In this study of the Book of Acts we shall consider some of the points in the ministry of Peter and the Eleven in Chapters Three to Seven, with the desire, purpose and hope that even the babe in Christ may learn that the Nation Israel was not set aside by God at Calvary, or before; that in these chapters the kingdom message was still being proclaimed to that Nation; that there was no message of grace and mercy being preached to Gentiles, and that in these chapters there is not one verse or sentence to intimate in any way that the Body of Christ, “The dispensation of the grace of God” or “the dispensation of the mystery” began with Pentecost. And speaking of Pentecost, surely it should help every Bible student to read Acts 20:16, and learn that both believing and unbelieving Israelites were still observing the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem and in the Jerusalem temple more than 25 years after the Pentecost of Acts 2:1. Paul himself hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. In Acts 21:18 to 28 we have the record of Paul’s experience in the temple at Jerusalem, in the year 60 A.D., and we would call your special attention to the fact that at that late time Israel’s rulers were so opposed to the presence of a Gentile in their Jerusalem temple that their wrath was kindled against Paul because they accused him of encouraging Trophimus, a Gentile, to pollute their holy place. Acts 21:28 and 29. It is also interesting to observe, in Chapter 23:1 to 7, that Paul is humbly apologizing to Israel’s High Priest, in obedience to Israel’s Scriptures, some 27 years after the veil in the temple was rent at Calvary, and that in that same chapter the Apostle Paul, in his defense, says, “I am a Pharisee.” (Chapter 23:6). Rome was still permitting Israel in Jerusalem to try, condemn and punish violators of the laws given them at Sinai. Acts 24:5 and 6.
These few remarks about Israel and their temple some years after Peter’s name had disappeared from the “Acts” record should help us to better understand our consideration of the ministry of Peter and the Eleven to Israel, in chapters three to seven, and to appreciate the place of Israel before God during these, and subsequent, chapters in the Book of Acts, until the judgment of Acts 28:25 to 28. Scriptural reasoning for the place of the Nation Israel during the Book of Acts is by no means for the sake of controversy, but for the intelligent understanding of the Book of Acts and the Epistles written during the period covered by Acts and thereafter. This will help us to better understand Paul’s two-fold attitude toward the law, those under the law, and those without until he became the Lord’s prisoner in Rome. I Corinthians 9:20 to 22.
Perhaps you have asked this question, “If Israel was set aside by the Lord with that awful judgment pronounced by Christ, in Matthew 23:33 to 39, when He called them “serpents” and “vipers”, why did Paul declare more than 25 years later that God’s message was “to the Jew first” and why were they tenderly and affectionately addressed as “children of the covenant” who had ignorantly killed their Messiah, Acts 3:12 to 26? Why did the disciples of Christ for years after that judgment was pronounced on Israel by Christ preach the Word to none but unto Jews only? (Acts 11:19). If the Lord, in the so-called Great Commission, had carefully explained to the Twelve that they were to preach the Gospel of the Grace of God unto Gentiles, why did they confine their testimony to the House of Israel in the first chapters of Acts and why was it necessary for Peter to have a housetop vision of unclean creatures to authorize him to preach the gospel of the circumcision to one God-fearing Gentile and his family? With these questions to provoke thought we proceed with our study.
In the study of Chapters Three to Seven, let us consider several verses in the middle chapter. In Acts 5:17 and 18 we have the record that the high priests and rulers put the apostles in jail. . . .
“BUT THE ANGEL OF THE LORD BY NIGHT OPENED THE PRISON DOORS, AND BROUGHT THEM FORTH AND SAID, GO STAND AND SPEAK IN THE TEMPLE TO THE PEOPLE ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LIFE. AND WHEN THEY HEARD, THEY ENTERED INTO THE TEMPLE EARLY IN THE MORNING AND TAUGHT” Acts 5:21 “AND DAILY IN THE TEMPLE, AND IN EVERY HOUSE, THEY CEASED NOT TO TEACH AND PREACH JESUS CHRIST.” Acts 5:42.
“THE GOD OF OUR FATHERS RAISED UP JESUS, WHOM YE SLEW AND HANGED ON A TREE. HIM HATH GOD EXALTED WITH HIS RIGHT HAND TO BE A PRINCE AND A SAVIOUR, FOR TO GIVE REPENTANCE TO ISRAEL, AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS. AND WE ARE WITNESSES OF THESE THINGS; AND SO IS ALSO THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHOM GOD HATH GIVEN TO THEM THAT OBEY HIM. WHEN THEY HEARD, THEY WERE CUT TO THE HEART, AND TOOK COUNCIL TO SLAY THEM.” Acts 5:30 to 33.
In connection with these Scriptures we should read the last verse in Luke’s Gospel; “And were continually in the temple praising God and blessing God.”
From these verses which we have quoted from the fifth chapter, most assuredly we should be taught first, that Israel was still considered the people of God; second, that Israel was being permitted by God to continue their religious services in the temple; third, that God was very eager that this Nation should receive the message of life; fourth, that the resurrected Christ was Israel’s Prince and Saviour, with a message of repentance and forgiveness to that Nation; fifth, that the Holy Spirit was the witness of these facts; sixth, that again the Nation Israel was rejecting the message of the Lord and the messengers of the Lord; seventh, that there was no suggestion that the exalted Christ was offering any blessing to Gentiles, or that He was the Head of the Church, which is His Body, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile.
