This is part two of an excellent overview of the book of Acts, written by Don K. Preston and titled “Introduction to Acts and the Restoration of Israel.” 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. Part one of this 4-part series can be seen here.
Acts 4-7– Preparing the Way For the Removal of the Old – The Full
Establishment of the New
I will give here only a few of the highlights from these four chapters:
1.) Luke’s recounting of the ongoing powerful demonstration of the work of the Spirit brings to mind how Israel was led by the Spirit in the first exodus (Isaiah 63:10f), and yet Israel rebelled against YHVH, leading to judgment. Of course, it is critical to note that the references to the work of the Spirit must be viewed from the perspective of Acts 2 and Peter’s affirmation that Israel’s anticipated last days were present.
2.) Selling the Land – We have here no abiding City… In chapter 4-5 we find the account of the nascent body of Christ doing something absolutely incredible. The disciples are selling their land! To modern readers, far removed from the mind-set of the ancient Jews, and Torah, the incredible implications of these actions are all but lost.
It is almost impossible to over-emphasize the importance of the land to the Jews. It was their inheritance from YHVH Himself. When the land was allotted to the 12 tribes (Joshua 13ff) the Lord instructed Israel: ‘The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me” (Leviticus 25:23). While it was permissible for Israelites to temporarily sell their land, the Jubilee Laws provided that ownership of the land would revert to the original tribal owners in the Jubilee years.
Yet, in Acts 4-5 we find the selling of the land by the Jewish Christians. There is no suggestion that they intended to redeem the land at a later date (Cf. Jeremiah 32). The record seems to indicate that they were simply selling their land, permanently. In light of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, and the warnings in Acts 2-4, of impending judgment on Jerusalem and Israel, the full significance of this comes to the forefront. Those early Christians knew that the value of Jerusalem real estate was going to go to zero! They now were beginning to realize, as Hebrews would later declare: “We have here no abiding city, but, look for one that is about to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
3.) The Sanhedrin imprisoned Peter and John, but an angel of the Lord freed them, and they immediately began preaching once again in the Temple (Acts 5). What is so remarkable – and mostly overlooked – is that when the angel released them from prison, he instructed them to “speak to all the people all the words of this Life” (5:20). This is a remarkable and beautiful statement. The words of Jesus, the words about Jesus, were and are the words of Life!
In sharp contrast, when the Sanhedrin brought Peter and John back to trial, they said, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (5:28). Ironic is it not, that these very men had cried out only a short time before: “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)? Yet now, with the implications of what has transpired in the resurrection of Jesus and the proclamation of that awesome event, they see the implications and are pleading “innocence.” Peter had told that august body that they had rejected the chief corner stone of the predicted Messianic temple. That could only mean one thing: Judgment was coming on them. They understood that while Peter and John were speaking the words of Life to the people, that this meant judgment on them for killing the Prince of Life.
4.) Spatial limitations forbid a full development of Stephen’s temple discourse. However, it is clear that Stephen, in recounting Israel’s “history,” has a deeply theological point to make, and the history that he gives is focused on that particular point. He was not intending to recount Israel’s entire history. What he patently does do, however, is to show that Abraham was blessed by God while he was outside the land. Stephen shows Israel’s long history of rejecting God’s prophets. He shows how the Lord judged them for their rebellion. He shows how their emphasis on the temple itself was misplaced, for it was never God’s ultimate intent to dwell in temples made with hands.
All of this sequels perfectly with what Luke has already recorded. The chief cornerstone for the Messianic Temple had been laid. Those who had rejected that Stone could now only anticipate impending judgment. And now Stephen reinforces that message by pointing out that the glorious temple in which he was now standing was never God’s eschatological goal.
So, lying latent in chapters 4-7 is an extremely powerful narrative. Israel’s last days prophecies were being fulfilled. They were not, however, being fulfilled as anticipated or desired. They were being fulfilled in the body of Christ, the foundation stone of the Messianic Temple– a living Temple– offering Life. But, all of this meant that the Old Temple, the Old World which was the “ministration of death” was about to be swept away.
Acts 8– To Samaria and the Uttermost Parts of the Earth
In His instructions on the kingdom, Jesus had told His apostles that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. From Acts 2-8:1-4 we find that the Jerusalem church was perfectly happy initially to confine their efforts to Jerusalem and Judea. However, in the Lord’s providence, persecution arose, and those who were persecuted were eager then to share the story of Life everywhere they went. And they went to Samaria.
Although the city was not named Samaria as such until the time of Omri (1 Kings 16:24f), nonetheless the region of Samaria had long been considered as almost a synonym for the dispersed northern tribes. Due to Omri’s horrible wickedness, and the entire history of the divided kingdom that was inextricably tied to that, the stigma of rebellion against God was paramount in the mind of those in Judea. (You can get a small sense of the Jewish antipathy toward Samaria, and vice versa, in Luke 9:51f, where a Samaritan city refused to allow Jesus and His disciples to pass through, and John, the “apostle of love” wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven on them!)
