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The Kingdom of God — Of Prophecy and of “The Mystery”

by Roland N. Icke, M.D.

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Most of Scripture is concerned with the prophesied Kingdom of God, also called the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s Gospel. Prophecy and its fulfillment under the Messiah have primary reference to God’s sovereignly-chosen people, Israel. The specific Kingdom, called the “Kingdom of His dear Son,” “…of His Christ,” was not prophesied. God’s eternal purpose to save Gentiles in a joint body with Jews was “Hid in God” as a sacred secret (“the mystery“) until fulfilled. This mystery was revealed thereafter by the glorified Christ, through Paul’s epistles.

Alva J. McClain wrote in “The Greatness of the Kingdom,” p. 284: “The events attending the appearance of the Messianic King indicate a literal identity between the Kingdom preached in the Gospels and that of Old Testament prophecy.” 1

There is at least one phase of the Kingdom of God which is equivalent to the Kingdom of Heaven. This has reference to the prophetic Kingdom about which Jesus and His Apostles preached while He was with them on earth, and which they preached during the early Acts period. He was proclaimed to be Israel’s Messiah and King, the Heir promised to David (II Sam. 7:16), and the Son promised to Mary (Luke 1:31-33). He was “the Christ,” concerning whom the prophets spoke (Isa. 9:7, and chapter 53).

The term “Kingdom of Heaven” is used more than 30 times in the Gospel of Matthew, and the term “Kingdom of God” is used in more than 70 other references. Sometimes these refer to the same Kingdom and at other times they are different. This leads to the conclusion that the designation “Kingdom of God” is a universal term. It includes the Kingdom of Heaven and all other aspects of God’s jurisdiction over His creation, whether animal, vegetable, mineral, life, matter, energy, light or time. In these cases, the context often reveals a more specific designation. There are many aspects and phases of “The Kingdom.” No single definition is adequate for all these broad terms. God had a Theocratic Kingdom in the past. His prophesied Theocratic (Messianic) Kingdom was “at hand” when Christ was on earth. It is now in absentia but it will be restored after the tribulation, established in “the millennium,” and continue in eternity. Today, believers are members of the unprophesied Kingdom (to be considered later).

Though sometimes having uncertain meaning, the term “Kingdom of Heaven” (used only in Matthew’s Gospel) could have been used interchangeably with “Kingdom of God” in the following Scripture references:

Mark 1:14,15: “the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Luke 8:1: “glad tidings of the Kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:2: “sent them to preach the kingdom of God.”

Luke 10:9: “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.”

Luke 21:31: “The kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

Luke 23:51: ” waited for the kingdom of God.”

His Kingdom, foretold in Old Testament prophecies, was actively proclaimed as at hand and partially fulfilled during the earthly presence of Jesus of Nazareth. It will be fulfilled completely in the future. God’s Kingdom of today is not found in the Old Testament Scriptures (Eph. 3:5,9; Col. 1:13), though its salvation aspect was anticipated by types, patterns, and symbolic ordinances. The mystery aspect was progressively revealed after Calvary and fits into the present unprophesied interval during which “blindness in part is happened to Israel,” until the “fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). The rest of these prophecies will then be fulfilled. “That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times, He might gather together in one, all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him” (Eph. 1:10). Our effort is limited to the consideration of these two aspects of God’s Kingdom, one prophesied and one unprophesied. All aspects of His Kingdom are according to God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 2:7, 3:10,11).

As His representative, Adam was given dominion over all God’s earthly creation (Gen. 1:26-29). By disobedience, Adam forfeited his administrative right to Satan, giving him domination of all subsequent earthly systems of world government (Luke 4:6,7). “This continuous warfare between Satan and God is the key to discerning the ultimate purpose of world history. Satan’s purpose is to overthrow God and usurp His place as the unique sovereign of the universe. God’s ultimate purpose is to demonstrate that He only (the Creator) is the ultimate sovereign.” 2 God allowed that challenge. By undeniable restoration at Calvary He proved to all creatures in heaven and earth that He has supreme authority over all that He created (II Cor. 5:19,21; Rev. 4:11, 11:15, 12:9-11).

