel’s last chance before certain judgment on the nation. Peter and the eleven with him, under the power of the Spirit, preached to the house of Israel. This was their particular understanding – that if Israel listened, realizing they had crucified their own Messiah, repented of their sins and were baptized, that God would send Christ back to the nation. This would set the stage for the restoration of Israel and the Messianic kingdom. This perspective was on the hearts and minds of the disciples in the early history of the book of Acts, as we can see in the following passage:
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
The disciples still expected the Lord to bring about the visible Messianic kingdom in Israel, the throwing off of the chains of the rule of the Roman Gentiles. Witnessing a resurrected Lord, they believed this had to be the time when God would fulfill all the promises and expected hopes of the nation. Note here that the Lord never tells them that the prophecies and promises are not true, nor that their desires were misplaced, but only that the times and seasons of this restoration do not concern them. This specific timing was solely in the Father’s hands. The kingdom will certainly be restored to Israel, we simply do not know when. They knew that Jesus had promised the coming of the Comforter upon His departure from them. They were instructed to wait in Jerusalem for this. He then is taken up into the cloud out of their sight. The eleven would be eyewitnesses of the Lord, from the beginning up to this point (John 15:27).
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.”
By the Spirit, Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost was to Israel concerning the Son of Man raised from the dead. Further on in his preaching he says, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” The nation was certainly being addressed (Acts 2:36). What is so remarkable is how the Spirit has Peter quoting the prophet Joel.
The Day of Pentecost and the Jewish Prophecy by the Prophet Joel
“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.’”
This prophecy specifically speaks of the Spirit being poured out on the Jewish remnant in the last days before Jesus Christ returns as their Messiah – before the great and terrible day of the Lord (v. 20). The pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost can only be seen as a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Reading the words of the prophecy should make this overwhelming clear. Pentecost is a precursor and foreshadowing of the real and complete fulfillment of these words that will take place before that awesome day. The fulfillment is yet future, of which, in a certain sense, this was only a shadow or type. But our understanding of this today is by using hindsight, which is of great advantage to us. Obviously, this advantage wasn’t available to the disciples.
Now it is true that Pentecost is more than just a shadow. It is also the Comforter sent to live in believers, and unbeknown to the disciples then, the Holy Spirit on earth gathering the body of Christ (the beginnings of the church). But what we are addressing still remains, from the perspective of the nation of Israel and these present disciples – in the upper room there was a Jewish remnant on which the Spirit was poured out. This upper room remnant was still expecting and looking for a Messianic kingdom in Israel. This thought was still a possibility for the nation, albeit a remote one. Regardless, all the elements of the prophecy were present on the day of Pentecost for its fulfillment. If Israel did not repent, which they didn’t, then Pentecost would become a foreshadowing of a future event in prophecy that Joel is actually speaking of. Allow me to point out a few more insights that I believe the Spirit leads us into here.
Joel’s Prophecy – the Coming of Messiah and a Jewish Remnant
Concerning the use of this Jewish prophecy, was Peter making a mistake? Certainly not! He is inspired by the Spirit of God in all he is saying. “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel,” he says. There is no mistake here, the Spirit is leading him. I believe we just have to admit that Joel’s words, as an Old Testament prophet to Israel, are spoken directly to Israel. They are not words spoken to Gentiles. The great subject of all of prophecy is Israel, God’s government of the earth and His judgments that will bring this back into place. We see all this in the words quoted from the prophet. The prophecy is for Israel and Peter is preaching to Israel. And it is Israel’s last chance.
How then is the Spirit not guilty of making a mistake according to the words of the prophecy? It is because the Spirit was poured out on one hundred and twenty or so disciples in the upper room. All in the room were of Jewish decent, and in a certain important sense represented a Jewish remnant at the time (Rom. 11:5). There were no Gentiles involved. The character of prophecy in general is maintained and those that gathered outside were addressed as ‘men of Israel, hear these words…’ The words of the prophet apply to the event, and the Spirit was poured out on Israelites, albeit a foreshadowing only of the times of the last days.
How will the complete and real fulfillment come about? Generally speaking, all of prophecy points to the end times and Joel’s words do this. Let me ask who will say to Jesus Christ in the end, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” It will be the Israeli remnant. Who will say in the end, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.” Again, it will be the Israeli remnant. In the last days who in Israel will God pour out His Spirit upon according to the prophet Joel? It will be the Jewish remnant (Rev. 14:1-5).
