Monday, October 17, 2016

A Study on the Two Evangels (Part 3)

The Evangel of the Circumcision

Previously, it was noted that, prior to the “severing” of Paul and Barnabas for their work among the nations, the truth which Paul labored to convince his fellow Jews of was simply the fact that “Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19-22). As we’ll see in this section, this truth which Paul was heralding within the synagogues (and which he continued to herald in the synagogues, even after being severed) is the “evangel of the Circumcision” that was originally entrusted to Peter.

In John’s “Gospel Account,” we find that salvation for an Israelite requires believing “in the name [i.e., in the identity] of the only-begotten Son of God.” When John wrote his account, this was the evangel that Israelites had to believe if they were to be having “life eonian”:

“For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian. For God does not dispatch His Son into the world that He should be judging the world, but that the world may be saved through Him. He who is believing in Him is not being judged; yet he who is not believing has been judged already, for he has notbelieved in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.” John 3:16-18

To an Israelite, Jesus’ being the “Son of God” meant that he is the prophesied Christ or “Messiah” (i.e., the “Anointed One”) destined to sit on “the throne of his father David” and rule over the house of Jacob – and indeed the entire earth - for the coming eons (2 Sam. 7:1-16;Psalm 2:1-12; Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 2:30-31; cf. Heb. 1:5, 8-9). Jesus’ Lordship is also inseparably linked to his identity as the Christ, the Son of God (Matt. 22:41-46; Luke 2:11; Acts 2:34-36). 

Earlier, Christ had told Nicodemus that an Israelite had to be “begotten anew” (i.e., begotten of God) in order to “perceive” and “be entering” the kingdom of God (John 3:3-8). And in John’s first letter we read, “Everyone who is believing that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God…Now who is he who is conquering the world if not he who isbelieving that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:1, 5) John went on to write in v. 13, “These things I write to you that you who are believing in the name of the Son of God may be perceiving that you have life eonian.”

That believing “in the name of the only-begotten Son of God” meant believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is further confirmed by what John wrote towards the end of his account:

“Indeed then, many other signs also Jesus does, in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this scroll. Yet these are written that you should be believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life eonian in His name.” John 20:30-31 (cf. 1 John 5:1, 5)

For Martha, believing the words Jesus declared to her concerning his being “the Resurrection and the Life,” and the one in whom people needed to believe in order to be living “for the eon,” meant believing the truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world”:

Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who is believing in Me, even if he should be dying, shall be living. And everyone who is living and believing in Me, should by no means be dying for the eon. Are you believing this?” She is saying to Him, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, Who is coming into the world.” John 11:25-27

This truth concerning Jesus’ identity – that he is the Christ, the Son of God - is the “evangel of the Circumcision” with which Peter, John and the rest of the twelve apostles were entrusted. The first time we read of the content of this evangel being made known to Peter is in Matthew 16:15-17: “He is saying to them, ‘Now you, who are you saying that I am?’ Now answering, Simon Peter said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Now, answering, Jesus said to him, ‘Happy are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood does not reveal it to you, but My Father Who is in the heavens.’” Notice that, according to Christ, God himself had revealed this key truth to Peter.

In addition to the above verses, we find that the central theme of Peter’s speeches (as recorded in Acts 2 and 3) also concerns the Messianic identity of Jesus. Peter even concludes and summarizes his first speech (delivered on Pentecost) with the following declaration: “Let all the house of Israel know certainly, then, that God makes Him Lord as well as Christ — this Jesus Whom you crucify!” Peter’s goal in speaking was quite clear: to make known to his Jewish audience the truth concerning the identity of Jesus, the man whom Israel had crucified. For those Israelites who believed this evangel, the next step on the path leading to salvation – i.e., eonian life in the kingdom of God - was repenting of their (Israel’s) national sin of crucifying Christ and getting baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the pardon of [their] sins,” in order to obtain the “gratuity of the holy spirit” (Acts 2:37-40).

What about Acts 15:7?

In Acts 15:7, we read “Now, there coming to be much questioning, rising, Peter said to them, ‘Men! Brethren! You are versed in the fact that from the days at the beginning God chooses among you, that through my mouth the nations are to hear the word of the evangel and believe.’”

