|THE ELEVEN, INCLUDING PETER||MATTHIAS|
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Peter standing up with the eleven (Acts 2:14).
|THE ELEVEN, INCLUDING MATTHIAS||PETER|
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Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples (Acts 6:2).
|THE TWELVE, INCLUDING PETER AND MATTHIAS||PAUL|
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He was seen of the twelve after that he was seen of all the apostles [i.e., of the twelve again]. And last of all He was seen of me also (1 Cor.15:5,7,8)
|THE TWELVE, INCLUDING BOTH PETER AND MATTHIAS||PAUL|
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And how could the twelve be witnesses of our Lord prior to His ascension when there were only eleven apostles at that time? The answer is simple: Matthias was there. So was Barsabas. Both of them were qualified, inasfar as they had both been with the Lord Jesus beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us (Acts 1:22), but both were not needed. First Corinthians was written many years after the choosing of Matthias; and all those who were the ultimate twelve saw and became witnesses of the risen Lord. Paul could not possibly have been one of the twelve; for he had not been with Jesus during His earthly ministry. The ministry of the twelve was to the twelve tribes. There was nothing done by them outside the favored nation except among proselytes, and only very gingerly with them. Furthermore, as Peters ministry declines, Pauls increases.
The small group of believers in the Messiahship of Jesus did not have long to wait from the time of their Masters ascension till they received power for witnessing by means of miraculous gifts. Pentecost came, and the near to one hundred twenty believers who had been meeting, regularly for prayer were all, men and women, filled with holy spirit, and began to speak with tongues as the spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4).
The witness which was to be borne, beginning at Jerusalem, was a message similar to that which Jesus and His apostles had preached, as far as it touched the kingdomrepentance, baptism, and the Messiahship of Jesus; but it was now to be augmented by testimony as to His resurrection and ascension to glory at Gods right hand. This resurrection and glorification was a proof of the righteousness at once of His claims and of His conduct (John 16:10); for if He had been an imposter He would have been neither raised nor exalted to Gods right hand.
The pentecostal message of Peter (starting the third-hour work of the parable of the vineyard laborers or of the pennyActs 2:15) was to the men of Judea and all that dwelt at Jerusalem (Acts 2:14). If we take it away from there and force it into or onto Gentiles, we do so with certain confusion of truth. Joel was quoted (Joel 2:28-32) to show that such signs and wonders could be expected as preceding the great and notable day of the Lord. Men and women of all sorts and conditions of life were to be endued with the spirit of prophecy and of visions and of dreams and of utterance; whereas these gifts had been rare before.
The fact that the earthly kingdom was prominent in the message, as well as in the minds of the believers (Acts 1:6), is shown by an early, almost immediate, reference to the throne covenant with David (Acts 2:30). There are three unconditional covenants, none of them fulfilled: that with David, regarding a descendant to sit upon his thronethe heir is apparent but not reigning(Jer.33:17-21); that with Abraham, regarding the land of Canaan (Gen.17:8; 28:13); and thatimpliedly at leastwith Adam about filling the earth and having dominion over every living thing that is in the earth (Gen.1:28). All of these find fulfillment in Christ. He is the King over Israel, the Allottee of the Land, and the One who has been set over the works of Gods hands (Heb.2:7,8), the Lord of Earth. But here (Acts 2:30) the talk is of Israel.
Peter is speaking about the King and the kingdom as one in whom hope had been reborn by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). The little group of believers had trusted that it had been He that would deliver Israel (Luke 24:21). But when their Lord died, in ignominy and shame, their hope died too. Now He was alive, and hope was reengendered. Would He on the day of firstfruits save them as the firstfruit of the nation, restore the kingdom again to Israel, give them the kingly powers promised? The answer depended on the conduct of the nation to its King, on the way the haughty divorcee received the reoffer of marriage.
