The next few posts will present an excellent overview of the book of Acts, written by Don K. Preston. This overview demonstrates that, throughout the book of Acts, “the hope of Israel” and “the restoration of Israel” are shown to be fulfilled in Christ. Preston’s commentary is part of the “Fulfilled Covenant Bible” project, and can be accessed at the “Bible Prophecy Fulfilled” site run by Mike Day, Gary and Audrey Parrish, Terry Kashian, and Lahaina Dave.
Introduction to Acts and the Restoration of Israel (by Don Preston)
Commentators have long perplexed about Luke’s purpose in writing the book of Acts. Conzelmann said it was to chronicle the establishment of the church as a long-term entity in light of the failed parousia. In fact, many commentators see Acts as almost an apology on Luke’s part for a failed eschatology. The church has now been established only because Christ has not come!
Others say it is to tell the story of the work of the Spirit. Some commentators, not necessarily agreeing with the failed eschatology view, nonetheless tell us that Acts is about the establishment of the church, now that Israel has rejected her Messiah. There are shades of this view, including the dispensational view that sees Acts as unrelated to the fulfillment of God’s Old Covenant promises made to Israel.
Few commentators see Acts as the story of the restoration of Israel as foretold by the prophets. It is refreshing and exciting to know that this is changing. A growing number of scholars now see Acts as the story of fulfillment, not failure, on the part of God and Israel. In what follows, I hope to convey the reality that Acts is about the restoration of Israel. It is about the fulfillment of God’s promises to her, as interpreted through the Spirit-inspired author.
What I will present is not exhaustive by any means. In fact, I will only be able to hit some highlights. However, I hope to present enough evidence to convince the reader to pursue this theme further. I have produced a 52-lesson series in MP3 format that covers more of the marvelous insights that Luke offers us into the hope of Israel; available at www.eschatology.org.
Acts 1:4–6; Jesus showed Himself alive for 40 days, teaching His disciples about the kingdom. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate that Luke was about to embark on a discussion of the fulfillment of Israel’s promises than this. During His ministry, Jesus focused on the promises of Israel: He came to “seek and to save the lost,” a referent to the lost of Israel.
The kingdom was the heart and core of God’s promises to Israel (2 Samuel 7:13-14). It was the focus of the prophets of Israel (Isaiah 2-4; Ezekiel 37, etc.). Thus, Acts 1:4 “set the tone” for the rest of the book. The kingdom message is continued in Acts 8, 14, 19, 20, and 28 as well. This makes it clear that Luke never abandons the subject. Acts is about the hope of Israel. While most commentators claim that the disciples still misunderstood Jesus and the kingdom, this is patently false. Jesus had opened the minds of His disciples to understand the scriptures (Luke 24:25-27). Thus, the disciples were simply asking about the time of the fulfillment of what Jesus had been instructing them about. Jesus did not chide the disciples for their “ignorance” or failure to understand. Instead, He told them to “go into the city and wait” for the promise of the Spirit. The promise of the Spirit was itself an OT promise to Israel and for Israel, to raise her from the dead, restore her to God’s presence, and result in the offer of salvation to the nations (Isaiah 32;49; Ezekiel 37; Joel 2-3).
The disciples remembered the ministry of John the Immerser when Jesus mentioned the promise of the Spirit. The relationship between John, the promise of the Spirit and the kingdom cannot be missed. John proclaimed, “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of heaven has drawn near” (Matthew 3; Mark 1). He likewise promised that the Messiah would baptize them “in the Spirit and with fire,” echoing Isaiah 4:4, and Joel 2.
The imminence of the kingdom – the fulfillment of John and Jesus’ message – is strongly indicated in the link between the promise of the Spirit and the fact that Jesus told His disciples to go into the city and to wait for the Spirit. Since the outpouring of the Spirit and the establishment of the kingdom are inseparably connected, this tells us that the restoration of Israel was truly near. It cannot be imagined that the disciples divorced the promise of the imminent reception of the Spirit from the kingdom promises.
You Are My Witnesses– The Creation (Re-Creation) of Israel
After promising the Spirit to the disciples, Jesus immediately told them they would be His witnesses. This is a direct echo of Isaiah 43:10 and this, like Jesus’ 40 day instructions concerning the kingdom, is strongly suggestive that the restoration of Israel, an Israel now identified by her connection to Jesus, but Israel nonetheless, was now taking place. Isaiah 43 foretold the creation of a new people that would be YHVH’s witnesses to the nations. And now in Acts 1 we find the 12 apostles, representing the righteous remnant, being given the commission to be His witnesses to the nations.