Of course our understanding gains a tremendous advantage by hindsight – we know the composition and number of the future Jewish remnant from visions recorded in Revelations (Rev. 7:1-8). But, for the upper room disciples, this knowledge was yet in the future.
“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.”
Peter and the Disciples still expecting a Messianic Kingdom in their day
This is Peter on Solomon’s porch in the temple after the healing of the lame man at the gate called Beautiful. He starts his message by saying, ‘Men of Israel’ (Acts 3:12). But what is this ‘times of refreshing’ and sending Jesus back? It is the Messianic kingdom restored to Israel that Peter is speaking of by the Spirit. It is still in consideration here. The nation needed to repent and be converted. But what came of this? Peter and John were arrested and dragged before the rulers and elders of Israel. They testified of the risen Man, Jesus of Nazareth, but then threatened to speak no more in that name (Acts 4:1-21). This wasn’t the nation repenting and expecting restoration. Jesus had asked for forgiveness on the cross. The offence against the Son of Man was forgiven. The Holy Spirit had been poured out in Israel, to testify of the risen Christ (John 15:26). It is the testimony of the Holy Spirit that is now rejected by Israel. As a whole the nation would become guilty of a sin that could not be forgiven them, sinning against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29, Matt. 12:31-32).
“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.”
When the apostles were brought before the counsel they speak of repentance of Israel and forgiveness. They speak of Jesus being Prince and Savior of Israel which is Messianic in character. And from Pentecost on, it is the Holy Spirit witnessing with them to all these things. This testimony is rejected by the leaders of the nation, they wanting to kill the apostles. Then later there is the testimony of Stephen:
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.”
The Sin against the Holy Spirit
This was Israel’s last chance for restoration then. They constantly resisted the testimony of the Holy Spirit. This would not be forgiven of the nation. Certain judgment from God would come, on what remained of the nation, on Jerusalem and the temple. The people would be put to death or scattered into the Gentile nations, and not one stone would remain upon another. This is the consummation of the judgment of God pronounced in Hosea, the full setting aside of Israel all the way until the very end.
“Then God said:
“Call his name Lo-Ammi,
For you are not My people,
And I will not be your God.”
With Israel set aside, God turns to form a Gentile Body – the Mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:4-8)
The stoning of Stephen marks a huge transition point in the book of Acts and in the counsels of God. This pronouncement by God in Hosea was hundreds of years previous to this time. As for the government of God on the earth, Israel was set aside when God raised-up Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon to rule the earth. Morally speaking, Israel was not completely set aside until they rejected their Messiah and judgment came a second time in 70 AD. Obviously God is patient and longsuffering with Israel during this time.
It is always interesting and enlightening for me to see and understand the overall principles of God’s ways in His counsels and plans. Often you can see remarkable parallels and connections being made that bring understanding by the Spirit of God. One such connection involves the two different times I speak of Israel being set aside.
v The first is concerning God’s presence and government of the earth. This was set aside when God raised-up Babylon to rule the world.
v The second is when Messiah was rejected and Israel was morally set aside. Israel’s house would remain desolate for a long time.
Both are Lo-Ammi experiences for Israel. Of significance is that both are soon followed by the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple.
We see God being patient with Israel in the pronouncement of judgments in Isaiah 6:9-10. Years later God is bringing these very judgments of Israel to a head at the rejection of Messiah;
“And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 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.’
16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
The Sovereign Choice of God
In Israel at the time of Messiah the words would be fulfilled. But you say, didn’t He have disciples out of Israel who could see and hear? Certainly! But how was this? Well, Jesus teaches and explains this in verse eleven. It is the choice of God. It is the sovereignty of God. It was given to the disciples, and not given to Israel. Given? Given by whom? The only answer here is the sovereign God. The disciples did not give this knowledge to themselves.
The choice of God is further addressed by Jesus in His words in verse sixteen and seventeen. Here the two groups in comparison have both been saved by God’s choice and grace. The prophets and righteous men of the Old Testament were saved through a faith in God. His disciples’ faith and those coming after would rest on redemptive work already completed. Still God is making a choice here that is pointed out by Jesus.
Blessed are those having not seen, and yet believe
I mentioned the disciples’ faith and the faith of those coming in after as having the commonality of resting on the finished work of Christ. However there is a minor distinction the Lord makes even here. The disciples were eyewitnesses. Their testimony was of what they saw with their eyes, what they heard with their ears, what they handled and touched (I John 1:1-4). But Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29, I Pet. 1:7-9)
“But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:
“Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”
These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.”
