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The Kingdom In Acts (R. H.Boll)

by

R. H.Boll

Chapter 8

THE NEW BEGINNING

   RHBoll   As dead as was the body that hung upon the tree, so was the hope of the disciples when Jesus died. They could in no wise explain to themselves what had happened. As absolute as had been their faith and devotion toward Him, so great and dark was now their confusion and despair. How was it possible that He should die–and die thus? When a great wrong has been done to a good man, his friends find their consolation in looking forward to the vindication of the righteous verdict of God. But even this comfort was denied these disciples. For He died on the Tree. The scripture says, (and the scripture cannot be broken) “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13). It seemed that God Himself had set His endorsement to the act of the Jews.

The disciples could in no wise understand it. Their hearts proved stronger than their heads in this emergency. The evidence, the argument, the facts, were dead against them. But how even so could they doubt Him whom they had so believed and loved? How could they believe Him a deceiver or deceived one? Yet–the Christ He surely could not be! Did not their law say that the Christ was to remain forever? Now He was dead. But even now they could say nothing less of Him than that He “was a prophet powerful in word and deed before God and all the people,” whom the rulers crucified; “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21). But this hope, as their language showed–the Old Testament Messianic hope–they had held concerning Jesus, they had had to give up. [49]

Then came the unexpected message of the empty tomb–a message confounding and astonishing beyond words to express. But when they saw Him, beheld him, walked, talked, ate, and drank with Him, and handled Him with their hands–was it strange that the old faith, and with it old hope should revive?

When then the Lord had risen from the dead, their dead hope rose into new life with Him; and on an occasion when the Lord Jesus assembled with them, they put the old heart-question to Him–“Lord are you“–for you are Israel’s promised Messiah indeed!–“at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

The purport of the question should be perfectly plain to any Bible student. They believed this risen Lord to be the Messiah. Israel had had a kingdom–had lost it–had promise in their scriptures that in the Messiah’s day and by His hand it should be restored to them. They had expected Him to do that before Calvary and before they knew there would be a Calvary (Luke 19:11 et. al.). In His death their hope died; in His resurrection it revived with hundredfold force. Now–now, at last–will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?

WAS IT A JEWISH ERROR?

      Before we utter the ever-ready reply that “the disciples still held to their mistaken and erroneous Jewish notions of the kingdom,” let us consider the matter. Let us grant a moment, for argument, that the disciples were at first mistaken as to the nature of the expected kingdom. Then let us consider that the burden of Christ’s teaching throughout His ministry was the kingdom; that He also sent them out to preach and proclaim it; and that all along they were left under that same awful misapprehension as to the nature of the kingdom, and that the Lord either did not seriously attempt, as yet, to correct it; or, because of their inability to grasp the correction, was unable to correct their view during that time. Grant even that–though such a supposition is outside all probabilities. Then we learn that for forty days succeeding His resurrection he taught them and His theme was especially “the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3); and that He had opened their minds that they might understand the scriptures (Luke 24:45)–and that yet, after all this “post-graduate instruction,” as it were, they still held the same wrong notion in all its original grossness–that is almost beyond credibility. When you add to this fact that the Lord Jesus does not even now refute or correct the supposed error (which could have been done, it seems, with a few words)–but rather confirms them in it by implying that the thing they asked about would be done sometime, though the when was not for them to know–that supposition is simply beyond all reason. Let those who are put to the necessity of forcing the language of scripture into agreement with their position, suppose and teach such things: we as simple Christians ought to feel no obligation like that. For my part, it pleases me to accept the evident implication of the Savior’s reply, that sometime (the definite time unknown) Israel’s kingdom would be restored to them. For so it is promised in the holy scriptures: “In that day”–that is, when Jehovah shall reign over the remnant of Israel in Mount Zion for ever–the “former dominion” shall come–the [50] dominion once held and lost, now returned to them, in glorious and exalted form–even “the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem” (Micah 4:6-8; compare Jeremiah 33:7). That is eminently clear and satisfying.

In the meanwhile, however, an event was to transpire, the time of which was not hid in the Father’s secret counsels; for it pertained to the very near future–“but in a few days” (Acts 1:5), “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” In that power they were to be witnesses of Him–that is they were to tell men that He is the Christ, the Saviour, the Lord; and that, radiating from Jerusalem outward into all Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8).

