From Acts to the Epistles
Arlen L. Chitwood
Restoration of the Kingdom
Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6b).
The post-resurrection ministry of Christ in the book of Acts is covered in the nine introductory verses, and these verses not only set the tone for the remainder of the book but they are fraught with meaning. There is one central theme running through these opening verses — the kingdom of God (v. 3). Understand how the book opens, and you can understand the book of Acts; but misunderstand how the book opens, and the inverse of that will be equally true.
The importance of properly understanding the book of Acts lies in the fact that this book forms the God-provided bridge between the gospels and the epistles. In the gospels, the kingdom of the heavens was offered to and rejected by Israel. In the epistles though, the kingdom of the heavens is being offered to the “one new man,” in Christ, during an entirely separate and distinct dispensation. And Acts is the book that carries a person from one point to the other, providing information, apart from which the relationship existing between the gospels and the epistles cannot be properly seen and understood
The central theme of the gospels (introduced in the Old Testament) has to do with an offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel, ending in Israel’s rejection of the King and the kingdom, resulting in the King being crucified.
The central theme of Acts (introduced in the gospels) has to do with a re-offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel, ending in Israel’s continued rejection, resulting in the nation being set aside.
The central theme of the epistles (introduced in Acts) has to do with an offer of the kingdom of the heavens to the Church, resulting in acceptance at first, but with rejection and apostasy later increasingly becoming the norm.
And then, the book of Revelation climaxes the whole of the matter by outlining events that will occur at the close of this present dispensation, events pertaining to the Church (chapters 1-4) and to the nations of the earth (both Israel and the Gentile nations [chapters 6-18]). And the book closes with Christ’s return, the overthrow of Gentile world power (bringing “the times of the Gentiles” to an end), the ushering in of a new dispensation (the Messianic Era), and the eternal ages that follow (chapters 19-22).
Thus, the central theme of the New Testament is the same as that of the Old Testament. It must be, for the New is simply a continuing fulfillment of that previously revealed in the Old (revealed in Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets). Both Testaments — the Old leading into the New — form one continuous divinely-given revelation dealing with “things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Scripture begins this way in the book of Genesis, remains this way throughout, and ends this way in the book of Revelation (ref. the author’s book, The Study of Scripture, chapters 2-4).
For Christ to speak to His disciples throughout the forty days of His post-resurrection ministry concerning “things pertaining to the kingdom of God” was simply for Him to speak to them during this time about that toward which all Scripture moves. And the particular matter at hand, relating to the kingdom, concerned Israel. Israel had been dealt with and was about to be dealt with again relative to the kingdom.
And, though the content of Christ’s instruction at this time is not given, in the light of existing conditions and the apostles’ subsequent ministry, the inference is clear. His instruction could only have centered on Israel and the kingdom.
After Christ had finished instructing His disciples, He called attention to their being immersed in the Spirit “not many days from now” (1:4, 5). And the disciples, hearing this promise concerning the Spirit at this particular time, could only have thought one thing.
Since the Spirit being sent after this fashion was intimately connected in the Old Testament with the establishment of the theocracy (cf. Isaiah 32:15-20; 44:3-5; Ezekiel 39:28, 29; Joel 2:27-32), the disciples could only have thought that the Lord was about to restore the kingdom to Israel. And, in complete keeping with that which the Lord had taught them for forty days and that which He had stated about the Holy Spirit, they asked, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6b).
The way in which the Greek text is structured in the first part of verse six connects the disciples’ following question about restoring the kingdom to Israel with the Lord’s previous statement to them about the Holy Spirit. And the Lord’s response to the disciples is in complete keeping with their question concerning the possibility that the kingdom was about to be restored to Israel.
At This Time Restore
Christ’s response to the disciples’ question — “It is not for you to know times or seasons …” — has left more than one person attempting to explain what the Lord meant by what He said. And the reason problems are encountered in this realm is very simple. Rather than remaining within the context, individuals invariably attempt to explain the Lord’s response in the light of Scriptures that have nothing to do with the subject matter at hand. Reference is usually made to passages such as Christ’s previous rebuke of the Jewish religious leaders for not understanding the signs of the times (e.g., Matthew 16:1-4).
Seemingly, Christ had previously rebuked individuals for not knowing the same thing that He here tells the disciples that it is not for them to know. But this is not the case at all. It cannot be. Scripture always provides encouragement, never discouragement, relative to studying, knowing, and understanding the signs of the times.
Note the disciples’ question and the Lord’s response in the light of the context, and matters become quite clear.