Eight hundred some years after Isaiah’s pronouncement these words fit Israel’s rejection of Messiah as quoted by the Spirit in John’s gospel. An interesting sidebar is that Isaiah was looking at Christ in His glory. What? This is found in Isaiah six, where he sees Jehovah on the throne in heaven with the Seraphim.
The Turning Point in the Book of Acts
I believe the stoning of Stephen is the point in God’s counsels where Israel is morally judged, sinning against the Holy Spirit, and completely set aside until the end. God turns to the Gentiles with the salvation of God (Acts 28:28, Rom. 11:11). And who is present at the stoning of Stephen? Saul is holding the garments, the future apostle to the Gentiles.
Look at the events that follow this as orchestrated by the Spirit of God. A great persecution arises in Jerusalem scattering the disciples out of that local; all except the twelve (Acts 8:1). In the scattering, Philip baptizes Samaritans after they believed his preaching Christ (Acts 8:4-12). The apostles in Jerusalem send Peter and John, and those baptized of the Samaritans receive the seal of the Holy Spirit the apostles lay their hands on them (Samaritans were not considered pure Jewish, but a mixture of Jewish and Gentile decent). After this, Philip is instructed by an angel to meet a Gentile Ethiopian. Then Saul is met by Christ on the road to Damascus. He would be a chosen vessel in the counsels of God for the bringing in of the Gentiles. Peter is given a vision that leads the most prominent of the original apostles to Cornelius’ house and the opening of the door of the gospel to the Gentiles. There the Holy Spirit is given to them by the will of God, but not through Peter’s hands (compare Acts 8:14-17 with 10:44-45). This all is the manifold wisdom of God in His sovereign choice manifesting His eternal counsels. God is turning to the Gentiles.
The ‘Fullness of the Gentiles’ begins
These events are all of significance. In Stephen’s vision, when heaven is opened up to him, he sees the Son of Manstanding at God’s right hand. I believe Messiah would have come back as Peter preached, if Israel would have fully repented and received the testimony of the Holy Spirit. However, from this point forward I believe the Son of Man sits down, waiting. The fullness of the Gentiles begins in reference to the gathering of the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 11:25). This has been taking place for just short of two thousand years.
The importance of God’s dealings with Peter, the Apostle of the Circumcision
The Spirit’s dealing with Peter through Acts 10-11 is remarkable. It is as if the Holy Spirit is taking him by the hand and pulling him along as to the plan of God. And Peter’s resistance is undeniable (Acts 10:14). Why would the Spirit repeat three times the words of the vision if it wasn’t for Peter continuing his same response (Acts 10:16)? While Peter contemplates what he heard and saw, the Spirit speaks directly to him in a very pointed manner saying, “…go with these men, doubting nothing, for I have sent them.” The angel appearing to Cornelius in Caesarea gave him a detailed description as to whom and where Peter was. God was turning to the Gentiles with His salvation. In His wisdom, the leader of the apostles would have to be involved in the first calling of them. Do we not see the divine wisdom in this?
Why did the Spirit have to speak to Peter again after the vision? Shouldn’t it have been enough for Peter that these men, who had never before met him, knew his name and surname and exactly where he was lodging? God knows exactly all He has to do in every situation to accomplish His will and counsels. When Peter arrives at the house he first speaks this to those gathered:
“Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
What Peter was doing here, by the Law of Moses, was unlawful. It simply was the breaking of the law. Peter identifies himself as a Jewish man. Now I could talk about whether Peter was really a Jewish man any more, being a believer in Jesus Christ, but the doctrines and teachings about the body of Christ had yet to be revealed by the Spirit. Peter didn’t know that ‘in Christ’ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. He wasn’t aware that the wall of separation had been abolished in the flesh of Christ (Eph. 2:14-15). Peter would not be responsible for what hadn’t been revealed yet. He was having enough issues in dealing with understanding the vision of the scroll and how he would explain being in the house of a Gentile. But on the surface I can understand how someone might say the Holy Spirit is forcing Peter to break God’s law. Some type of understanding is needed in this.