THIS SAME JESUS SHALL COME AGAIN

      While these important words were passing, they, with the Lord, had arrived upon the Mount of Olives. There He spread forth His hands in benediction upon them; and it came to pass while He was blessing them, and as they were looking on, He was taken up out of their midst, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. While still they stood and gazed, not knowing the full significance of what had happened, two men stood by them in white raiment, who said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

This was reassuring to them from several points of view. The absence was to be only temporary. At the close of its term, He, the same Jesus, (not another, but He whom they knew and had seen and known, and whom their hands had handled) this Jesus (mentioned here by His human name), their Lord, the long-looked for Messiah; once come, but slain on the cross; risen again from the dead, but again departed–He would come back in Person. Whatever of unfulfilled hope here was in their hearts, it rested now upon this promised return of Jesus. Whatever the scriptures had foretold the Messiah should do in the day of His presence, that Jesus had not done–if there was anything yet to be done–it was well, for He shall come again. And thenceforth all promise and all of Israel’s national hope and all Christian hope hangs upon the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

THE FIRST GOSPEL SERMON

      True to His word, “but in a few days,” the Spirit came. In new and heavenly power the apostles led by Peter, arose and bore witness that Jesus was Lord and Christ. Peter, being the one to whom the Lord had committed the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19) was the first to preach and witness in the newly-received power. His address was the first gospel-sermon ever preached “by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven” (1 Peter 1:11) and is of fundamental importance.

We pass by this time Peter’s introductory explanation and his quotation from the prophecy of Joel concerning the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2:14-21). He [51] reaches his real message in verse 22. “JESUS” is the Theme. “Jesus of Nazareth,” first as a man, approved of God among them by Divine works which He did, as they themselves knew; then, Jesus delivered up (not by accident, but by God’s plan), and slain; next, Jesus raised from the dead. At this point he quotes from the Old Testament scriptures (Psalm 16) to show that the promised Messiah of the Old Testament was to die, and to rise from the dead before his body could be touched by the taint of decay–that His soul should not be left unto Hades nor His flesh should see corruption (Acts 2:25-28). Now, in foretelling this (in Psalm 16) David had throughout spoken in the first person–as though he, David, himself were the one whose soul should not be left unto Hades, and whose body should not see corruption. But Peter points out that David could not have been speaking of himself seeing that he had long since died and been buried, his body having seen corruption and his tomb remaining with us to this day. Of whom then was he speaking? And on what principle did he speak in the first person? Here is Peter’s answer and explanation:

But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay” (Acts 2:30, 31).

DOES JESUS NOW SIT ON DAVID’S THRONE?

      It is this passage that demands our especial examination; for it is relied upon as the positive and final proof that Jesus is now sitting and reigning on David’s throne. Let us consider now, carefully and impartially, to see if that is so. I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, that if such is the meaning–or whatever may be the meaning–of these words I am well-pleased to have it just as God gave it. Having no position to force or creed to defend we feel free to take all God has said and just as He said it. But if upon examination we see that the passage does not say what is claimed for it, of course no human authority and no consideration of the general views of the brotherhood should weigh in the matter.

And what do we see in Peter’s statement? A declaration that Jesus in sitting upon David’s throne now? That God has actually seated Him on the throne of David? If so that settles it for evermore. But what do we find? Simply that David, foreseeing that of his natural descendants God would set One (the great promised Son) upon his (David’s) throne–spoke of the resurrection of the Christ. In other words, the promised Christ of David’s line was to be raised from the dead in order that He might be seated on his father David’s throne. This Son of David, this Jesus (Peter declares), was so raised up. He therefore is the rightful claimant. He is the God-appointed Heir of David’s throne. To Him and to Him exclusively the throne of David belongs by every right. But that He is now already occupying that throne is just what Peter does not say. Still less does he say that the throne of David–which always meant simply the Divinely delegated sovereignty over the nation of Israel, the “house of Jacob,” Luke 1:32, 33–was now spiritualized and removed to heaven.1 [52]

The risen Lord Jesus is indeed exalted and enthroned now. But the position of authority He occupies up there was in no sense inherited from His father David. David never occupied that throne, nor could have; just as it is equally evident that the Lord Jesus has never yet exercised the authority of David’s sphere of rule. The throne which our Lord occupies now is the all-inclusive sovereignty of heaven. It is a position of supreme authority held by Him as the glorified God-man–“until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Psalm 110:1); upon which it will be surrendered (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). It is a joint sharing of God’s throne, on which no mere creature ever yet sat nor could sit. The throne of David, however, is His own peculiarly as David’s Son; the throne which is His by right of human descent as David’s “righteous branch.” “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).2 [53]

