TODAY’S READING: ACTS 8-10
The transition from Israel to the Gentiles (chapter 8); the salvation of the missionary to the Gentiles (chapter 9); the transition to the Gentiles confirmed by apostolic authority (chapter 10).
HIGHLIGHTS & INSIGHTS:
Thus far we have seen that Acts 1-7 is exclusively Jewish because God is still offering the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven to the Nation of Israel. The all-important question of Acts 1:6: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” has been answered with a resounding “No”. This “no” was effectively communicated through the stoning of Stephen and the fact that Jesus went from STANDING in Acts 7:56 to being SEATED in Colossians 3:1. The Nation of Israel has clearly rejected the offer of both their Messiah and His kingdom: the literal, physical, earthly kingdom of heaven. God’s plan for Israel has been postponed and the “parenthesis” of the Church Age is beginning. The stoning of Stephen led to a “great persecution” against the believers in Jerusalem and many of them fled Jerusalem and began preaching the gospel “abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria” (8:1c). God uses persecution to accomplish His own mission of sending witnesses t!
o “all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Acts chapter 8 marks the beginning of the transition from God accomplishing His plan through the Nation of Israel to the accomplishment of His plan through a body of people called the Church, which is composed of both Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22). Notice how orderly God makes the transition from Israel to the Church: first, believers witness in “all Judaea” (8:1c); next, Philip, the deacon mentioned in Acts 6:5 and called “the evangelist” in Acts 21:8, preaches the kingdom of God (the spiritual kingdom that resides inside of a believer) to “the Samaritans” who are half-Jew and half-Gentile (8:1c); and finally, “the uttermost” as Philip preaches to a full-blooded Gentile on his way home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (8:27,28). You may have noticed that God withheld the gift of the Holy Ghost from the Samaritans until Peter and John arrived in Samaria (8:14-17). This was done for two reasons: 1) To prove to the apostles in Jerusalem that the Samaritans had truly r!
eceived the Word of God and 2) To prove to the Samaritans that the apostles in Jerusalem were God’s ordained authorities.
Acts 1-6 have been dominated by the Apostle Peter because he is the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7, 8). However, a new character, Paul, enters the picture in chapter 9. We are first introduced to Paul in Acts 7:58 where he is called by his birth name, Saul (Acts 13:9). Paul, by his own admission, is the chief persecutor of the church: “[I breathed] out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) and “imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed” (Acts 22:19) and “was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious” (I Timothy 1:13). Sounds like a really attractive guy! Funny thing is, Paul was one of the most religious men on earth: “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness wh!
ich is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).
Oddly enough, religion is the most destructive enemy of God. It was the religious (the Jewish council) who crucified our Lord, it was the religious (the Jewish council) who stoned Stephen and it was a religious leader (Paul) who was the most destructive force against the church. But consider the rest of Paul’s testimony: “[I] was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that 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” (I Timothy 1:13-16). What a radical transformation! God can save and transform anyone! Paul goes from being the chie!
f misery of the church to the chief missionary of the church. Paul was specifically saved to be a missionary to the Gentiles: “[Paul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (9:15). From this chapter forward, Peter’s role as the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7, 8) diminishes while Paul’s role as the Apostle to the Gentiles increases. In fact, Peter’s name is mentioned only one time after Acts 13 while Paul’s is mentioned 129 times.
Acts chapter 10 continues the transition from Israel to the Church with Peter, the apostle to the Jews, reluctantly preaching to a family of Gentiles. Notice that the heavens open again (10:11), but rather than Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56), a vessel of unclean animals descends and Peter is instructed to kill and eat them. According to Old Testament law (Lev. 20:25; Deut. 14:1-29), Jews were to avoid eating certain kinds of animals; these animals were called “unclean”. So Peter, being a devout Jewish believer in Christ, refuses God’s offer to eat the unclean animals. Pay particular attention to God’s response to Peter: “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (10:15). God is trying to let Peter know that He is transitioning from Israel to the Church by using unclean animals as a metaphor for Gentiles. In effect, God is saying, “No longer consider the Gentiles as unworthy of salvation because I am about to grant them eternal life.!
” But Peter has a hard time accepting the fact that God will save Gentiles. You might call him an “unbelieving Jew”. Soon, Peter finds himself preaching to a family of Gentiles who suddenly begin speaking in tongues. Remember: Jews require a sign (I Corinthians 1:22) and tongues are a sign for unbelieving Jews (I Corinthians 14:22). These Gentiles spoke with tongues as a sign to Peter, who in this context is a Jew who doesn’t believe that God will save Gentiles. Once the other eleven Apostles in Jerusalem catch wind of this “casting of pearls before swine,” Peter is called to answer for this blatantly disobedient act of preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3). As Peter begins to defend himself, the most convincing evidence he offers to the Jewish Apostles is the sign of tongues (Acts 11:15-18). By the end of the meeting, the Jewish church in Jerusalem declares: “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). The transition from Israel!
to the Church is almost complete.
Let’s briefly summarize the transitions that we have discovered:
Acts 1-6 – God is offering the King and the kingdom of heaven to the Nation of Israel.
Acts 7 – Israel rejects the King and the kingdom of heaven for the third time.
Acts 8 – God makes an orderly transition from Jews to Samaritans to Gentiles.
Acts 9 – The transition from Peter, the apostle to the Jews, to Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.
Acts 10 – God’s transition to the Gentiles is confirmed by the apostolic authority of Peter.