Israel Morally set aside, the Law of Moses set aside
Israel as a nation and people had been set aside by God. He was giving the nation one last chance, but His patience was soon to end. At the stoning of Stephen, God morally sets aside Israel as a people, they rejecting the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Messiah is set aside, and all promises to Israel set aside. Prophecy stops. Time stops being counted. Even the intercession of Christ on the cross for their forgiveness doesn’t change their blindness. Peter’s preaching to the house of Israel doesn’t change anything, only a small remnant in Israel is saved. Christ sits down at the right hand of God. He would not be coming back at this time as Messiah to Israel. All this is set aside. The Law of Moses, the religion of the Jews, is set aside as well by God. The Father would be seeking true worshipers who worship Him in spirit and truth. He no longer would tolerate the worship of the flesh that He found no pleasure in (Heb. 10:8). God would have Jerusalem and the temple destroyed. He would effectively end the practice of Judaism. These things had to be, for God was turning to the Gentiles, revealing His mystery, and by the Holy Spirit gathering a Gentile body.
Peter, no doubt, was breaking the Law of Moses. You see this same issue with the law when the Jewish elders refused to come into Pilate’s house. But if God had set aside the law, then the Holy Spirit’s acting on Peter was not a violation at all. And it had to be set aside, otherwise not only was Peter breaking the law but the Holy Spirit is guilty. How do we understand these things? Do we see what God’s counsels are in this experience?
God Never Gave the Law of Moses to the Gentiles
Let me pursue this further. Many people feel that the Law of Moses is for everybody – all mankind. They reason that if it is the Law of God, then it must be for everybody. This is where we lose sight of God’s counsels and start inventing our own. I have never found in all of scripture that God gave the law to the Gentiles. He simply never did. He gave the law to Israel, and they kept it to themselves for over a thousand years. In giving it to them He had a very specific purpose. Israel is who He brought out of Egypt to meet Him at Mt. Sinai. If God had intended His law for all mankind, He would have given it to Cain and Abel, after their parents disobeyed. But this didn’t happen. He gave it to Israel and Israel alone. If God did intend His law for the Gentiles and He failed to make sure the Gentiles were given it, then something is very wrong with this picture – unrighteousness in God? It would be if this was true, but this is human thinking and not the thoughts of God.
God never gave His law to the Gentiles. God never had any intention of doing so. If the law had the stipulation that Jews were forbidden to associate with Gentiles, eat with Gentiles, or enter even the thresholds of their homes, tell me, how was a Gentile to obey this? Our human thinking and impressions would only create contradictions.
The law was given to Israel. Sure enough, God is responsible for giving it. He does not give it to the Gentiles though. The law is a test. It is given for the testing of Israel. They are the test-case. They represent all mankind in the testing. Israel had advantages as the test-case, all the advantages God could give. There was no reason to give the others the test. If the test was given to the ones with all the advantages, that would do to prove the outcome. Israel failed the testing. They were accountable in responsibility by the law. God was looking for the fruit of righteousness (Matt. 21:33-34), but found none (the law was always the measure of human righteousness before God). When the test was failed by Israel, there was no reason for God to keep the test papers around. When the case was proven and closed, He nailed the test papers to the cross of Christ (Col. 2:14). This effectively ended the testing of man in responsibility forever. The case was finished, and Jesus declares, “Now is the judgment of the world.” (John 12:31)
The Principle of the Law
The law is viewed in Scripture as a whole entity having one overriding principle – the man who does those things shall live by them. The principle is clear – the doing of responsibility first, and then you are promised life.
“For Moses lays down in writing the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who has practiced those things shall live by them.”
It is a whole entity because you must do it all and do it perfectly before you get the life. This wholeness of the law is easily seen here;
“For as many as are on the principle of works of law are under curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them;”
Cursing is the only outcome for fallen man being given this law. This cursing includes judgment, condemnation, and wrath from God. The measure is all the law being done perfectly as a whole. Fallen man could not attain this and he could not have the promise of life from the law as the blessing at its end. There was only a curse for him, and that was on his head sooner than later. The law could not give life, and could not produce the fruit of true righteousness in man (Gal. 3:21). The law was not of faith, not of the principle of faith at all (Gal. 3:12). The law was not grace, and again, in principle these two are mutually exclusive (Rom. 6:14). The law is the works of man, and as such is not compatible with grace (Rom. 11:6). All of these scriptures describe the principle and character of the law, and we find nothing there that produces fruit in man. The basis of it is responsibility in man, and in this principle man has always failed.
