From Acts to the Epistles
Arlen L. Chitwood
From Jerusalem to Rome
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 and had a great dispute among themselves.
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him,
preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:28-31)
The book of Acts details a story that begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. It begins in the capital of Jewry, with the message pertaining to the kingdom of the heavens going to the Jews first; and it ends in Rome, the capital of the Gentile world of that day, with the message subsequently going to the Gentiles, apart from a preference continuing to be given to the Jews.
Paul made his announcement to this effect at the end of the most unique period that has ever existed in Jewish history (Acts 28:28; ref. chapter 9 of this book) — a period experienced by one single generation of Jews, the generation living on both sides of Calvary and being the recipients of both the offer (before Calvary) and the re-offer (following Calvary) of the kingdom of the heavens. This was a saved generation of Jews that had rejected Christ as King (ref. chapters 3 & 4 of this book). And once this generation had passed off the scene — which was rapidly occurring during the time Paul was in Rome at the end of Acts — an entirely different situation would exist throughout the remainder of the dispensation.
The message pertaining to the kingdom of the heavens could no longer be carried to the Jewish people first. Once the generation of Jews to whom the offer and re-offer of the kingdom of the heavens was made had passed off the scene, there would no longer be a generation of Jews in existence to whom this offer could be extended.
Thus, once Israel’s religious leaders had climactically rejected the offer of the kingdom — which occurred in Rome, near the closing days of the existence of the generation to whom the offer and re-offer of the kingdom was extended — God did three things: (1) He set Israel aside, (2) He allowed the nation’s capital city to be destroyed (by the Romans), and (3) He uprooted the Jewish people from their land and scattered them to the ends of the earth, anticipating “the fullness of the Gentiles” being brought to pass (Luke 19:41-44; Romans 11:25, 26).
And, as previously stated, throughout the remainder of the dispensation it would be impossible for a saved generation of Jews to exist to whom the offer of the kingdom could be extended. God was no longer dealing with Israel on a national basis, the Jewish people had been uprooted from their land and scattered among the nations, and Jews saved during this time would simply become part of the body of Christ rather than part of a saved Israeli nation. Jews appropriating the blood of the Paschal Lamb (through believing on the Lord Jesus Christ) would relinquish their national identity (with Israel) and become part of the one new man “in Christ,” where there was no distinction between Jew and Gentile.
Beyond Paul’s announcement in Acts 28:28 (about 62 A.D.), extending throughout the remainder of the dispensation, the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens was solely for those comprising the body of Christ, the one new man “in Christ.” It was a message, not for Jews, not for Gentiles, but for Christians alone.
The message was for saved people; and Israel, beyond the generation to whom the offer and the re-offer of the kingdom was extended, existed in an unsaved state (not to mention the fact that the kingdom had been taken from Israel [Matthew 21:43; Acts 28:28]).
The Jewish people were as the Gentile nations in relation to the possession or non-possession of spiritual life. They were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), and spiritual life had to first be generated before spiritual promises could be extended.
The offer of the kingdom of the heavens, beyond Acts 28:28, was solely for those comprising the body of Christ. It was for Jews who had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, relinquishing their national identity and becoming part of the body of Christ, where there was “neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile]”; and it was for Gentiles who had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, relinquishing their national identity and becoming part of the body of Christ, where there was “neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile]” (cf. Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:1-3:11).
These were the changes inherent in Paul’s announcement at the end of the book of Acts. And attention at this point in Scripture, in relation to the kingdom of the heavens, ceased to be directed toward Israel. At this point in Scripture, the new creation “in Christ” became the sole recipient of the proffered kingdom.
God’s New Witness
Israel had been God’s witness, called into existence to carry the message of the one true and living God to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 43:1-10); and the people comprising this nation were supposed to have been the ones to carry the message concerning the King and His kingdom from Jerusalem to Rome during the first century. They had been the ones originally in view in the commissions that Christ gave to His disciples at different times during the forty days of His post-resurrection ministry — beginning in Jerusalem, progressing into Judea, then into Samaria, and then into the uttermost parts of the earth (Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1:8).
But Israel, as Jonah when called to go to Nineveh, wanted nothing to do with the matter; and, also as Jonah, Israel eventually ended up in the sea (scattered among the Gentile nations); and, also as Jonah, Israel is going to remain there for two days (2,000 years); and, also as Jonah, on the third day (the third 1,000-year period), Israel is going to be raised up to live in God’s sight (cf. Hosea 5:15-6:2); and, also as Jonah, Israel will then carry the message of the one true and living God to the Gentiles (cf. Genesis 45:26; Isaiah 53:1ff).