In sovereign grace, God chose Abram (Abraham) out of heathen idolatry, and gave him an unconditional promise. Abraham was promised (1) a land (extending from the Nile to the Euphrates rivers (Gen. 15:18) and from Lebanon and the Euphrates to the Mediterranean Sea (Deut. 11:24)); (2) A great name; and (3) Blessings for Abraham (and through him to all families (nations) of the earth). The promise was confirmed and continued through Isaac (not Ishmael), through Jacob (not Esau), and applied through his twelve sons to their descendants who became the nation, Israel.

God made a conditional covenant to make Israel (not the Gentiles) a “peculiar treasure unto me above all people…and you shall be a Kingdom of priests, a holy nation…called the children of Israel” (Ex. 19:5,6), and shall reign over many nations (Deut. 15:6). This is the first use of the word “Kingdom” in the Scriptures. This was a Theocratic Kingdom under God through Moses as its mediator. At Mt. Sinai, God gave specific requirements for Israel with promised blessings for obedience to all His commandments (Ex. 15:26; Deut. 11:22,23), and curses (punishment) for disobedience (Deut. 8:19, 11:28). The Lord did not choose Israel because of its numbers but “because the Lord loved you” and had given His promise to the patriarchs (Deut. 7:6-9). “All the people answered together and said: `All that the LORD has spoken, we will do’” (Ex. 19:5-9). God’s laws were promptly broken, the people were judged, and His laws were given again.

The Theocratic Kingdom continued after Moses’ death through Joshua and then through the Judges for about 450 years. Some of the judges were unfaithful. The people wanted “a king to judge us like all the nations.” The Lord said to Samuel: “Hearken to the people, they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (I Sam. 8:3-22). Samuel entreated: “the Lord your God was your King” (I Sam. 12:12). King Saul reigned for about 40 years but became proud and jealous, causing Israel much distress. David was then chosen to be king and to lead the Israelites in conquest of their enemies. David prophesied about the coming Messiah, who would establish a righteous kingdom on earth (Acts 2:29-35). In spite of failures, David’s heart was “right” with God; his sins were confessed and forgiven (though judged). He was promised an Heir who would reign eternally (II Sam. 7:16).

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:1,2). Some of the “mysteries of the Kingdom” were revealed to His Apostles (Luke 8:11). The “mystery” (musterion) was “Hid in God” (Eph. 3:5,9) until the “due time” after Calvary. It was “committed” first to Paul as a “steward” of the mysteries (Rom. 11:13; I Cor. 4:1,2, 9:17; I Tim. 1:16; Titus 1:3) and through him, by the Spirit, to the Apostles (Gal. 2:2) and to his associates (called holy apostles and prophets; Eph. 3:5). These include Timothy, Titus, Appollos, Barnabas, Silas, Sosthenes, and some others.

Jesus came to fulfill the promises made to Abraham (Gen. 12:13, 17:1-14) and to David (II Sam. 7:16), which promises were confirmed “by the mouth of all His holy prophets…since the world began” (Luke 1:69,70; Acts 3:21; Rom. 15:8).

This One, legally the “Seed” of Abraham and the “Son of David,” will establish a righteous Millennial Kingdom on earth. As the reigning Messiah, all enemies will be put under His feet. He will have crushed Satan, conquered death, and will deliver this Kingdom to the Father, and will reign with Him forever (John 17:6-12; I Cor. 15:24-28; Rev. 22:16) from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 11:15, 22:3-5).

Problems arise in understanding which Kingdom is designated unless we carefully distinguish between: (1) The prophesied “Kingdom of God” (the Kingdom of Heaven), also called the Messianic Kingdom, and (2) God’s unprophesied “Kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13), “the Church, the Body of Christ” in the present dispensation of the grace of God (Eph. 3:2). Both of these Kingdoms belong to the Kingdom of God in its broader sense. (3) Sometimes the phrase “Kingdom of…”, was used as a simile, metaphor, or in a parable (Matt. 13:3-53) with the meaning revealed only to the Apostles. These were all “fitting” to the prophetic Kingdom, but some were replaced by new revelations under Grace (after redemption by His blood at Calvary; Eph. 1:7).