This witness of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Acts 5:31 and 32, concerning the exalted Prince and Saviour, with a message for Israel should be carefully studied in connection with the words which Jesus spoke to Israel, in Matthew 12:31 and 32, concerning the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit which is called the “unpardonable sin”. If Israel sinned against the Son of man it would be forgiven them, but not if and when they sinned against the Holy Spirit. It should also be studied in connection with the words of Stephen, recorded in Acts 7:55 and 56 and 7:51 and 52. By carefully studying these words of Stephen we shall learn that the rulers of Israel were doing what they were warned not to do, in the words of the Lord in Matthew 12:31 and 32. Stephen told them they were again resisting the Holy Spirit. He was full of the Holy Spirit. They were again cut to the heart. Stephen accuses them of the death of Christ. And now being full of the Holy Spirit he declared that he saw the Son of man in heaven.
We repeat that according to Matthew 12:31 and 32, Israel was going to sin against the Son of man and be forgiven; but if they sinned against the Holy Spirit they would not be forgiven. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was to be Israel’s “unpardonable sin”. Israel did sin against the Son of man, for in Matthew 26:24 the Saviour said, “The Son of man goeth as it is written of Him”. When the Son of man died on the cross He prayed that Israel would be forgiven for sinning against the Son of man. Luke 23:34.
In response to the dying Saviour’s prayer and in fulfillment of Matthew 12:31 we have the message of Peter and the Eleven to Israel, recorded in Acts 3:26. “Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities”. Israel was accused of the great sin of killing their Messiah. No longer was this nation called “serpents” and “vipers”, as in Matthew 23:33 to 39, but children, Acts 3:25.
In Acts 3:17 and 18 there were two reasons why the Nation would be forgiven for their great sin if they would repent. The first reason was, God was willing to consider their act as one of ignorance; and the second reason was that the rejection and death of Christ at their hands fulfilled Scriptures and provided salvation for sinful humanity. Through Israel’s unbelief mercy came to Gentiles. Romans 11:30. Then follows, “O the depth” of Romans 11:33 and 34.
In Acts 3:19 to 25 we learn that Israel’s God is still willing to stand by the covenant which He made with their fathers, by sending Christ back from heaven to bring to Israel the blessed days on earth prophets beginning with Samuel. None of these prophets spoke concerning the Body of Christ, blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, but concerning the King and the Kingdom of heaven on earth.
The word “therefore”, in Acts 3:19, is very significant. And this offer of the kingdom, in fulfillment of the covenant which God made with the fathers, was because of that prayer of Christ on the cross, “Farther forgive them for they know not what they do”.
Surely the student of the Word of God will not find in any of the words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth, in the midst of His people on earth, a more definite offer of the kingdom, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, than His offer in Acts 3:19 to 25. The kingdom of heaven was still at hand. But were the Twelve members of the Body and seated in Christ in the highest heavenlies? Ephesians 2:6.
The language used in Acts 3:21, concerning Israel’s kingdom on earth, is the restitution of all things which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. In Acts 3:24 the statement is repeated that all the prophets foretold of “these days”. By way of comparison and contrast it will prove profitable to compare these statements in Acts 3 with the Lord’s message, through Paul, in Colossians 1:24 to 29, and in Ephesians 3:1 to 11, concerning the Mystery among the Gentiles, the Church which is Christ’s Body, about which not one of Israel’s prophets spoke. The prophets were not only altogether silent concerning Paul’s message but altogether ignorant; and therefore, it must be apparent to any student of the Scriptures that the “these days” of Colossians 1:24 to 28 are altogether different from the “these days” of Acts 3:19 to 26. The verses in Colossians refer to the Head and the Body. The verses in Acts refer to the King and the Kingdom.
Let us now compare Acts 2:36 and 2:38 with the words of Paul in Acts 18:5 and 6. By studying both of these scriptures we shall find that in the second chapter the twelve apostles were watchman unto the house of Israel, in accordance with Ezekiel 3:17 to 21. And we shall find in the eighteenth chapter that Paul was likewise a watchman unto the house of Israel, in fulfillment of the same Scriptures. He had been a faithful watchman in Asia according to Acts 13:46. And now he was a faithful watchman in Europe. We should never overlook the significance of Paul’s “henceforth” in Acts 18:6; “henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles”. Why? Because he had delivered his own soul as a watchman of the house of Israel. That Nation was committing the unpardonable sin” in fulfillment of Matthew 12:32, because they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit who was witnessing to the same message which Peter proclaimed in Acts 2:36, which we quote
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
It was in connection with that message that Peter told the convicted Israelites, in Acts 2:38, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, if they would repent. When they refused to repent some years later, at the preaching of Paul, Paul turned from Israel to the Gentiles. After that turning Paul said, “I must finish my course with joy and testify of the Gospel of the Grace of God. Acts 20:24. Then he wrote those words concerning Israel and Gentile salvation in the 11th chapter of Romans.