But lying between Israel’s disobedience and Israel’s obedience is the two-day (2,000-year) period as seen in Jonah, in which Israel remains spiritually alienated from God and scattered among the Gentile nations. This is a period in which God, through Israel, has no witness. There was no witness through Jonah during the two days in the type, and there can be no witness through Israel during the two days in the antitype. The nation throughout the period remains, as Jonah, dead, in the sea.
God though has not left Himself without a witness (cf. Acts 14:17). Rather, He has called a completely new entity into existence to carry His message to the ends of the earth during this time. He has called a new creation into existence, the one new man “in Christ.” And this new man, through his positional standing in Christ, is not only reckoned as “Abraham’s seed” but is also reckoned as the one in line to inherit “the promise [a reference to that which the lineal seed of Abraham rejected, heavenly promises and blessings]” (Galatians 3:29).
The ministry of this new man — of Christians, comprising the Church — is that to which Christ referred after He had departed the house and sat down by the seaside in Matthew chapter thirteen, during the original offer of the kingdom to Israel (cf. Matthew 16:18). Christ left the house (referring to Israel), went down by the seaside (referring to the Gentiles), and gave four parables. The first parable outlined both the purpose for and the ministry of the Church that He was about to call into existence (the parable of the Sower). Then the remaining three parables revealed that which would occur in relation to the ministry of the Church throughout the dispensation.
And the revealed reason for God turning from Israel to an entirely different group of people to be His witness to the ends of the earth was given by Isaiah over seven centuries prior to this time:
And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” (Matthew 13:14, 15; cf. Isaiah 6:9, 10)
Isaiah’s prophecy, within the scope of its fulfillment, actually spans the centuries. It is a prophecy that could have been applied to Israel numerous times in the nation’s rebellious history. And because of the nature of the prophecy, Christ referred to it in Matthew chapter thirteen, the Spirit of God led John to refer to it in his gospel (12:39-41), and the Spirit of God also led Luke to refer to it at the end of the book of Acts (28:25-27).
The contextual use of the prophecy is the same in all three instances — Israel’s rejection of the signs portending the nation being healed. The Jewish people had seen but had not seen; they had heard but had not heard. They had stopped their hearing; they had closed their eyes; they had hardened their hearts. And, consequently, there was no conversion of and healing for the nation.
The prophecy and its context in Matthew chapter thirteen and in Acts chapter twenty-eight should be studied and understood in the light of one another. In connection with the quotation from Isaiah in Matthew there is a parabolic prophecy concerning the Church (which would exist only because of and following Israel’s disobedience). And that outlined in the parabolic prophecy began to be fulfilled in its fullness in connection with the quotation from Isaiah in Acts (at the time when the kingdom ceased to be offered to Israel, with the nation being set aside for the remainder of the dispensation).
In Matthew chapter thirteen, Christ referred to individuals being sown out in the world, with a view to their bringing forth fruit for the kingdom (the parable of the Sower [And it is evident that the individuals in view could not have been Israelites, for Christ was out of the house and down by the seaside at this time. Aside from that, Israel’s condition and destiny relative to fruit-bearing was later shown by the fruitless fig tree — Matthew 21:19, 20]).
Then, in Acts chapter twenty-eight, Luke referred to that time when the sequence of events shown by the parable of the Sower would begin in its fullness (it had already been occurring, but, with Israel set aside and God’s attention [relative to fruit-bearing] directed solely toward the one new man “in Christ,” it could now [beyond Acts 28:28] occur in its fullness).
In Matthew though, Christ went far beyond the simple statement by Paul following the reference to Isaiah’s prophecy. In the three parables following the parable of the Sower, Christ covered the history of Christendom throughout the dispensation. And the history covered by these three parables must be understood as having to do with the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens, for that, contextually, is the subject matter at hand.
In this respect, a major error has occurred over the years by individuals attempting to interpret these parables in the light of the gospel of the grace of God rather than in the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Contextually, fruit-bearing (vv. 8, 22, 23) and the Word of the Kingdom (vv. 19-23) are in view. Both have to do with saved people and the gospel of the glory of Christ, and the parables must be so understood and interpreted.