The radical and revolutionary nature of what Isaiah 43 foretold, and what was happening in Acts, is revealed when we consider that YHVH called on Israel to not remember the former things, but to look to the “New Thing” that He would do (43:18). What is so astounding is that YHVH, in context, called on Israel to forget the first exodus! That event was the single most normative and formative event in all of Israel’s history, and yet God said the time was coming when they would need to forget that historic event and look to the greater “New Thing” that He would do. Given the indisputable fact that Acts is built around the “Second Exodus” motif, it is clear that the “New Thing” promised by YHVH in Isaiah 43 was now taking place, which meant not only that Israel was being “restored,” but that she was to forget her first beginnings and look to the last.
Isaiah 11 and a host of other Old Testament prophecies foretold that at the time of that Second Exodus the word of God would “fill the earth,” calling first of all the scattered children of Israel, and then the nations to the Lord. As Jesus told His disciples to begin their mission in Jerusalem – Zion – He said they would then go from Judea to Samaria, and from there to the uttermost parts of the earth (Greek word “ge”). They were to go to “the Jew first, and then the Greek” just as the prophets foretold.
I will not develop it here, but it is no coincidence that the events took place on Pentecost. That auspicious day was the last of the first four of Israel’s major feast days. It was sometimes called the Feast of First Fruits, and the events of that day were indeed the fulfillment of that typological feast, for on that day 3000 individuals joined themselves to the body of the New Israel, as the first fruits of the harvest (James 1:18). The re-gathering of Israel is seen in the names of the countries represented that day. All of the nations mentioned are from the nations of the diaspora, where Israel had been scattered in the previous dispersions. But now, on the day of Pentecost, representatives of the scattered tribes of Israel were in Jerusalem and the events of that day comprised fulfillment, at least initially, of the re-gathering of the diaspora.
“This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” – Acts 2:15ff
The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost was in fulfillment of Acts 1, and even more importantly, of Joel 2:28-32. Peter’s words leave no room for controversy. The events of that day were what Joel predicted: “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Words could not be clearer, more emphatic, or more undeniable. Joel foretold the consummative last days, the coming of the Day of the Lord, the salvation of the remnant and the calling of the nations. It is one of the key OT prophecies, and inextricably tied to the restoration of Israel. But, Joel was not alone in predicting the outpouring of the Spirit in the last days, for the restoration of Israel. Isaiah 32 and Ezekiel 37 and Micah 7 are but a few of the significant OT prophecies of the outpouring of the Spirit in the last days.
In fact, there is not a topic or theme that is more intensely eschatological, or more directly tied to the restoration of Israel than this subject. According to Ezekiel 37:11-14, the Spirit would be poured out to raise Israel from the dead. Thus for Peter to declare, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” cannot properly be construed as anything but a declaration that the restoration of Israel was taking place. Jesus often shocked and offended His contemporaries with His identification of the true Israel, and the nature of the restoration of Israel under His rule. Likewise, Peter’s declaration of the fulfillment of Joel and the other Spirit / Restoration promises was a radical departure from what they thought was to happen in the last days work of the Spirit. But this revolutionary identification of the true Israel and the fulfillment of Israel’s promises was just beginning in Luke’s account. There was much, much more to come.
David Is Not Ascended, But…
David was the ultimate king of Israel. Under him, Israel reached the height of her glory, putting down her enemies, reveling in the presence of God, enjoying the blessings of the Covenant. It was because of David’s accomplishments, as a man after God’s own heart, that he became known as the type of the coming of Messiah. In fact, the promises of the kingdom, and the restoration of the kingdom, are so intimately tied to David that the kingdom promises are often referred to simply as the Davidic Kingdom promises.
Peter declared on Pentecost that God had sworn to raise up the seed of David to sit on his throne. That prophecy, said Peter, spoke of the resurrection of Jesus and had now been fulfilled. Astoundingly, he noted that it was not David who had ascended into the heavens to be enthroned, but Jesus, who had now been declared as “Lord and Christ” (v.36). This was a prima facie statement that the Davidic promise of the kingdom was being fulfilled!
“Sit At My Right Hand Until I Make Thine Enemies Thy Footstool…”
The preceding point is driven home when one sees the connection between Peter’s asservation that Jesus had been given the throne of David, and this conflates with His exaltation to the right hand of the majesty on high, in fulfillment of Psalm 110. In other words, the promise of the Davidic throne and kingdom are inextricably tied to Messiah sitting at the right hand. These are not disparate motifs or promises. And here is what is so astounding. Psalm 110 is cited and quoted more times in the NT than any other OT prophecy, and without disputation is affirmed as fulfilled in Christ who was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places (cf. Ephesians 1:19f).