Prophetically, part and parcel of Israel’s eschatological hope was the restoration of the diaspora. God would gather them from the east and the west, and bring them back to Him. Israel’s nationalistic hope was a literal re-gathering to the physical land when the Messianic kingdom was established. Acts 8 falsifies such notions.
Philip was one of those who went to Samaria, and there preached “the Christ,” i.e. the Messiah! He confirmed the message of Jesus as Messiah by performing undeniable miracles. The miraculous work of the Spirit was poured out in earthly Israel’s last days, when the Lord would bring the tribes
back together under Messiah (Ezekiel). The Spirit was to usher in the promised restoration of the kingdom by Messiah, thus creating and restoring the heavenly Israel. The evidence of this is when Philip was manifesting the miraculous work of the Spirit, declaring Jesus as the promised Messiah, and preaching “the good news about the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12). (Note: Philip’s message of the kingdom could hardly be classified as “good news” if in fact, per the dispensationalists, the kingdom had been postponed!)
We may not be stretching the text too far to take note of the similarities between Philip and Moses, the first exodus and the second. In the first exodus, Israel was in bondage. In the second, Israel, particularly the northern tribes, were still considered to be in bondage. In the first exodus, Moses was sent to those in bondage to set them free, but was confronted by false magicians. In the second Exodus, Philip goes to those in bondage and is confronted with a false magician. In both cases, God’s chosen messenger triumphs over the false magicians and, as a result, the Exodus proceeds.
The Ethiopian Eunuch– A Radical Fulfillment
To me personally, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch is one of the most compelling, the most exciting stories in Acts, and beautifully illustrates and proves that Luke’s narrative must indeed be understood as focused on the restoration of Israel as foretold by the prophets.
Under Torah, any man with injury to his genitalia in any way was forbidden to enter the temple, or to serve in the ministry (Deuteronomy 23). It was critical under the Law to be able to marry and produce “children of God” and thereby sustain the kingdom. This was the nature of the kingdom. But, as a result of being unable to produce children, eunuchs were called “dry trees.”
However, the prophets foretold a time when this would no longer be the case. Isaiah 56 predicted the time of a radically different kind of temple worship and service. In this New Temple, both the foreigner and the eunuch would be given a name better than “sons and daughters” (56:5). Note that this is true of both the foreigner and the eunuch. This is significant, but we cannot develop it here.
In many commentaries, and certainly in countless homiletic presentations, the story of the eunuch is used as a story to speak of how God will now accept those of any nation, of any ethnic group. Emphasis is normally on the fact that the man was an Ethiopian. However, this is misplaced. The emphasis in the Greek is on the fact that the man was a eunuch, not that he was an Ethiopian. This eunuch had just returned from Jerusalem and he had gone up to that awesome temple to worship there. Although he was allowed to bring his sacrifices, he was still very much an outsider per Deuteronomy 23. The point of Acts 8 is that the time had come for eunuchs and foreigners to be given the name “better than sons and daughters.” The time had come when eunuchs and foreigners would serve in the New Temple of God, the foundation of which, Messiah Jesus, had been laid in “Zion.” The time had come when eunuchs would no longer be “dry trees” for they, by sharing the news of “the Life” in Messiah, could bring forth “sons of God” without “marrying and giving in marriage.”
What cannot be missed in the prediction of the acceptance of the foreigners and the eunuchs is that it would take place when the Lord “re-gathered” the “outcasts of Israel,” i.e. at the restoration of Israel. And, when He had regathered the outcasts, i.e. the diaspora of Israel, he would also gather “others besides those whom He had gathered.” So, the acceptance of the eunuchs into the “temple of God” was a signal that Israel’s restoration was in process, and with that restoration, it signaled that others besides Israel could be gathered to the Lord as well.
Acts 9– The Persecution of “The Way” – The Conversion of Saul
Saul, later to become Paul, is presented as a persecutor of “the way.” This term is highly significant. Numerous OT prophecies foretold that in the last days, there would be a “highway of the Lord” on which the righteous would travel. On that highway, there would be safety, security and righteousness (Isaiah 35). But, the highway would also be the “Way” for the coming of the Lord in judgment.
Isaiah foretold the coming of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’” (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptizer was that Voice (Mark 1). What should not be missed is that not only would the “Way” be a highway of blessings, but, it would also be the highway for the coming of the Lord in judgment (Isaiah 40:10f; Malachi 3:1-3). So, once again, we see the good news/bad news aspect of the fulfillment of Israel’s last days prophecies. Also, this time of the establishment of the Way would be when the redeemed of the Lord would once again be gathered to Him (40:1, 9f). This is the restoration of Israel. See Acts 19:9; 24:14; 24:22 where the term “the Way” is used in a technical manner to speak of “the faith.”
