God’s Unchangeable Purpose with Israel, part 5
Paul and the apostles go to “lost” Israel
We are continuing to demonstrate in the New Testament how it was to, for, by and about Israel. We’re in Acts 13 and if we look at verses 13–16, we will discover whom Paul is addressing here:
13 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos,…
Let’s pause a moment to identify Paphos as a maritime city on the west coast of Cyprus. Paul and the boys left there and sailed to a city called Perga.
13…they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.
Perga was a town on the river Cestius in Asia Minor—now modern Turkey.
14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia,
There are two cities named Antioch in the Bible. One is the capital of Syria; but the one spoken of here is also in Asia Minor, near the border of the province of Phrygia…
and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.
15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.
Here is where Paul is ready to preach—Where? In Asia Minor, and listen now as he addresses the audience. To whom is he speaking?
16 Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.
There is no question that Paul is addressing Israel here, but some one will point out that he also is addressing other people because he says: “ye that fear God,” which might include others who are not of Israel. I agree with that possibility.
However, one could argue that Paul means “ye men of Israel and ye—among Israel—that fear God.” That has to be a possibility, too, because we know that all of the Israel people, back then and today, do not fear God, do they? There are true Christians among Israel today and there are many unbelievers among us Israelites, aren’t there?
Nonetheless, since the laws that God gave Israel always had provision for the inclusion of non-Israelites among them—with certain restrictions—why would it change in the New Testament?
After all, God is using Israel to bring in all creation, so therefore when Peter, Paul, Thomas and the other apostles and disciples dispersed to the four corners of the earth to preach the good news to Israel, it is clear that the door was also open to non-Israelites to become followers of the way of Christ and to be saved also.
That there were non-Israelites among them makes complete sense in view of the prophecies of what would happen to “put away and punished” Israel. For example, let us look at the book of Amos, chapter 9. Amos was a farmer who was called to warn the ten-tribed House of Israel that judgment was coming. His message was not well received. Times were good. The economy was booming. It was like the “Gay 90s.” The 1890s.
But now we have had the Gay 90s all over again, haven’t we? The 1990s. Times were good. The stock market was climbing. The meaning of the word “gay” had changed in a century, but there was great optimism in the nation. Just as it was when Amos prophesied of judgment coming.
Amos lived in the mid-700s B.C., so it would have been just before the Assyrians invaded and took them into captivity which began in 745 B. C. and lasting until 721 B. C. Amos’ warning of God’s judgment seems to climax in chapter 9.
Amos 9: 8 Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD.
Notice that God said He would destroy the sinful kingdom, but he would not totally destroy the house of Jacob, and here is the upside to the bad news from Amos.
9 For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.
That is exactly what happened. Over the centuries, Israel migrated in all directions, but primarily northward and westward. Some places in Europe were uninhabited when Israelites arrived there—just as vast stretches of North America were virtually uninhabited when the pilgrims arrived.
Years ago, I heard an estimate that there were only about six million people in all of North America at the time of the Pilgrims. The population of metro Atlanta is about 4 ½ million. Chicago’s metro area is about 9 ½ million. Philadelphia is closest at about 5 ½ million.
So take all the people in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and scatter them out across the United States and you get the picture of how much of a wilderness this continent really was when Israel began regathering here.
A study of the prophets, especially Isaiah, will show that this continent, the land of regathered Israel was referred to as a “wilderness” on numerous occasions. Here is just one example.
Isaiah 51:3 For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
Okay, getting back to the point about Paul—he is in Asia Minor, at Antioch, and he gets up to preach the good news that the Messiah had come. He is addressing Israelites, but he knows the Scripture from Amos that Israel had been scattered among the nations, so that we can conclude that there very well might have been non-Israelites within the sound of his voice.
Paul opened the door to salvation to them as well. But his primary mission was to get the word to the Israelites, because it was their mission, as a people, to become predominantly Christian and ultimately convert the world. Yes, I know. It hasn’t happened yet.
But for two thousand years, we have been wicked people as much as we have been good, and so, as a whole, we have not been a role model that the world in general wants to follow and emulate. But not to worry, this is all part of God’s Plan.
You see, God has this ace up his sleeve called the Barley Company, the overcomers, and when they rejoin the living in the first resurrection while simultaneously the living overcomers are suddenly transformed into sinless and immortal beings, do you think the rest of Israel and the world just might be taking another look? Yes, indeed! I believe that time is drawing very near—historically speaking.
So when Paul stands up to explain the good news, he—just as Peter had done previously on Pentecost—begins by recounting the history of the Aztecs and the Incas, right? Not hardly! He reminds his listeners of their own history.
17 The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it.
And he traces that history to King David, and his line of descendants on down to Jesus…
23 Of this man's seed [speaking of David there] hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus:
We notice it says “unto Israel a Savior.” Because they are the primary target audience of Paul, not that it excludes others from coming to the Savior though.
