By Tom M. Roberts
As past articles in this series have indicated, The Acts is much more than a simple rendition of the beginning of the church and its early history. In fact, The Acts takes upon itself a form of apologetics as it presents the church to the world full of skepticism (Romans) and prejudice (Jews). One is not asked to accept Jesus Christ, the risen Savior, on blind faith. Rather, the evidence is presented to the Romans as in a forensic case; to the Jews as a model of Mosaic orthodoxy. We have already studied the case of evidence, based upon the role of the apostles as “witnesses.” Now, let us examine the case as it would appear in the eyes of those familiar to the Law of Moses.
Was this church something new, unexpected, unheralded? Did one have to turn one’s back on the Law and the prophets in order to accept Jesus of Nazareth? Could a descendant of Abraham remain faithful to his nation and yet become a part of a “sect” that opened its doors to Gentiles? Could a Jew become a part of this Kingdom and avoid conflict with Rome? To Jews, there were many disturbing factors to be considered: the Sabbath, sacrifices, the Temple, the priesthood, and most importantly, the Torah. Could anyone expect a devout Jew to turn his back on millennia of following after Moses and abruptly begin to follow Jesus?
Luke’s approach (by inspiration) was to lay the foundation that Christianity was but an extension, the natural culmination of all that Judaism represented. Rather than violate the law by accepting Jesus, a Jew realized the natural end (purpose) of the law by accepting him of whom the law and prophets testified. In becoming a Christian, a Jew fulfilled his planned destiny from God. As Paul would later declare, “For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). Luke proved that a Jew, in fact, followed orthodoxy when he became a Christian and that only by denying Jesus could he violate the Law.
Before us is another of the great themes from Acts.
When Pentecost occurred, there was not so much a break with the past as a fruition. God was beginning, at that pregnant moment of time, to fulfill the prophets, not destroy them (Matt. 5:17). Luke carefully rehearsed the sermon from Pentecost, showing that the apostles argued their case as Jews to Jews, brethren to brethren, as fellow inheritors of the promises to Abraham and David, not violators of the covenant. The event of the day was the culmination of history, not a break from it.
Without repeating the sermon of Acts 2, we must impress that it is a model of proof to those who loved the Old Testament. Beginning with Joel’s prediction of the “last days,” and continuing through David’s testimony of the Christ, the twelve drove home the fact that God had promised both a king and kingdom and that “this is that” (v. 16) spoken by the prophets. There would be no disloyalty in accepting Jesus as the Christ. It would be disloyal to God not to accept the Messiah. God had raised Jesus to sit upon the throne of David when he raised him from the dead (vv. 30-31). The Holy Spirit, of whom Joel spoke, had poured forth the power on Pentecost (v. 33), even as he had given proof through the works of Jesus of which the multitudes were witnesses (v. 22), as were the apostles (v. 32). The logical conclusion of such a presentation was that “God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified” (v. 36).
That Jesus was rejected by the nation came as no surprise. In fact, the rejection became, in itself, a mark of identity. While the gospel of Luke records the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, it also records the crucifixion. Cries of “Blessed is the King that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Lk. 19:38) turned into cries of “Crucify, crucify him” (23:21). Luke attested to this as fulfillment of Scripture when he recorded Peter and John saying, “He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner” (Acts 4:11). This served as a warning to listeners not to repeat the tragedy of rejecting Jesus once again. The King of the Jews had now established the long-awaited kingdom.
From the opening paragraph to the last, Luke presented his case. He began with Christ “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (1:3) and closed with Paul before the Roman Jews “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 31).
When Philip went to Samaria, he went “preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12). When the disciples were confirmed by Paul on his second journey, he exhorted the brethren to “continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations (they) must enter the kingdom of God” (14:22). In the synagogues, Paul “spoke boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God” (19:8).
And what better source for proof-texts than the Old Testament? The sacred Scriptures, which testified of Jesus (John 5:39), were used to make manifest the ancient testimonies of God. Peter affirmed that Jesus was “that prophet” (3:22-23) like Moses to whom all should pay heed and that “Samuel and all the prophets told of these days” (V. 24). Paul “expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets” (28:23).
A Universal Kingdom
As far back as Genesis 3:15, God promised the “seed of woman” who would become the Christ. In Abraham, he promised blessings to “all the families of the world” (Gen. 18:18) through this promised seed. In David, he promised a king and a kingdom (2 Sam. 7:11ff). Through Daniel, God promised further that the kingdom would consume all other nations (2:44). Isaiah had spoken that “all nations” would be in that kingdom (2:2).
This cumulative evidence, and more, must have been the basis for the heated discussion in Jerusalem in Acts 15 as to the destiny of the Gentiles who believed in Jesus. James summed up the evidence when he stated: “Simeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets” (15:14,15). This is followed by a quotation from Amos 9:11,12.
Surely, we must be struck by the steadfast manner in which Luke pressed his theme of a kingdom that required no treason to embrace. Under the searching light of his presentation, it would have been treasonous not to accept it.
Questions Are Answered
Was this church something new, unexpected, unheralded? No, it was a subject of ancient prophecy. Did one have to turn his back on the Law and the prophets in order to accept Jesus of Nazareth? No, one would establish the law and prophets (Acts 2:30-35; Rom. 3:31) by accepting Jesus. Could a descendant of Abraham remain faithful to his nation and yet become a part of a sect that opened its doors to Gentiles? Yes, if it was understood that God was granting them “repentance unto life” (11:18) as well as the Jews. Could a Jew become a part of this Kingdom and avoid conflict with Rome? Yes, if he realized that “his citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20; Acts 28:17-18). To Jews, there were many disturbing factors to be considered: the Sabbath, sacrifices, the Temple, the priesthood, and most importantly, the Torah. Could anyone expect a devout Jew to turn his back on millennia of following after Moses and abruptly begin to follow Jesus? Yes, if he understood that the Old Testament system was a “yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10), yet it did not require the Christian to do aught I against the people, or the customs of our fathers” (28:17). The typical system was gone; the anti-type had arrived, substance had replaced shadow.
With these things before us, we can only stand in awe at the evidence and testimony presented by this great historian. Another of the great themes from Acts is brought to view with evidence sufficient to convince Jew and Gentile alike that the Christ is now on the throne of David. Our own faith in Jesus is enhanced by the evidence before us and we can only thank God for his Providence in bringing it to our view.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 12, pp. 362-363
June 18, 1992