During the dark ages from about 500 AD to about 1500 AD, the public was not permitted to have access to the Bible. Only the clergy could look upon the Word of God. They then dispensed only tiny morsels to the masses, often twisting the meaning for their own financial or political gain. By the time the reformation began, virtually all Biblical truth had been lost or distorted. After the reformers got Bibles back into the hands of the common man, people began to try to reconstruct the proper church doctrines which had been lost. This was very difficult because they had been steeped in all manner of heresies for centuries. Different groups had varying degrees of success, correcting some areas of doctrine while failing to correct others. Some false doctrines were changed into new, different false doctrines. In any case, not one of the hundreds of denominations or sects has ever made it back to the pure doctrine of the early church. Perhaps I should not use the word “pure”, since we can see from Galatians 3 and 1 Corinthians 5 that errant doctrine was creeping into some local churches even at that early date.
One reason so many Christians do not understand the Bible today is that we have a tendency to be like the clergy back in Galileo’s day. Galileo’s discovery that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the solar system, was against the church doctrine of the time. For centuries, the clergy had taught that the earth was the center of the universe even though the Bible never says this. The clergy guarded their ignorance so carefully that they would not even look into Galileo’s telescope to see his evidence.
Likewise, most of the church today perceives itself to be not only God’s people today, but the only people God ever had or ever will have. So they read the Bible passages and see the present-day church as being the total focus of all scripture. But they fail to realize that there will be people saved from before the great flood, from ancient times, from Old Testament Israel, from Gentile nations during the Old Testament, out of the future tribulation, and out of the future 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. None of these millions and millions of believers were or will be what we would call “Christians”. While we in the present church do hold a very special place, we are not the sole focus of all scripture or even all of that portion of scripture commonly referred to as the New Testament.
The key points that are addressed in this article are listed below. Some of these statements may be surprising to some Christians, but I believe that the given scripture references and the pages that follow will make them clear. After all, I don’t expect anyone to believe something just because I say it. I would hope that we could all be like the Bereans of which Acts 17:11-12 says, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed ….”
- The Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter each preached the gospel, the good news. But upon close examination of just what they were saying, it is apparent that their messages were different from one another. Yet they did not contradict one another, because they spoke their respective gospels to two separate audiences. In this article, we will examine these two unique messages and the two audiences to which they were given.
Our gospel is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave His life as the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins, was crucified, and rose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This is what apostle Paul preached. There is only one gospel that we are to proclaim today. However, there have been other valid gospels in the past (Galatians 3:8, Matthew 9:35, and 10:5-7) and there will be others in the future (Matthew 24:14 and Revelation 14:6-7) after the rapture of the church.
Even though they had been plainly told by Jesus Christ beforehand, the twelve apostles did not know that Jesus Christ was going to die or rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21-22, Luke 18:33-34, and John 20:9). It was hidden from them by God. Of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are essential parts of Paul’s gospel. Also recall that the disciples preached agospel during Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. But it definitely was not Paul’s gospel, because they did not know Paul’s gospel.
Before our Lord Jesus Christ revealed it to Paul, the other apostles did not know that Jesus Christ’s crucifixion was the sacrifice for our sins. In the book of Acts, Peter never mentions sacrifice, or propitiation, or the blood of Jesus Christ. He never associates Christ’s death with remission of sins. Our gospel by which we are saved was a mystery revealed by our Lord Jesus Christ to Paul. It was not known by any man, not even the twelve apostles or Satan himself (1 Corinthians 2:7-8).
Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles (Acts 9:15 and Romans 11:13). Jesus Christ and the apostles prior to Paul preached only to the people of Israel, with just a few exceptions (Matthew 10:5-6, Matthew 15:24, John 12:20-24, Acts 2:5, 2:36, 3:12, and 11:19).
After Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, Peter preached that the people of Israel should believe that Jesus Christ was who He said He was, the Messiah. They should repent, and be baptized with water (Acts 2:38). If they all did this, then Jesus Christ would return and bring in the kingdom just as the Old Testament prophets had foretold (Acts 3:19-21).
The twelve apostles were under the law of Moses and continued to zealously follow the law all of their lives. But Paul taught the Gentiles “… ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
From Abraham, through the Old Testament, during Christ’s earthly ministry, and the early chapters of Acts, there were exceptions, but for the most part, God dealt only with the nation of Israel. Israel alone is the focus of the early chapters of the book of Acts. The ministry to the Gentiles did not even begin until more than 12 years after Christ’s earthly ministry, well after the conversion of Saul.
The Old Testament Kingdom Program
God promised the people of Israel a Land, a King, and a Kingdom. Their nation was to eventually become a nation of priests to bring salvation to the Gentile nations. In the Old Testament, it was no mystery that Israel would someday spread the Word of God to all nations. But, it was prophesied to be after the Messiah had come and set up His kingdom centered in Jerusalem. The people of Israel would then be sent to all nations to lead the Gentiles to their God in Jerusalem. But all Israel did not receive and has not received Him yet. So the fulfillment of the old program has been postponed. The mystery was that God planned to go to the Gentiles (through the apostle Paul) when Israel rejected the kingdom. After this dispensation of grace (sometimes called the “church age”) ends at the rapture, God will resume the old program. That is a very short summary. But now, since it is so beneficial to understanding the scriptures, we will go back and examine the Old Testament kingdom program from the time it began.
Around 2000 BC, about 350 years after the great flood, God chose one man out of all of the people on the earth from whom He would make a special nation. That man was Abram, whom God would later rename Abraham. God gave Abram the promise that he would become a great nation. “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing … and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). We can see from this verse that God had all nations in mind. But He chose one man and his descendants (one nation) to use to reach the rest of mankind. Then when Abram was in the land of Canaan, “… the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed I will give this land …” (Genesis 12:7).
Furthermore, God established His covenant with Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 17:19 and 26:3-4) and then with Isaac’s son Jacob, whom God would rename “Israel” (Genesis 28:13-14). So the nation of Israel are the descendants of Jacob.
After the nation Israel had been in slavery in Egypt for many years, God called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and gave them an extensive set of laws that are referred to collectively as “the law of Moses”, or simply as “the law”. Forty years later, they entered into the land of Canaan which had been promised to their ancestor Abraham long before. Over the course of time, God would speak to Israel through various prophets. Many of the prophecies were about the future King that would come one day and about His kingdom which He would set up.
One such promise of the King is in Isaiah 9:6-7. Written around 750 BC, it says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” Then in Zechariah 2:10-11, “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion (Jerusalem): for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the LORD. And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people ….” Notice that the many nations were not already joined unto the LORD when Zechariah was written in about 520 BC, but they will be, when the LORD comes to dwell in Jerusalem.
This King would also be the Redeemer who would redeem Israel from their sin. “And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 59:20). “And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalms 130:8). “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1).
But what would be Israel’s role in this future kingdom? Would they be just like any other nation? In Exodus 19:5-6 God told them, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” No, Israel was not to be just like the other nations. They would be above all other nations, a holy nation. Holy means set apart for God’s special purpose. Israel was to be set apart for God’s purpose as being priests or “go betweens” for the Gentile nations.
