THE MESSAGE OF THE KINGDOM AND OF THE NEW BIRTH
The gospel of the circumcision is also that of the Kingdom; it is mentioned three times: Mat.4:23; 9:35; 24:14. We have seen in The Divine Plan that this gospel announced to Israel that the Kingdom on earth, the subject of so many prophecies, was near, all that was required was the repentance of this rebellious people. After John the Baptist, the King Himself had come to proclaim this Good News: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18,19).
Having quoted these words from Isaiah, He closed the book and said: "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21). He stopped in the middle of a sentence of Isaiah because the remainder would be accomplished only later, just before the coming of the Kingdom.
The point of this message, which was intended to bring them to repentance and the new birth, was that the "Jesus" whom they despised was the "Christ," that is to say the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Son of God .1
And so we see Paul proclaiming this news immediately after his conversion. A fever days later he preached in the synagogues that Christ is the Son of God; and he "increased the more in strength and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus proving that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:20-22).
In Antioch, together with Barnabas he taught many people (Acts 11:26). It is well to remember that they were addressing assemblies of Christian Jews. (The Gentiles did not begin to receive the Word of God until some 10 years after Pentecost: Acts 11:1-18). In fact, these Jews who believed the Messiah wee the first to be called "Christians," from that time on. 2
Being sent to Salamis by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Paul (still called Saul) proclaim the Word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. '
When they arrived at Antioch in Pisidia, they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Greek: the day of the sabbaths) and after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the ruler of the synagogue invites them to speak to the "people" (Acts 13:14,15) - designating thereby the assembly of Jews and proselytes. 3 Paul summarizes Israel's history and arrives at the Savior of Israel and repentance: "...to you is the word of this salvation sent," v.26; he testifies, as the Twelve do, of His resurrection. 4 "And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children", vs.32,33; "....through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness (remission) of sins", vs.38
1 Recall that this message was addressed only to the Jews. The Gentiles would be blessed through the elect people thus, this people had first to repent and occupy the position that God had prepared for them in His Plan (See The Divine Man). The gospel of the Kin dom says nothing about the cross. When the Lord speaks to His disciples about His death (Mat.16:21), they do not understand Him, and even reproach Him! The Greek words stauros and stauroo (cross and to crucify) are found only in Paul's Epistles (except of course, in the Gospels and Rev.11:8 where the reference is to the historical event).
2 Acts 11:26. It is usually considered that "Jew" and "Christian" are ii op position. This is not so. The regenerated Jew remains a Jew. The tern ")eve" does not indicate a belief but a nationality. On earth there always remains a separation between Christian Jews and Christians from others nations. Only in the heavenly and above-heavenly spheres will there be neither Jew nor Gentile i.e. no national distinction. All Jews in the coming eon will be Christians but they wilt form a "royal priesthood," a "holy nation," 1 Pet. 2:9 a visible unity quite distinct from the other nations. Christian Jews actually are beginning to realize this and to forty separate assemblies: "Christian synagogues" as in the time of Acts. This is the case, for example, with the Judeo-Christian Community" of Jerusalem.
3 See verse 16, where "ye that fear God" indicates proselytes. This was the "technical" term used to designate Gentiles whether circumcised of not, who believed in "Jehovah" and attended, the synagogue meetings where they were separated from the Jews, See also v.43 where the proselytes are called by this name, and Acts 10:2,22; 13:26; 16:14; 17:4,17; 18:7.
4 See also 1 Cor.15:11,12 which speak of Paul and the Twelve (v.5-9).
Paul is going further than the Twelve by already alluding to justification, which will be more particularly part of his gospel to the uncircumcision.
The following Sabbath there came not only Jews and proselytes to hear Paul, but "almost the whole city", v.44, and now the Jews resist Paul who, still in the city, turns to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas are expelled.
They had presented their message, and accomplished, to the letter, the Lord's instructions to go forth, not to the Gentiles, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, preaching that "The Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat.10:5-7).The Lord had said: "whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet:" (Mat.10:14). And so we read, in Acts 13:51, that Paul and Barnabas "shook off the dust of their feet."
Paul and Barnabas thus continue to carry the message of the Kingdom on earth to the Jews of the dispersion. At Iconium they went into the synagogue of the Jews, and God granted signs and wonders to be done by them (Acts 14:1-4), which are the normal accompaniment to that message .5 There is a mention of the "Greeks" (Acts 14:1): since these were in the synagogue, they must have been proselytes. The Jews stirred up the Gentiles, so Paul and Barnabas fled "unto the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra, and Derbe" (Greek text), where they preached the gospel. There, Paul heals a cripple, and the crowd hails Paul and Barnabas as gods. But Paul does not accept this tribute, and, since that was a heathen environment which did not know the living God, he does not speak to them about Christ and the Kingdom, but urges them to turn to the Creator God. This is another Good News, adapted to this people - and to many others, even to our contemporaries. In fact, the way of salvation must begin with the fear of the Creator God: this is the door of faith (Acts 10:35; 14:27).
