Book of Acts: The Hope of Israel is Fulfilled (Part 3)

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…

Book of Acts: The Hope of Israel is Fulfilled (Part 2)

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.