Zechariah chapter 8 provides further insight into the role of the Jew when the King, Jesus Christ, sets up His kingdom, and we will look at several of these verses here. Zechariah 8:3 says, “Thus saith the LORD; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain.” This establishes that this chapter concerns the time after Jesus Christ has returned to earth. Further confirmation comes in verses 7-8, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God ….” Then in verse 13, “And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing ….” Israel is to remain despised by the nations until the kingdom of Jesus Christ is set up. So we know that Zechariah 8:20-23 is speaking about the kingdom when it says, “ Thus saith the LORD of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is aJew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.”
From these passages and others like them, it was already known that the Jews’ ministry would eventually go to the Gentiles. But it would be vastly different from the ministry presently seen in the church today. Our church today has no geographical headquarters except heaven itself, and we know that Jesus Christ has not yet returned. The church is mostly filled with Gentiles who are all on equal footing with the few Jews who believe. But the kingdom spoken of in the Exodus and Zechariah passages above, will be centered in Jerusalem, with all the Jews working as holy priests leading the Gentiles to Jesus Christ who will already have returned to Jerusalem and set up His kingdom.
In the kingdom, Israel will not even have to grow their own crops. The Gentiles will do that for them, because Israel will be their priests. Isaiah 61:5-6 says, “… strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.”
In addition Micah 4:1-2 says, “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain (kingdom) of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob ….” This prophecy is echoed in Isaiah 2:2, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain (kingdom) of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”
So the Jews were expecting their Messiah to come and set up His great kingdom. Then He would send Israel as a holy nation of priests out to the Gentiles. What the Jews did not know, was that not all of Israel would accept their Messiah. So God delayed the fulfillment of the prophecies and went to the Gentiles with a different program. When this present “church age” program is completed at the rapture of the church, God will then fulfill the remaining unfulfilled Old Testament prophecies, just as they were written in His Word.
Jesus Christ’s Earthly Ministry
As we move forward from the Old Testament to the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, we see that Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, and the twelve apostles preached the gospel of the kingdom to Israel. This was not the gospel of grace that would later be preached by the Apostle Paul to the churches composed mostly of Gentiles (non-Israelites). Paul preached that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead, but during Christ’s earthly ministry, no one was preaching that message. It had not even happened yet.
John the Baptist preached the gospel of the kingdom, which was, “… Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Mark 1:4 says that, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” This shows that before the cross, the people of Israel could receive forgiveness of sins without even knowing that the Messiah would be put to death or would rise from the dead. John the Baptist preached and baptized with water in order to prepare Israel to receive the Messiah. “… that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water” (John 1:31).
Mark 1:14-15 records, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” This gospel of the kingdom which Jesus Christ preached was same message that John the Baptist preached: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
Matthew 9:35 says, “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues (the Jews’ places of worship), and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” It had not yet been revealed that Jesus Christ would die and rise again, much less that He would give Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. So that was not part of the gospel which the twelve, John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ were preaching. Yet, they were still preaching the gospel of the kingdom.
Jesus Christ sent the twelve to preach only to Israel in Matthew 10:5-7, “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The disciples were specifically told to go only to the people of Israel, and they were not preaching anything about the death, burial, and resurrection.
In Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus Christ was approached by a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, whose daughter was vexed with a devil. When she called for him, Christ did not answer, and the disciples wanted to send her away. Christ then said in verse 24: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Some may think that this verse means that Jesus Christ was rebuking His disciples, and implying that He was sent to all mankind. However, the Greek word translated “but” here means “except” as opposed to “only”. So when you remove the double negative here, you see that Jesus Christ is saying He is sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. This is confirmed by other English translations. The NASV translates this sentence as, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And the NIV translates it as, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
This explains His references to Jews as children and to Gentiles as dogs. “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master’s table” (Matthew 15:26-27). Once she had humbled herself to the level of a dog, He finally granted her request, but He had made His point.
Many Christians may feel that Jesus Christ would not take on human flesh and come to earth except to speak to all of mankind, not just to Israel. However, we must not put what we “feel” above what Jesus Christ actually said, “… I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel …“. Besides, this is consistent with the Old Testament prophecies, as we have seen. Here, as in all cases, we should take God at His Word. We will look at other related passages as we continue.
In John 11:27, Martha said, “… Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” That is all that a Jew, living at that time, had to believe to be saved.
Shortly before Christ’s crucifixion, some Greeks (Gentiles) asked to see Him. John 12:20-22 records, “And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.” Note Philip’s reluctance to even tell Christ of the Gentiles’ request. Remembering previous incidents with Gentiles, he first got Andrew to go with him. But Jesus Christ refused the Gentiles’ request to see Him, saying, “… The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:23-24).
It is important to realize that the apostles during Christ’s earthly ministry did not know that Jesus Christ would die and then rise from the dead. In Matthew 16:15, Jesus Christ asked His disciples, “… whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered in verse 16, “… Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ replies, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Now Peter had no clue that Jesus Christ would be crucified and resurrected. He only believed that Jesus was the Messiah. This is obvious when, only moments later, Peter rebukes Jesus Christ for saying he will “… be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matthew 16:21). In verse 22, “… Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from the, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.”
In Luke 18:33, Jesus Christ, referring to himself as the Son of man says, “And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.” But even though he told them plainly, “… they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things that were spoken” (Luke 18:34).
When Jesus Christ was resurrected, none of His disciples were there to see it. Why weren’t they all camped out down there in front of the tomb waiting to see His glorious resurrection? Even though Christ had told them that He would rise again on the third day, they could not understand. Peter and John only went to the tomb when Mary Magdalene told them that someone had stolen Jesus Christ’s body. “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead” (John 20:9).
The Early Acts Period
Now let’s get into the book of Acts. In Acts 1:6, the disciples asked Jesus Christ, “… Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” To “restore” means to bring about something that existed previously. This is further emphasized by the word “again”. Obviously they were expecting Jesus Christ to bring about an earthly kingdom, similar to that of Solomon and David, only greater. But note that Jesus Christ did not correct them and say, “No, you guys have it all wrong. It’s only going to be a spiritual kingdom.” Christ said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons …” (Acts 1:7).
In addition the apostles knew that they would be in positions of great power in the kingdom and were very much looking forward to it. In Matthew 19:27-28, Peter asked Jesus, “… Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This is also mentioned in Luke 22:29-30. Jesus Christ told them “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
In Acts 1:8, Christ tells the disciples that they will “… be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Now, the disciples knew nothing of the predominately Gentile church as we know it today. But what they did know were passages like Exodus 19:5-6 and Zechariah chapter 8 which we discussed previously, which show the priestly role of the Jew when Christ returns. “In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23).
When the Holy Spirit was first given on the day of Pentecost, all of those who were saved were Jews. “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). It does not say Gentiles out of every nation, but Jews out of every nation. Remember that massive numbers of Jews lived in other countries and had for centuries, so they could all fluently speak the languages of the nations from which they came. It has been estimated that the children of Israel numbered more than two million when they came out of Egypt around 1500 BC counting the men, women, and children. But around 712 BC, Assyria captured ten of Israel’s twelve tribes and took them away into slavery. About 100 years later, Babylon did the same thing to the two remaining tribes. In 536 BC they were allowed to leave Babylon, but according to Ezra 2:64, only 42,360 chose to return to the land of Israel. So, on major Jewish feast days, many Jews came to Jerusalem from other nations.
