TODAY’S READING: ACTS 1-4
The messengers of the kingdom prepared (chapter 1); the offer of the kingdom of heaven to the Nation of Israel (chapter 2); a second offer of the kingdom of heaven to the Nation of Israel (chapters 3,4).
HIGHLIGHTS & INSIGHTS:
Author: Luke, the physician (Col. 4:14) and author of the gospel of Luke (compare Acts 1:1 with Luke 1:1-4). Luke was a Gentile and traveling companion of Paul as indicated by the word “we” when found in appropriated passages of the Book of Acts (16:10-13, 16; 20:6,13-15, etc.) Approximate date of writing: 59-65 AD Dates of the recorded events: 33-62 AD
Theme: God’s plan for Israel postponed and the revelation of the Church.
Christ is seen as: our Great High Priest ministering in the heavens (Hebrews 4:14-16) Key verses: Acts 1:6, 7 Key chapters: 7-13
As we discussed in our introduction to the Book of Matthew, there are four Books of the Bible where you can lose your way if you don’t keep your compass pointed at the “ancient landmark” of the Nation of Israel (Prov. 22:28; 23:10): Matthew, Acts, Hebrews and James. It’s not difficult to navigate your way through the Book of Acts if you keep the following trail markers in mind.
1. This Book is called “The Acts of the Apostles,” NOT “The Doctrine (or Teaching) of the Apostles”. The Book of “Acts” is the historical record of the ACTIONS of the Apostles; it’s the story of what happened. It could be illustrated like this: suppose a sports writer observes you sink a hole in one after the ball slices, skims across the water, bounces between a couple of trees, and hits a bird flying directly over the hole and then drops straight in the hole. Now suppose the writer recounts that event in a chapter of “Golf For Dummies” and entitles it: “Making a Hole in One Step-By-Step”. That’s ridiculous! Your hole in one is what happened, but it’s not the rule for every golfer! Likewise, Acts does not establish the rule of faith, experience, and doctrine for every Christian. Otherwise, every Christian would have to sell everything and move to Jerusalem (2:44-47) and after a short time, most, if not all Christians would be dead for lying to the Holy Spirit (5:1-1!
1). The most consistent thing about the book of Acts is its inconsistency.
2. The key verses of the Book are Acts 1:6 and 7: “. . . [the Apostles] asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And [Jesus] said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” The literal earthly kingdom (the kingdom of heaven) and the King of that kingdom (Jesus Christ the Messiah) are still being offered to the nation of Israel. The Apostles’ minds are focused on one thing and one thing only: the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His kingdom on earth. Jesus’ answer in modern vernacular is: “For now, it’s none of your business.” Based upon that answer, the Apostles assumed that Christ would return within days. However, by the time Paul writes his first letter to the Thessalonians in 54 AD it is clear that the question has been answered: compare Acts 1:7 where Jesus says “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons,” and I Thess. 5:1, 2 wher!
e Paul says, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye . . . know perfectly . . .” Clearly, a transition has been made from not knowing to knowing perfectly. As you will see, the Apostles’ question is finally answered in Acts 7 after the nation of Israel has rejected the offer of the kingdom for the third time. This brings us to our third trail marker.
3. Acts is a transitional book: a bridge that carries us from one dispensation to a new dispensation, the Church Age. We are currently living in the Church Age. Acts is the record of God’s transition from accomplishing His plan through the nation of Israel to accomplishing His plan through the Church. God’s change in plans is made obvious through seven transitions and three key events.