The kingdom of the heavens had been offered to Israel and was about to again be offered to Israel; but in the re-offer of the kingdom, something completely new was to occur first. The disciples (and others) were to be immersed in the Spirit in connection with this re-offer.
And the disciples, in the light of their question, could only have connected this with a beginning fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (the Spirit being poured out on all flesh, which is Messianic in its scope of fulfillment [Joel 2:27-32]). And, ten days beyond that, Peter clearly made this connection after the immersion in and filling with the Spirit had occurred: “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:16ff).
That was the setting for the Lord’s response to the question uppermost in the minds of the disciples. And how was He going to respond to a question concerning the kingdom being restored to Israel at a time when (1) it was about to be re-offered to Israel, but also at a time when (2) Israel couldn’t possibly accept?
The “times or seasons” in the Lord’s response had to do strictly with Israel and the kingdom at this particular time. The disciples (and others) were to proclaim the message to Israel, with a view to national repentance and baptism on the part of the nation. There was to be a bona fide re-offer of the kingdom to Israel (with Israel expected to repent), brought about through a message proclaimed by individuals who had been filled with the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, and were manifesting signs, wonders, and miracles.
Now, how was Christ going to explain to the disciples that they (along with others) were going to offer something to Israel after this fashion that Israel, as before, couldn’t possibly accept? He wasn’t, for that really isn’t the correct biblical way to look at the matter. This is the way in which finite man, after some fashion, has to look at the matter in order to come to some understanding of it himself. The biblical way to look at the matter is to be found in Christ’s response. And this is exactly why He responded to the disciples as He did.
…It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:7, 8)
God in His omniscience and omnipotence could make a bona fide offer to Israel such as one finds throughout the book of Acts, though Israel, at any point in the book, couldn’t possibly accept the offer. This was something that He had placed within “His own authority,” and it was not for the disciples to know “the times or seasons” relative to this whole matter. Rather, they were simply to go out with a message to Israel and leave the results of their ministry to the Lord. All things involved were within the Lord’s omnipotent power and within His omniscient plans and purposes (cf. Romans 11:32-36).
Acts 1:7, 8 provides Christ’s last recorded words in the book of Acts prior to His ascension. After He had provided instruction for forty days, after he had told the disciples of the soon-coming of the promised Holy Spirit, and after He had answered their question, “He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (v. 9; cf. Luke 24:49-51).
The Commission, the Message
The ministry of the disciples (and others), beginning on the day of Pentecost, would have to be in complete keeping with Christ’s previous commission to them. And, actually, during His forty-day post-resurrection ministry, Christ commissioned the disciples on more than one occasion. Acts 1:8 records the last of these times, occurring immediately before His ascension.
The different recorded times in which Christ commissioned His disciples during the forty days following His resurrection are given at the end of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and at the beginning of Acts. And the commissions given during these different times must be looked upon as dealing with exactly the same thing — a message “beginning at Jerusalem,” attended by signs, wonders, and miracles (cf. Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1:8).
The fact that the message was to be carried to Israel first, attended by supernatural signs (Acts 2:4, 43; 3:1ff), reveals one truth. And the fact that the message was subsequently to be carried to the Gentile world, also attended by supernatural signs (Mark 16:15-18), reveals another.
Israel, hearing the message first, was expected to repent, bringing to pass the return of the King and the restoration of the kingdom; and, following this, Israel was then to carry the message to the Gentile world. The nation was to fulfill its calling as Jehovah’s witness to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 43:1-12), carrying the message concerning the King and the kingdom to the Gentiles worldwide.
Viewing Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 together, one can easily see and understand this complete overall truth. And these are two verses which have suffered about as much at the hands of Christians in general as they have from the cult groups. Not only have certain cult groups removed these verses from their contexts to form a basis for their false salvation doctrines, but Christians in general have also sought to see basic issues surrounding one’s eternal salvation in these verses (though interpreting them quite differently).
And with respect to correct, basic interpretation, both groups have missed the mark completely. Both have ignored and, accordingly, have not dealt with the subject at hand.
Note how these two verses read:
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
…Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38b)
The verse in Acts has to do solely with Israel and the kingdom. The fulfillment of this verse does not extend beyond Jerusalem and Judea in the Lord’s commission. But the verse in Mark has to do with the Gentile nations and the kingdom, with Israel proclaiming the message. The fulfillment of this verse extends beyond Jerusalem and Judea, into Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth (v. 15). And Israel must be the one present as the one that proclaims this message, for signs, wonders, and miracles would accompany the message.
