This is the final section (part 4) of Don K. Preston’s overview of the book of Acts, 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. See Part 1 of this series here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.
The Nature of the Restoration of Israel
In Paul’s affirmations that he preached nothing but the hope of Israel, and in Luke’s record of the proclamation of that gospel, we have seen the revolutionary re-shaping and re-identification of the Israel of God. The restoration was a spiritual restoration that eschewed and rejected the geopolitical-military restoration of the Davidic kingdom longed for by the Jews. This is evident from Acts 1 to Acts 28. We need to review a bit of this to drive home the point that, first of all, Acts truly is about the restoration of Israel, as foretold in the OT prophets, and, secondly, that restoration was not what the Jews of the first century anticipated or desired.
Acts 1 draws directly from Isaiah 43 that predicted the creation of a New Israel, a New Creation and called on Israel to forget the former days.
Acts 2 shows us that Christ was sitting at the right hand of the Father, in fulfillment of YHVH’s promise to raise Messiah to David’s throne. But Jesus was sitting at the right hand in the heavenlies, not on a literal throne in literal Zion.
Acts 3 records Peter’s call to the Jews to repent so that God would grant them a time of rest before the coming judgment. He reminds them of the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18 that God would raise up a prophet like Moses. And, he warns them that to reject Jesus would result in being “utterly cut off out from among the people” (Acts 3:23). This text is all but definitive in identifying the true Israel: they are the followers of Jesus! Thus, as we noted above, John the Baptizer initiated the “restoration of all things” and Jesus would consummate that restoration at His parousia. But what cannot be denied is that the restoration begun by John, and thus the work of Jesus, was not in any way related to the restoration of nationalistic Israel.
Acts 4 shows us that one of the key markers of Israel, the land, was being overtly rejected by the nascent body of Christ. In a radical, unprecedented move, the members of the body of Christ began to sell their land! This was strictly forbidden by Torah, but they had begun to learn that their salvation was not in the land. They were now – in fulfillment of Isaiah 66 – all priests unto the Lord, and even in Torah God Himself was the true inheritance of the priests; they got no inheritance of physical land (Numbers 18:20).
Likewise, Acts 4 shows that the Chief Corner Stone of the long anticipated Messianic Temple had been laid. Thus, Israel was being restored! Yet the Temple being constructed was a living edifice, built on the living Messiah. And this truth signaled the coming destruction of the Old Temple. Thus, once again, the nature of the restoration of Israel is undeniable. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the old form. It had nothing to do with the old Temple. It had nothing to do with the old City either.
Acts 6-7 records Stephen in the Temple recounting Israel’s long history of rejecting God’s plans and purposes, even killing all of His prophets sent to her. Stephen had the “audacity” to even quote Isaiah 66 which spoke of Israel’s inordinate affection for things physical, i.e. the Temple, and calling their attention to the fact that “God does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Isaiah 66:1). Isaiah 66 not only noted that physical temples were not God’s intended abode, but that the time was coming when the Lord would come against Jerusalem and the old Temple in judgment, to bring in the New People and the New Creation.
All of those students of Torah present that day would have known full well what Stephen was saying in his citation of Isaiah: that wonderful edifice in which he was standing, in which they took so much (too much) pride, was doomed. It was to give way to the New Creation. Acts 8 tells us the story of the restoration of Israel in a profound manner. Israel had been scattered. Samaria was the symbol of that diaspora. Yet now the gospel of the kingdom – Israel’s hope – was being proclaimed in Samaria! But of course, the message being preached was not one of nationalistic restoration. It had nothing to do with a re-gathering to the land. It had nothing to do with the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem. It had nothing to do with the destruction of the Romans or the conquering of Israel’s national enemies. Nonetheless, Israel was being “gathered.” She was being gathered in the very manner that Jesus had desired to gather her (Matthew 23:37) – a covenantal gathering into fellowship with Him. The proclamation of the gospel in and to Samaria was a profound fulfillment of the restoration of Israel. But, once again, the unexpected nature and form of the restoration was on full display.