It was on this day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was given and the disciples began to speak in tongues to the people in all of the native languages of the countries from which they had come. In Acts 2:16-21 Peter said to the people, “… this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Peter fully expected the great tribulation to begin in just a short while as he described the images of God’s wrath from Joel 2:28-32. He foresaw no going to the Gentiles first, much less a 1900 plus year delay. Israel had to get ready for the impending wrath of God was coming upon the entire world. Was Peter confused? No, the threat was genuine and straight out of the Old Testament scriptures. If all Israel had repented, the great tribulation would have come right in followed by Jesus Christ’s return to set up the glorious kingdom. But all Israel did not believe, and the fulfillment was delayed. We will further discuss this delay later in this article.
More evidence that Peter was only speaking to Israel is seen in the way Peter addresses them. In Acts 2:22 he says, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words ….” A few verses later, Peter calls them “Israel” again. “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Note that there is no mention of Gentiles here. Imagine how these Jews must have felt, having just been warned of the coming day of God’s wrath and then being accused of murdering the Messiah. Continuing on to Acts 2:37-39, “… they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them,Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Peter’s Gospel was: Jesus is the Messiah and the kingdom can still come if Israel will repent and be baptized.
When Peter referred to “… all that are afar off …” in Acts 2:39, was he including Gentiles? Acts chapter 10 provides some insight. Several years after Peter spoke the words in Acts chapter 2, God commanded Peter to go to the house of Cornelius to preach to Gentiles for the first time. In Acts 10:36, Peter says, “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ ….” This shows once again that Christ’s earthly ministry was to Israel only. Then a few verses later in verses 44-45, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision (Jews) which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This astonishment confirms that Peter had only the people of Israel in mind back in Acts 2:39. Later in this article, we will look at the Acts 10 episode in more detail.
In Chapter 3 of Acts, Peter gives another remarkable sermon. The setting is at the temple in Jerusalem, where Peter and John, being the good Jews that they were, had gone to pray. “Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour” (Acts 3:1). In the verses that follow, God, through Peter, heals a man that has been lame from birth. Then as they all stood on Solomon’s porch in Acts 3:12, Peter begins speaking to the people. Peter addresses them as “… Ye men of Israel ….” Continuing in verse 13, “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.” Notice how Peter makes it so plain that he is speaking only to Israel by referring to “our fathers”, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. Also note that Peter once again begins to point the finger of blame at them for crucifying Jesus Christ when he said you delivered him up to Pilate, who was going to let Jesus go. Peter continues in verses 14-15, “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.” Is Peter saying Christ gave His life for your sin? No. He is blaming them for murdering the Son of God. Though Peter mentioned Christ’s death and resurrection, Peter did not ascribe salvation to it. In Peter’s message, the resurrection was simply a great sign that Jesus Christ was who he said he was, the Messiah.
Jesus Christ had prophesied this in His earthly ministry. Matthew 12:38-41 says, “Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.”
As Peter continues in Acts 3:16, he speaks of the healing of the lame man that had just been made to walk. “And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know ….” Faith in His name simply means faith that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, Messiah. The twelve apostles never mention Jesus Christ’s blood or sacrifice or propitiation in the entire book of Acts, nor do they recognize Jesus Christ’s death as the payment for sin. But that was not part of the kingdom gospel they were preaching.
Referring to Israel crucifying their Messiah, Peter says in Acts 3:17, “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.” Some may make the emotional argument that God was through with Israel as soon as they crucified Christ. However, the offer of the kingdom was still open, as Peter explained in the following verses.
In Acts 3:19-21 Peter said, “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 shallsend Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
The Greek word for restitution in verse 21 is the same root word used in Acts 1:6, previously mentioned, for restore. Peter is telling the Israel that if they all repent, Jesus Christ will return (second coming) and set up the kingdom!
Now on to Acts 3:22-24 “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet (Jesus Christ) shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.” All of the prophets foretold the last days when the Messiah would come and set up His kingdom on earth and Israel would function as a nation of priests to the Gentile world. Peter is saying these are the days for it all to come to pass!
Then in Acts 3:25-26, “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. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Peter addresses his listeners as “the children of the prophets” and “of the covenant” and once again referring to “our fathers”, making it clear that he is speaking to his brethren, Israel, not to Gentiles. But in order for the kingdom to have been restored at that time, how many of the people of Israel had to believe and repent? According to verse 26, “every one” of them. Of course we know that they did not all repent. So the kingdom has been postponed. But the prophecies of our God must come to pass, so we know that Christ’s earthly kingdom will one day be fulfilled.
Israel killed the Messiah, Jesus Christ, accredited by miracles, wonders, and signs. But God raised Him from the dead. The offer of the kingdom was still valid there in the early Acts period. And in the future, it will be again. After a 7 year period of tribulation (Daniel’s 70th week), the Messiah will come and restore the kingdom if every Israelite repents and turns to God. And Romans 11:25-26 tells us that one day they will.
In Acts 5:28-29 when the apostles were called before the council, the high priest said, “… Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” There is no mention here of Christ giving His life for our sins, for in Acts 5:30-31 we hear Peter level the murder charge against the Jews once again. “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
As we continue on to Acts 6:1, remember that all of the believers up until this time are Israelites. “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” It is a common misconception that Gentiles are mentioned in this verse where the word “Grecians” is used, but that is not the case. The Greek word used here is “Hellenistes” which refers to Grecian Jews. These Jews were probably born outside of the land of Israel and had taken on parts of the Greek culture. They were not Gentiles, although they were apparently looked down upon by the other Jews because they seemed less Jewish.
In Acts chapter 7 we have the speech of Stephen before the council. Stephen was one of the seven who were chosen by the apostles in Acts chapter 6. In Acts 7:51-52, we see Stephen level the murder charge. “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers ….” The Jews were so enraged that they stoned Stephen to death.
Acts 8:1 then says, “And Saul (who would later become the Apostle Paul) was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Notice that the apostles were not going to leave Jerusalem even under intense persecution. Had they misunderstood Matthew 28:19, referred to by many as the “Great Commission”? “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ….” Of course not. As we have seen, the Old Testament prophecies had revealed that the Messiah would return before Israel went to all nations.
In Acts chapter 8, Philip (who was one of the seven chosen in Acts chapter 6 and not to be confused with the apostle Philip) witnessed to the Samaritans. Samaritans were not Gentiles, but Israelites with compromised gene pools. They had intermarried with Gentiles during the ancient captivities and were of mixed blood-line. They were detested by the Jews. “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John” (Acts 8:14). Where were the apostles? Still in Jerusalem! In verse 25 they go back to Jerusalem. Is this any way to spread the gospel around the world? Of course not. Well then, what were they thinking? Remember how Christ had told them that when He returned, they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:29-30). Don’t think for a minute that they had forgotten about this promise.