The apostles and other disciples were visited with the powers of the age to come (Heb.6:5), the enduements of the Millennial age, shown in the healing of the lame man who leaped as an hart, and in the destruction of Ananias and Sapphire, in line with the Psalm which promised:
He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house:
He that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before
Morning by morning will I destroy all the wicked of the land,
To cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of
Where are the healing, the flawless discerning judgment, the summary punishment, which were wielded by Peter? Of the judgment and punishment there is certainly none; and such healing as there may be is no more like the grand witness of Christly powers there given than a babys rattle is like a kingly scepter.
The outcome of the pentecostal preaching was that three thousand more Jews were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, were baptized, and continued in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in breaking of bread and prayers. All the believers, looking for the establishment of the Messianic kingdom, were accustomed to meet for prayer in the temple. There was no disposition then or ever (Acts 21:20) to quit the Jewish method of worship or to cease being Jews.
The selling of their possessions, of better acquisitions, was not a mistake. So far from being a mistake, it was an evidence of the believers faith in the proximity of the kingdom. It was not their tribal and family allotments which were sold and which constituted the basis of their subsistence, their living; but it was their freeholds, their superfluous property, acquired over and above what had been given them according to the law. It was an evidence that they were seeking God and His righteousness, rather than the Mammon of the world. They knew that all such titles would be abrogated with the establishment of the kingdom and the reallotment of the land; so they were willing rather to use the price of their acquired holdings to the good of all.
We can neither throw the body of Christ back into those conditions on the one hand, nor drag those conditions forward into the present, on the other.
Some time after pentecost, we are not told just how long, Peter and John were going into the temple at the hour of afternoon prayers. On the way in Peter healed a man with congenital malformation of the feet and ankles. The marvel so attracted the crowd of other Jewish worshippers that Peter declaimed to them, under the guidance of the holy spirit. He laid at the door of the people the guilt for the murder of their King, the spurning of their espoused Lover, the Prince of Life; but assured them that He was raised out from among the dead and that it was He who had performed the miracle on the lame man.
Thus he brings home to them the message of repentance, urging them to acknowledge their faithlessness against their Husband-Lover, to reconsider, to confess their sin and to turn from it by letting the world know that He whom they had despised and rejected was their true King. If they did so, He would come and vindicate them before the nations, their sins having been blotted out, and send seasons of refreshing from Gods favoring face,* so long and justly averted. Jesus Christ would be sent to them again, as the most marked evidence of divine mercy and favor, the same One who had been preached before to them, not only during our Lords earthly ministry, but also through the prophets of old.
* The word which in the Common Version is rendered presence is not that which refers to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The reference is not to Christ, who is brought into the matter in the next clause, but to the Father. The word is not parousia, presence, but prosopon, countenance, as in Acts 6:15; 20:25; etc.
And why had this One not come before, if He loved the nation so ardently? The answer is: the times and seasons God kept in His own power, because some phases of the times had been made dependent on the conduct of Israel. Nothing they could do would ever affect His purposes or His success in them, but the time for things might be altered somewhat. In any case, it had been long before determined that the Kingly presence should be withdrawn during the times of the Gentiles, but when those times would end, when the holy city should cease to sense the sovereign tread of the stranger, that was not revealed. But this official proclamation by Gods official spokesman informs us that those times would have been terminated by the royal presence of the Anointed, if the people had reconsidered and reversed their attitude toward Gods providence.
The restoration of all which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from the age must not be wrenched from its moorings by any high tide of sentiment or prejudice. In no case could the prophets referred to go back of the flood, where the present wicked age, or eon, began (Luke 1:70). We are not told that all the prophetic utterances from the flood on are recorded in holy writ. But the prophets who bear testimony along this line are specified; so there is no need or room for human guessing. Moses is first quoted, and here, as generally, he is separated from the main body of the prophets, because he had a more exalted office in addition to the prophetic one. At all events, Moses heads the list; then all the prophets from Samuel follow. They were the ones who spoke particularly about the restoration of kingly honors, privileges, and splendors, because nearly all of them followed the decline of the kingdom, and some of them its fall.