(1) The prophesied Messiah’s Kingdom: Some have called this the Davidic Kingdom because it is primarily concerned with the eternal Kingdom which was promised to David (II Sam. 7:16) with Christ, whom King David prophetically called his “Seed,” “my Lord” (Psa. 110:1). Jesus verified that He was the object of that reference (Luke 20:41-44; John 4:25,26). The prophesied Messianic Kingdom was “at hand” in the presence of Israel’s Messiah during the earthly ministry of Jesus with His disciples. His mission was to convert those chosen Israelites, who by physical birth were the natural children of Abraham (Matt. 15:24), into those becoming children of God by a spiritual new birth. “The natural man does not receive the things of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).

“The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14), “with all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9; Rev. 19:13). Jesus said: “He that has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 10:30, 14:9); “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus said: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” “It is not meet to take the children’s (Israel’s) bread and cast it to dogs” (Gentiles) (Matt. 15:24,26).

(2) Paul called the unprophesied Kingdom of God in this present age of grace, “the Church (which is) the Body of Christ.” This was also called the mystery, because it was “kept secret since the world began” until it was revealed to him by the resurrected, glorified Lord several years after Calvary (Rom. 16:25; Gal. 1:11,12; Col. 1:13,14). This is a relationship spiritually between Christ, its heavenly Head, and redeemed fellow-members of His body (Jew and Gentile alike individually) living on earth but having heavenly, rather than earthly promises (Eph. 1:3,20, 2:57, 5:30; Titus 2:13). This could also logically be called Christ’s “Body Kingdom.” Neither term, “Davidic Kingdom” nor “Body Kingdom,” is specifically so translated from the original Scripture texts but may reasonably be used for clarification of the references. In Paul’s epistles, his term “Church of God” usually refers to Christ’s “Body Church” and “Body Kingdom” except when confirming the historical facts of the “gospel by which we are saved” (I Cor. 15:1-4; Acts 9:20-22,27, 19:3-8). The “end-time” Kingdom will be delivered to God the Father, restoring dominion forfeited by Adam’s sin (Heb. 12:22,28; I Cor. 15:24).

When one is saved today, by Grace through faith alone (in Christ’s finished work at Calvary), the Spirit places this member into the unprophesied “Body Church” as a new spiritual creation (I Cor. 12:13; II Cor. 5:17) and simultaneously translates him into “The Kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13,14). This is not an entrance into the prophesied Davidic Kingdom of God (properly called also the Kingdom of Heaven). That Kingdom, with earthly blessings, was promised to redeemed Israel and it included proselytes to Judaism (Acts 10:36-48). The Apostles had been instructed to pray for the Messiah’s prophesied spiritual Kingdom to come out of heaven, and for its righteous conditions to be established on earth (Matt. 6:10). Since Christ’s ascension, the Kingdom of God (of Heaven) in the person of the Messianic King has not been at hand. In the future Millennial and eternal Kingdoms, Christ will reign with power and great glory.

What difference does it make? It should be remembered that God did not make a covenant with, or promise blessings directly to, any Gentiles since the days of the patriarchs, and that the Lord’s earthly ministry was only to Israel (Matt. 15:24; Rom. 15:8). The Gentiles were “strangers from Israel’s covenants, without hope and without God in the world.” How thankful we Gentiles should be for the “But now in Christ Jesus” which changed that hopeless state and reconciled us to God (Eph. 2:12-16).

All our blessings, as believers today, are spiritual, in heavenly places (not earthly) in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3). We are fellow-members in the Body Kingdom, without gender or racial distinction. “That He might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) unto God in one body by the cross” (Eph. 2:16). The earlier Bible teachers erred in claiming some of Isaiah’s prophecies about Israel, when there was no Israel (between 70 A.D. and 1948), to mean the present Body Church and Body Kingdom. We have no right to select blessings promised to others in the Messianic Kingdom and claim them in this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). God always fulfills His promises to the ones promised.