But since Israel rejected their King, the ascended Lord Jesus Christ, they must wait as God takes out from the Gentiles “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14). After this is complete, then the kingdom program will resume. We who are Gentile Christians find this hard to understand, but the apostles (prior to Paul) had no concept of this present church age and the ministry predominantly by Gentiles to Gentiles. They were ministering to Israel only and were sticking to Jerusalem, not because they did not understand their mission, but because they did understand it. Once we realize this, then the behavior of the twelve apostles begins to make a lot more sense.
Later in this chapter, Philip went out to meet the Ethiopian Eunuch who “… had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27). I do not believe this was a Gentile traveling thousands of miles to worship at the Jews’ temple. After all, when Philip approached him, he heard the Eunuch reading Isaiah. His position of being in charge of all of Queen Candace’s treasure is a likely role for a Jew, just as Joseph was to Pharaoh and as Daniel was to Nebuchadnezzar and as Alan Greenspan is today in the United States. So I believe this man was an Ethiopian Jew, just like the thousands of them that have returned to Israel and live there today. This should be no surprise. Remember at the feast of Pentecost in Acts 2:5 how there were “… at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”
When our Lord Jesus Christ converted Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus, Jesus Christ told Ananias “… he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel …” (Acts 9:15). Later in this article, we will look at many passages which demonstrate that God made Paul the apostle of the Gentiles. But even Paul, in the early part of his ministry, went only to the Jews. “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues …” (Acts 9:20). A synagogue is not a place one goes to look for Gentiles, as this next verse shows: “But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:22). Paul later sought to meet with the apostles, who were still in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26). They had not gone out on missionary journeys to all nations, as is traditionally assumed. They were still ministering to Israel and waiting for Jesus Christ to return and set up the kingdom in Jerusalem.
In Acts chapter 10, Peter saw a vision from God in which he was told to kill and eat one of a group of unclean animals. But Peter protested saying, “… Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). After all, Peter was behaving as any good Jew at that time should have, keeping the laws of Moses. The early believers in Christ did not cease being Jews. They did not change religions. They were just as Jewish as any Jew could be. For example, in Acts 3:1, “… Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.” This is certainly not to say that Peter was doing anything wrong early in the book of Acts. On the contrary, he was full of the Holy Spirit and following what he was supposed to do to the letter in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom to Israel. But God used this vision in Acts 10 to persuade Peter to go to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile.
This was not something that Peter was apt to do on his own. It is difficult for us today to comprehend the disdain that the Jews of ancient times had for the Gentiles. They were commonly referred to as “dogs” by the Jews, including Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 15:26. Often the story of Jonah is taught as though Jonah was afraid to go to the Gentile city of Ninevah. But what does the scripture say? Let’s look at Jonah 3:10 and continuing on to Jonah 4:2, “And God saw their works, that they (the people of Ninevah, in Assyria) turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them (destroying their city); and he did it not. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” Jonah did not flee because he was afraid of the Assyrians. He fled because he did not want God to save these Gentiles who were the mortal enemies of Israel. In about 712 BC, the descendants of these Assyrians later conquered the ten northern tribes of Israel and took them captive.
Later in this article, we will get into Paul’s ministry in more detail. But let’s look ahead 20 years or so at a passage from Acts 22:21-23 which helps to further illustrate Peter’s reluctance to go to the home of a Gentile. In about 58 AD the Jews became intensely angry when Paul told them that Jesus Christ had said, “… Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. And they gave him audience unto this word (“Gentiles”), and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air ….” What a reaction! Just mentioning that their God would have anything to do with Gentiles set them to screaming for Paul’s execution, tearing their clothes, and throwing dirt into the air!
So you can see why Peter would hesitate to go to a Gentile and why when he arrived, Peter told Cornelius “… Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). This is further confirmation that Peter was a law-keeping Jew.
Then Peter began to preach in Acts 10:36-46, “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) … who went about doing good, and healing … whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly … he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead … that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision (Jews) which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God ….” All of the Jews present were shocked because nothing like this had ever happened to Gentiles, not at Pentecost or any other time. So in Acts 11:2, where does Peter go? Not to the Gentiles in Europe, not to the Gentiles in Africa, not to the Gentiles in the Far East but back to the Jews at Jerusalem.
Notice also that Peter mentions in Acts 10:38 that Jesus Christ “… went about doing good, and healing ….” This is in contrast to Paul who rarely ever makes mention of Christ’s earthly ministry. For an analysis of how Paul’s ministry was focused on our ascended Lord rather than on Christ’s earthly ministry, see Elements of the Gospel and Our Ascended Lord.
But look at what happens when Peter gets back to Jerusalem. Acts 11:2-4 says, “… when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision (Jews) contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised (Gentiles), and didst eat with them. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them ….” The believing Jews were upset with Peter for doing this unlawful thing and he had some real explaining to do which he does in Acts 11.
After Peter’s rehearsal of the story, Acts 11:19 says, “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, andAntioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” It would be easy for us to see Peter’s visit to the house of Cornelius as starting a massive effort to evangelize Gentiles, but it did not. The disciples continued the Jews-only ministry.
Continuing on to Acts 11:20, “And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they had come to Antioch (the one in Syria), spake unto the Grecians (Hellenistic Jews), preaching the Lord Jesus.” Here we see that word “Grecians” again that we saw back in Acts 6:1. Just as we saw before the Greek word used here is “Hellenistes” which refers to Hellenistic Jews. These were not Gentiles. After all, the previous verse just said that they went to Antioch preaching only to Jews. These Hellenistic Jews were probably born outside of the land of Israel, spoke the Greek language, and had taken on parts of the Greek culture. Many modern translations translate this word as “Greeks”. Some say that there are manuscripts which use the word Hellenes (meaning “Greeks”) here, but all three of the Greek texts that I checked used the word “Hellenistes” (Hellenistic Jews) in Acts 11:20. This makes by far the most since not only here in chapter 11, but especially in light of the events of Acts 14 and 15, which we will discuss in the following pages. So please keep this in mind as we continue.
When the assembly at Jerusalem heard about it, there was no mention of any astonishment as there was back in Acts 10:45 with the Gentiles. “Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch” (Acts 11:22). Now Barnabas was not sent to snap anyone back in line or to tell the Jews not to associated with Gentiles or to make sure Gentiles were keeping the law. Acts 11:23 says Barnabas, “Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” I mention these points simply to show that there is nothing in these verses that would indicate that there were Gentiles in the Antioch church at this time.
Later, Barnabas and Paul assembled with the church at Antioch for a year “… and the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).
The death of Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12:23 marks the date at 44 AD. We know Herod died while Paul and Barnabas were at Jerusalem, since we see them arrive in Acts 11:30 and return to Antioch in Acts 12:25. Some 12 years have passed since Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, and the ministry to the Gentiles has yet to even begin.
Paul’s Ministry Begins
From the group of Christians at Antioch, “… the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). At this point Paul’s first missionary journey begins.
On their journey, Paul and Barnabas arrive at the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. This Antioch was in the center of modern Turkey, not to be confused with the city of Antioch of Acts 11:26 which was in western Syria. Paul begins his speech with “… Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience” (Acts 13:16). But on the next Sabbath, Paul and Barnabas turn to the Gentiles. Acts 13:46-48 says, “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you (the Jews): but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” This is the beginning of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in Acts 13, more than 12 years after Christ’s ascension into heaven.