Moses (Deut.18:15) was brought into witness, as being the one upon whom the Jews prided themselves as building; and he condemned them outright. There was no escape from the meaning of the words. There was the Law about which they prated so much. But God was showing them mercy. Saul of Tarsus was also condemned by that pointed statement. Yet God not only showed him mercy, but much more, grace. He not only did not visit him with all the punishment which there was just reason to expect, but He heaped on him boons and bounties for which there was no ground for expectation in law.
Mind, the whole discourse was to and concerning Jews. The restoration does not hark back to Adam, but to the Jewish kingdom in and over the earth. To be sure, even waste places and wildernesses adjacent to Mount Zion will become like Eden, the garden of the Lord, and stupendous political and religious changes will take place after the time of Messiahs inauguration, but we must not attribute to the Millennial reign of Christ any more than the Scriptures attribute to it. To do so would be to add to the Word of God.
The Jews only were the children of the prophets, and only Jews and proselytes are ever children of the covenant which God made with Abraham, saying, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed (Acts 3:25).
What! Is not the body of Christ now blessed under the terms of that covenant? Absolutely not. Believers were blessed under it during the Acts period, but now, after Acts 28, they are in a still more basic and comprehensive relationship to God as His children. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy know nothing of Abraham. The kind of blessing under the Abrahamic promise is specified as turning every one of you from his iniquities. The blessing of body believers goes far beyond that.
The times of restoration alludes to redemption under the law, but brought in real perfection and grandeur with Messiahs reign, when He as the Kinsman Redeemer will redeem His enslaved and disinherited people. So, in talking to these Israelites about seasons of restoration it must be noted that not one word is said by Peter about the present dispensation of grace and the body of Christ, with its celestial destiny and setting. If pentecost marked the beginning of the church as we know it, is it not strange that there is not only nothing to identify such beginning, but everything to separate the activities of that time from the things which are promised us in the prison epistles of Paul?
But the official reoffer of the kingdom to the nation of Israel as such came the next day, as a sequel to the arrest of Peter and John by the priests and officers of the sanctuary and the Sadducees who were vexed by what Peter had said, and probably still more so because of the five thousand who believed his teaching. When the two apostles were brought before the governing body of Israel, would that group of functionaries, softened by a sense of their guilt in killing the Prince of Life, grasp eagerly at the opportunity for mercy, and cooperate in the great missionary activities of Matthew 24:14 and 28:19,20? This was one of the pathetic hours of Israels history. They stood on the threshold of the kingdom. Would they scorn the liberation from Rome and disdain the long-promised sovereignty to which their repentance would be the password? It seems impossible that they would; but they did: and brought upon the nation an age-long condemnation.
What was it that stood in the way of their acceptance? Religion.
Their heart shelves were all stocked up with an array of goods that looked pleasing and sufficient to them. Like the Inn, there was no room for the Son of Glory. The name which had healed the lame man, the only name by which they could be saved, was the very name in which the rulers charged the apostles not to speak (Acts 4:10,12,17).
Was there adultery in all this? Yes; for Peter and John were led to a quotation of the second Psalm, in which it is prophesied that the Gentile powers would be joined and supported by the people, the people of Israel. This oneness of purpose as between Gentile power and Gods previously divorced people, but now being wooed as a bride for remarriage, constituted conspiracy against the One to whom she rightly belonged. She had larger eyes for the stranger than for her true Lover.
Yet vast multitudes believed; and the rest were becoming affrighted. At least three times (Acts 4:9-12; 5:29-32; 6:12-7:60) did the Sanhedrin hear the message, preceded by two addresses to the people (Acts 2:14-36; 3:12-26). About the worst thing that could be said about the believers was that the things they taught had a tendency to change the customs which Moses delivered them (Acts 6:14). Those Jews were fierce channelites, more interested in the channel than they were in the Source of blessings; more intent on the tools than on the Worker.
Moses had told them that a time would come when they should hearken not to him, but to the great Prophet who should be raised up like unto him; and that if then they listened to Moses rather than to the Messiah there would be dire consequences. The truth was, they listened to Moses when it was flattering to themselves or convenient to do so; otherwise they sidestepped the issue. Rather than change their customs they were willing to add murder to murder. The same class had before accused our Lord that His disciples transgressed the traditions of the elders (Matt.15:2), but did not mind at all when they themselves made void the commandments of God by their traditions.