How does this declaration by Peter square with the fact that it was Paul– and not Peter - who was made “the apostle of the nations” (Rom. 11:13) and entrusted with the “evangel of the Uncircumcision?” In order to answer this question, we must first find out the identity of the “nations” referred to by Peter. We’ll then examine the content of the “word of the evangel” that they heard and believed.

We know that Peter was not talking about being chosen for an apostolic ministry to “the nations,” in general, for that would’ve meant being chosen to herald his evangel to idol-worshiping pagans (and there is absolutely no indication from Scripture that Peter ever did this). Rather, what Peter had in mind was a single incident that involved Cornelius and his household. Acts 15:8-9 make it clear that Cornelius and his house comprised the “nations” that Peter had in view in v. 7. It was these Gentiles to whom Peter had been chosen by God to herald the evangel with which he’d been entrusted, in accord with his “apostleship of the Circumcision” (and it was this important experience in Peter’s life that taught him something that would later enable him to say what he did at the “Jerusalem council” in defense of the unique apostolic ministry of Paul). 

It is important to note that Peter was the man to whom Christ had given the “keys of the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 16:19-20). It should, consequently, be of little surprise to the reader that it was through Peter's delegated authority and instrumentality that the kingdom of God was “unlocked” to these God-fearing Gentiles. It also need to be noted that, although Cornelius was uncircumcised (and thus not a “full-fledged” proselyte of Israel), he was by no means representative of most Gentiles living during the time of the Roman Empire. Cornelius was “devout and fearing God with his entire house, doing many alms to the people [Israel] and beseeching God continually…a man just and God-fearing, besides being attested by the whole nation of the Jews” (Acts 10: 2, 22). It would seem that Cornelius and his household recognized their place in subordination to the nation of Israel, and desired to worship the God of Israel via the mediation of Israel. Other examples of God-fearers like Cornelius would be the Roman centurion (referred to in Luke 7:1-5) and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29-38).

It is also worthy of notice when the holy spirit came upon Cornelius and his household. Note that the holy spirit was not poured out upon them after they had heard Peter’s message (a message which, in Acts 11:14, is referred to as “declarations to you [Cornelius] by which you shall be saved, you and your entire house”). Rather, the holy spirit was poured out upon Cornelius and his household as Peter “begins to speak” (Acts 11:15). Thus, their speaking in tongues by the power of the holy spirit was not evidence that Cornelius and his household had already been saved, but rather testified to the fact that they were eligible to be saved – i.e., it was confirmation for Peter and his Jewish companions that the kingdom of God had been “unlocked” to these Gentiles.

After Peter had finished speaking (and Cornelius and his household had heard and believed the declarations by which they could be saved), Peter then had Cornelius and his household baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:47-48). Peter’s “bidding” Cornelius and his household to be water baptized was no mere superfluous action on Peter’s part. Water baptism was in accordance with his apostolic commission and Israel’s “salvation program,” as it was essential for one’s receiving the “pardon of sins” (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-38). And (as Peter declared in Acts 15:9), God “in nothing” discriminated between Peter and his Jewish companions and Cornelius and his household (i.e., with regards to how they each received salvation).

That the “word of the evangel” which Peter heralded to Cornelius and his household was, in fact, the evangel of the Circumcision, is clear from what we read of its content. Notice how Peter began his message:

“Of a truth I am grasping that God is not partial, but in every nation he who is fearing Him and acting righteously is acceptable to Him. Of the word He dispatches to the sons of Israel, bringing the evangel of peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all), you are aware, the declaration coming to be down the whole of Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John heralds: Jesus from Nazareth, as God anoints Him with holy spirit and power, Who passed through as a benefactor and healer of all those who are tyrannized over by the Adversary, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:34-38).

As noted earlier, “Christ” means “Anointed One”; thus, Peter’s declaring that Jesus of Nazareth had been anointing by God “with holy spirit and power” is simply another way of identifying him as the Christ, the Son of God (see Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34). Everything Peter said – including the facts concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection – served to support and further validate this central truth. That the truth about the identity of Jesus of Nazareth constituted Peter’s evangel is especially evident from how Peter concluded his message: “And he [God] charges us to herald to the people and to certify that this One is he who is specified by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To this one are all the prophets testifying: Everyone who is believing in him is to obtain the pardon of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42-43).