In the parable of the Sower, most of those sown out in the world failed to bring forth fruit; and in the succeeding three parables, the reason was given. The work of Satan, through seeking to put a stop to the proclamation of the message, produced gradual corruption. The false teachers that men such as Paul, Peter, and Jude warned the people about were already present (second parable); their work within Christendom would result in the spread of heresies of a nature that would bring about an abnormal growth in the Church, allowing those teaching false doctrine to be readily accepted (third parable); and this would have its end in the whole of Christendom being corrupted (fourth parable).
That is, conditions would change in Christendom throughout the dispensation to such a degree that the message that the Church had been called into existence to proclaim worldwide — which was proclaimed throughout all Christendom at the beginning of the dispensation (Romans 10:18; Colossians 1:5, 6, 23) — would not be proclaimed at all by the Church at the end of the dispensation. Rather than the Church proclaiming the message at the end of the dispensation, there would, instead, be complete apostasy within Christendom in this respect, resulting in conditions being exactly as Christ revealed in Luke 18:8.
The Son of Man, at the time of His return, will be unable to find “faith [‘the faith’] on the earth.” The Church will be as Israel was at Christ’s first coming — a people without hearing and without sight insofar as the message surrounding the proffered kingdom is concerned.
And, in keeping with the same analogy, the Church will be both Pharisaical and Sadducean, both fundamental (so-called) and liberal. But in either instance, the message pertaining to the kingdom of the heavens will be absent. Christians will not want anything to do with this message.
That’s the downward path upon which Christendom has been traveling for centuries — a path which, insofar as the proclamation of the Word of the Kingdom is concerned, will lead to total corruption. And nothing can be done to change, alter, or reverse the course of events. This is the manner in which conditions were prophesied to exist at the end of the dispensation, and the matter was set when the woman placed leaven in the three measures of meal (Matthew 13:3-33; Revelation 2, 3).
A Brief History
As previously stated, apostasy began when the offer of the kingdom was still open to Israel (e.g., Acts 20:29-31), and warnings to Christians about this apostasy constituted a major part of the message being proclaimed throughout the churches shortly after Paul’s announcement in Acts 28:28 (cf. 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:15-3:8; 2 Peter 2:1-3:9; Jude 3-25). Then, toward the end of the first century, because of this apostasy and the conditions that it would ultimately produce in Christendom, the Spirit of God led John to close the canon of Scripture by outlining a history of the Church throughout the dispensation, using existing conditions in seven different churches of that day (Revelation 2, 3). And the end result revealed by John is exactly the same as that previously revealed by Christ in the first four parables of Matthew, chapter thirteen, before the Church was ever called into existence (cf. Luke 18:8; Revelation 3:14-21).
A great persecution of Christians had occurred in Jerusalem near the beginning of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 8:1ff). And, at the termination of this re-offer, Christians became the target of a great persecution in Rome as well. And this persecution probably began about two years after Paul’s announcement in Acts 28:28 (cf. vv. 30, 31).
Viewing the matter from either the standpoint of Scripture alone or the standpoint of secular Church history alone, exactly the same trend and outcome can be seen. Scripture sets forth a corruption beginning early in the dispensation, ending with the whole of Christendom being corrupted; and, looking back in secular history (something that those living at this end of the dispensation have the advantage of doing), exactly the same sequence of events can be seen.
It was about 62 A.D. when Paul made his announcement in Rome, recorded in Acts 28:28. Then, according to secular history, Rome burned in 64 A.D., with the Christians in Rome being accused of arson. This sparked a local persecution, setting a precedent for a persecution of Christians that eventually extended throughout the Empire.
Over the next two hundred and fifty years, ten Roman emperors spread the persecution of Christians into all parts of the Empire; and, as a result of this persecution, Christians, during this time, were slain in all types of grotesque fashions.
Persecution though, as during the persecution of the Israelites in Egypt preceding and during Moses’ day (Exodus 1:8-12; 2:11), only served to spark a growth in Christianity. And, as the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem following Stephen’s death had served to spread “the way” throughout the land, the persecution of Christians that began in Rome served to spread “the way” throughout the Empire.
By the year 200 A.D., Christians could be found in all parts of the Empire; and by the year 250 A.D., it is estimated that Christians constituted between five and twelve percent of the population of the Empire, which totaled about 75,000,000. This phenomenal growth of Christianity under persecution is what led Tertullian, one of the early Church fathers living during that time, to say, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
But even during the time of Roman persecution, though Christianity experienced phenomenal growth, not all was well within the Church. False teachers had appeared in the Church during the time between the persecution in Jerusalem during Stephen’s day and the persecution in Rome during Paul’s day. And these false teachers had centered their attack on the message being proclaimed — the Word of the Kingdom. They had centered their attack at the heart of the matter and undoubtedly set the stage for all the various offshoots of false teachings that could later be found in the Church.
