From Acts to the Epistles
Arlen L. Chitwood
Lo, We Turn to the Gentiles
Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the Word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.
For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.
But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles and they will hear it!
And when he had said these words, the Jews departed . . . . (Acts 13:46, 47; 18:5, 6; 28:28, 29a).
Paul, ministering outside the land of Israel in the Gentile world during the time covered by the book of Acts, always, without exception, went to the Jewish people in every city that he entered first. So long as the re-offer of the kingdom of the heavens remained open to Israel (from 30 A.D. to about 62 A.D.), Paul always carried out his ministry completely in accordance with God’s specified order — “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Paul had been called to carry the message concerning the kingdom of the heavens to the Gentiles; but, as long as the re-offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel, the Jewish people held a God-ordained priority. This is the reason that Paul, throughout the book of Acts, is so often seen going to the synagogues to proclaim the message when first entering a city.
The synagogues were where Israel’s religious leaders could be found; and Paul went to the synagogues to proclaim the message to these religious leaders first. Only after the message had been proclaimed to and rejected by the Jews was Paul free to also carry the message to the Gentiles in any locality where he ministered (e.g., Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1, 2, 10, 17; 18:1-4, 19; 19:1-8).
Three recorded times during his ministry, after he had carried the message to Israel’s religious leaders and experiencing rejection at their hands, Paul told the rejecting Jews that he was going to the Gentiles with the message.
The first time Paul told the Jews that he was going to the Gentiles with the message was in Antioch, while Barnabas still accompanied him in his ministry (Acts 13:46-48); the second time Paul told this to the Jews was a few years later in Corinth, with Silas and Timothy helping him in his ministry (Acts 18:5, 6); and the third and last time Paul told this to the Jews was at the end of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, in Rome, where he was ministering alone (Acts 28:28, 29).
Though Paul had discipled many individuals during the course of his ministry — some becoming lifelong fellow-workers (e.g., Timothy, Titus, Philemon) — most of those to whom he had ministered had withdrawn from him by the time his ministry was nearing completion. And this was undoubtedly due, in no small part, to the false teachers that he had so often warned against (e.g., Acts 20:29-31; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 4:1-5).
Paul’s last recorded words, written to Timothy, relate, “all those in Asia have turned away from me,” and “no one stood with me, but all forsook me” (2 Timothy 1:15; 4:16; cf. 4:10-15). But Paul knew, though “all men” had forsaken him, that the Lord “stood” with him and “strengthened” him, in order that “all the Gentiles might hear” the message that had been committed to his trust (cf. Acts 26:19, 20; Colossians 1:24-28; 1 Timothy 1:11; Titus 1:3).
And Paul also knew something else. He knew that the Lord would deliver him “from every evil work” and bring him safely to “His heavenly kingdom [lit., ‘…He will save me with respect to His heavenly kingdom’]” (2 Timothy 4:18; cf. vv. 6-8).
Paul was a driven man throughout the course of his ministry. He was driven by that which had been committed to his trust, knowing the gravity of the message and the outcome of the matter. He refused to be associated with someone who wouldn’t remain with him in the ministry (Acts 15:38-41), and he refused to let anything stand in the way of his being able to complete the task to which he had been called (cf. Acts 9:16; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; Galatians 6:17; Philippians 1:27-29).
Completing this task carried him not only through the several decades in which the re-offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel but also into the first few years of that time when the kingdom was no longer proffered to Israel. And the Lord had allowed Paul, while in Rome, the center of Gentile world power in that day, to be the one to announce the close of this offer.
From the time John the Baptist appeared on the scene with the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2), up to the time Paul announced to the Jews in Rome — a third and closing announcement — that he was going to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28), the offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel. At any time during this period (from about 27 A.D. to about 62 A.D.), had Israel, as a nation, repented, Messianic blessings would have been ushered in.
And to realize such blessings, Israel’s Messiah had to be present, in the nation’s midst (Joel 2:27-32). Before Christ’s ascension, He was already present. But Israel wouldn’t repent. Following Christ’s ascension, He could and would have returned. But Israel had to repent first.