Having returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, he reminds the disciples that the coming of the Kingdom is preceded by much tribulation (Acts 14:21,22). Thus they are only confirming the message of the Prophets, the Lord, and the Twelve.
So we see that, in the chief cities the apostles had visited, the Jewish leaders were rejecting the message of the Kingdom, am that the Gentiles, on the other hand, were beginning to turn toward God and the Christ. The Acts period is a period c transition; it should have led to the Kingdom on earth. However because Israel did not repent, the Word of God was sent to the nations before the "normal" time, so to. speak-That is to say before the time this preaching would have occurred had Israel repented and been converted as a nation. Nevertheless, the Kingdom message continued to be preached to the Jews of the dispersion in those places where the Messiah had not yet bee rejected.
When Paul speaks to the Gentiles it is either to invite them t turn toward God as Creator, or, to those who have progressed in the way of salvation, to believe in Christ as their Savior. This will be perceived more clearly in the epistles he wrote during the Acts period. It appears that Bamabas did not follow Paul in the process, Acts 15:39 and Ga1.2:13.
But the Kingdom is still "near", and the signs continue: Pay is delivered from prison, Acts 16:24-26.
At Thessalonica Paul enters the synagogue, as was h manner, and testifies that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 17:1-3). A few Jews and a great multitude of proselytes were persuaded. ~ Berea, he made another visit to the synagogue; the Berean receive the Word with all readiness of mind and search the Scriptures daily to verify that what they heard was true (Ac 17:11). Now, at this time, the Scriptures can only be the OT, and this proves that the message of Paul to the Jews did not ~ beyond the OT: nothing that he preaches in relation to the Kingdom was hidden; he does not yet make known any "mysteries", i.e. things that were held "in secret."
In Athens, Paul reasons with the Jews and proselytes in the synagogue and in the market place with those he met there. To the Gentiles he preaches, as at Lystra, the Creator God and calls for their repentance "toward" Him.
Every Sabbath he reasons in the synagogue at Corinth, seeking to persuade the Jews and the Greeks (proselytes) that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 18:1-5). Here too, he turns to the Gentiles when the Jews resist him (v.6). Next, we see Paul in the synagogue at Ephesus (Acts 18:19 and 19:8) reasoning for three months about the things concerning the Kingdom of God .6 There, Paul performs some extraordinary miracles (v.11).
In the 26th chapter of Acts Paul, says: "And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers; unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews." (Acts 26:6,7).
Finally, in the 28th chapter, where we see that the bite of a viper causes him no harm, and when he has healed several sick persons on the island of Melita (Malta), Paul holds the last meeting with the Jews at Rome. He still continues to speak of the hope of Israel, 7 preaches the Kingdom of God, and tries to persuade them concerning Jesus, both out of the Law of Moses and out of the Prophets. Here too, the official representatives of the people of Israel reject their Messiah, and Paul recalls the sentence of Isaiah 6:9,10 which is now fulfilled: Israel everywhere has closed their ears and their eyes, and hardened their hearts; henceforth the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles.
Paul no longer speaks of "Jesus", but of the Lord Jesus Christ; he no longer knows Christ in the flesh, but Jesus Christ seated at the right (hand) of God. He now preaches the Kingdom of God in general, a Kingdom which embraces all creation and all the ages; he no longer proclaims the Kingdom of heaven localized on the earth. The elected people are set aside for a time, the earthly Kingdom offer is temporarily suspended.
In summary, we thus see that Paul proclaims at least three gospels during this period:
1. He announces the Creator God to the non-believers-in Christ, and calls on them to give up vain things and to turn to the living God;
2. He proclaims the good news of the Kingdom on earth to those of the circumcision and the proselytes and calls them to the faith in Jesus Christ and to repentance;
3. He proclaims Christ to those uncircumcised who have already turned to God, and informs them of their blessings in association with Israel.
In the epistles, we will see that during this period Paul also proclaims what might be regarded as a fourth gospel, namely the message of justification and of the new creation; in the book of Acts we find only a few allusions to this gospel.
It may be well to remember here the Abrahamic promises; we must then consider four classes of men:
1. Those who do not yet believe in God;
2. The great nation, i.e. Israel, who will be blessed, and possess the land of Canaan, and be a source of blessings (Gen.12:2,3);
3. The families of the earth blessed in Abraham.8 Israel, especially, will constitute the posterity designated as "the dust of the earth" (Gen.13:16);
4. The posterity which will be as numerous as the stars in heaven, and in relationship to God through justification (Gen.15:5,6).