Transition #1: from the ministry of Jesus Christ to the ministry of the Holy Spirit – (1:2)
Transition #2: from “disciples” to “apostles” – (1:2)
Key Event #1: the nation of Israel’s final rejection of the kingdom of heaven – (Acts 7)
Transition #3: from the nation of Israel to the Samaritans (a race of half Jew and half Gentile) – (8:1-5)
Transition #4: from the nation of Israel to the Church (a group composed of Jews and Gentiles) – (8:26-11:18)
Transition #5: from the preaching of the kingdom of heaven (the literal earthly kingdom offered to the nation of Israel) to the preaching of the kingdom of God (the unseen spiritual kingdom inside of individual believers) – (8:12)
Key Event #2: the salvation of the Gentile, Cornelius, and the determination by the Apostles that God is no longer dealing exclusively with the Jews, but has now taken salvation to the Gentiles – (11:18)
Key Event #3: the execution of the Apostle James, the decision not to replace him, and Peter’s departure to Caeserea – (12:1, 2, 19)
Transition #6: from Peter, the Apostle to the Jews, to Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles –(9:1-13:1)
Transition #7: from Jerusalem to Antioch – (11:26 -13:1)
It is important to understand that the transition from Israel to the Church and the Church Age were “mysteries,” or truths that were hidden from the twelve Apostles (see Rom. 11:25; Eph. 3:1-12; 2:11-22). The Twelve believed that God dealt exclusively with the Nation of Israel (Matt. 10:5-7), and in their ethnocentric opinions, the Gentiles were pagan heathens unworthy to receive anything from God (Acts 11:1-3). Like Christopher Columbus who thought he had landed in Asia, but had actually landed in the Caribbean, the Apostles thought they were going to land in the millennial reign of Christ, but actually ended up in the Church Age. Needless to say, their journey was full of surprises!
4. Jews require a sign. The signs and wonders done by Jesus and the Apostles were designed to prove to Israel that the message and the messengers were sent by God. God makes this explicitly clear in I Cor. 1:22: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom”. Miraculous healings and speaking in tongues were signs for the nation of Israel. I Cor. 14:22 says, “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not”. Tongues were a sign given to unbelieving Jews and every time tongues occurs in the Bible, which is only three times (Acts 2, 10, 19), an unbelieving Jew is present to witness the sign. The reason that Apostolic healings and speaking in tongues do not occur today is because God has postponed His dealings with Israel. Romans 11:25 makes this very clear: “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 Isra!
el, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” God has temporarily blinded Israel and is currently working exclusively through the Church.
With these four trail markers at the forefront of our minds, let’s take a look at some highlights in chapters 1-4.
Acts 2. This chapter is a vortex of doctrinal error in contemporary Christianity. This is where the modern day Pentecostal and Charismatic churches (speaking in tongues, baptism in the Holy Spirit) and the Church of Christ and the Christian Church (water baptism is essential for salvation) lose the ancient landmark, Israel. If you keep your eye on the landmark and pay attention to the context, this chapter is easily understood. Here’s the context in one sentence: Jews from all over the world (2:5-11) came to Jerusalem (the holiest city of the Jews) to celebrate Pentecost (a Jewish holiday, 2:1) where they saw the sign of tongues (Jews require a sign) and heard a Jewish Apostle (Peter) tell them that just fifty days prior, they had killed their Jewish Messiah (2:22-24,36) and that they needed to do exactly what John the Baptist (the last Jewish prophet) and Jesus told them to do in the Gospels (repent and be water baptized for the remission of sins, Matt. 3:1,2; Luke 3:3;!
Matt. 4:17; John 3:22,23; 4:1,2) to prepare themselves for the soon coming kingdom of heaven. I think you’ve got the point: this passage deals exclusively with the nation of Israel. So unless you’re a Jew living in 33 A.D., there’s no need for you to speak with tongues, and water baptism does not save you from your sins.
Acts 3. Again we see from the context that God is dealing exclusively with the nation of Israel. Note that Peter and John (Jewish Apostles) are on their way to the temple (the Jewish place of worship) at the hour of prayer (Jews prayed three times a day) and Peter performs a miracle (Jews require a sign) and upon seeing the crowd gathering (other Jews at the temple to pray), Peter tells them that they killed the Jewish Messiah (3:13-16), but if they repented, then Jesus would return to establish His literal earthly kingdom (3:19-21). Any questions? Peter is offering Israel a second chance to accept Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah, and prepare themselves for the coming of His literal earthly kingdom.