Acts 8 likewise portrays the restoration of Israel in the story of the conversion of the eunuch. In the prophets, the radical nature of the restoration of Israel under Messiah was hinted at, strongly suggested, but never fully grasped by the Jews. Isaiah had foretold the time – when Israel was restored, and God’s temple was present – that even foreigners and the eunuchs would be given a place in that Temple. They would no longer be outsiders, but true children of God! (See Isaiah 60:5-7 where YHVH foretold the time when “the wealth of the nations” would flow to Jerusalem and those who had always been rejected, foreigners, would actually ascend the altar of the Lord to offer sacrifices! This is a stunning “reformulation” of the priesthood, in the manner of Isaiah 66).
In similar stunning fashion, Acts 10-15 records the conversion of the Gentiles and ensuing controversies. What is so stunning is that, although the OT prophets clearly foretold this, Paul’s inspired interpretation of those prophecies was that the Gentiles were equal partners, equal partakers of the kingdom blessings (Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:3-11)! Salvation was no longer confined to one ethnic group, but, just as God had called Abraham out from the nations to be His people, God was now calling the nations to be His people (Cf. Zechariah 2:10)! So “God’s people” were being re-identified. “Israel” was no longer identified according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit by faith.
Acts 15 is extremely powerful proof that God’s “Israel” – the kingdom – was now fundamentally different, radically transformed. From Abraham foreword, and under Torah, physical circumcision was one of the key markers of the “children of God.” Circumcision was Israel’s covenant sign between YHVH and that nation which gave her the right to the land. No circumcision = no land. And yet, the Jerusalem Council determined that Gentiles – as equal partakers of the promises of Israel – were under no obligation to be circumcised.
Keep in mind that no one taught “the hope of Israel” more firmly, more zealously than did Paul, as we have seen. Yet, as he preached that hope of Israel, he vehemently rejected any attempts to impose physical circumcision – or any of Israel’s cultus – on Gentiles (cf. Galatians 2), and openly taught that to impose it on Gentiles resulted in the loss of fellowship with Christ (Galatians 5). What mattered (matters) was not physical circumcision (and thus, not physical land) but the New Creation foretold by the OT prophets (Galatians 6:15-16).
Here is a fine exemplification of what Isaiah 43 foretold. God said He was going to do a “New Thing” in the last days, and called on Israel to forget the past things. And now here was Paul calling on Israel to forget her past, and look to the New Thing being created in Christ. Stunning indeed! Nothing could have been more revolutionary, more stunning, more offensive to the Jews than this message! This is why Paul called his “circumcision free” gospel an “offense” to the Jews. They realized that the nullification of circumcision was, in fact, the declaration that their right to the land had now been voided! They failed – like so many today – to grasp the spiritual significance of that message. The true “land” that Abraham had longed for, the heavenly Zion, was about to be realized (Hebrews 11:13-16- 12:21f).
Spatial considerations forbid further development of this theme, but what we have presented powerfully illustrates that Luke and Paul were on the same page. Luke’s narrative was about how God had not abandoned Israel. Paul’s gospel was the same. God was fulfilling His promises to Israel. The problem was that Israel longed for the wrong things – national restoration when the promises were, from the very beginning, the promise of spiritual restoration.
This brings us to consider that throughout Acts, from beginning to the end, there are powerful suggestions and pointers that indicated that while God was indeed restoring Israel as promised, that found in her Old Covenant promises all along was the reality, as painful and traumatic as it was to be, that when Israel was restored, the Old Covenant body had to pass away. As when a person has a pecan, and to reach the wonderful “meat” inside, the outer shell has to be crushed, the outer shell of Old Covenant “fleshly” Israel had to be crushed, having fulfilled her purpose, to reveal the “inner man” of the body of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:16f). This was truly a “good news / bad news” scenario, but one that is evident throughout Acts, if we have our eyes open. So, look at a few of those earlier references and warnings.
Acts 1 – Isaiah 43 – If indeed Isaiah 43 lies behind the beginning of Luke’s narrative, then one can hardly help but notice that the coming of the New Thing that God would do would necessitate the passing of the Old Creation.
Acts 2:40 – “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” There are numerous things in Acts 2 that would have been foreboding to the observant.
A.) The outpouring of the Spirit was to be magnified in the last days before the Great And Terrible Day of the Lord. This Great Day was the Day foretold by John the Baptizer, as Elijah, when the wicked would perish (Malachi 4). It would likewise be when the Lord would judge Israel for violation of Torah (Malachi 3:1-6).
B.) Peter was citing Deuteronomy 32 (in Acts 2:40). The Song of Moses was about Israel’s latter end, when the Lord would avenge the blood of His saints in judgment.
