When I began my christian life at the age of 21 in a small Baptist chuch in rural New Zealand I knew little of the bible and even less of its doctrine. I knew that I was saved by grace and that was a huge step from darkness to light, while not a library of knowledge it at least found me secure in the beloved.
I was however somewhat perplexed with the bible, not really understanding how to interpret it and not knowing on what systematic and logical basis I should ascertain what God was saying to me in this age. That there were ages declared in the bible I could readily see for myself and even a cursary understanding of the scriptures affirmed to me that God had changed his dealings with mankind throughout time.
It was evident to me that there were local churches and that all true believers in Christ were members of a larger universal church which consisted of saints from across the globe. The question then that came to me was when did this universal church come to be extant on this earth as a reality that we could participate in? The idea that it could exist before the foundation of the world in the mind of God of course we could all readily admit but this is not what I was really interested in. I wanted to know when did this church begin in the sense that people were open to entering it? This amounts to asking when was it first proclaimed to people?
The assembly I was associated with generally said that the church began at pentecost. This seemed natural to many because it was then that the Holy Spirit was given with manifest signs and wonders and they believed that such miracles, signs and wonders were open to them in this age, I did not. What I read in Acts 2 and stated by Peter as “this is that” simply did not occur today at least in my observation. To make the universal church something that had its roots in a Jewish feast day with signs associated with Israel seemed problematic.
Some time after this I came in contact with information from a group called “The Bereans”. They taught that the apostle Paul had a distinctive ministry to the gentiles and had written 14 epistles (Rom., 1,2 Cor., Gal. Eph., Phil., Col.,1,2 Thess, 1,2 Tim, Tit ., Philm., Heb.) that contained the doctrine for the “body of Christ”. This was appealing on one hand because Paul certainly did target the gentiles in his epistles (except Hebrews) and on the other he was not one of the 12, who were clearly associated with a ministry to Israel. They also taught that with Paul’s salvation or sometime after this came the revelation of this one new universal church, the body of Christ which was the subject of “the mystery”. This is essentially the mid-Acts position. Anything Paul wrote was a part of a revelation to saints in this age, the age we now live in.
However I began to realize that this too had its problems. Let me share with you why I came to believe the mid-Acts position is wrong and further how Acts 28 is the natural and sensible frontier boundary that marks off where the church of which Christ is head had its beginnings. If the conversion of Paul (Acts 9) marks the beginning then we should find a new hope unprophesied and unassociated with Israel taught by Paul and present by Acts 13 and if the mid – Acts position is right then we should have no contradiction to PAul’s prison epistles when he delivers his midrash directed to the Jewish congregation in the synagogue in Pisidia.
Acts 13 is a fascinating portion of the word of God because here the Spirit of God speaks audibly to members of the church in Antioch Syria to separate to Himself Barnabus and Saul for a particular “work”. Now we must ask ourselves – “Is this work to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ?” or is this first missionary journey a part of the prophetical administration began by the Lord in the gospels and carried on by the disciples in the early stages of the book of Acts?
In Acts 13:4-13 Luke records some typical events that involve the ministry that took place on the island of Cyprus in a town called Paphos where a sorcerer, false prophet and Jew called Bar-Jesus actively sought to turn the deputy (Sergius Paulus) away from the faith. The result of the encounter was that the Jew went away blind for a season and the deputy believed. A fairly obvious picture of judgment falling on the Jew and salvation going to the gentile lived out in the lives of the sorcerer and the gentile (who had the apostle’s name written in his own) respectively. The question is — when would the NATIONAL judgment fall on the Jew (blindness) and the salvation of God sent to the gentiles? We would expect there to be a lead up to this point where God in his mercy would extend an opportunity for his people to repent and accept their messiah. If Israel was judged before Acts 13 we would not expect an advantage to be given them in Acts 13 nor after then. If the believers of this age have a calling and hope that is unassociated with the promises of Israel then we should not find believers in any part of this age called to the New Jerusalem or earth as promised by the fathers of Israel. Let us continue with Acts 13:
In Acts 13:16-22 we have the beginning of Paul’s midrash summarizing the history of Israel down to David. In vs 23 Paul says:
Acts 16: 23 Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus:
There are three words I wish to look at, “according”, “promise” and “Israel”, the content of Paul’s preaching to the Jewish assembly was an appeal to how God was dealing with Israel, that is “according to his promise”. This is continued after this in verses 27 “voices of the prophets” and Vs 29 “fulfilled all that was written”. Indeed the glad tidings Paul was delivering he himself mentions:
Acts 13:32 And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers,
Acts 13:33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
Notice that the glad tidings related to a promise made unto the jewish fathers and were declared in the synagogue to the Jews and proselytes and that the verb used ευαγγελιζομεθα is present tense which means that when the sermon was delivered he was saying to the assembly that “we are continuing to declare” – this is not Paul saying we used to do this but now we are delivering something new hidden from the Fathers — quite the opposite! Paul’s then current message was in accord with the Fathers of Israel and was the fulfilment of promises made to Israle as the quotes from the OT scriptures prove.
We can multiply passages through Acts 13 — look at all the quotations. For example Acts 13:34 which is a quotation from Isaiah 55:3
Acts 13:34 And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.
Is. 55:3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
The sure mercies of David were to be an everlasting covenant promised to Israel if they would incline their ear. But the hope and promises which are according to the Mystery of Ephesians and Colossians are not built on revealed covenants Eph 2 to Israel, they are not related to the setting up of a mediatorial kingdom on earth as promised in Isaiah.
Paul warns the Jews after informing them that they are justified from all things through faith which could not happen by the law of Moses:
Acts 13:40 Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets;
Acts 13:41 Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.
Notice that Paul warns “lest” prophetical judgment falls. So what? Well this means that it had not fallen when Paul spoke it! Therefore judgment is future to this passage and is potential and not necessary. When did the judgment fall — we must say that it has to be at least future to mid Acts! What was necessary however, was that the salvation of God was first spoken to the Jews!
Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
Since in this locality the jews would not receive the message he turns to the Gentiles (locally) — how do we know? Just read on:
Acts 14:1 ¶ And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.
So then when going to Iconium he resumes the necessary Jew First policy according to the promises made by God unto the fathers.
The final judgment comes in Acts 28 — where you would expect it to – at the end of the book of Acts
25 (AV) And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
25 (TR) ασυμφωνοι δε οντες προς αλληλους απελυοντο ειποντος του παυλου ρημα εν οτι καλως το πνευμα το αγιον ελαλησεν δια ησαιου του προφητου προς τους πατερας ημων
26 (AV) Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
26 (TR) λεγον πορευθητι προς τον λαον τουτον και ειπε ακοη ακουσετε και ου μη συνητε και βλεποντες βλεψετε και ου μη ιδητε
27 (AV) For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
27 (TR) επαχυνθη γαρ η καρδια του λαου τουτου και τοις ωσιν βαρεως ηκουσαν και τους οφθαλμους αυτων εκαμμυσαν μηποτε ιδωσιν τοις οφθαλμοις και τοις ωσιν ακουσωσιν και τη καρδια συνωσιν και επιστρεψωσιν και ιασωμαι αυτους
28 (AV) Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
28 (TR) γνωστον ουν εστω υμιν οτι τοις εθνεσιν απεσταλη το σωτηριον του θεου αυτοι και ακουσονται
29 (AV) And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.
29 (TR) και ταυτα αυτου ειποντος απηλθον οι ιουδαιοι πολλην εχοντες εν εαυτοις συζητησιν