THE PROPHESIED KINGDOM OF GOD

The Messianic (Davidic) Kingdom

As God incarnate, Jesus called Himself the “Son of man.” This term is used more than 80 times in the Gospels, and again by Stephen in Acts 7:56, and by John in Revelation 1:13 and 14:14. In Daniel’s prophecy, speaking of endtime events (2:44), he stated: “and in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed. The kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” Daniel saw in a vision, “One like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and there was given to Him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people nations and languages, should serve Him…His dominion is everlasting…shall not pass away…shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13,14). This prophecy does not distinguish between the Messiah’s 1000 year reign and His eternal reign, but considers them blending together.

When the wise men from the east “followed the star” (Matt. 2:9-11), they came to Jerusalem and asked: “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:1,2). They knew from the Old Testament scrolls that God had promised David that one of his descendants (“Seed”; II Sam. 7:12-17) would establish a kingdom and throne forever. More was revealed in Isaiah 9:6,7, Daniel 2:44 and numerous other prophecies. “A king shall reign and prosper” (Jer. 23:5). “One king shall be king unto them all” (Ezek. 37:22). The virgin, Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she will “bring forth a Son, JESUS, who will be great…the Son of the Highest…and God will give unto Him the throne of His father, David…of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). This King will “redeem His people (Israel),” deliver from all enemies (Luke 1:68-77), fulfill God’s promises to the patriarchs (Rom. 15:8) and prophecies of Israel’s peaceful earthly inheritance and blessings (Gen. 12:13; 17:1-14), and reign eternally.

Many of the prophecies and promises were written over a period of several hundred years, warning of God’s judgments and dispersion for disobedience and idolatry, but promising future restoration. Since the Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C., the Israelites have had no king. The “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) will continue until the Messiah’s second coming to judge, then to reign as King, giving “the sure mercies of David” (Acts 13:34). Israel had been subjected to the Babylonians, Media-Persians (536 B.C.), Grecians (322 B.C.), and Romans (63 B.C.). During the interval of about 400 years between the Old Testament and New Testament writings, the Rabbis developed differing traditions for interpretation of the Scriptures, often opposed to the literal Word. The genealogy in Matthew (chapter 1) established the legal right of Jesus of Nazareth to the throne of David. More than 300 prophecies were quickly fulfilled literally in less than 4 years of His earthly ministry; the remaining prophecies will also be fulfilled literally.

“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Gal. 4:4,5). Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:47), taken as an infant to Egypt (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:13-15), and raised in Nazareth (Matt. 2:23; Luke 4:16).

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness…saying: `repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’; For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: `The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight’” (Matt. 3:13). He warned the Pharisees and Sadducees: “O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:7,8). Quoting from Malachi 3:1, Jesus said that John was the one preparing the way for the Messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament (Luke 7:24-27). He was baptized by John, “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15), and that He might be “made manifest to Israel,” He was introduced, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.” God the Father and the Holy Spirit authenticated John’s record that “this is the Son of God” (Matt. 3:16,17; John 1:29-34).

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights…and hungered,” the tempter tried repeatedly to entice Him into acting independently of the Father, and showed Him “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.” The devil offered “all these things” in exchange for worship (Matt. 4:8; Luke 4:1-13). This was his attempt to “be like the most High,” to displace God, and to be worshipped himself (Isa. 14:12-15). Jesus could not violate His covenant with the Father for our redemption (Eph. 1:3-11, 3:10,11) and He overcame all temptations “by the Word of God.” He came into the world to “destroy the works of the devil” (John 12:27,31; Eph. 6:12; Heb. 2:14; I John 3:8; Rev. 12:10,11).