C.) Even the marvelous affirmation that Jesus was sitting at the Right Hand of the Majesty in the heavens had a dark lining to the silver cloud. Psalm 110 not only foretold the enthronement of Messiah, it likewise foretold judgment of His enemies (i.e. those who had rejected Him!) when he would send forth the rod of His anger.
D.) Very clearly, Peter affirmed that his audience needed to save themselves from what was coming on that generation.
Acts 3:23 – While Peter proclaimed the marvelous fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, he nonetheless warned them that failure to accept Jesus as Messiah would have dire consequences: “And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” It should be noted that the force of the language is very graphic. The destruction of those rejecting Jesus would be utter destruction “out from among the people.” The true “the people” are thus identified as followers of Jesus. Those who refuse to accept him are no longer “the people” and are doomed to be cut out from among “the people.” This is both stunning and graphic.
Acts 4 – The thrill of hearing that the Chief Corner Stone of the long anticipated Messianic Temple had been laid was tempered by the somber reality that those who rejected that Stone were to be, according to the Old Covenant promises, crushed by that Stone. As we have seen, this is precisely how the chief leaders in Jerusalem understood the wonderful message of the gospel. While the gospel truly was “good news’ that Israel was being restored as promised, it was “bad news” in that those who had killed Him were now doomed to destruction.
Acts 13:40-41 – As Paul proclaimed the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, the Jews rejected that message. Consequently, Paul spoke a warning to them: “Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: ‘Behold, you despisers, marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe, though one were to declare it to you.’”
Paul was quoting from Habakkuk, where the Lord warned Judea and Jerusalem that failure to obey Him would bring – was just about to bring – judgment. There can be no doubt that Paul’s Jewish audience would have fully realized what the apostle was saying. Failure to obey Christ would be a mistake, resulting in national destruction.
Skipping over some other passages, we return to Acts 28. Luke tells us that as Paul expounded on the hope of Israel and the kingdom, and some of the Jews were convinced, but “others disbelieved” (28:24). And when that unbelief became clear to Paul, he cited a text from Isaiah that Jesus himself had cited Isaiah 6:9f: “Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see and not perceive; for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”
We find here an additional echo of what we have seen above: Judgment was about to fall on the Old Covenant Body of Israel for rejecting Messiah and the restoration of Israel taking place in Him.
Paul’s Roman Mission Fulfilling the Mystery of God and the World Mission Awaiting the End
Informed by the Spirit that he was to be imprisoned and taken to Rome, Paul informed the elders of Ephesus of his fate. They were, naturally, deeply disturbed and sorrowful. Yet, Paul told them: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24)
Paul realized that as Christ’s specially chosen apostle, appointed to “fulfill the mystery of God” and to “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24f), that he had to suffer and eventually die. He realized that he had to take the gospel to the “end of the earth” and there complete that task before the Roman authorities.
The eschatological role of Paul is overlooked by many commentators. Yet Paul clearly saw himself as a covenant mediator (2 Corinthians 3-4), and specially appointed by Christ to bring in the “fullness of the Gentiles,” thereby hastening Israel’s salvation at the parousia (Romans 11:25f).
For Paul, his imprisonment in Rome and the opportunity to preach the gospel to the ruler of the ancient world constituted the climax and consummation of his task: “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Timothy 4:16f).
Jesus had said that the gospel was to be preached into all the world, as a witness to the nations, then the end would come. And now, at the end of Acts, Paul was about to preach the gospel to the ruler of the nations, fulfilling his task and role as apostle to the Gentiles. Scholars have pondered why Luke ended his history so abruptly. Why quit the record with Paul in Rome, preaching to the Jews and Gentiles alike? Why not record what he said to Nero? Why not record the success or failure of the great apostle?
I suggest that Luke, as well as Paul, considered the task of the world mission as now completed. The end was near. The gospel had been preached to kings and governors, and even once before Nero, evidently. All that remained was for the judgment suggested by Paul’s warning to the Jewish leaders in 28:26 to now come. Thus, the abrupt ending of Acts is best explained by the fact that Luke’s purpose in recording the “restoration of Israel” had now been properly recorded. The warnings of the passing of the Old Covenant body were about to come to pass. The New Covenant body of Christ was about to be manifested, vindicated and glorified at the parousia that was now about to take place.