After this complete time had run its course — time covering both the original offer and the re-offer of the kingdom — the nation was set aside; and to realize Messianic blessings beyond this time, the nation had to await the completion of God’s work among the Gentiles. Israel had to await “the fullness of the Gentiles” being brought to pass (Romans 11:25, 26).
God’s prophesied work among the Gentiles is that which Paul had been called to introduce and lay the groundwork for; and after Paul’s announcement in Acts 28:28, the nation of Israel, in order to again see her Messiah’s face, with all the attendant blessings to follow, had to await God removing from the Gentiles “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14-18). And this would require a separate and distinct dispensation within the framework of God’s dealings with man, which would last approximately 2,000 years.
The Complete Period — Israel, the Church
The parable of the fruitless fig tree, given by Christ during His earthly ministry (Luke 13:6-9), had to do with both the original offer and the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel (ref. chapter 1, “Continuing from the Gospels”). Christ though, later in His ministry, gave another parable covering an even broader scope of the matter. The parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22:1-14 covers not only the original offer and the re-offer to Israel but also the subsequent offer to the new creation “in Christ,” along with a judgment of the new creation at the end of the dispensation.
The parable of the marriage feast is the last of three parables that Christ gave shortly after He cursed the fruitless fig tree (Matthew 21:18, 19) — an act that pointed to fruitless, unrepentant Israel and the nation’s destiny (in relation to the kingdom of the heavens) because of the nation’s condition (cf. Matthew 21:15; 23:38, 39). And these parables, contextually, could only have been given to help explain Christ’s action at this time.
(Note that a parable — Greek: parabole [meaning, “to cast alongside”] — is simply an additional truth placed alongside of a previous truth to help explain the previous truth. In this respect, the parables that Christ gave following His cursing the fig tree would have direct bearing upon this act, helping to explain the various things involved.)
The first of these three parables deals with Israel’s unwillingness to repent, showing the reason for the cursing of the fig tree (Matthew 21:28-32). Then, the second parable deals with Israel’s rejection of the prophets, and last of all, God’s Son, who had been sent unto them; and this would, again, show the reason for the cursing of the fig tree, providing additional information (Matthew 21:33-39). And it was at the end of this second parable that Christ announced to Israel through the nation’s religious leaders,
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. (Matthew 21: 43)
It was at this point that Christ announced the removal of the kingdom from Israel (anticipated since the events of Matthew 12, 13), and this announcement was with a view to the new creation “in Christ” being brought into existence (previously referred to by Christ in Matthew 16 [“…I will build my Church…”]). And, though the new creation “in Christ” was brought into existence about two months later on the day of Pentecost, there was also a corresponding re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, beginning at this same time (Acts 2:1ff).
Then the parable of the marriage feast (Matthew 22:1-14) was given to help explain, in a slightly different respect, Christ cursing the fruitless fig tree. This parable was given to shed additional light on the immediately preceding parable and Christ’s announcement concerning the kingdom being taken from Israel. That is to say, the parable of the marriage feast was placed alongside that which had proceeded to help those hearing Christ better understand what had been said and done.
In the parable of the marriage feast, verses three through seven encompass that time extending from the beginning of the offer of the kingdom to Israel under John the Baptist to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This part of the parable has to do with events covering almost four and one-half decades.
Verse two introduces the matter, continuing from the preceding chapter; and verse three has to do with the original offer under John, Jesus, and His disciples:
The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. (Matthew 22:2, 3)
Then verses four through seven have to do with the re-offer of the kingdom under the apostles (et al.), along with the destruction of Jerusalem following the completion of this re-offer:
Again, he sent out other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, ‘See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’
But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.
And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.
But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.’”(Matthew 22:4-7)
Then verses eight through ten have to do with the offer being extended to the new creation “in Christ” following the setting aside of Israel:
Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.
Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.”
So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:8-10)
And the remainder of the parable pertains to God’s dealings, through His Son, with those from the latter group at the judgment seat of Christ after the dispensation has run its course:
But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.
So he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless.
Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
For many are called, but few are chosen [‘called out’].” (Matthew 22:11-14)
Thus, it is textually evident that the parable of the marriage feast has to do with and is inseparably connected with the preceding parable and Christ’s announcement concerning the kingdom being taken from Israel; and this parable must be understood within its contextual setting, exactly where and why Christ gave it. Only through this means can this parable, the preceding two parables, or any of the other parables in Scripture be properly understood.
