This is part three 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 and part 2 here.
A Great Famine Arose
One ponders if we are to see the parallels between the story of Joseph in Egypt, the famine, the rescue of the people from the famine and the events of Acts 11:27f. For sure, the name of the Lord was exalted and glorified in both situations.
Acts 13– The Movement Away From Jerusalem
“What God promised to the fathers, He has fulfilled…” (Acts 13:32f). Addressing the Jewish audience in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, Paul rehearsed Israel’s history and her promises. He recounts the faithfulness of God in giving the land as promised (13:19f), the glory of David and then, in what must have been a startling and amazing statement, claimed that God had now “brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as He promised” (13:23).
Paul’s message to Israel was one of fulfillment, not of failure or postponement. In fact, he says that God had given to Jesus “the sure mercies of David,” which was nothing but the promise of the Davidic kingdom (Isaiah 55)! But, of course, if Jesus had been given the throne of David, then since Christ was in heaven, not on an earthly throne ruling over a nationalistic kingdom centered in Jerusalem, this meant that the nature of the Messianic kingdom was radically different from what they had thought it was to be. The promises were being fulfilled. Of this there can be no doubt.
But, the form of fulfillment was something totally unexpected. Something had begun to happen in Acts 11:19 through Acts 13f that must have been troublesome to the Jewish Christians who were still struggling with the geocentricity of Zion / Jerusalem in the OT prophecies. It is not too much to say that in the prophetic books Zion is the capital and the focus of all things eschatological and soteriological. The Law would go forth from Zion and the Messianic Temple (Isaiah 2:2f). Salvation would be in Jerusalem (Isaiah 46:13). The resurrection and the Messianic Banquet would occur “on this mountain,” i.e. Zion (Isaiah 25:6-8).
So for those with the desire and intent to see the OT prophets fulfilled literally, what was taking place had to be unsettling. They could not deny the miraculous works of the promised Spirit that they witnessed, but where was the emphasis on the literal Jerusalem, the literal temple, and the Levitical priesthood? Truly, something radical was taking place. In fact, the perceived (and in truth, very real) movement away from earthly Jerusalem was part and parcel of the Old Testament prophetic message. According to those prophets, earthly Jerusalem would pass, but heavenly Jerusalem would triumph. A host of OT prophecies foretold the destruction of the earthly Zion in the last days, giving way to the New Creation and the New Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 65-66).
Jeremiah had actually foretold the time when the two houses of Israel would be re-united under Messiah, that “They shall say no more, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord;’ neither shall it come to mind, neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more” (Jeremiah 3:16). Likewise, even the much later prophet, Malachi, foresaw the time when “in every place (i.e. Gentile places!, DKP) incense shall be offered unto My name, for My name shall be great among the heathen” (Malachi 1:11). Very clearly, contrary to a great deal of Jewish expectation about the nature of the restored kingdom, Biblically, in the Messianic Kingdom, Jerusalem would lose its centricity. While the Kingdom would be established “in Zion” the New Covenant would flow from there to the nations, and that old earthly city would lose its theological centricity.
This is precisely what we see in Acts. Initially, the Jews kept the Word to themselves. However, persecution forced them to leave Judea and Jerusalem, and once they did, the Gentiles eagerly accepted the Word of Life. In Acts 11ff we find that, increasingly, physical Jerusalem declines in importance for the body of Christ. Antioch becomes the Gentile capital of the church, and from there the Word of Life expands increasingly to the Gentile world. At the same time, Old Jerusalem – which had sponsored Saul in his persecutions – became increasingly hostile against the New Jerusalem. As Paul would write at a very early stage, her persecutorial ways would lead to her being cast out of the presence of the Lord (Galatians 4:22f; 1 Thessalonians 2; 2 Thessalonians 1).