It may be argued that being in the place of supreme and all-inclusive authority (“all authority in heaven and earth is given unto me”)–the authority of David’s throne, being comprehended in “all authority” is His now also. That is entirely true. It is His and no one else’s. He has and holds “the key of David.” He is the anointed King of David’s line; the Christ appointed for Israel (Acts 3:20). But neither is that saying that He now sits and reigns on David’s throne. David had been God’s anointed king long before he actually sat upon his rightful throne over Israel, suffering indignities and persecution at the hands of Saul, and rejection at the hands of the people; and he never took the government until the people themselves willingly sought his rule and chose him and submitted. Yet all that while, though unrecognized by men, he was God’s king. As it would be put in legal language, the throne was His “de jure et potentia,” at first; and became His “de facto et actu” afterward; that is, it is His by right and authority at first, and in fact and act afterward.

Moreover, His all-inclusive authority does not remove the necessity of his special assumption of a special subordinate sphere of rule and investment with a specific authority. George V became King of England, sovereign therefore over all its wide domains upon which the sun never sets. Yet some six months after his coronation in England, he must needs go to Delhi to be there crowned Emperor of India. As King of England that crown belonged to him alone. Because he was King of England, he was, by right, Emperor of India. Therefore he went to Bengal to claim that crown. Let that serve as an illustration of a situation which is really simple enough in itself.

I have gone to this length on this passage in Peter’s sermon because, so far as I know, it is the one passage which is thought to say and teach directly that the Lord Jesus is now sitting on David’s throne. It will be seen that Peter’s statement falls short exactly at the point of declaring that Jesus was set on David’s throne. Peter declares that the Christ who should occupy David’s throne, is to be raised from the dead in order that God might set him upon David’s throne; and that this Jesus who is heir of David’s line, was so raised up. Thus Peter identifies Jesus with the promised Christ. Peter also states that in accordance with Psalm 110 Jesus was exalted at the right hand of God, and is as David says, Lord–David’s Lord, the universal ruler–as well as Christ. But that he now sits on David’s throne and exercises David’s rule Peter does not say. And indeed as we have already seen and shall yet see, such is not the case.

PETER’S SECOND SERMON

      The second recorded sermon in the book of Acts which, like that of Pentecost, was preached by Peter, also contains an important kingdom-reference. How long a time had elapsed since Pentecost we have no means of telling; but the gospel testimony was still confined to Jerusalem (Acts 1:8) and the sermon itself shows that the appeal was still to the nation of Israel, and there was yet a chance of [54] Israel’s being turned nationally. How much that event would mean is told us in the prophets, and likewise in the New Testament (Romans 11:12, 15). Peter in this second sermon, addresses the Jewish nation, holds up to them their guilt in the murder of the Messiah; also allows for them the one mitigating circumstance (not excuse!) that they had done it “ignorantly and in unbelief.” Thus, through them, as instruments of unrighteousness, God had fulfilled His word that His Christ should suffer. Then Peter calls the nation again to repentance:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:19-21).

The urgent reasons, then, why Israel should repent and turn again are three:

1. That their sins may be blotted out.

2. That so (i. e. on the ground of this cleansing) there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.

3. And that (in consequence) God might send them their God-appointed Christ, who in the meanwhile resides in heaven and will remain there until the times of the restoration of all things predicted from of old by the mouth of God’s holy prophets.

If therefore they repented, these three things would come to pass: their sins would be forgiven; seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord would ensue; and their Christ–their Messiah of David’s seed for whom they had looked and longed–would be sent to them. Christ’s return from heaven would usher in those long predicted times of restoration, the reparation and restitution, according to the promise, of all that was marred and ruined and lost. This accords perfectly with all we have thus far learned both from the Old and New Testament concerning the things predicted.