Israel though had to repent and be baptized first (national repentance and baptism [Acts 2:38]). Then Israel, as Jehovah’s witness, would be in a position to go forth to Samaria and to the Gentile nations throughout the world, bringing about the fulfillment of the Lord’s commission in Mark 16:15. And supernatural signs would follow the proclamation of the message throughout the commission — whether to Israel, to Samaria, or to the Gentile nations.
Had Israel on the day of Pentecost followed Peter’s instructions (in response to the question which had been asked [Acts 2:37]) — “Repent, and be baptized…” (v. 38) — Christ would have returned and restored the kingdom to Israel; and the nation would subsequently have gone forth to the Gentiles with the message concerning the King and the kingdom, fulfilling Mark 16:15ff.
Christ’s return and the “restitution [‘restoration’] of all things [which would include the restoration of the kingdom to Israel]” was contingent on Israel’s repentance (Acts 3:19-21). And the ministry of the apostles throughout the book of Acts was a ministry toward this end.
And the apostles, realizing the importance of Israel’s repentance, carried the message to the nation after such a zealous fashion and with such fervor that they were threatened, beaten, imprisoned, and even killed by the Jewish religious leaders (Acts 3:1ff; 4:1ff; 5:1ff; 7:1ff). And Paul, comprehending the importance of this matter, near the close of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, went so far as to say, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh [if such would bring about their repentance]” (Romans 9:3).
But Israel didn’t repent — not on the day of Pentecost or any subsequent day throughout the approximately thirty-two years in which the re-offer of the kingdom remained open. Thus, since Israel didn’t repent, Mark 16:15ff not only remained unfulfilled but, in actuality, can’t be fulfilled today in the fashion in which it was intended.
The gospel to be proclaimed in the Lord’s commission in Mark 16:15ff was the gospel of the kingdom, and the message was to be attended by signs, wonders, and miracles. And all of that is alien to the message that is to be proclaimed by the Church today, to either Israel or to the Gentile nations.
The message that the Church is to carry to the unsaved today is the simple gospel of the grace of God. Israel has been set aside, and the kingdom is no longer “at hand.” And with Israel set aside and the kingdom no longer at hand, signs, wonders, and miracles can no longer form a part of any message being proclaimed. Thus, a message today, in line with that which is stated in Mark 16:15-18, would be completely out of place.
A message of this nature, under the direction and power of the Spirit of God, cannot presently exist. Such would be impossible. And the reason why the matter would be impossible is very simple: the Spirit of God empowering individuals to manifest supernatural signs today would be acting contrary to the revealed Word of God.
But, note what can presently be found in Christendom. Entire denominations have been founded on seeking after the signs, wonders, and miracles seen in these verses (along with those in Acts, chapter two and other sections of the book). And the present Charismatic Movement, which has crossed all denominational lines, proclaims the same erroneous view relative to these supernatural signs.
This whole thing has taken its toll in Christendom over the years. Christians today, seeing all of this, are confused to say the least. They generally have little to no understanding of the place that signs, wonders, and miracles occupy in Scripture; and Christians, on a scale larger than at any other time in history, are, accordingly, being misled.
And note the serious nature of the matter. We’re talking about the very crux of a central teaching in Acts, which will allow one to properly understand this book, a book leading into the epistles. Go wrong here, and you will remain wrong the rest of the way (cf. Matthew 7:21-23).
All things with respect to miraculous signs, Israel, and the Gentile nations can best be seen in their proper perspective by observing the Lord’s commission in Matthew in the light of His commissions in Mark, Luke, and Acts (particularly Mark). In so doing, it must be observed that what is often called “The Great Commission” in the gospel of Matthew has to do, first and foremost, with Israel and the kingdom. And once God set Israel aside until He completed His work with the Church — which automatically placed the kingdom in abeyance — then the commissions given by Christ could no longer be applicable to Israel in the same respect that they had been before this time.
Beyond this point, and for the remainder of the dispensation (lasting over 1,900 years), individuals in the Church would continue carrying the message; but this would be done apart from any possibility that Israel could repent, with the kingdom being restored to the nation. And since Israel would no longer occupy her previous position in relation to the kingdom, miraculous signs would also no longer exist.
And Christ’s commission in relation to the Church would, of necessity, involve a somewhat different approach. It would involve the proclamation of the gospel of the grace of God on the one hand and the proclamation of the gospel of the glory of Christ on the other (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Timothy 1:11; 2:4).