Acts 15– To This Agrees The Prophets
With the initiation of the conversion of the Gentiles, the expansion of the kingdom was in full swing. Over and over we are told that “much people were added to the Lord” (cf. 11:21, 24). But, brewing under the surface in ways that we can only speculate about, were discussions among the Jewish Christians about the role of the Gentiles in the kingdom. Some began to advance the idea that since the kingdom was a promise to Israel, found in Israel’s prophets, that the kingdom was intrinsically Jewish in form and function. Thus, “certain men which came down (to Antioch, DKP) from Judea taught the brethren, and said, ‘Except you are circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1). Thus, intriguingly, the first substantial doctrinal error in the early church originated in earthly Jerusalem, and misconstrued the very nature of the kingdom of Messiah. The issue of circumcision would continue to plague the early church, and may in fact be considered the single most important controversy of the first century. Yet, this subject is grossly ignored or misunderstood by most Bible students today. It was the identifying mark of the children of Abraham. It gave them “title deed” as it were to the land promises. No circumcision, no land. It was that simple (cf. Joshua 5).
Since circumcision was the key marker of the identity of the “sons of Abraham” then the restoration of Israel would, in the mind of those with the literalistic mind-set, demand the imposition of circumcision on any and all who were coming into the kingdom. So, just like under Torah, when a Gentile wished to become a servant of YHVH, that same mindset [persisted]. There is little wonder that some of the zealous Jews in Jerusalem believed that Gentiles had to be circumcised. The promises of blessings in the Seed, Abraham’s (One) Seed, were perceived to be tied, not to circumcision of the heart, but to physical circumcision. (It should be noted that modern Dominionism (i.e. postmillennialism) as well as Dispensationalism, both implicitly demand a restoration of physical circumcision. Dominionism, along with Dispensationalism, says Abraham and his descendants must inherit the literal land. But, if the physical land promises remain valid, then physical circumcision remains valid. The land promise and circumcision are inextricably bound. Thus, if the land promises remain valid, circumcision remains valid and the gospel of Christ is nullified. I cannot develop this further, but this is a serious issue).
The battle was joined between Paul, Barnabas, and the Judaizers. Paul taught a Torah-free gospel of justification of faith. The Judaizers taught justification through faith in the flesh. A conference was called in Jerusalem for the inspired leadership of the church to debate and settle the issue. At the Jerusalem conference, James and the apostles and prophets determined that Paul’s gospel was correct – Gentiles were not to be circumcised or compelled in any way to observe Torah. Observance of the Law of Moses was not incumbent on them for their justification and salvation. Peter reminded the audience of the example of Cornelius, and how the outpouring of the Spirit on that occasion demonstrated that “He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their heart by faith” (15:9).
Barnabas and Paul followed, recounting the work of the Spirit in their ministry to the Gentiles. James then followed their presentations, recalling again Peter’s experience with Cornelius in which God signified His divine purpose “to take from them a people for his name” (15:14). What James said next proves that the restoration of Israel was fully underway, but, once again, that restoration was not at all what the nation of Israel had envisioned or hoped for (cf. Romans 11:7), but it was what the prophets actually foretold, as interpreted by the Jerusalem council. James quoted Amos 9:11 which foretold the restoration of the ten northern tribes with the southern tribes. God would “repair the breaches in the wall” of the Davidic house (not the literal temple), and He would accomplish this “so that the remnant of men may seek the Lord.” It is critical to grasp the significance of this.
Amos predicted, and James interpreted Amos as saying, that when Israel was restored, the Gentiles would be called to be God’s people (cf. Zechariah 2:10f). In fact, God would restore Israel “so that” (the force of the Greek) the rest of mankind might seek the Lord. So, the order of occurrence was first the restoration of Israel, then, as a result of that, the nations would be called. This is what Isaiah 49 foretold. It is Paul’s message that the gospel of salvation was “to the Jew first, then the Greek” (Romans 1:16-17).