For example, with the spread of Christianity throughout the Empire, Gnosticism (a synthesis of various philosophies, different false religions, and Christianity) and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (a priestly class elevated to a position over the common people [cf. Revelation 2:6, 15]) appeared in the Church. Then, in the first part of the third century, Origen’s allegorical interpretative methods (with an inherent amillennial eschatology) found ready acceptance. And these things, along with other false ideologies of the day, could only have moved Christians further and further away from the truth of Scripture, ultimately allowing an acceptance within Christendom of that which was about to occur.
After Constantine the Great (the first of the so-called Christian emperors) came into power during the opening part of the fourth century, he had the edicts of the last of the persecuting emperors (Diocletian) repealed. And Christianity then became recognized as simply another religion in the countries over which Rome ruled.
From there, a sequence of events began which resulted in Theodosius I, in the year 380 A.D., issuing an edict that made Christianity the exclusive state religion. Then, in the year 395 A.D., that which would have been unthinkable to the Christians in Rome in 64 A.D. (and elsewhere in the Empire for many years following) occurred. Christianity was recognized as the official and only religion of the Roman Empire.
Where the persecuting emperors had failed, the so-called Christian emperors succeeded. Christianity found itself enmeshed within a world system under Satan’s control, completely out of line with God’s plans and purposes for the new creation “in Christ.” Rather than Christianity fulfilling its calling through carrying a true message to those in the world (the gospel of the grace of God) and to Christians in the Church (the gospel of the glory of Christ), the world was allowed to carry a false message to and instill this false message within Christendom.
Resultantly, the one-thousand-year period often referred to as “The Dark Ages” in Church history followed. And, though the Reformation under Martin Luther is usually looked upon as closing this period, in reality the period continued beyond the Reformation into the present day and time.
The Reformation centered on a recovery of truths pertaining to the biblical teaching of salvation by grace through faith, with little to no understanding being shown concerning the true reason for one’s salvation. The Reformation centered on the truth of teachings seen in Exodus chapter twelve (the death of the firstborn), not on the truth of teachings seen beyond this chapter (Exodus 13-Joshua 24).
And, though men later began to look into these things (especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, building on the work of men going back several centuries prior to that), their work was (and remains today) largely ignored. Insofar as an interest in the Word of the Kingdom was concerned, Christianity never (and hasn’t today) recovered from where the Church found itself at the end of the fourth century.
Once the mustard bush had become “a tree” (an abnormal growth, caused by the false teachers in the second parable), with “the birds of the air” allowed to lodge in its branches (the false teachers that had brought about this condition, finding ready acceptance within), the leaven that the woman placed in the “three measures of meal” would see to it that deterioration not only continued but was brought to completion as well. The leaven would continue a deteriorating work until “the whole” had been leavened (Matthew 13:4-33).
Corruption seen in the first four parables in Matthew chapter thirteen and in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapters two and three has to do specifically with a departure from “the faith that was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), not to a departure from biblical doctrine in general. In Matthew’s gospel, specific reference is made to “the kingdom of the heavens” and to “the word of the kingdom” (vv. 11, 19, 24, 31, 33). And in the book of Revelation, all seven letters, structured after an identical fashion, center on the present works of Christians, with a view to Christians overcoming and occupying positions with Christ in the kingdom (2:2, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 19, 26, 27; 3:1, 2, 5, 8, 12, 15, 21).
Thus, a corruption of Christendom seen in either Matthew chapter thirteen or Revelation chapters two and three pertains to a departure from truths surrounding the proffered kingdom — the kingdom offered to Israel in the gospel accounts, re-offered to Israel in Acts, and offered to the one new man “in Christ” in the epistles. It is a corruption of that which Scripture teaches pertaining to works emanating out of faithfulness, with a view to the glory lying out ahead.
The Church, at the end of the dispensation, will exist exactly as seen in the final outcome of matters set forth in both Matthew’s gospel and in the book of Revelation. The Church, in relation to the message surrounding the proffered kingdom, will find itself in a state of total corruption, completely “leavened” (Matthew 13:33); it will find itself in a state described as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
1. A Work of Satan
At the end of the dispensation there will be a complete departure from the central message that was proclaimed throughout Christendom at the beginning of the dispensation. This was a message that had to do with the reason for the very existence of the Church, a message around which all the epistles directed to the Church were built, and a message that was supposed to have been proclaimed throughout all Christendom for the duration of the dispensation.