These three parables have to do with issues surrounding the kingdom of the heavens, not eternal verities; they have to do with God’s dealings with the saved, not the unsaved. And a failure to understand and proclaim them in relation to their contextual setting and the subject matter at hand can only add to an already existing confusion throughout Christendom pertaining to the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens.
Before and After Acts 28:28
Signs, wonders, and miracles were inseparably connected with the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel (both in the original offer and in the re-offer). In the gospel accounts (in the original offer), these manifestations of supernatural power were more evident prior to Israel’s climactic rejection of the message and Christ’s departure from the house (Matthew 12:22-32; 13:1), though seen throughout the period; and in Acts (in the subsequent re-offer), these manifestations of supernatural power were more evident prior to Israel’s climactic rejection once again and the introduction of Paul to carry the message to the Gentiles (Acts 7:51-58; 9:1-15), though, as in the original offer, seen throughout the period (ref. chapters 1, 2, “Continuing from the Gospels” and “Restoration of the Kingdom”).
And there was a definite, revealed reason for the particular type manifestations of supernatural power — something that would not be true at all beyond that time when the offer was removed from Israel and the nation set aside, awaiting “the fullness of the Gentiles.” These signs, wonders, and miracles were not only inseparably connected with the offer of the kingdom to Israel (a connection established in the Old Testament Scriptures) but they spoke volumes in and of themselves. These manifestations of supernatural power reflected directly on Israel’s spiritual condition, past, present, and future — something dealt with throughout the Old Testament.
In this respect, before Israel’s climactic rejection in both the original offer and the re-offer, it was only natural for these signs, wonders, and miracles to be very prevalent. However, once these two climactic points had been reached, in each instance it was also only natural for the signs, wonders, and miracles to become less prevalent, though still in evidence because the offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel. Then, once the offer had been withdrawn (about 62 A.D.), it was not only natural but absolutely necessary that the signs, wonders, and miracles cease altogether.
They had to cease at this time. They would have been completely out of place beyond this point. And this can be seen from a Scriptural standpoint entirely apart from referencing 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen — a section of Scripture in which Paul stated that they would cease, giving both the time and the reason.
Paul’s reference to this matter in his first letter to those in Corinth was made necessary because the church in Corinth was a Gentile church in which signs, wonders, and miracles were being manifested, with a view to provoking Israel to jealousy (Romans 10:19; 11:11-14; cf. Acts 13:44, 45). And Paul, viewing that which was occurring in the light of the Old Testament Scriptures, called their attention to the time and the reason when these manifestations of supernatural power would cease (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
1. Purpose for Signs, Wonders, and Miracles
Most of the manifestations of supernatural power during the ministry of Christ and the apostles (during the periods covered by both the gospel accounts and by the book of Acts) centered on bodily healings. This was the manner in which they were introduced during Christ’s ministry (Matthew 4:23-25), and this was the manner in which they were brought to a close about three and one-half decades later during Paul’s ministry (Acts 28:7-9).
(And along with bodily healings, death was no longer irreversible [Mark 5:35-43; John 11:1-47; Acts 9:36-42; 20:7-12], material needs were miraculously supplied [food, drink, etc. (John 2:1-11; 6:1-14; Acts 5:19-23; 16:26)], there was deliverance from demonic spirits [Matthew 12:22; Acts 5:16], and angelic ministry was abundantly available [Matthew 4:11; Acts 12:7, 8, 23].)
The signs, centering on bodily healings (though including other related things), reflected on and had to do with a dual aspect of one thing — the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel — an existing condition (shown prior to the healings) and a future condition (shown following the healings). And deliverance for the nation after the fashion set forth by the signs was contingent on national repentance, followed by baptism (cf. Matthew 3:1-11; 4:17, 23-25; 10:5-8; Acts 2:37, 38; 3:19-21).