As for this passage, neither the natural import of its language, nor the light of other scripture-teaching supports the idea that Christ will remain in heaven during the times of restoration. If one says he will remain at such and such a place until such and such a time he does not mean that he will stay there until after that time is past. (Look at the force of “until” in such passages for instance, as Galatians 4:2 or Hebrews 9:10). Unless there is something in the wording or the context of the statement in which the “until” occurs to indicate that it means “until after,” it always means “up to the point of.” “Until the times of restoration” Christ must remain in heaven; when He comes back the restoration begins. If Israel’s repentance would hasten that event it would be a mighty motive and appeal to Israel.3

Nor does the idea that Jesus will remain in heaven till after the restoration has taken place, agree with other teaching of scripture. So far from finding a restored world when he comes back from heaven, the Lord Jesus declares that when He [55] comes again it will be as the days of Noah, as in the days of Lot. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” But He will find Antichrist in full power and possession, and will bring him to nought “by the splendor of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The judgments of “the day of the Lord” precede the work of restoration.

THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL’S NATIONAL REJECTION

      After Acts 3 Israel declines into disobedience and rebellion. As the church grows, persecution arises, which culminates in the killing of Stephen. Now the gospel goes forth to Samaria, and subsequently through Paul, “to the ends of the earth.” The book of Acts is the Divine history showing the national rejection of Israel and how “Because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11). the last hope was staked upon the attitude of the Jews in Rome; and when those did not unanimously, as a whole, accept the gospel, their abandonment was sealed by the famous quotation from Isaiah 6, (“You will be ever hearing but never understanding,” etc.) which is always the word that marks Israel’s national rejection for an indeterminate period (Acts 28:24-28).

A GREAT CRISIS

      About the middle of Acts, occurs an event of first importance. The acceptance of the Gentiles into the church–into the favor of God as joint-sharers of the blessings of Israel’s Christ–was a most terrible perplexity to all believing Jews. It was in fact a mystery. It had never been revealed that such a thing would happen (Ephesians 3:4-6). That the Gentiles were to be blessed in Messianic days was no mystery; that had been previously revealed. But the observant reader of the prophets will notice that it is always after the national restoration and exaltation of Israel, and always through restored Israel and in subservience to Israel that the Gentiles were to be so blessed. But Israel was not restored; yet the Gentiles are coming in, being admitted upon equal terms with believing Jews, to equal share and right with them of the promises.4

If we cannot appreciate this stunning blow to Jewish thought and faith, we are not able to understand the great conflict that arose. God had as it were compelled the acceptance of Cornelius and his house by a mighty sign; and with express [56] miraculous endorsement had shown His approval of all subsequent work among the Gentiles. That the Gentiles were to be admitted was a point settled beyond dispute by heaven itself. But how did that harmonize with scripture? Some thought that the only way out of the difficulty was to incorporate the believing Gentiles into the Jewish nation as Proselytes; and accordingly came with the unauthorized teaching that unless the Gentile Christians were circumcised and kept the law of Moses, they could not be saved. Naturally this created a stir and consternation among the Gentile converts, and the matter was finally referred to the apostles and the church at Jerusalem which supposedly was the source from whence this doctrine had come. At any rate if this question were rightly settled in Jerusalem–the center of Jewish Christianity–it would thereby be settled everywhere.

In Acts 15, therefore, we have the account of that memorable conference. We must pass over all except the concluding speech of James in which the matter was settled and clinched. Here is, in part, James’ speech on that occasion:

Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ that have been known for ages. It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

This passage has been give two interpretations; the one referring it to the present time, the other to the age to come. The critical words upon which the question of the meaning turns are in the first line of James’ quotation from “the prophets”:–“after this I will return.” By some these words are taken to have no special significance, being regarded as only a part of James’ quotation from Amos 9, probably referring to some matters of which Amos had previously spoken, and having no special bearing in the connection in which they occur here. The fact is significant, however, that the prophet Amos from whom James quotes this, never used those words at all. They are found neither in the Hebrew, nor in the Greek Version (“Septuagint”) of the Old Testament. James purposely added these words, as summing up the teaching of the prophets on the point in hand. This being the case the words are to be regarded as meaningful, and are not to be slurred as though they were only meaningless introductory formula, but are to be given their full weight of meaning in the connection in which James brings them forward.