However, because of Satan’s hatred for this message (note that the message has to do with a change in the governmental administration of the earth — Satan and his angels being put down and Christ and His co-heirs taking the reins of power and authority), he sought very early in the dispensation to counter that which God had begun through the Church (cf. Ephesians 3:9-11; 6:11-18). And the manner in which Satan undertook this task followed a previously established pattern seen in the opening chapters of Genesis, where the first account of his attempting a work of this nature is recorded.
The opening chapter of Genesis records the account of God creating Adam to rule the earth, in Satan’s stead (vv. 26-28); and Genesis chapter three then goes on to reveal that which Satan did in an effort to counter God’s plans and purposes in this respect (vv. 1ff). Satan, knowing why Adam had been created, immediately set about to bring man into a state in which he could no longer be found qualified to rule the earth.
And Satan brought this to pass through introducing a corrupting agent. He introduced sin into the human race. He brought about man’s fall, through sin, in an effort to counter God’s plans and purposes; and this forms a first-mention principle in Scripture, showing the manner in which Satan would act at any subsequent time when seeking to achieve this same goal.
And this is exactly what can be seen in Satan’s work relative to the message surrounding the proffered kingdom very early in the present dispensation. He sought to do away with the message through corruption. He brought in the false teachers and placed a corrupting agent within. He placed leaven within, and this leaven would work until it had corrupted the entire mass.
Apart from the work of Satan, the message surrounding the proffered kingdom would have gone unhindered throughout the dispensation. It would have remained uppermost in the minds of Christians throughout the past two millenniums, and it would continue to be the central message proclaimed throughout the churches of the land today — as during the first several decades of the existence of the Church in the first century.
But, because of the work of Satan, things relating to the proclamation of this message have gradually moved 180 degrees out of phase. Rather than a progressive proclamation of the message occurring throughout the dispensation, there was, instead, a gradual departure; and rather than any type continuing proclamation of the message occurring today, there is, for all practical purposes, a total departure.
This message was proclaimed throughout Christendom during the first century; but today, except in isolated instances, it is not being proclaimed at all. That’s how complete the leaven has done its damaging work.
2. A Further Veiling of the Truth
When Christ was on earth the first time there were two major religious parties in Judaism — the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were the fundamental legalists. They believed the letter of the law. They believed in a future resurrection, in angels, and in spirit realities. The Sadducees though were more liberal in their theology. They rejected any thought of a future resurrection, and they didn’t believe in angels or in spirit realities (Acts 23:8).
But the Pharisees and the Sadducees did have one thing in common. Neither would have anything to do with the message surrounding the proffered kingdom (Matthew 16:1-6).
And exactly the same thing can be seen in Christendom today. There are two major segments — the fundamentalists and the liberals. And though these two segments have major differences in their outlook on Scripture (as the Pharisees and Sadducees had), they do have one thing in common (as also the Pharisees and Sadducees had). Neither will have anything to do with the message surrounding the proffered kingdom.
And fundamentalism, in this respect, becomes quite deceptive, for it claims, by its very name, something of itself that is not true at all. Fundamentalism portends an adherence to the fundamentals of the faith, which translates into a return to exactly what Scripture states, as it was proclaimed during the early years of the first-century Church. And fundamentalism, as it is seen in Christendom today, has not wrought a return to such a position. Nor will it in days ahead; nor can it in days ahead.
There is a cry today among a number of those who look upon themselves as fundamentalists for a return to what is called “historic biblical fundamentalism.” But there’s a major problem. The groups echoing this cry have no understanding of “historic biblical fundamentalism.” They don’t understand what was taught in the first-century Church, and they cannot return to a position of which they know nothing about.
A return to “historic biblical fundamentalism” is nothing short of a return to proclaiming, as central, the Word of the Kingdom throughout the churches, exactly as Scripture states the matter, for that’s what was done by those proclaiming the message in the first-century Church, in both verbal and written form. And we have a written record of exactly what was taught in those days, exactly as God would have Christians possess the record; and until there is a return to an adherence to the contents of that record, there can be no return to “historic biblical fundamentalism.”
But a return of this nature is not going to occur, except possibly in isolated instances, for such a return would be a reversal of the leavening process. Rather, conditions are going to continue in the same deteriorating process until the dispensation is brought to a close by the Son of Man returning and being unable to find “faith [‘the faith’] on the earth” (Luke 18:8).