In Acts 14:25-26, we see Paul and Barnabas returning to Antioch, completing that first missionary journey. “And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.” Then Paul and Barnabas gave a report of their journey. “And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.” Now why would Paul and Barnabas say that God had “opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” to a church full of Gentiles who had been saved long before Paul and Barnabas even set out on that journey? They wouldn’t. The door would have already been open. So all those there at the church in Antioch up until this time were Jews. Most were Hellenistic Jews, but Jews, none-the-less. This news would most naturally free up the Jews at Antioch to evangelize the ample population of Gentiles in the area. Acts 14:28 then says, “And there they (Paul and Barnabas) abode long time with the disciples.” It was during this time that many Gentiles were joined unto the church at Antioch. This promptly resulted in a big disagreement with the Jews in Jerusalem. The very next verse, Acts 15:1, says, “And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” So we have some of the believing Jews from Judea trying to bring the Gentiles under the law of Moses. Why did they not try to do this years earlier back in Acts 11:20? Quite simply because those were not Gentiles back in Acts 11:20, but Grecians, Hellenistic Jews.
This conflict necessitated the meeting of Paul and Barnabas with the eleven apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Note that since James, the brother of John, was killed in Acts chapter 12, the twelve apostles are now eleven. “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small (a large) dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:2). This meeting, which took place in about 50 AD, is not only recorded by Luke in Acts 15, but also by Paul in Galatians 2:1-9.
In Galatians 2:1-2, Paul writes, “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus (who was a Gentile) with me also. And I went up by revelation and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.” Now, why would Paul have to tell the apostles in Jerusalem what his gospel was? As we will see in Galatians 2:7, it was not the same gospel that the twelve were preaching. When Paul says “by revelation”, we know that his going to this meeting in Jerusalem was not just a prudent decision that Paul made on his own. It was something specifically revealed from God that he should do. He came to them of reputation, the apostles and elders, and told them “that gospel”. Now God obviously did not send Paul to Jerusalem just to tell the apostles something that they already knew.
Continuing in Galatians 2:3-4, “But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage ….” Note how Paul speaks of the grace God has given us as “liberty” while referring to the law as “bondage”.
Acts 15:5-6 says, “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them (the Gentile believers), and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.” Now most churches today teach that right after Pentecost, the apostles went out all over the world to fulfill what is commonly referred to as the great commission. But if that were true, then what are they doing here in Jerusalem in 50 AD, 18 years later?
Was required circumcision and keeping the law a Moses consistent with the gospel of the kingdom that the Peter and the rest of the eleven apostles were teaching the Jews? Of course it was. Otherwise, the question of whether the Gentiles had to keep the law of Moses would have never even come up. If the Jews were not required to keep the law of Moses, the Gentiles certainly would not have to keep it. But in the argument they had about whether the Gentiles had to keep the law of Moses, there was “much disputing” (Acts 15:7). Now if Paul’s gospel had been the same as the gospel preached by the eleven, there would have been no argument. But Paul’s gospel of grace is different. The finished work of the cross cannot be mixed with any requirement for keeping of the law of Moses.
So Paul, wrote in Galatians 2:5, “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” Do you see how serious this was? If Paul had succumbed to Pharisee’s argument that the law of Moses should be added to Paul’s gospel, then Christianity would have died out. We should be so thankful that God did not allow Paul to cave in on this point. In His foreknowledge, God had prepared Peter for this moment years earlier at the house of Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. Only after Peter stood up and spoke, was Paul’s message to the Gentiles accepted by the apostles and elders. Peter spoke of the incident that had taken place many years earlier at the house of Cornelius and then said in Acts 15:10, “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke (bondage) upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
After Peter had spoken, Acts 15:12 says, “Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.”
In Galatians 2:6-9, Paul describes the response, “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was committed unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship; that we should go to the heathen, and they to the circumcision.” In verse seven we see the two gospels. They all agreed that Apostle Peter should continue with the gospel of the circumcision (gospel of the kingdom) to the Jews, and Apostle Paul should continue with the gospel of the uncircumcision (gospel of grace) to the Gentiles.
James, the leader who was presiding over the meeting, says in Acts 15:13-17, “… Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon (Peter) hath declared how God at the first did visit theGentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called ….” This was a reference to Amos 9:10-11. Today, the temple has yet to be rebuilt, because God is not yet through calling out a people for his name from the Gentiles. It is worth noting here that James had already written his famous epistle by this time. In it, James mentions none of the mysteries that were later revealed to Paul, nor was James yet aware of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles as he (James) wrote to “… the twelve tribes scattered abroad …” (James 1:1).
Then James adds in Acts 15:19, “Wherefore my sentence (judgment) is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God ….” Notice that James says nothing here about Jews not keeping the law of Moses. That was not even part of the discussion. The Jews were to continue keeping the law of Moses as they had been.
We see this confirmed in Acts 21. Remember that the council in Jerusalem of Acts 15 took place in about 50 AD after that first missionary journey that Paul took with Barnabas. By the time we come to Acts 21, about 8 years have passed. Paul and Silas have already taken two more missionary journeys to the Gentiles and have now gone down to Jerusalem in 58 AD. This is 26 years after the cross. Acts 21:17-19 Luke writes, “And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he (Paul) had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.” But now look at what James says, “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law….” (Acts 21:20). So out of all those Jews who believed in Jesus Christ there in Judea, how many were committed to keeping the law of Moses? All of them! So obviously, keeping the law of Moses was consistent with what the apostles of the circumcision had been teaching. In Acts 20:21, James warns Paul, “And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.”
In the text of Acts, Paul neither confirms nor denies the accusation. But at the insistence of James, Paul takes part in a ritual of the law of Moses in an attempt to quench their suspicions in verses 22-27. Now what I believe is happening here is that Paul knows that the law of Moses has already been nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14) and does not apply to the grace dispensation. But he also knows that the believing Jews in Jerusalem would not accept that. They were taught under the twelve apostles, and had been saved under that kingdom dispensation. So the law was perfectly fine for them. But if these had been the Jews in Ephesus or Corinth who had been saved under Paul’s grace gospel teaching, Paul would have told them that the law had been nailed to the cross and that they were saved by faith alone, totally apart from works.
Now some believe that Paul was wrong for participating in a seven-day, legalistic ritual of the Mosaic law, but I believe Paul explains his position in 1 Corinthians 9:19-21. “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.”
From Acts 23:11, there is certainly no indication that Jesus Christ was disappointed with Paul’s actions. Acts 23:11 says, “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” From reading through Acts 21:27 through Acts 23:11, it is apparent that the Lord spoke these words to Paul on the night following the day after the seven day ritual.
Some may say that after the cross, no one was under the law any more. That is true for the church, but the Jews who were not under Paul’s teaching were still under the law. The 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 passage above, makes this clear. Specifically note where it says in verse 20, “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law ….” Likewise Romans 3:19 says, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” So even though 1 Corinthians and Romans were written in the 57-58 AD time frame about 25 years after the cross, there were still those who were under the law of Moses, just not in the church under Paul’s dispensation of the grace of God.