The signs, wonders, and miracles were the credentials of the messengers of the gospel of the kingdom, depicting Israel’s spiritual condition both before and after the manifestation of supernatural power (necessary to bring the signs to pass). And this would be the same manifestation of supernatural power that could and would — contingent on Israel’s repentance — bring to pass that of which the signs spoke, i.e., Israel’s future supernatural healing (accompanied by God’s supernatural provision for the nation in all areas of life, dealt with in all the other various signs).
Israel’s spiritual condition prior to God’s miraculous healing is revealed numerous places in Scripture. But note Isaiah’s description of the nation in this respect:
Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward.
Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints.
From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.
This was the way Isaiah introduced Israel at the very beginning of his prophecy; but he didn’t remain at this point, depicting Israel’s spiritual condition during his day (a condition that has continued to the present day). Isaiah went on, at the beginning, to relate the main subject matter of his prophecy.
Israel was sick, but Israel could and one day would be cured of this sickness. And that is what Isaiah went on to also relate. Israel’s condition was not permanent. The nation would one day be healed.
But there was a condition: “If you are willing and obedient . . . .” (Isaiah 1:19a; cf. v. 18). Only then would the Lord turn His hand, purge the nation, and restore her rulers (Isaiah 1:25, 26). Only then would redemption occur, and only then would the kingdom with all its glory be restored to Israel (Isaiah 1:27-2:5).
But when will Israel repent, allowing healing to occur? The answer is provided numerous places in Scripture, but note Hosea’s prophecy where the matter is dealt with in so many words.
In Hosea 5:13-6:2 Israel is pictured as sick, having a wound (near the end of Israel’s time of sickness, during the coming Tribulation), with the Assyrian (Antichrist) being unable to provide a cure (Hosea 5:13). Help though is available, but it must come from the same source that Isaiah or any of the other prophets foretold. It must come from the Lord (Hosea 5:14-6:1).
Israel’s sickness was brought about by the Lord because of the nation’s refusal to obey that which the Lord had commanded. And the same One Who brought about Israel’s condition is also the only One Who can effect a change in Israel’s condition. And a reversal of the nation’s condition after this fashion is dependent on a reversal of the nation’s attitude and action regarding the Lord’s commandments (cf. Exodus 2:23-25; 3:7-12; 4:19, 20).
Note Hosea 6:1, 2 in this respect:
Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. (Hosea 6:1, 2)
Then, note the two things revealed in Hosea 5:15 that introduce Israel’s future repentance: (1) The two days begin with Israel’s “offense” (i.e., the nation’s crucifixion of her Messiah); and (2) the two days come to a close with the Jewish people seeking the Lord’s face during a time of “affliction” (during the coming Tribulation), receiving the Lord when He returns.
Both the time of the Tribulation and the time when Israel will seek the Lord’s face will be two days (2,000 years) beyond the crucifixion of Christ, which was four days (4,000 years) beyond the creation of Adam. Thus, healing for the nation will occur after two days, on the third day (counting from Calvary), or after six days, on the seventh day (counting from Adam).
As God worked six days to restore a ruined creation in the beginning and then rested the seventh day (Genesis 1:1-2:3), so is He presently working six more days to restore a subsequent ruined creation (6,000 years), with a view to resting the seventh day (the seventh 1,000-year period). And all subsequent sections of Scripture, such as Hosea 6:1, 2, merely rest upon and provide additional light for the foundational framework — showing the septenary structure of Scripture — set forth at the very beginning (see chapter 2, The Study of Scripture).
Then, with all of the preceding in mind, note Isaiah, chapter fifty-three. This chapter outlines Israel’s confession in that coming seventh day, following the healing of the nation:
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. . . .(Isaiah 53: 1, 4, 5).
It was this future condition of Israel that Isaiah (and the other prophets) dealt with so extensively. And it was this future condition of Israel that the miraculous signs throughout Scripture pointed to, whether during Moses and Joshua’s day, during Elijah and Elisha’s day, or during the days of Christ and the apostles (both preceding and following the events of Calvary).
(The central thought when the Spirit of God closed the Old Testament canon pertained to Israel being healed [Malachi 4:2, 3], and this was likewise the central thought when the heavens were once again opened over four centuries later [Matthew 3:1, 2; 4:17, 23-25]. The New is simply a continuation and unveiling of that which has lain in the Old from the beginning.