James had just mentioned the fact that God had visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name. Then he adds (and it is James who added this, for the line is not found in Amos, nor in any of the prophets)–“After this I will return.” This points forward to a time subsequent to the taking out from among the Gentiles of a people for God’s name. According to this the prophecy of Amos still awaits its fulfillment. [57]

The question as to which of these conceptions is the correct, therefore, hangs on whether the words, “After this I will return” are to be taken strictly, and in connection with James’ preceding statement that God has first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His own name; or whether they are simply an irrelevant introduction. I do not think needful to decide that here. In either case and by either view, James’ point would be that the reception of Gentiles is according to, and not against, the scriptures. In the one case the rebuilding of David’s tabernacle would refer to the present exaltation of Jesus, David’s Son, as the living and assured Heir of David’s throne; in the other case the passage quoted by James has reference to the future actual realization of the Old Testament hope of Israel and of the hope of all the world through them, in the world-rule of Christ on David’s throne, as the context in Amos 9 indicates. The two interpretations converge upon the point that in Messianic times (whether now or future) Gentiles as such are to be admitted to Israel’s covenant blessings. And this we all believe and know.

OTHER REFERENCES IN “ACTS”

      In Acts 14:22 the kingdom, without qualifying phrase or explanation, is clearly and distinctly spoken of as yet future. On their homeward journey Paul and Barnabas visited the young churches they had established along the way, “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,‘ they said.” This is evidently the kingdom of promise and prophecy, as it is yet to be realized, which the saints shall inherit, and in which they shall execute rule and judgment over all the world with the Lord Jesus (James 2:5; I Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 2:26, 27). The matter stands squarely thus; and it seems to me that it would be as sectarian to deny that as to evade or deny the passages that speak of the kingdom as now existent in its spiritual phase.

Finally we have in the Book of Acts evidence that the kingdom of God held a prominent place in the early preaching, Philip at Samaria preached “the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). And Paul declared that he had gone about among the people, “preaching the kingdom” (Acts 20:25; compare Acts 19:8). Indeed his enemies at Thessalonica charged him with teaching that “there is another King, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7). The very last words of this book inform us that Paul continued “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” I believe that the kingdom of God in every aspect in which it is presented in scripture, should hold the same prominent place in the gospel-message today. It is a subject worthy of our most earnest consideration and reconsideration. [58]

 

1 The Jews object that many prophecies, and those such as especially concern themselves, have not been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth, and that therefore He cannot be the Messiah promised by the prophets. To this many Christian writers have replied that such declarations are figurative, and that under earthly emblems heavenly things are intended–that the Jews are never to be restored to their own land, nor the Messiah to have a kingdom over Israel; that the only blessings which they have to expect are adoption into the Christian family here and admission into the heavenly Canaan hereafter. But to this the Jew objects that a mode of interpretation which is based upon two contradictory principles is necessarily false. “You prove that Jesus is the Messiah,” he says, “by the grammatical principle–you evade difficulties by adoption of the figurative. Choose one of the two. Carry through the figurative exposition, and then there is no suffering Messiah; carry through the literal, and a large portion of the prophecies are not yet fulfilled.” The Jew’s demand is reasonable, and his objection to this expository inconsistency valid; . . . to receive those prophecies which foretell Messiah’s humiliation and atoning death in their plain and literal sense, and seek to allegorize those which deal with His glorious reign on the earth over restored and blessed Israel, is to place an insurmountable stumbling block before every Jew of common sense, and to hold up prophecy to the scorn of the infidel.–Dr. Alex McCaul quoted by David Baron. [53]

2 According to the commonly received view there is indeed no importance in the title ‘Son of David’ as belonging to Christ, except perhaps as proving that He was descended from David and enabling us to trace His genealogy. But it is evident that the announcement of the angel attaches to it far greater importance than this, inasmuch as it asserts for Him as Son of David, ‘the throne of His father David.‘ And what throne is that? Not the throne of heaven, nor yet the throne of God’s spiritual Kingdom, for neither of these ever belonged to David, and therefore could not be inherited by Christ as ‘Son of David.’ The throne intended, then, must be the throne of the kingdom of Israel; and that it is so, the words of the angel testify; for, having said, ‘The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David,’ he adds, And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.’–adapted from W. Burgh. [53]

3 “Jesus had been to earth and returned to heaven. Heaven must receive him until ‘the times of restoration of all things.’ Then ‘the times of restoration of all things’ must be when Jesus returns again to earth–the restoration of all things to their original relation to God. . . . When Jesus comes again the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and all things in the world will be restored to harmonious relations with God, the Supreme Ruler of the universe.”–David Lipscomb, (Queries and Answers, p. 360). [55]

4 “. . . the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations . . . This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:4-6). [56]

 




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