6 Acts.19:8 and 20:25 (in this latter text the principal manuscripts do not read "God").
7 Acts 28:20. It is important to note that right up to the end of Acts it is the hope of Israel that is in view.
8 This concerns the families of the earth. Gal.3:8 speaks of a more general blessing, not exclusively earthly.
These Abrahamic promises begin to be realized during the period of Acts. The Twelve address their call to repentance, which leads to the birth from above, mainly to the second of these classes, and exceptionally to the third class. Paul addresses himself to all classes. As the Kingdom on earth was gradually rejected by Israel-and as it became increasingly apparent that the promises concerning this nation, and the blessing of the Gentiles through it, would not be realized yet-Paul concentrates on the message addressed to the fourth class, speaking about the heavenly position in Christ and justification. So we see that we must distinguish between the different classes of people and the messages addressed to them. However, we must here take care and avoid the error that some make, thinking that the call to repentance concerns only the Jews and not the Gentiles.
We find in Scripture two great lines of teaching: the realization of the divine plan within time, and the spiritual way of salvation. The first relates to the history of humanity and of the people of Israel, of ages and dispensations; the second refers to the personal life of the individual. Since all men are born in a state of sin, of spiritual separation from God, it is through a spiritual birth, a "new birth", that they must first come into communion with God. This communion can become closer and closer, and so lead to the stage of justification, then to that of perfection in Christ (of which more later). Those men who enter into this experience may belong to the nation of Israel or other nations and live in different places and periods, but the way of salvation always remains the same. All OT and NT passages which concern the individual's personal life are thus applicable to all, in accordance with the position reached along the way of salvation. At all times, "natural" man should first of all believe in, and turn toward, the Creator in order to be regenerated through grace. At all times, the man born from above should believe in Christ as Savior, and, through the death to sin, reach the stage of justification in Christ. At all times, justified man should arrive at perfection in Christ.
But the proclamation of these good news depends on the general state of humanity. According to God's plan, it is the elect people of Israel who should have arrived first at a national regeneration through faith in their Messiah; then the Kingdom on earth announced by the Prophets, by the Lord Himself, and by His apostles would have been established, and the holy nation of Israel would have been able to serve, guided by God, for the regeneration of all the nations. When the Lord came, he therefore addressed Himself exclusively to that elect people, and it is this people who first received the call to regeneration. It was not sufficient, however, that only a certain number of them accept the call and be born again: what was required was a national regeneration, without which the Messiah would not come in glory to take possession of His power and establish His Kingdom on earth.
Meanwhile, as the coming of this national rebirth was delayed, and later on was even postponed until the end of the present age, individual regeneration still remained the order of the day. There has indeed been a change. in the manner in which God administered the world-since Israel was temporarily set aside as instrument for the salvation of the nations-but there has been no change in the individual way of salvation: as it has always been, "natural" man must first return to spiritual communion with God, i.e. be born of the Spirit, be regenerated.
It is true that during the period of Acts Paul already introduces another "another" gospel, but this Good News is addressed to those who were born again. We will examine this in greater detail in another chapter, but we wish here to emphasize that during this same period Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, still calls for repentance and faith in relation to God as Creator when addressing the heathen who do not yet know the living God. See, for instance, Acts 14:15.
The preceding may help some of those who oppose our teachings to realize that if we say that the OT, the gospels, and other parts of the NT address themselves particularly to the Jews, this does not mean that only a few of Paul's epistles have any value for us.
We repeat that we retain all that concerns personal spiritual life in all the Scriptures. What we maintain is that in all that concerns special ministries (as that of Israel) and external things (e.g. organization, liturgy, special gifts), it is absolutely essential to consider the "dispensation", i.e. the manner in which God administers the world, either with Israel as the elect people, or temporarily, without this people. Only those people for whom visible institutions were provided can properly adopt them, and then only during the period of time prescribed by God. To apply anything to anyone at any time-and especially during the present time-can only lead to disorder and divisions. Indeed, this is precisely what we have seen happening for some 1900 years within Christendom.
Let us also add that even that which is addressed more specially to the Jews, or in general to other than us, is not without value to us, Rom.15:4; 2Tim.3:16. Throughout the Scriptures we see proofs of divine love and grace, and we find situations from which we can study with spiritual benefit. How could the lives of OT believers, particularly those of Abraham, Solomon, David, and other psalmists, not give us information that may be very useful for our personal lives? And do we not need the whole of Scriptures to come to know the Savior in all His aspects?