The conversion of Paul is incredibly significant, to understate the case. His understanding of his mission gives insight into God’s Old Covenant prophecies of Israel’s last days. From the very beginning, Paul informs his Jewish brethren that God had called him distinctively to be a light to the Gentiles, to call them out of darkness, and to give them invitation to the salvation that would flow from Israel. One of the saddest realities in modern evangelicalism is the idea that the calling of the Gentiles, i.e. Paul’s mission, was a direct result of Israel’s failure. All three futurist eschatologies, perhaps on differing levels, but true of them all nonetheless, posit the failure of Israel as the ground and reason for the Gentile mission. This is patently false.
We cannot develop this, but note that Paul says that his ministry was foretold in Deuteronomy 32:19f, which was a prediction of Israel’s last days. While Paul certainly does say that Israel’s rebellion would lead to that ministry, it must be understood that, contra the dispensational paradigm, that rebellion and the final rejection of the Old Covenant body of Israel was preplanned and predicted by God. It was no accident; it was no surprise to the Lord.
The concept of the salvation of the remnant is fundamentally important here, for Paul informs us – with proof from the Old Testament – that God never promised to save “all Israel,” but only a remnant (Romans 9-11). Again, Paul tells us that God chose him personally and distinctively to call the Gentiles to Him. And yet, as Paul went to the Gentiles, he went first to the diaspora scattered abroad. And when the Jews in those diaspora areas rejected the gospel of the kingdom, Paul told them “it was necessary that the gospel be preached to you first, but, seeing that you count yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we turn to the Gentiles” Acts 13:46). Notice Paul’s appeal to Isaiah 49:6f also as the justification for his Gentile mission (13:47).
Once again, however, it is imperative to note, for instance in Isaiah 49, that the salvation of the Gentiles was totally dependent on the restoration of Israel: “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Notice that the restoration of the “tribes of Jacob” was the precursor to the calling of the Gentiles. Note also that the salvation of the tribes of Jacob would be “too small” of a work for Messiah and YHVH. God’s plan was, therefore, always, to offer salvation and life to those outside the tribes of Israel, and Paul was the one chosen to take that message of “the life” to them. (See Colossians 1:24f and my special study on Paul’s distinctive ministry in Who Is This Babylon? This is a very important topic.)
Acts 10– The Calling of the Gentiles
Any reader of Acts should have been alerted that something like this was going to happen. The conversion of the eunuch laid the groundwork for opening the mind of the reader that even more revolutionary things were coming, and Acts 10 records that very thing. We today have 20/20 hindsight and years of instruction telling us how the Old Testament predicted the salvation of the Gentiles.
Yet, in Israel of Jesus’ day, and in Paul’s, while there was a vague concept of the calling of the Gentiles, there was no true appreciation or welcoming of that idea. When Jesus was in the synagogue in Capernaum (Luke 4) His telling of two of the famous stories in Israel’s history recounted the blessings of pagan Gentiles, and not those of the seed of Abraham. And that crowd sought to kill Jesus for pointing that out.
Solomon had prayed for the Lord to bless those who were not of the seed of Abraham, if they prayed to Him and came to worship Him at the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kings 8:41f). And the temple had a “Court of the Gentiles” but, of course, the temple likewise had the wall of partition that kept the Gentiles – including the eunuchs, remember – from the inner courts. But, in Israel of Jesus’ day, in spite of her own prophecies, there was no desire to call the Gentiles. In fact, when Paul told the temple audience that God had appointed him to preach to the Gentiles, and call them to be His people, they instantly took up stones to kill him (Acts 21; 22:17f).
It is little wonder then, that when Peter, faithful Jew that he was, was told by God Himself, to “take and eat” the foods that were unclean under Torah, that Peter refused, and extrapolated from that to Gentile uncleanness. While Peter uttered some fair sounding words, “God has shown me to call nothing common or unclean,” in his heart, and verbalized to Cornelius, he felt very strongly, “It is not lawful for a man that is a Jew to have company or to eat with a Gentile” (Acts 10:28).
Nonetheless, Peter preached “the Life” to Cornelius, and he, along with his entourage, was astounded that the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius, just as it had been poured out on the disciples on Pentecost. This was as powerful– if not more so– as the heavenly vision with the unclean animals, in convincing Peter and those with him that the Gentiles truly were now equals in the kingdom. But, as we shall see, not all were thrilled with this development. They believed that the kingdom of Messiah was to be a Jewish kingdom, and while they were “okay” with the inclusion of the Gentiles, they made it clear that if they wanted to be a part of the kingdom, they essentially had to become Jews and observe Torah.