In the Nazareth synagogue at age 12, Jesus had astonished the doctors with his understanding and answers (Luke 2:46-48). Upon beginning His ministry, He shocked them further by claiming to be the One who fulfilled the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61:1,2, “As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read…`The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…to heal the broken hearted… preach deliverance to the captives…recovering of sight to the blind…to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. He closed the book and said: “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:16-22). He did not quote the remainder of Isaiah’s prophecy: “and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn,” for that part is still future. “And all bare Him witness and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, `Is not this Joseph’s son’?” And He said, “no prophet is accepted in his own country” (vs. 24). This claim was a threat to their prestigious positions.

“And all they in the synagogue when they heard these things, were filled with wrath” and tried to kill Him, but He passed through the midst of them and went His way (Luke 4:28-30). As on other occasions, His “hour had not yet come” (John 7:30, 8:20). He was sent to preach the Kingdom of God in other cities also (Luke 4:43). Jesus said: “There is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist, but he that is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he. And all the people that heard him, and the publicans justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” (Luke 7:28-30). Many of the chief rulers also believed on Him, “but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42,43). Jesus later reproached the lawyers, who continued trying to trick Him in words in order to ensnare and discredit Him (Luke 11:52-54). He told the covetous Pharisees: “You are they which justify but God knows your hearts. For that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The Law and the prophets were until John; since that time the Kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it” (Luke 16:1416).

“From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, `Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”‘ (Matt. 4:17, 9:13), emphasizing the spiritual nature of His Kingdom. He raised the Law’s commandment against adultery and covetousness, forbidding lustful thoughts as well as the deeds (Matt. 5:27-28). “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (good news; Mark 1:14,15).

“Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness…and diseases…and cast out devils (as prophesied for Israel’s Messiah). His fame went throughout all Syria…and a great multitude of people followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and from beyond Jordan” (Matt. 4:23-25).

Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, He validated the accuracy of the Old Testament prophecies, presented Himself as the One literally fulfilling what the prophets had said, and gave assurance that their remaining predictions would be literally fulfilled. The prophets often did not understand all that they had been divinelyinstructed to write (Luke 10:24) and often were unaware of intervals between near and farterm events. The Apostles had not recognized that He must suffer before His reign. Some Rabbis thought there must be two Messiahs, one to suffer and one to reign; and they interpreted some prophecies about suffering to mean that the nation Israel suffers.

It should be realized that He was not preaching “the gospel of the Grace of God” (Acts 20:24), which in resurrected glory He commanded Paul to preach after Calvary.

“And seeing the multitude, He went up into a mountain, and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him…and He taught (that which is known as The Sermon on the Mount), as One having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt. 5:1 to 7:29). This fifth chapter of Matthew presents what many have called “the charter of the Kingdom,” the “beatitudes” or blessings associated with the prophesied Kingdom of God (out of Heaven) on earth, under the Messiah’s reign as King.

This is the spiritual aspect of the Kingdom under Christ. Its blessings and promises are conditional (as was Israel’s covenant at Sinai), based upon complete obedience. The pure in heart shall see God. The peacemakers shall be called the children of God. Those who mourn shall be comforted. The merciful will be shown mercy. The meek shall inherit the earth (Psa. 37:11). Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. The Kingdom of Heaven is promised to the “poor in spirit,” and to those who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:2,10). Their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter into this spiritual kingdom (Matt. 5:20) for those hypocrites say and do not (Matt. 23:3). All of the promised blessings will come only under the Messiah’s righteous millennial reign, without any evil influence, when there will be complete obedience to all the terms of God’s covenant with Israel.