(These things will be dealt with in several subsequent chapters. The subject matter at hand in this chapter has to do with Christ’s commission during that time when the re-offer of the kingdom was still open to Israel.)
Note Matthew’s record of Christ’s commission to His disciples, along with the verses leading into this commission:
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain that Jesus had appointed for them.
When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:16-20).
1. The Disciples’ Position; Christ’s Position
The disciples had been positioned by the Lord at a particular place on a “mountain.” The Lord had “appointed” (Gk: “ordained”) that they occupy this place on the mountain at the time He commissioned them, as recorded by Matthew. Then note that His final commission to the disciples was also given on a mountain — the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:8-12).
A “mountain” in Scripture signifies a kingdom (Isaiah 2:1-4; Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45; Matthew 16:28-17:5). And the inherent thought in relation to Christ ordaining that His disciples occupy a particular place on a mountain when He commissioned them is one seen numerous times in Scripture — both in the Old and New Testaments.
Abraham, for example, dwelled in the high country as he “stood before the LORD”; but Lot, in contrast, dwelled in the low-lying Jordan plain. And Lot was told immediately prior to the destruction of the cities of the plain, “…escape to the mountain, lest you be destroyed.” And Abraham, at the same time, simply continued in the same place, in the high country, standing before the Lord. Abraham was already on the mountain. This was where he lived (Genesis 18:22; 19:17, 27).
The thought is evident, as outlined in Daniel, chapter two. The kingdom of this world, as typified by the cities in the Jordan plain, is to be destroyed one day, suddenly and completely. It is to be destroyed by the Stone smiting the image at its feet (pointing to Christ destroying the final form of Gentile world power, under Satan). And that Stone will then become “a great mountain” and fill the whole earth (vv. 34, 35). In that day, “the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it” (Isaiah 2:2).
Thus, deliverance during Abraham’s day or at any point beyond is associated with the mountain, not with the plain. The former, though presently unseen, will one day fill the whole earth; and the latter, though presently seen on every hand, will one day pass completely out of existence.
When Moses sent twelve leaders from each of the twelve tribes into the land at Kadesh-Barnea, he told them, “Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountain” (Numbers 13:17). These Israelites were to go into the land (spoken of through the symbolism of a mountain), learn everything they could about the land and its inhabitants, and bring back two things: fruit from the land, and a report concerning the land (vv. 18ff).
This was done with a view to the people of Israel, under Moses, subsequently moving into the land, conquering the inhabitants, and realizing their calling as God’s firstborn son. They were to be established in the land and realize the rights of primogeniture as a kingdom of priests within a theocracy.
Thus, since a kingdom was in view, the twelve who traversed the land for forty days, began by going “up into the mountain,” i.e. began by going up into the kingdom. And it was this land, spoken of through the symbolism of a “mountain,” signifying a kingdom that the Israelites had been moving toward ever since the death of the firstborn in Egypt; and it was this land in which they were to dwell within a theocracy.
In other words, following the death of the firstborn in Egypt, the Israelites’ attention was to be centered on one goal — realizing their calling in the land set before them. Their attention was to be fixed on the mountain, the kingdom.
And exactly the same thing can be seen relative to Christians in the antitype. Following the appropriation of the blood, in the antitype of Exodus 12, the Christians’ attention is to be centered on realizing a calling in another land (a heavenly land). Their attention is to be fixed on the mountain, the kingdom.
In this respect, Christ has provided the example that Christians are to follow during the present time as they patiently endure sufferings and persecution (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12, 13): “…Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” And the example, contextually, is taken from His sufferings at Calvary (1 Peter 2:20-24).
Note the reference to Christ’s sufferings and how He viewed them in Hebrews 12:2. Christians, as they run the race in the proper fashion (v. 1), are to look “to Jesus [lit., ‘from, to Jesus’ (i.e., from the things of the present surrounding world, to Jesus] the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” That is, Jesus, during His time of sufferings at Calvary, looked beyond the Cross (present) to the Crown (future); and He considered His present sufferings and shame of little consequence compared to His coming glory and exaltation.
And He has left Christians an example that they should do the same in the midst of present sufferings. They should keep their eyes fixed on that which lies out ahead, considering all present sufferings of little consequence compared to the proffered future glory.
Thus, the thought behind Christ ordaining that His disciples occupy a particular place on a mountain when He commissioned them had to do with the fact that they were going forth to Israel with a message concerning the King and His kingdom. The King and His kingdom were to occupy center-stage.