Apostle of the Gentiles
I mentioned previously when we were going over Acts 9, that Paul was called by our ascended Lord Jesus Christ to be the apostle of the Gentiles. Paul states this plainly in Romans 11:13, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office ….” Likewise Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:10-11, “… the gospel: Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.”
This ministry was different from the ministries of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, and the twelve. All of those ministries had been to Israel, who were under the Mosaic law. Notice the contrast Paul provides in Romans 15. He writes in Romans 15:8, “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision (Israel) ….” Then only a few verses later in Romans 15:16 he adds, “That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles ….”
Earlier, we saw a similar contrast in Galatians 2:7, where Paul shows that Peter was an apostle to the nation of Israel. “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision (the Gentiles) was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision (the Jews) was unto Peter ….” Clearly we see Paul pointing out the difference between his ministry to the Gentiles and the ministry of twelve apostles of the circumcision.
In Acts 26:16-17, Paul explains how, when he was on the road to Damascus, our Lord Jesus Christ called him with a blinding light and said, “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear (reveal) unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee …” (Acts 26:16-17).
In 1 Timothy 1:11, Paul writes about “… the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed unto my trust.” Then in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 he writes, “… Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” Some Bible versions do not use the word “first” in the verse above, but the Greek word is “protos”, which means “first”. This is the word from which we get our English word “prototype” which is the first of many, a model of that which is to come afterward.
That is why Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:13, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me ….” Notice that he does not say, “heard from me and the other apostles”.
In Ephesians 3:8 Paul says of his unique position, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ ….”
God confirmed the message revealed to Paul by our risen Lord using signs and miracles, because it was a new revelation for a new dispensation. On the first missionary journey, Luke records in Acts 14:3, “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”
In Colossians 1:25-27 Paul tells how his ministry is to the Gentiles, “… I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of thismystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory ….” In this passage, Paul also speaks of the dispensation of God which was a mystery hidden from previous generations. This brings us to our next topic.
Mystery of the Gospel of Grace
Whenever we study God’s Word, we must take care not to anticipate revelation. That means that when we read a passage, we must not assume that future revelations from God were known at the time the events in the passage or the writing of the passage took place. We must realize that from the time God first spoke to Adam, until the last book of the Bible was written, God revealed His Word to men over a period of about four thousand years. He did not give it to man all at once. For example, as Adam stood there in the garden of Eden, he could not have known anything about the ten commandments which would be given by God to Moses about 2600 years later. Nor could Jacob have told you about the sermon on the mount that Jesus Christ would preach some 1700 years later. When we read a passage of scripture, we must understand and keep in mind what God had revealed to the people being addressed up until that time. The things which were not yet known were still secrets that are hid in God, mysteries which He has yet to reveal to anyone.
Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever ….” With this in mind, let us look at some examples related to our topic, examples which show that the mysteries, the “secret things“, of God are not known by man until God reveals them.
Sometimes God will even go so far as to say the words, but still not allow them to be understood. When God was preparing to punish Israel with captivity by the Assyrians, he called forth the prophet Isaiah and told him, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10).
Recall that earlier in this paper, we examined Matthew 16:21-22, Luke 18:33-34, and John 20:9 and saw that during Christ’s earthly ministry, the twelve apostles did not know that Jesus Christ was going to die and rise again from the dead. Even though Christ had told them this plainly on several occasions, it was hidden from them by God.
Paul received the gospel of grace by direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ. He was appointed as the apostle of the Gentiles to reveal mysteries previously kept hidden. One of these is the mystery of the gospel. Paul writes in Ephesians 6:18-20 “Praying always … for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known themystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in bonds ….” Paul’s gospel had been a mystery, not been known to anyone before God revealed it to him.
Keep in mind that Ephesians was written around 62 AD, about 30 years after Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven. Paul had already completed his first three missionary journeys. Now let’s look at Ephesians chapter 3, beginning with verses 1-4. “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of Godwhich 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) ….” So we see that God by “revelation” showed Paul the “mystery” which no one knew before. This is why Paul calls it “my knowledge”. “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and the prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel …” (Ephesians 3:5-6). Note the change in tense here. Compare “is now revealed” (to the apostles around 62 AD) with “he made known unto me” (Paul) by revelation at some earlier time. Then in Ephesians 3:9, “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ ….”
In about 66 AD, Peter, near his death, acknowledged that God had revealed many mysteries to Paul. He writes in 2 Peter 3:15-16, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him (not “unto us”, but “unto him”) hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things hard to be understood ….” Peter was writing this epistle to Jews, so the epistle of Paul that Peter was referring to was Hebrews.
From Romans 16:25, it is evident that the what Paul calls “my gospel”, was a mystery until God showed it to him by revelation. “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began ….”
Why did God keep our gospel a secret for so long? “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Whichnone of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8). So no one was allowed to know it, not Peter, the apostles, Judas, Pilate, the demons, or even Satan himself.
Understanding the Dispensations
In this article, I have already used the word dispensation a few times, and we have discussed it some in the previous article, The Basics of Understanding the Bible, but some may still not yet fully understand its meaning. The English word “dispensation” in the Bible is the noun form of the verb “dispense” and is translated from the Greek word “oikonomia” [oy-kon-om-ee’-ah]. You might notice that this word sounds a lot like the English word “economy”. It is translated “dispensation” four times and “stewardship” three times. It is the administration of someone’s household or property. Or to put another way, it is the management, oversight, or dispensation, of someone’s household or property. In Luke 16, when Jesus Christ spoke of the rich man with the unjust steward, the rich man said, “give an account of thy stewardship” (Luke 16:2). “Stewardship” here is the Greek word “oikonomia”. So the rich man is basically saying, “give an account of thy dispensation of my household and property”. Some define a dispensation as “a period of time”, but that is not completely correct. A dispensation is an administration which covers a period of time, and some dispensations can overlap one another in the time line.
In Colossians 1:25-26, Paul explains how God gave him a dispensation to dispense unto the Gentiles. “… I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God: Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations ….” Then in 1 Corinthians 9:17 Paul writes, “… a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.” He says it again in Ephesians 3:1-3, “… For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 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 ….”
So God committed the dispensation of His grace unto our apostle Paul to give to the Gentiles. This dispensation was a mystery that was not known before God gave it Paul. This dispensation still continues today, and is unlike the previous dispensation of the law which God first gave to Moses to give to the children of Israel. Exodus 24:12 says, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them (the children of Israel).”
There will also be future dispensations after this present dispensation of grace is over. In Ephesians 1:10 Paul says, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him ….” Here, Paul is talking about a future dispensation which has not yet begun. Below is a diagram showing all of the dispensations.
For a description of all of the dispensations shown in this diagram see the article, The Basics of Understanding the Bible.