Do you want to understand the New? Then study the Old. Do you want to see Israel or the Christ of the New? Then view Israel or the nation’s Messiah in the eyes of the Old.)
2. Cessation of Signs, Wonders, and Miracles
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, referred to a day when the miraculous signs being manifested at that time would cease. And it is evident that the whole panorama of spiritual sign-gifts (chapter 12) would be alluded to by the three that Paul singled out — prophecies, tongues, and knowledge.
All of the spiritual sign-gifts would have to be looked upon together — as a unit, comprised of different parts — simply because of their interrelated purpose. They all existed for exactly the same purpose. And when the Lord saw fit to bring His purpose surrounding these gifts to a close, they (all of them together, delineated by the three in 1 Corinthians 13:8) would no longer exist.
Prior to Acts 28:28, Paul had the power to effect bodily healings (portending Israel’s healing), for the offer of the kingdom was still open to Israel (Acts 28:8, 9). But after this time, when the offer of the kingdom was no longer open to the nation — when healing for Israel was set aside with the nation, with the corresponding cessation of signs, wonders, and miracles — Paul no longer possessed this power.
After this time, Paul instructed Timothy, “…use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23); and he later left Trophimus “at Miletus sick” (2 Timothy 4:20).
In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, two expressions are used in opposite senses — “in part,” and “perfect”:
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
(1 Corinthians 13:8-10)
In these verses, “in part” has to do with incompleteness (from ek meros, meaning “out of a part [plural in the Greek text of vv. 9, 10, ‘out of parts’],” and “perfect” has to do with completeness (from teleios, meaning “complete,” “bringing to an end”). Thus, ek meros and teleios are used in antithetical senses.
And both expressions, since they have to do with either the continuance or the end of the manifestations of supernatural signs, are inseparably connected with either the continuance or the end of the offer of the kingdom to Israel.
In this respect, incompleteness (shown by ek meros) has to do with that time prior to God finishing His work pertaining to the offer of the kingdom to Israel (with signs, wonders, and miracles still in evidence); and completeness (shown by teleios) has to do with that time following God finishing His work pertaining to the offer of the kingdom to Israel (with signs, wonders, and miracles no longer in evidence).
Thus, the thought set forth by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:9, 10, contextually, is something quite easy to see and understand so long as the proper connection with the manifestation of signs, wonders, and miracles is made. But remove this key, and the whole matter becomes impossible to properly see and understand.
Verse nine teaches that Paul and others were exercising supernatural spiritual gifts. And they were exercising these gifts during a time of “incompleteness,” i.e., they were exercising these gifts during the period prior to the time God would “complete” His work with Israel relative to the proffered kingdom.
Verse ten then goes on to state that the time was coming when God would “complete” His work surrounding the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel. Then, the things being done during the time of “incompleteness” (during the time when the offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel, prior to God completing His work in this respect) would “be done away” with.
And this is exactly what occurred when the offer of the kingdom was withdrawn from Israel, with a view to God removing from the Gentiles “a people for His name.” The manifested signs, wonders, and miracles ceased. And this was in complete keeping with their usage in the Old Testament (pertaining to Israel and the kingdom), in complete keeping with their usage during the time covered by both the gospel accounts and the book of Acts (again, pertaining to Israel and the kingdom), and in complete keeping with that which they portended (Israel’s spiritual condition, both present and future).
When Paul told the Jews for the third and last time that he was going to the Gentiles with the message that they had rejected (Acts 28:28) — with God then setting Israel aside for the remainder of the dispensation — signs, wonders, and miracles had to cease until such a time as God would once again resume His dealings with Israel relative to the kingdom. This is a truth drawn from the Old Testament, the gospel accounts, and the book of Acts that, from a biblical standpoint, cannot be denied.
And that’s where we are today — living during a time in which Israel has been set aside awaiting “the fullness of the Gentiles” being brought to pass (Romans 11:25). We’re living during a time when signs, wonders, and miracles can have no part within the framework of God’s plans and purposes, for any such manifestation of supernatural powers would portend God dealing with Israel in relation to the nation’s spiritual condition and the theocracy during the present time, something which He is not doing at all.