Then note Christ’s words relative to Himself: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18b). The reference is to the power and authority that He is to one day exercise in the kingdom, both heavenly and earthly. And these two spheres of the kingdom are also in view in the previous reference in Matthew’s gospel to that which the Son possesses (11:25-27).
The dual aspect of Christ’s coming kingdom (heavenly and earthly) can possibly best be seen and understood in the light of God’s present universal kingdom. Note that God rules from a place in the heavens over His kingdom. And the different parts of His kingdom — different provinces — are undoubtedly, from what can be seen concerning the earth, ruled after the same fashion, i.e., from the heavens (the heavens associated with the provinces) over the provinces.
Satan, the incumbent ruler over the earth (Luke 4:6), rules from a place in the heavens above the earth (Daniel 10:13-21; Ephesians 2:2; 3:10; 6:12). Then, during the Messianic Era, when Christ rules the earth, He will rule from a place in the heavens above the earth, from the New Jerusalem.
And Christ’s statement to His disciples, while in their appointed place in the mountain, immediately prior to commissioning them, pertained entirely to the power and authority that He will exercise in this future kingdom. And His commission must be understood accordingly.
(Insofar as an application of Christ’s commission to the Church today is concerned, all of the preceding relative to the place where those proclaiming the message have been ordained to reside [on the mountain] and the place that Christ occupies [the possessor of all power, both heavenly and earthly], would, of necessity, be completely applicable. The salvation message [by grace through faith] is to be proclaimed among all nations, with a purpose beyond eternal salvation in view; and that purpose is to be seen in the gospel of the glory of Christ, to be proclaimed to individuals after they have been saved.)
2. Having Gone…
In most versions of Scripture, as in the KJV, Matthew 28:19 begins with a command: “Go ye therefore…” However, in the Greek text, the verse begins with an aorist participle, which could be better translated, “Having gone…” The thought is that Israel was expected to repent; and because of the nation’s calling — called to be Jehovah’s witness to the Gentile nations of the earth (Isaiah 43:1-10) — Israel, following the nation’s repentance, would be expected to go to the Gentiles in fulfillment of her calling (as Jonah did following his repentance and removal from the place of death).
The command in the verse in the KJV begins with the word “teach [lit., ‘disciple’].” This word is an imperative in the Greek text; and the thought is that Israel, having gone out among the nations with the good news (concerning salvation, the King, and the kingdom), was to bring forth disciples. These disciples were then to be baptized and taught, in that order.
Now, with these things in mind, note the commission in Mark 16:15-18 that Christ gave at another time during the forty days of His post-resurrection ministry. The words “Go ye” (v. 15, KJV) are a translation of the same aorist participle seen in Matthew 28:19. And the translation here, along with the expectation relative to Israel repenting and going, would be the same as in Matthew’s gospel — “Having gone…”
The command (imperative) in Mark 16:15 is in the word “preach.” That is, “Having gone into all the world,” they were then to “preach the gospel to every creature.”
And the message, as Israel went forth, would be attended by signs, wonders, and miracles (vv. 17, 18). Supernatural manifestations of power would accompany the message because of the presence of not only Israel but also the King and the kingdom. Then, beyond that, the end result portended by the message had to do with blessings to be realized by the Gentiles in the kingdom.
The object of the proclaimed message was to bring about a salvation connected, textually, with belief and baptism: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” (v. 16a).
Salvation, as it is used in Mark 16:16, moves beyond the thought of individuals passing from death unto life. It must, for it is connected not only with baptism but with a manifestation of signs, wonders, and miracles, which have to do with the kingdom. And all of this sets forth the indisputable fact that “salvation” in this verse has to do with the kingdom, not with eternal life.
Salvation in this verse has to do with the same thing seen in Acts 2:21 — “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (cf. Romans 10:13, 14) — which is a quotation from Joel 2:32 pertaining to “deliverance” during the Messianic Era.
Note the type that begins in Exodus chapter twelve and matters will become quite clear. Things having to do with one’s eternal salvation are dealt with in events surrounding the death of the firstborn at the very beginning (chapter 12). But belief and baptism in Mark 16:16, textually, are associated with a subsequent deliverance (made possible because of the death of the firstborn).
In the type, this deliverance had to do with events beyond the death of the firstborn. This deliverance had to do with looking out ahead toward the land of Canaan and with the Red Sea passage occurring at the beginning of the wilderness journey.
And these are the things which, first and foremost, are involved in the Lord’s commission to the disciples, whether seen in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or Acts.