THE UNPROPHESIED KINGDOM OF GOD

Christ’s “Body Church Kingdom”

The Mystery

Mankind failed under all administrations of the general Kingdom of God. Adam sinned and forfeited his earthly dominion to Satan. The Gentiles “did not like to retain God in their knowledge,” and were “given up” (Rom. 1:24,26,28). God, in the person of His Son, “came unto His own” (Israel), preaching the gospel (good news) of the Kingdom of God, “but His own (nationally) received Him not (John 1:11). “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14), but God’s eternal purpose will not fail.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus were so unexpected and humanly impossible that the Apostles did not believe those first reports; however, with God all things are possible (Luke 24:11; Acts 9:13,14,26; Matt. 19:26; Acts 2:32). Saul had made havoc of the Jerusalem Church believers. He went to Damascus with authority to arrest and bring to Jerusalem for judgment all those of “the way,” who believed Jesus to be the resurrected Christ (Acts 9:3). Though zealous in the “Jews’ religion” (Gal. 1:13) and “blameless” under the Mosaic Law (Phil. 3:6), Saul did not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah. As an unbelieving blasphemer who should have known, he deserved God’s judgment, but was shown mercy (I Tim. 1:13).

In matchless grace (Gal. 1:15), the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ appeared in His heavenly glory and chose this one, His chief human enemy, to be His faithful bond-servant (Rom. 1:1). Blinded by the divine glory, Saul’s zeal was redirected and he asked: “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). He was directed: “bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Though knowing “what great things he must suffer for My (Christ’s) names’ sake” (Acts 9:16), he considered it “not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

After receiving his sight again and being “baptized to wash away his sins” (Acts 22:16), Saul “straightway preached Christ in the Damascus synagogue, that He is the Son of God.” He confirmed that Jesus was indeed Israel’s prophesied Messiah, crucified, dead and buried, and that God had raised Him from the dead, as the Apostles had preached post-resurrection. He “confounded the Damascus Jews, proving (from the Old Testament Scriptures) that this is very Christ,” but they tried to kill him. He escaped to Jerusalem and wanted to tell the ones he had lead in persecuting the believers that he had been wrong and that Jesus really was their Messiah; however they also tried to kill him (Acts 9:20-23,27,29, 19:3-8). The Lord said to him, “make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me…I will send you far away unto the Gentiles” (Acts 22:18-21). After Saul’s conversion, “official” anger was furiously directed toward him because he preached Jesus Christ’s resurrection and salvation for the Gentiles. The churches “had rest,” served the Lord, were “edified,” comforted by the Spirit, and their numbers increased (Acts 9:31).

Saul (a Hebrew name) was also called Paul (a Roman name, Paulus). He was, for three years in Arabia, taught by “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11,12,17-23). Progressively during his ministry, Paul learned what had been accomplished at Calvary when the sinless, incarnate Son of God took man’s guilt upon Himself and paid man’s sin-debt (death) as our Substitute. He learned that God’s eternal purpose was to redeem both Jew and Gentile alike as “one new man,” in a manner unprophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures, by grace alone without the works (ordinances) of the Law (Eph. 2:8-19).

Barnabas brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch for mostly a Gentile ministry. He taught there for a full year and many believed. God “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27, 15:3), and “wrought miracles and wonders among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12). “The disciples were called Christians, first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).

Certain men came from Judea and said, “Except you be circumcised, you can not be saved” (Acts 15:1). This caused much dissension and disputation. The Antioch Church sent Paul, Barnabas and some others to Jerusalem to settle the question.

Paul was divinely-directed (about A.D. 50) to go with Barnabas to Jerusalem and communicate to the Church leaders, “that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.” He took Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, as a “test case” (Acts 15:1-6; Gal. 2:1-5). Peter recalled his puzzling command to go to the Gentile, Cornelius, noting that the Holy Ghost had purified their believing hearts by faith “even as He did unto us” (Acts 15:7-11). James, presiding, noted Peter’s experience and that the prophets foretold salvation for believing Gentiles, and he rendered his decision that the Gentiles should not be required to observe Israel’s Law and covenant requirements (Acts 15:19-30). James, Cephas (Peter) and John (representing the Apostles) formally agreed, with the “right hands of fellowship,” to confine their ministry to “the circumcision” (Israel). They commended Paul and Barnabas’ ministry to the “heathen” (Gentiles; Gal. 2:7-9).