24 When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.
To repeat: “repentance to all the people of Israel”—not to the Brahmins, not to the Mongols—but to all the people of Israel, the descendants of the man called Jacob; again because Paul’s focus was to build the church primarily of Israelites, because he knew the Scriptures said that was the way it would be.
So there is no exclusion of others; there is no refusal to allow others to come to Christ; but clearly the emphasis is upon Israelites. They are the “sheep” people who were programmed, as it were, to hear His voice, to become Christians en masse, as history proves they did.
Then, after rehearsing the Israel history, Paul comes up to his present time by telling them of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and then Paul says:
32 And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise
Remember Romans 9:3 & 4 …and what is that promise? It is the contract; it is the covenant. It is the unconditional promise of a Savior, and much more, to be sure.
the promise which was made unto the fathers,
33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, …
We’ll stop there. “unto us their children” You cannot spiritualize that without being intellectually dishonest with the context. Who is the “us” there? It is the Israelites. Itis the patriarchs and us, their children. Paul is plainly speaking about flesh and blood, physical Israelites, and he is telling these people in Antioch that the Messiah which had been promised to Israel had now come.
Now let’s turn to the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15.
Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
Notice that the argument hinges around what is necessary for salvation.
5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
According to those believers in Jesus who came out of the Pharisees sect, the implication in verse 5 was that you’ve got to keep the law in order to be saved. Notice that this is doctrinal, theological baggage which these people coming out of Phariseeism were bringing with them. Is there any difference today?
Today we come out of the Baptists, or the Methodists, or the Catholics or the Pentecostals or the Mormons or the Church of Christ, or any other denomination, and we all bring some denominational baggage with us, don’t we?
Not to say that everything we learned in a given denomination was false; but we certainly have a lot of relearning to do, wouldn’t you agree? And clearly, some people have a more difficult time than others in unlearning the baggage from their previous denomination. (As I have stated many times, all denominations have some truth; no denomination has all the truth.)
Acts 15:10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
So Peter is here declaring that salvation is by grace. [sarcastically:] But he was wrong, of course, since we know that salvation is by race. If you are an Israelite, you are saved, right? Well, isn’t that we are often accused of teaching? And along with it, the idea that ONLY Israelites can be saved? I have heard and read the accusations.
The problem is that among those who know the Israel birthright truth, there are those—as we discussed earlier—who do teach such foolishness and false doctrines and thus it makes it easy for all of us to be smeared with the same broad brush.
No… we agree with what Peter says, that salvation is strictly, solely and only by grace, and by the sovereign calling of the Father. If salvation depended upon our keeping the law, then we all fail most miserably and none of us would be saved.
That’s what Peter was saying in verse 10. Don’t put this yoke of the law on them, which they won’t be able to bear, just as our Hebrew fathers were not able to bear that yoke. The Highly Peculiar people just couldn’t stick to the program, the operating system.
But we must also realize that Peter was not saying that the law was being put away. When you fail to follow the operation system, that doesn’t mean the computer works without any operating system, does it? In the analogy and in real life, that creates chaos and anarchy.
What Peter was saying was that the ritual of the law was being put away, including circumcision. Because these were mere types or symbols of things to come. And these were fulfilled by the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Nonetheless, the commandments, statutes and judgments were not put away, because Jesus himself affirmed the continued necessity of the law very specifically in the gospel of Matthew.
Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
That is unequivocal, isn’t it? Not the tiniest part of the law—in English, we would say: not even the crosses of the tee’s or the dots over the “i’s”—will pass away. So how can anyone say the law has been put away.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
I wanted to include verse 19 here also just to make a point. There are many Christian believers who have this false notion that once we get into the kingdom of heaven that everyone enjoys the same blessings. That we all enjoy the same level, the same rank, however you want to describe it; it boils down to the idea that once you get into heavenly kingdom, everybody is equal.
But this verse lays aside that incorrect understanding. Because it says there will be some in the kingdom of heaven who will be called least while others will be called great.
Coincidentally, it appears that those who keep and teach that the law is still in effect are those who will be called great, because obviously you can’t teach the law if you claim it has been put away. Paul himself said in…
Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
As I said, the rituals, like circumcision, and the ceremonial ordinances, such as the animal sacrifices, were abolished and nailed to the cross with the death of Jesus. Why? Because they were types and shadows; they were symbols of things to come.
We don’t need the physical ark of the covenant anymore because we understand that Jesus is the Ark. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb …and the goat… and the dove.
We don’t need the tabernacle in the wilderness or the magnificent temple of Solomon because we understand that we are individually and collectively the tabernacle and the temple. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and Christ dwells in your heart by faith.
But the commandment forbidding theft, for example, was not a type or a shadow, was it? What would it be a symbol of, something that was fulfilled by Christ? I can’t think of anything, can you?
That’s all the time we are going to spend in the book of Acts. When I continue, we will go on to the epistle to the Romans, and on though the entire New Testament, showing that it was all written to Israel. Along the way, I will provide you with some fascinating detours as well. (To be continued.)