Is Peter Breaking the Law? Is Peter a Jewish Man? Is the Spirit Leading Him?
It is the thought of the wholeness of the entire law that I address here. When I am told I must still keep the law, it is always with this stipulation – that I cannot pick and choose what parts to keep, but I must keep everything. Now I agree that the law is a whole, and for someone of the law, to break one part is to be guilty of all. But don’t look at me; let us look at Peter.
Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
As a Jewish man he is breaking a part of the law, and so, is guilty of it all, the Holy Spirit complicit in the offence. Are we allowing Peter to pick and choose? No, Peter isn’t picking and choosing anything. God has set aside the Law of Moses and has set aside Judaism as a religion. The Gentiles are not unclean, and neither are all the animals on the sheet in his previous vision. It all has to have been set aside by God, or there is a transgression of the law being committed.
Look at all the animals on the sheet (Acts 10:11-16). In the Law of Moses they simply are all unclean. Eating them is a transgression of the law of God for a Jewish man. But this is what the Spirit says:
“And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”
Question: Are the animals Peter saw on the sheet let down from heaven clean or unclean? They are all now clean contrary to the law. The only explanation for this is that God has set aside the law, so that it is now permissible for Peter to eat such things if he chooses. He is also allowed to associate and eat with Gentiles, which he does. Again, is this picking and choosing? No, it is the setting aside of the whole law.
In the same way that Messiah was a promise to Israel alone, and not to the Gentiles, so was the Law of Moses given only to the Jews. All of this together was set aside at the same general time at the stoning of Stephen. In 70 AD, through physical judgment, God brings an end to the practice of Judaism. The city and temple are destroyed by the Romans, and the Jewish people scattered to the nations. All of these things are related to each other. The law is related to Messiah, and the promises in Him. The law is related to the land, as well as the earthly calling of Israel that will be the remnant in the end. Messiah is associated with the land and physical restoration, and a future temple in Jerusalem. It is all set aside by God until then. When Israel is recognized again by God and Messiah returns to them, the law will be taken up again by the earthly calling. But then God will, by His sovereign power, work a slight difference concerning the final remnant and His law. Restored in the land at the beginning of the millennium, the remnant will have His law written on their hearts and minds (Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8:8-12).
The Two Main Covenants from God
The law as a testing would continue until the Seed appeared (Gal. 3:19). And this brings us to another line of thought concerning the law that is equally interesting and revealing. We can find this in Galatians 3-4. Let me start with this statement: it is obvious in Scripture and in the history of God’s dealings with man (fallen man removed from paradise) that the involvement between God and man relates to two main covenants. We find these two covenants contrasted with each other by the Spirit of God in Galatians. It is the covenant of promise given to Abraham and the covenant of Law given to Israel at Mt. Sinai.
The Contrasts and Distinctions between the Two Covenants
Allow me to point out all the contrasts between the two. For starters the covenant of promise preceded law by 430 years. The covenant of promise is to Abraham, while the law is given through Moses to Israel. Promise is the principle of calling and grace, and so, involves only the choice of God and the working of God, as He alone is responsible. It is God making promises, and God alone responsible for fulfilling these promises. It is the faithfulness of God as an attribute, which simply cannot fail. Promise does not look at man as being responsible, nor does it test responsibility in man, but is God being responsible and faithful to keep His promises. Therefore, the covenant of promise had no mediator, being solely dependent on God’s unchanging nature (Gal. 3:20).
When the reader understands the above paragraph as defining promise and the principle of calling and grace, then we see how God alone is truly glorified. God alone is choosing, God alone is working, and God alone is faithful. God confirms this covenant of promise in the one Seed of Abraham, which is Christ (Gal. 3:15-16). Isaac only served as a shadow in this. But as we saw in the Types and Shadows chapter, Isaac is offered up at the time of confirmation. The type he becomes is shadowing a crucified and resurrected Christ (Heb. 11:17-19). The one Seed of Abraham, in whom the covenant of promise is confirmed by God, is the resurrected Christ, the Son of Man glorified. The redemptive work is the shedding of the blood of the Last Man – this speaks of His death as the propitiation, the payment of the debt (God’s righteousness not only being maintained, but fully glorified and exonerated by His death, Rom. 3:24-26).