Scripture gives no record that they violated that agreement. James wrote his epistle to “the twelve tribes, scattered abroad” (James 1:1). Peter wrote to “the strangers who were scattered” at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 8:1, 11:19; I Pet. 1:1), after he was given “further revelation” by the Spirit of truth (John 16:12,13) on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4, 16-23), at Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:45), in Samaria (Acts 8:17), and from Paul (Acts 15:11; Gal. 2:2). He stated that the prophets had searched diligently about the “salvation of souls” and had pondered about the “sufferings of Christ” and the “grace that should come.” This would be a “light to the Gentiles,” to be revealed in the last time (Luke 2:26-32). The angels also, had wanted to “look into that gospel” (Luke 24:25-27; Acts 26:23; I Pet. 1:5-12; II Pet. 3:15,16). John’s writings (in the A.D. 90s) also were primarily directed to the Jews, but they contain much that is compatible with the “Body truths” revealed through Paul.

In “due time,” the glorified Lord revealed “the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3) to His chosen Apostle Paul, and by it He completed the Word of God for the Gentiles (Col. 1:24-26). This gospel, a sacred secret (musterion), was “in other ages not made known.” It was “Hid in God,” according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:1-11). That which Paul calls “the mystery” is a body of truth which could not be known by any other means than by divine revelation. The heart of the mystery was the blood of the cross and what the “once-for-all” sacrifice (Heb. 10:10) of the sinless Lamb of God accomplished by His death in substitution for us (Gal. 6:14). “But God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 13:30). “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins… but now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept” (I Cor. 15:17-20). This is the basis for his preaching the “Gospel of the Grace of God” (Acts 20:24) which explains the means whereby God remains righteous and just, while justifying the ones deserving the death penalty for sin (Rom. 3:26; II Cor. 5:21). Christ completely paid the death penalty, leaving no sin debt.

Paul warned vigorously of God’s curse upon any one in our present dispensation who preaches “any other gospel,” and substitutes any other means to be saved, than that which the resurrected, glorified Christ commanded him to preach. Mixing the “grace message” with anything else would “frustrate the grace of God” (Gal. 2:21), and “the cross of Christ would be made of none effect” (I Cor. 1:17). This curse would be upon Paul himself, any man, or an angel from heaven, if any being dared to violate that heavenly command (Gal. 1:8,9,11,12). “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of. For necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is unto me if I do not preach this gospel…a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me (I Cor. 9:16,17). “The things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (I Cor. 14:37), “the word of God” (I Thess. 2:13), and replaced His teachings to Israel in the flesh (II Cor. 5:16).

Paul “gloried” in the cross (Gal. 6:14). The background for its importance for salvation was laid in the Old Testament Scriptures. The reason for, and result of, Christ’s suffering was a mystery, unrevealed at that time. The “gospel of God” was promised “by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord…made the `seed of David according to the flesh,’ declared the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:1-6). “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (Num. 21:9; John 3:14). In Paul’s defense before King Agrippa, he verified that Moses and the Prophets had foretold Christ’s suffering; and “that He should rise from the dead and should show light unto the people (Israel) and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:19-29). If his “almost persuasion” were sincere, Paul would have urged Agrippa to trust Christ as his own Saviour.

Types, patterns, commandments, animal sacrifices and other symbolic ordinances were considered to be “works of righteousness” under the Mosaic Law (Deut. 6:25). All of these anticipated Christ’s complete provision for the soul’s salvation in all ages (though not known in the past). These served as temporary “coverings,” or for symbolic washing away of sins. It was the faith of those sincere believers who did what God required at the time, which was accepted by God. The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, to the Apostles and other Jews under the Law are important for us to know. However, the resurrected Christ gave different commandments for us today, under Grace (II Cor. 5:16-21).

Notes:

  1. Alva J. McClain, “The Greatness of the Kingdom,” p. 284. Moody Press, Chicago, IL.
  2. Renald E. Showers, “Foundations of Faith,” Israel My Glory, Apr./May 1999, p. 28. Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries Inc., P.O. Box 908, Bellmawr, NJ 08099-0908.