Time passed and Stephen was arrested.
The glory of God that had once shone in the most holy of the temple, that had shone in the face of Jesus Christ (Matt.17:2; 2 Cor.4:6), now shone in some measure in the face of Stephen as he was filled with wisdom and with the spirit before his accusers. But Stephen, the seeming defendant--like Peter before--turned prosecuting attorney and grand jury, and indicted the judges. Those judges were always clashing with the holy spirit. Their self-consciousness was vastly stronger than their God-consciousness.
The conduct of Peter and John and Stephen in these matters is no model for us. It was the right thing then. It would be the wrong thing now, for we live in a different dispensation. These had miraculous powers, the powers of the age to come. We have no such powers whatever, and are strictly commanded to be subject to the powers that be. As long as the powers be we are to be subject to them. When the hour comes for the termination of Gentile times the Messiah will end them without the least trouble or doubt, regardless of our theories, assumptions, deductions, or inductions.
Chapter eight tells us of the reaching of a son of Ham with the Messianic message. This Ethiopian was a proselyte, probably of righteousness, but, if not, then certainly of the gate,*
* Some understanding of the distinctions and differences between the various classes involved in the Acts history is almost necessary to a correct following of the text. First, it must be borne in mind that the stage is Jewish and the chief actors such. But others frequently pass across the boards. The factors in the drama, or dramatis personas, are about as follows:
The Hebraists, called Hebrews as a rule in all versions, were no more Israelite than the Hellenists, who are rather confusingly called Grecians in the Common Version. The Hebraists were those Israelites who, for the most part, had continued to live in the land and who without exception were very punctilious about ritual and who conducted their synagogue services in the Hebrew tongue, or, at least, had the Scriptures read in that language. It is this last fact that gives rise to the term Hebrews, or Hebraists. Being more zealous in these matters they were, naturally, the more zealous in missionary work; so that such Gentiles as were brought into Judaism by circumcision were pretty sure to be aligned with the more strait-laced group. The book of Hebrews was written to and concerning such part of this class as believed in Jesus as the nations Messiah.
The Hellenists were Israelites who lived, for the most part, outside the land of Israel, whose observance of the traditional ritual was more lax (necessitated in some degree by their absence from the temple and the city of worship) and whose synagogue readings were in Greek. Mark, all the Jews spoke Greek in daily converse, as did nearly everyone else, but the distinction was in the matter of worship (Acts 9:29; 11:20). There were also Hellenists in Jerusalem, made up of those who had been removed from the land by military force and later allowed to return and of those who had lived in Gentile countries on commercial ventures and then returned to the land. There were believers in the Messiahship of Jesus in both of these groups, as shown by Acts 6:1. And the non-believers in both groups persecuted the believers (Acts 6:9), but the believers in no case ceased to be Jews because of their belief. As well claim that a youth has ceased to be a human being because he has arrived at manhood as to claim that a Jew ceased to be such because he had accepted that which centuries of prophecy had taught him was coming.
Proselytes who were circumcised came fully into the Jewish fold and religiously and socially had equal standing with the bloodborn Israelite. But there was a considerable fringe of believers in Yahweh as the true God and worshipers of Him by prayer and alms, who never took the step of identifying themselves with the chosen nation, possibly because they saw so much hypocrisy in it. These were called by the Jews proselytes of the gate; that is, they could stand outside and worship God but could not come into the inner circle of the congregation. In Gentile countries the synagogues sometimes, even usually, had galleries or side compartments where these devout people could sit without defiling the ecclesiastical blue-bloods. In Acts such people are mentioned as devout and God-fearing (Acts 10:2), worshipful, not toward the creature but toward the Creator (Acts 13:43,50; 16:14; 17:4,17; 18:4,7); and as respects God-fearing Gentiles see Acts 10:2,22,35; 13:16,26.