Of particular interest in the diagram is the sloped line drawn to represent the transition from the law or kingdom program to the grace program. The following table compares the state of the ministry of the twelve apostles just after Pentecost in about 33 AD with the Christian ministry that existed just after the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. It demonstrates that a change in dispensations took place during this 33-70 AD time frame.
|State of the Ministry after Pentecost in 33 AD||State of the Ministry after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD|
|Gospel of the Kingdom preached only to Israel. (Acts 2:22, 36, 3:12, 5:31, 9:22, 11:19)||Gospel of Grace preached predominantly to Gentiles with Jews included. (Acts 9:15, 13:46, 28:17-28)|
|Jews are accused of murdering the Messiah. (Acts 2:23, 36, 4:10, 5:28, 30, 7:52, 10:39)||Jesus Christ freely gave his life as payment for our sins. (Acts 20:28, 1 Cor 15:3, Gal 1:4, 1 Thes 5:9-10)|
|Miraculous signs and healings are commonplace. (Acts 2:4, 43, 3:6, 5:12-16, 6:8, 8:6-7, 9:40,10:46, 14:3)||Even apostles and faithful saints are left sick or have to take medicine for frequent ailments. (2 Cor 12:5-10, Col 4:14, 1 Tim 5:23, 2 Tim 4:20)|
|Peter is the chief teacher. (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:14, 3:12, 5:29, 10:34)||The teachings of Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, are the focus. (Acts 9:15, 13:2, 17:22, 20:17, 21:40, 26:1, 28:17)|
|Apostles’ headquarters are in Jerusalem with their ministry concentrated in Israel. (8:1, 25, 9:26, 11:2)||Jerusalem is destroyed. Ministry is to the entire world. (Rom 11:25 and the whole books of Romans-Philemon)|
|Believers are all Jews who are still strictly obeying the Law of Moses. (Acts 3:1, 10:14, 28, 11:3, 21:20, 26)||The Law, old and decaying (Heb 8:13), has vanished away. Due to destruction of the Temple, keeping the Law is now impossible. (Lev 16)|
|Salvation is to come to the world through Israel’s reconciliation to God. (Acts 3:19-21, Zech 8:20-23)||Salvation comes to the world through Israel’s fall and blindness. (Rom 11:11-15, Rom 11:25)|
|Teaching is based on foretold prophecy. (Acts 2:16-21, 29-31, 3:21-24, Zech 8:20-23, Luke 22:30, Isa 1:26)||Teaching is based on newly revealed mysteries. (Deut 29:29, Rom 11:25, 16:25, 1 Cor 2:7, 15:51, 2 Cor 12:7, Eph 1:9, 3:3, 5:32, 2 Thes 2:7)|
The differences stated above are far too striking to be glossed over. In some cases, the change in administration is to the exact opposite from the way it was before hand. Given this information, it should be rather obvious to any Bible student that this time period is a period of transition from one dispensation to another. The book of Acts which chronicles this time period is a book of transition. This being the case, the Pentecostal assembly of the early Acts period is not our model for this dispensation of the grace of God. Rather, our model is found in Romans through Philemon, the thirteen epistles which our Apostle Paul wrote to the Gentiles.
Peter’s Gospel and Paul’s Gospel
Both Peter and Paul taught that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, that he was crucified, and that he rose from the dead on the third day. So one might ask, “What is the difference between their two gospels?”
Earlier in this article, we discussed rather thoroughly the difference that Paul spoke to Gentiles and Jews whereas, Peter spoke to Israel only, with the one exception of the house of Cornelius.
A second key difference is that in making the offer of the kingdom to Israel, Peter spoke of the resurrection in order to show that the Lord was alive and could still return to be Israel’s King (Acts 3:19-21). Christ’s death and resurrection, the sign of Jonah, were stated as evidence. However, Peter was not proclaiming them as part of the gospel of the kingdom. But Paul taught the that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are essential parts of our gospel of grace.
A third difference is that Paul taught that Jesus Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins, and that we are cleansed by His blood. But in all of his sermons in the early chapters of Acts, Peter made no mention of this.
Decades later, near the end of their lives, Peter and John each wrote of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:2-3, 18-21, 2:24, 5:12 and 1 John 1:7 and 2:2). However, in the early parts of Acts, they never mention the blood, sacrifice, propitiation, or that Jesus Christ died for our sins. It had not yet been revealed.
Paul also told the Gentiles that Jesus Christ willingly gave up his life for our sins (Galatians 1:4). Whereas, Peter repeatedly accuses the Jews of murder. One example is Acts 2:36, where Peter says, “… Jesus, whom ye crucified ….” Peter also says in Acts 3:14-15, “But ye denied the Holy One … and killed the Prince of life ….” Then in Acts 5:30 he says, “… Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.” Finally Stephen, who also preached Peter’s gospel, told the Jews in Acts 7:52, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers ….”
But Paul, on the other hand, constantly stressed the sacrificial nature of the death of Jesus Christ, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation (appeasing sacrifice) through faith in his blood …” (Romans 3:25). The blood of Christ is not mentioned by the Peter and the other 11 apostles in Acts, yet it is a vital part of the gospel of grace. One must conclude that either the twelve were negligent, or that it had not yet been revealed to them that Christ died a sacrificial death. Certainly the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, did not dispense an incomplete gospel, or those that heard it would have been without hope. So the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death had not been revealed to them by God, just as we saw earlier in the section titled “The Mystery of the Gospel of Grace”. In reference to the cross, Peter does explain in Acts 3:18 that “But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.” However, Peter does not link Christ’s death to the justification of sinners.
It is of utmost importance to realize that Paul’s letters are filled with the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the sacrifice that paid for our sins. So we will allow a page or so here to look at a few example passages.
In Romans 5:6-11 Paul writes, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” So many people think that they have to clean up their life first before they can be saved. But this passage clearly shows that Christ did not die for the righteous, but “for the ungodly“. Otherwise, His death would have been in vain, for Romans 3:10 says, “… there is none righteous, no not one.”
In Ephesians 1:7 Paul writes of Jesus Christ “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace ….” Then in Ephesians 2:12-13 Paul explains how we were “… without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
Many other passages in Paul’s letters emphasize this same point, including:
Colossians 1:20, “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”
Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Romans 8:31-32, “… If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all ….”
Romans 4:24-25, “… if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all ….”
Ephesians 5:1-2, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
These are just a few examples. By my count, Paul mentions the death of Jesus Christ 64 times in his epistles.
Analogy of the Olive Tree
Chapter 11 of Romans is a very valuable passage for understanding what happened and what is going to happen to the nation of Israel and where the present church fits into God’s plan. In Romans 11, Paul explains the dispensational change from Israel to the Gentile nations and how it will on day change back again. Paul begins in Romans 11:1-2 by asking, “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.” Then in Romans 11:7, “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded ….” Most of the nation of Israel was blinded in unbelief, with only a remnant accepting the Messiah.
But what will be the result of Israel’s blindness? Romans 11:11-12 says, “I say then, Have they (the nation of Israel) stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” Remember how in the Old Testament passages that we looked at, we saw that salvation would be brought to the Gentiles when the Messiah sets up His kingdom and all Israel was saved. But here and now we have the opposite. Through Israel’s unbelief, salvation has been brought to the Gentiles. So during this dispensation of grace (church age), we are not seeing the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s priesthood to the Gentiles. Rather, this dispensation was a mystery, a secret that was not revealed until God called forth our apostle Paul. God is not through with Israel. Though they are presently fallen, God will one day bring the nation of Israel to their fulness.