Grace Preceded Testing in Responsibility
The covenant of promise preceded the covenant of Law. This is another connection and pattern in God’s ways as displaying His counsels. Before the creating of the world the individual believer and body of Christ are found in God’s counsels as “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4, 2 Tim. 1:9, and Titus 1:2). Before the world began, we are in grace by the choice of God. When God created the world, we see man in paradise, being tested in responsibility. In the very same way the covenant of promise precedes the covenant that tests man in responsibility, this covenant of Law.
It would be impossible for Israel to have two covenants from God at the same time. We know for certainty that Israel was given the covenant of law at Mt. Sinai. We have established earlier in this chapter that the law was given to Israel alone, and it was never intended for the Gentiles. This was the covenant Israel definitely had for over 1500 years from Sinai to the coming of the Seed (Gal. 3:17-19). However, the covenant of promise to Abraham, once confirmed back in Genesis 22, could not be annulled or changed or added to in any way by another covenant given after it (Gal. 3:15-17). So what is going on here? Israel was never given nor did they ever have the covenant of promise. They rejected the one Seed of Abraham, putting Him to death. They still reject the One Seed of their father Abraham.
The covenant of promise is through the resurrected Christ, and it is God working in grace towards those He places “in Christ”. God is drawing, and the Holy Spirit is gathering. A body is being formed that will be united to the glorified Man, the body of Christ. The faith of Abraham is characteristic of this covenant of promise and grace, as well as characteristic of those being gathered in the covenant. Abraham’s faith is unique and pleasing to God;
The Faith of Abraham is in a God who raises the Dead
“Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”
The underlined parts above show that Abraham’s faith was truly in a God whom raises the dead. Those gathered by the Spirit in this covenant of promise have the same character of faith as Abraham, and by it are made sons of God through faith in a resurrected Seed. Also our faith is in a God who not only raises the Seed, but who raises the believer with Him.
“…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,”
Sons of Abraham, Sons of God
“Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”
“So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
These are the many sons of God that are partakers of the covenant of promise. Christ resurrected is the firstborn from the dead among many brethren. The brethren will be conformed to this glorified Man’s image by resurrection. These truths and realities are the sovereign working of the God who raises the dead and in this work is alone to be glorified.
“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The Resurrection – God’s Seal of Approval and Acceptance of the Redemptive Work
Our faith is in God who raised Christ from the dead. The resurrection of the Son of Man from the dead is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. When Jesus sat down at God’s right hand, the work of redemption was entirely finished (Heb. 10:11-12). But His sitting down brings out another important truth. The work of redemption was entirely acceptable and pleasing to God. God simply and absolutely will have nothing else but the death of Christ. God has shown that He has accepted this death, in that He has raised-up this Man from the dead, and has set Him, as Man, at His right hand in glory. God has made Christ’s blood the propitiation of the redemption of man. This is the absolute sufficiency and perfection of the work of Christ, the Son of Man.
The Christ of Glory
This is the promised Seed of the woman from the beginning of the creation of God. This is the one Seed of Abraham resurrected, in whom the covenant was confirmed. This is the Son of Man come down from heaven. He is the second Adam, the last Adam, of which the first was just a type. He is the glorified Man of Psalm eight, for a time made a little lower than the angels. Christ is the Son of Man lifted up. He is the one who, being in the form of God, did not consider it as something to be grasped, but came in the likeness of men for the reason of death, even the death of the cross. Christ is the Head of all creation, as well as the Head of the church, His body. He is the centerpiece of all the counsels of God, and God will gather all things in Him, both in the heavens and on the earth. In Christ, all the promises of God are yes and amen, regardless as to whether they are heavenly or earthly. This is the glory of the Son of Man. This is the Christ of glory.[Please note; in this chapter I never say that the church did not have its beginnings on the day of Pentecost. If Saul, in Judaism, persecuted the church of God, then it existed from that day (Gal. 1:13). That does not mean that the Messianic Kingdom wasn’t still being presented by the apostles to Israel, and that the Jews weren’t being given a last chance at the intercession of Christ on the cross. When Christ came in the flesh to Israel, He presented Himself as their Messiah in Luke 4. This also was the possibility of the Messianic kingdom. But this wasn’t well received at that time – they took Him outside to throw Him off a cliff. He never embraced this title much, knowing the counsels of God, and knowing the reason why the Son of Man came down from heaven. The same can be said concerning Israel’s last chance in the early chapters of Acts. What comes later is the full setting aside of the nation of Israel and God turning to the Gentiles, as well as all the teachings and doctrines concerning the church in Paul’s epistles.]