So, when James declared that the calling of the Gentiles was in fulfillment of Amos, and explained, through the inspiration of the Spirit, that Amos had foretold the restoration of Israel so that the nations could be called, this was a profound commentary on the nature of the restoration of Israel. James’ commentary demands this fact: If Israel was not being restored, in fulfillment of Amos, then the nations, the Gentiles, i.e. those not of the twelve tribes, have no hope of being the children of God. It is that simple: Israel was to be restored so that the Gentiles could be offered salvation. Since the Gentiles, as proven by Cornelius’s reception of the Spirit, were clearly now accepted by God, on equal footing with Israel, then Israel’s restoration was in full bloom.
Acts 16-21– To the Uttermost Parts of the World– Paul’s Mission And Role As End Times Martyr and Prophet
While a great deal could be written of the individual accounts of the cities where Paul traveled space forbids such an investigation or extended discussion. However, what we do need to keep in mind is that lying behind Paul’s travels is his role as God’s distinctively chosen vessel to fulfill the mystery of God, and to fill up the measure of end times suffering, thus hastening the Day of the Lord. Paul is clear that “God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death” (1 Corinthians 4:9). The imagery is of a Roman triumphant parade, with the host of prisoners taken captive by the conquering hero, marching to their deaths. And Paul says, the apostles were the last in the line, determined (manifested, proclaimed, shown) by God to be His martyrs to fill up the eschatological measure of suffering and sin (Cf. Revelation 18:20-24).
In Colossians 1:24-27 Paul affirms in unequivocal but challenging language that he was chosen, and distinctively commissioned to personally “fill up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ…and to fulfill the Word of God, the mystery.” Acts 16-21 chronicles Paul’s travels and his suffering. Everywhere he went, the Jews either attacked him, or instigated persecution against him. We see at work in Paul’s ministry three aspects of the end times prophecies:
A.) Paul, in offering the gospel of Life to the Gentiles, was attempting to make Israel jealous, to hopefully convert some of them. This was in direct fulfillment of Deuteronomy 32 – The Song of Moses – which foretold that in Israel’s last days God would provoke Israel to jealousy (32:19f–> Romans 10:19; 11:14).
B.) While Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, as we have seen, he went first of all to Israel, scattered Israel, for this was “necessary” (Acts 13– see above). Yet, God had foretold, based on Israel’s long history of recalcitrance, that “All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Isaiah 65:1– Romans 10:21).
C.) The salvation of the remnant. While the nation, corporately speaking, rejected the kingdom offer, this was not in any way surprising, unexpected, or un-foretold. Isaiah and the other prophets had foretold this centuries before. So, just as Isaiah foretold that Israel would reject God’s outstretched hands, and fill the measure of her sin (Isaiah 65:1-6), he likewise foretold that a remnant would be saved when the Lord destroyed the Old Israel and created a New People (Isaiah 65:8-19).
So, what was playing out in these chapters of Acts, as Luke recorded Paul’s ministry, is not, in any way at all, the record of the failure of God’s plan as predicted in Israel’s prophecies. God’s plan was right on schedule, just as foretold. It was shocking to the nationalistic expectation of the Jews– resulting in their animosity toward Paul, but it was God’s original plan all along.
Acts 21-28– Nothing But the Hope of Israel
As Luke focuses on the ministry of Paul, from Acts 13 onward, something becomes very apparent. The Jewish animosity toward him grows as his success among the Gentiles continues to grow. It is more than obvious that Paul’s adversaries think that his message of Christ as Messiah and the Torah-free gospel are antithetical to the story and the hope of Israel. For Paul, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.
When the Jews mistakenly accused Paul of taking a Gentile into the temple, and attempted to kill him, Paul is rescued and then allowed by the Romans to address the audience. He recounted his former zeal in persecuting the Way (21:4) and then told of his conversion. However, when Paul mentioned his call to go the Gentiles, the audience rose up again, and would have killed him, had the Roman tribune not intervened. The following day, the tribune called the Sanhedrin together for them to investigate the reason why the Jews wanted to kill Paul. It is critical to note that the very first thing that Paul affirms was his faithfulness to the hope of Israel: “With respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead, I am on trial” (23:6). Contra modern evangelical doctrine, Paul did not see the story of Israel as dead, abolished, replaced or even delayed. Paul’s story was nothing but the hope of Israel.