To say that Jesus is “…he who is specified by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (which, again, was the truth that Peter said he and his co-laborers had been charged by God to herald) was simply another way of saying that Jesus is the Christ, for no other man had been, or would be, given this great authority from God (cf. John 5:21-29).

The Evangel of the Kingdom

But what about the “evangel of the kingdom” that we’re told was heralded by Christ during his earthly ministry (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:15), and which Christ declared would be heralded during the time of great affliction preceding his return at the end of the eon (Matt. 24:14)? Well, for an Israelite to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” was to believe that Jesus is the one about whom numerous Messianic scriptures prophesied – including that found in Daniel 9:24-27 concerning the seventy heptads (490 years) that had to be fulfilled before the kingdom could be restored to Israel (and in which we read of a “Messiah,” or Christ, who would be “cut off”). The fact that Jesus is the Christ was indeed good news for those who believed it, since it meant that the one through whom God was going to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6; cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:14, 22-27; Luke 12:32) had finally come into the world. And this meant that the time for the setting up of the kingdom of God had drawn “near” (Mark 1:14-15)! But what did Christ mean by “near?”

Concerning this subject, A.E. Knoch notes on pg. 58 of his commentary (emphasis mine),

“…our Lord’s ministry as a whole was, from the prophetic viewpoint, within something over seven years of the kingdom. This is the force of the oft-repeated expression which was the burden of [Christ’s] proclamation, “The kingdom of God has drawn near.” The sixty-ninth heptad of Daniel ended with His triumphal entry (Mark 11:8). Only seven more prophetic years remained, which begin with the confirmation of the covenant with the coming prince (Dan 9:27)…This word [translated “drawn near”] is very carefully chosen. The Lord did not predict positively that the kingdom was “at hand” so that it must come in a short time, but relatively, that it needed little time to make it a reality.

Thus we see that the “evangel of the kingdom” heralded by Christ during his earthly ministry was not actually a different evangel than the evangel which proclaims his identity as the Christ; rather, the “evangel of the kingdom” and the “evangel of the circumcision” are simply two ways of referring to the same evangel. As heralded by Christ during his earthly ministry, this evangel implied the information more explicitly expressed when heralded by Christ’s twelve apostles - i.e., that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” And as heralded by Christ’s twelve apostles, this evangel implied the information more explicitly expressed when heralded by Christ - i.e., “Fulfilled is the era, and near is the kingdom of God!” Ever since the arrival of Christ into the world, the kingdom of God has been - and will remain - “near,” in the sense that, prophetically speaking, little time needs to transpire in order for it to arrive.

We see the interconnection between the fact of Jesus’ identity and the nearness of the kingdom of God in Peter’s evangelical messages to Israel, as recorded in Acts 2 and 3. At the beginning of his first message, Peter points out that the miraculous occurrence of which his listeners had become witnesses while assembled on Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-12) was the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had uttered concerning the “last days” (vv. 14-21). Significantly, when quoting Joel, Peter included the portion of Joel’s prophecy that clearly refers to the eon-terminating events that will take place just before Christ’s return to earth, at the end of the 70th heptad (vv. 19-20). The connection between the fact that Jesus is the Christ and the relative nearness of the kingdom of God is even more explicit in Peter’s next message (see Acts 3:17-23).

From these messages we see that Peter (and those to whom he spoke) knew that, with the arrival of the Messiah into the world, the “last days” had arrived as well; from a prophetic standpoint, little time had to elapse before the kingdom of God would be set up on the earth. The fact that Jesus of Nazareth – the man Israel had rejected and crucified - was “the Christ, the Son of God,” implied that the coming of the kingdom of God was “right around the corner,” prophetically speaking.  This remains the case even during the present administration that was given to Paul, since the length of time during which this administration is to continue was never revealed to Paul or anyone else. Only in hindsight do we know that the time of the present administration was not intended by God to end sometime in the first century A.D., or that it would continue for as long as it has. As soon as this administration ends (which I believe will take place at the time of the snatching away of the body of Christ), the kingdom of God will be even nearer to being established on the earth than it was during Christ’s earthly ministry.

Part Four:

No comments:

Post a Comment