The Greeks were the cultured among the nations and are usually separated from them because, while not bound so tightly with the ties of religion as the Jews, they were bound by human philosophies which quite as effectively closed their minds to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus (1 Cor.1:22,23). Considerable confusion is wrought in the common or King James version of the Bible by translating the Greek word sometimes by Greeks and sometimes by Gentiles.
Chapter ten describes the conversion of Cornelius. And there is probably no part of Acts, unless it be the third chapter, which is more pulled and hauled to fit theories than this chapter. It does not describe the conversion of the first Gentileborn (for that, as far as we are told, was the Ethiopian), but it does describe the opening of the kingdom witness and the bestowing of the kingdom signs on the first of the Japhetic branch of Noahs progeny. Shem and Ham were already blessed.
Cornelius was a devout and God-fearing man; and from the foregoing footnote it will be seen that these expressions signify him to be a worshiper of Yahweh, a proselyte of the gate, but who had no social standing with the Jews. The Jew would not enter the house of such a proselyte any more than he would that of an unbelieving Gentile (Acts 10:28; 11:3).
To Peter praying on the housetop in Joppa at the sixth hour of the day came a vision, and to Cornelius, a habitual prayer, in harmony with 1 Kings 8:41-43, came another vision about the ninth hour. The sixth and ninth hour contingents in the parable of the penny are about to come in. It was a new work for both Peter and Cornelius. Peter, staunch ritualist that he was, demurred when he was told in his trance to kill and eat things previously forbidden by the Law. But the three dips of the sheet and then the three men at the gate convinced Peter that the time had come when something was to be done for the third son of Noah, the start of the third group of vineyard laborers.
The apostle hurried up from Joppa to Caesarea and preached to Cornelius and his household the kind of evangel which had been proclaimed by the Lord Jesus from the time of Johns baptism to the day of his ascension (Acts 10:34-43). There is no celestial destiny involved here, for either believing Jew or believing Gentile. The destiny remains exactly what it was in the Old Covenant days and in the Gospels of the Greek Scriptures, namely, on the earth. And while believing Gentiles, either before or after the present dispensation, are to have an entrance into the kingdom (Matt.25:34-36), they will always be subject to the Jews. On the earth the Gentile is always subject, feeding the flocks, plowing the fields, and tending the vineyards which will flourish on the Jewish allotments, that the Jewish people may be given wholly to the work of priesthood (Isa. 61:5,6).
Peters statement that God is not a respecter of persons must not be made to say more than it does say. There was no respect of persons in the matter of acceptability. There are distinctions in the matter of destiny. The very fact that Cornelius, godly man that he was, had to wait for a Jew to come and minister to him before he was given the special favors of the time is in itself a proof that he was subservient to Israel. Cornelius was already cleansed, as shown by the vision to Peter (Acts 10:15). His acceptance by God was on a basis of fear and righteous works, like the sheep nations of Matthew 25:34. Our acceptance is not of works (Rom.11:6; Eph.2:8,9). But then fear of God and righteous acts took the place of Moses. They gave the devout Gentile the same standing before God as the devout Jew. But both needed Christ (Acts 11:14), and to both Peter preached, not mentioning repentance; for none was needed, any more than by the devout Jews on the day of pentecost. Cornelius blessing depends on the establishment of the heavenly sovereignty in the earth, Messiahs kingdom. Our blessing comes in spite of and because of the failure of the nation of Israel to accept its King and His kingdom.
Peter, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, was not subject to the brethren at Jerusalem; yet when they heard that he had eaten with Gentiles they took him sorely to task (Acts 11:2,3). Thus they paved the way for their own apostasy and proceeded to tread it assiduously. Even the believers in Israelmost of thembecame apostate. They called Jesus Lord, Lord; but did not the things which he said. They were unwilling to accept the divine leadings and become the channel of blessing to the Gentiles unless those Gentiles first became Mosaists and afterward Messiah-ites. They made void the commandments of God by their traditions; for there was no Mosaic law forbidding social intercourse between Jew and Gentile.
Fredrik Homer Robison
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