So, Christ’s ascension and enthronement at the right hand was the fulfillment (the initiation of fulfillment) of Psalm 110. But Psalm 110 was the promise of the exaltation of Messiah to the throne of David. Thus the exaltation of Christ to the right hand – affirmed by Peter on Pentecost – was an assertion that the Davidic kingdom was being established. But, of course, once again we see the radical and revolutionary nature of the fulfillment exposed. David’s throne was a literal, physical throne over a geo-political military kingdom, spatially confined to the land of Canaan. Messiah was to sit on the throne of David and rule over the kingdom.
But Peter affirmed through the Spirit that Jesus was now Christ (the promised Messiah) sitting on the throne of David “in the heavens,” where Psalm 110 said Messiah would sit – in David’s kingdom. Peter’s declaration meant that the very nature of the kingdom was being – had been – fundamentally transformed into a spiritual kingdom. The Old Creation, that which was to be forgotten, was now radically transformed into the New Thing which Israel was to accept.
Acts 3– The Restoration of All Things
Shortly after the auspicious events of Pentecost, Peter and John went to the temple. As they entered, we find the famous account of the healing of the lame man, and the ensuing sermon by Peter. The apostle responded to the amazement of the audience by calling on them to repent in the name (i.e. in the authority, into the name and authority) of Jesus. He urged them to repent so that God would grant them “the times of refreshing” (which is a period of respite before judgment) before the sending of Jesus from heaven. That parousia would consummate “the restoration of all things.” Nothing would communicate to a Jewish audience more convincingly, more clearly, that her cherished restoration had begun than Peter’s reference to “the restoration of all things.” Peter was clear: the restoration he was talking about was the hope and promise of all of the OT prophets, “all who have ever spoken.” And, Peter is equally emphatic, “they spoke of these days.” Likewise, the nature of that restoration is delineated in the text: God sent Jesus to bless you by taking away your sin.
Sometimes it seems as if Acts 4 is almost forgotten in discussions of eschatology and even ecclesiology. This is lamentable, for this chapter loudly proclaims that Israel’s restoration, via the long anticipated Messianic Temple, had begun.
Numerous OT prophecies spoke of the coming “Stone” which would be both the foundation of the Messianic Temple, as well as the instrument of judgment against both houses of Israel. (See my The Elements Shall Melt With Fervent Heat book for a fuller discussion of this important motif, as it is developed by Jesus, Paul and Peter in the NT.) The stunning thing that Peter does is to take Psalm 118:22, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone,” and makes it extremely personal: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the chief cornerstone” (4:11 – ESV). It could not get much more personal than that!
But, of course, what is so remarkable is that Peter takes Israel’s expectation of an end-times literal temple and says that the prophecies referred to a temple built on the person of Messiah, not literal stones. If the foundation of the anticipated Messianic Temple is the living Messiah, then surely the super structure cannot be physical stones, and this fundamentally redefines the nature of the restoration of Israel.
The Kings of the Earth Have Set Themselves… Against the Lord and Against His Anointed
Contra the modern dispensational doctrine that says the Jewish rejection of Jesus postponed the kingdom offer to Israel, the nascent church in Jerusalem led by the apostles had a totally different view of that rejection – it was foretold.
When Peter and John were released by the Sanhedrin, they went back to the congregation and reported all that had taken place. At the report, the congregation responded in unison, it seems, by singing Psalm 2:1.
What is missed so often is that not only did the Psalmist predict the rejection of Messiah, he likewise clearly stated that the rejection would not in any way thwart God’s sovereign will: “The one who sits in the heavens laughs. He will hold them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His Wrath… Yet (meaning, in spite of the rejection of Messiah, DKP) have I set My King on My holy hill.” Notice that “Yet.” It forcefully declares that man’s best (worst) efforts to delay, to alter, to postpone, to nullify God’s plans would fail. In fact, the rejection was part of God’s plan!
Acts 4 thus serves as a very powerful testimony to the ongoing restoration of Israel. Her promised Messianic Temple now had the foundation in place, and those who had rejected that Stone would, therefore, lie under the impending judgment of that rejection. Furthermore, while that rejection was initially not understood by Jesus’ disciples (cf. Luke 24:21f), they now fully understood the necessary role of that suffering for Messiah to “enter into his glory.” (Remember the forty days of kingdom instruction by Jesus and the subsequent outpouring of the Spirit.)