As Paul stands before the Sanhedrin he affirms his belief in the resurrection as the hope of Israel, found in Moses and the prophets (24:14f). Paul’s fidelity to Israel and her eschatological hope must be honored. In addition, we cannot escape notice that while he ostensibly agreed with the Pharisees as to the reality of the resurrection, he and they clearly had a different vision and understanding of the resurrection. Notice that in 24:13 he takes note that both he and they affirm resurrection, but they want to kill him for his views of the resurrection!
Just as Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom, the Jews wanted the kingdom. Jesus came to be king, and the Jews wanted a king. Yet when the Jews came to make Him king and offer Him the kingdom, Jesus withdrew (John 6:15)! Patently, different concepts of the nature of the kingdom and kingship were at work, just as in the case of Paul and the Pharisees on the resurrection. Neither Jesus nor Paul preached a message contrary to what the prophets foretold. They both preached “the hope of Israel.” Yet, they were both rejected for what they preached and what they offered. This critical fact is seldom explored, but it is critical for understanding the nature of the hope of Israel. If, as it is generally assumed, Paul had the same concept of the nature of the kingdom and resurrection as did the Pharisees, one can only wonder why they sought to kill him for preaching what they believed. This truth has tremendous implications for our understanding of Paul’s eschatology in the epistles.
Paul said he preached nothing but the hope of Israel– Israel after the flesh (Romans 9:1-3)–and that hope was found nowhere but in Moses, the Law and the Prophets. Notice how often he affirms this in Acts 24-28.
Acts 24:13f– Paul affirmed that his resurrection doctrine was taken directly from the Old Covenant promises to Israel, the promises found in Moses, the Law and the prophets.
Acts 24:21– “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”
Acts 25:8 – “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.”
Acts 26:6 – “And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain as they earnestly worship night and day. For this hope am I accused of the Jews.”
Acts 26:22f – “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— 23 that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
Acts 28:17 – Paul, addressing the leaders of the Jews in Rome, said, “Brothers, though I had no charge to bring against our people, or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.”
Acts 28:19ff – “I have asked to see you and to speak with you, since it is for the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” …. v. 23, “From morning to evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God, and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”
We will come back to Acts 28 in a bit. However, think with me about what it means for Paul to say so many times that his one hope, his only gospel message, was nothing but the hope of Israel.
What this means is that when we read Paul’s discourse on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, that we must conform our understanding of that great chapter to Paul’s understanding of God’s Old Testament promises made to Israel after the flesh. It means that we must view 1 Thessalonians and Paul’s promise of the parousia in light of Israel’s promises. It means that we must see the promise of the “redemption of creation” within the context of Israel’s prophecies. And, it means that in Paul’s eschatology, there was not a “Christian eschatology” distinct from Israel and her story.
This is devastating for both the amillennial and postmillennial views, because both of these futurist eschatologies claim that Paul’s view of the last things is fundamentally about the end of the Christian age and the fulfillment of God’s promises to the church. This is patently false, since Paul says the resurrection of 1 Corinthians 15 (and thus, 1 Thessalonians 4) would be in fulfillment of Isaiah 25 and Hosea 13. Any theology that divorces Paul’s eschatology from the hope of Israel is, prima facie, a false theology.
This is likewise devastating to the dispensational paradigm, since one of the pillars of millennialism is that the promises to Israel are not the promises to the church. But, since Paul says his gospel, his eschatology was nothing but the hope of Israel, this means that there is not a “rapture doctrine” for the church, and then a “Second Coming” eschatology promised to Israel. There was but “one hope” (Ephesians 4:4) and that one hope was found in God’s Old Covenant promises made to Israel after the flesh. So, we say again, that any eschatology divorced from Israel and her promises, to be fulfilled at the consummation of her covenant age, is fundamentally and fatally flawed.
We want now to take another look at the nature of the restoration of Israel as found in Acts…