Paul says in Romans 11:13, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office ….” It is key to note that in this passage, Paul addresses the Gentiles at large, not just the church. This is because he is explaining the dispensational changes from Israel being in the place of privilege, to the Gentiles being in the place of privilege and back again, as we will see.
In Romans 11:15 he continues, “For if the casting away of them (Israel) be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” The Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s salvation will still be fulfilled one day, and Israel’s revival will be a great blessing to the Gentile nations.
Using the analogy of an olive tree, Paul explains the relationship between the Gentile nations and the nation of Israel. Romans 11:17 says, “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” As we will see, the “root” is the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons. The people of Israel are the “branches” to which Paul is referring. Continuing in Romans 11:17-18, “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” Some of the nation of Israel were broken off, and the Gentile nations, the branches of the “wild olive tree”, were grafted into that place of privilege and blessing. But the Gentiles should not think too highly of themselves or lowly of Israel who was broken off.
Continuing on to Romans 11:19-24, “Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?” Some have incorrectly attempted to use this passage to support the false doctrine that a Christians can lose their salvation, but that is not even the topic here. This passage is about how the Gentile nations have temporarily been put into that place of privilege that Israel once held, and will one day hold again. Israel fits into the good olive tree more naturally than do the Gentile nations. So the Gentiles are not to be puffed up in pride over their present position, as some all too often are.
Romans 11:25-26, “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. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob ….” When God is through calling out the last Christian from this dispensation of grace, then God will turn back to Israel. He will break off the Gentile branches and graft the broken off branches of Israel back into the good olive tree.
God’s focus shifts from Israel in the dispensation of grace to the present church, which is being filled mostly with Gentiles and some Jews. When this dispensation is complete, however, Israel will again be brought into the spotlight in the tribulation and millennial kingdom.
To clarify Paul’s statement in Romans 11:26 that “… all Israel shall be saved …“, we must remember to keep it in the context of what Paul had said in Romans 9:6, “… For they are not all Israel which are of Israel ….” This is why Zechariah 13:8-9 prophesies that only one third of the Israelites in the future tribulation will be saved. “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part (one third) through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.” This is also as Isaiah 9:8 says, “The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.” Here, “Israel” is the believing portion of “Jacob”, the whole nation.
Our Great Commission
Paul refers to the gospel he preached as “my gospel” (Romans 16:25), “that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:2), “the gospel of the uncircumcision” (Galatians 2:7), “the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13), “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15), and “the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). I have frequently heard people refer to Paul’s gospel as the “gospel of grace“, but most often as simply “the gospel”. Regardless of what it is called, it is the gospel that God revealed to Paul and it is different from the gospel of the kingdom which was preached before by John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the twelve.
Jesus Christ said in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come.” Jesus Christ is saying that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached around the world prior to His second coming. He is not saying that the gospel of grace will be preached around the world prior to therapture. There is a huge difference. Of course we should spread the gospel of grace as much as we can, but that is not what Jesus Christ was prophesying in Matthew 24. He is referring to the gospel of the kingdom being preached during the tribulation. It will be preached by the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3-12) and the 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8 and 14:1-5), after we Christians have been caught up in the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Yet so many well meaning preachers will say, “We have got to spread the gospel so Jesus can come back”. Man does not control when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. It is true that we are supposed to spread the gospel, but there is absolutely nothing but a trumpet blast standing between us and our Lord Jesus Christ. The rapture has no prerequisite.
Are we preaching the gospel of the kingdom? We had better not be. Paul tells us in Galatians 1:9, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you that ye have not received, let him be accursed.” Does that mean that Peter was accursed because he preached the gospel of the kingdom? Of course not. Peter preached to a different audience in a different dispensation of God’s Word. But now, we are to preach the gospel that Paul preached, not the gospel of the kingdom or any other gospel.
But some Christians may ask, “Well, what about the great commission of Matthew 28:19-20?” First of all, the Bible never calls it the “great commission”. Secondly, it was given to the eleven for the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom to the circumcision (Israel). Recall how that earlier in this article, in the sections on “The Old Testament Kingdom Program” and “The Early Acts Period”, we saw that even from old testament times, it was already known that the Jews’ ministry would eventually go to the Gentiles. But it will be very different from the ministry of the church today. It will be after the Messiah has returned to earth with all the people of Israel having become believers. It will be headquartered in Jerusalem, with Israel functioning as a nation of priests to the Gentile world. So Matthew 28:19-20 is not referring to Paul’s gospel which had not yet been revealed.
Paul does however provide evangelistic instructions for believers in this present dispensation of the grace of God. What many refer to as our great commission, is found in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. “… if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
The gospel of grace for this “ministry of reconciliation” is: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came in the flesh and was crucified. He willingly gave His life as the perfect sacrifice to pay for all of our sins. He was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). We are cleansed from sin by his blood and have everlasting life, if we simply believe this gospel, the gospel of the grace of God, which Paul preached.
God chose Abraham out of all the human race and made of him the nation of Israel to be a kingdom of priests to eventually evangelize all of mankind when their Messiah sets up His kingdom. When their Messiah, Jesus Christ, came, He plainly told the twelve apostles that He was going to be killed and rise from the dead. But this was hidden from them by God, and they could not understand. The many Jews, who did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, crucified Him, and He was buried, and He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. But the offer for Israel to receive their Messiah and kingdom remained open for a while longer if they would only believe that He was who He said He was. The twelve apostles led by Peter, preached the gospel of the kingdom to Israel, that Israel should believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, repent, and be baptized with water. If they all did this, then Jesus Christ would return and bring in the kingdom just as the Old Testament prophets had foretold. There was nothing in Peter’s message about departing from the law of Moses, to which the believing Jews adhered. Peter presented them the offer of the kingdom in the early chapters of Acts. But many in Israel still did not believe and rejected the ascended Lord Jesus Christ. But when Christ returns and purges the unbelieving two thirds (Zechariah 13:8-9), the remaining one third will all accept Him as their Messiah.
When they rejected the ascended Lord in the early chapters of Acts, God called Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Up until that time, God had been dealing only with Israel, with just a few exceptions. Our ascended Lord Jesus Christ committed unto Paul the dispensation of the grace of God which had always been a secret hidden by God. This was a new program with new doctrine which God would show to Paul through many revelations. Paul was shown that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ had been the perfect sacrifice that paid for all of our sin, and that He had been raised from the dead for our justification. This is the gospel of grace, the gospel of our salvation today, which had before been a mystery, hidden by God. Under this present dispensation, we are saved by grace, through faith in the gospel alone, apart from the law of Moses or any other works. Even though Peter and Paul preached different gospels, there is no conflict between them because they dispensed their gospels to two separate audiences. So they were both correct. Peter preached kingdom doctrine to the Jews in the land of Israel, but Paul preached grace doctrine to the Gentiles in other countries and to the Jews scattered among them. When the destruction of the city Jerusalem and the temple came in 70 AD, the kingdom dispensation for Israel was put on hold, until it resumes in the future tribulation. But the grace doctrine for Jew and Gentile alike found in Paul’s letters of Romans-Philemon are directly applicable for the church today.