Saturday, October 12, 2019

Revisiting the “Two Evangels” Controversy (Part One)

Note: The following are links to other blog articles I’ve written that pertain to the doctrine of the two evangels:

God’s Covenant People

Peter, Cornelius and the Jerusalem Conference: A Study on Acts 15:1-17

Acts 15 study Q&A

John’s expectation and doctrinal position concerning salvation

God’s Covenant People: A Response to Objections

A Refutation of “The Unity of the Spirit – 2 Evangels?”


The doctrinal position that is commonly referred to as “dispensationalism” is not one with which I was at all familiar during my time in the institutional church. And I don’t think my experience could be considered the exception among most Christians in the world today. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that, for most of “church history,” the distinctive doctrines that could be considered as coming under the umbrella of dispensationalism have never been widely embraced – or even widely known – among Christians. Not only is dispensationalism completely absent from the doctrinal positions of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, but it’s also rare to find the position (at least, in what I would consider its most consistent and thought-out form) being affirmed and promoted within most Protestant churches.

Even among those churches that may claim to be “dispensational” to some degree or another, the more common view seems to be that the “church” of which all “true Christians” are believed to be members began at the time described in Acts 2 (i.e., when the Jewish believers who were gathered for the feast day of Pentecost were baptized with the holy spirit). Although this view is undoubtedly an improvement upon the non-dispensational “covenant theology” taught in the Presbyterian church in which I was brought up, it also reflects a certain degree of inconsistency and confusion on the part of those who affirm it (in any case, it’s not the version of “dispensationalism” to which I hold, and which I will be defending in this study).

As was the case with my related departure from the doctrinal position known as “Preterism” (see the articles I posted on 1/24/20 for more info on this subject), my conversion to dispensationalism was something that I initially resisted. Even after I came to a realization of the truth of what I now recognize as the evangel entrusted to Paul (and, shortly after, left the institutional church), my theology remained, for nearly eight years, about as far from dispensationalism as one could possibly get. However, approximately seven years ago, I became convinced that the dispensational position that is referred to as “Mid-Acts Dispensationalism,” “Pauline Dispensationalism” or the “Two Evangels” position is, in fact, scriptural.

Since the time that I came to embrace this doctrinal position, I’ve seen several fellow members of the body of Christ who once affirmed it (at least, as they understood it) eventually come to reject and then oppose it. In fact, it would seem that opposition to this position among the community of believers of which I am a part has been steadily on the rise during the past couple of years. In light of this fact, I think it would be worthwhile to revisit the controversy with yet another article in defense of what I believe on this subject. In the first two installments of this study I’ll be responding to certain comments that a friend and fellow brother in Christ – who will remain anonymous – shared with me concerning his present stance toward the “two evangels” doctrinal position.

In our most recent correspondence on the subject, my friend stated in a private message that, although he no longer believes “that Paul and Peter taught or ascribed to two different evangels,” he does believe “that the kingdom gospel was different and distinct.” However, insofar as one believes that the “kingdom gospel” should be distinguished from the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” entrusted to Paul, I believe one must also (to be consistent) believe that the “evangel of the Circumcision” is distinct from the evangel that was entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations. The reason for this is (I’ll be arguing) as follows: With regard to the essential truth being communicated (i.e., the truth which makes the message being heralded one of “good news” for Israel), the “evangel of the kingdom” heralded by Christ during his earthly ministry and the “evangel of the Circumcision” referred to by Paul in Galatians 2:7 are essentially the same evangel. Any difference in the way the message is communicated – whether by Christ or one of his twelve apostles – is, I’ll argue, simply one of emphasis, and not of substance.

In part three of this study, I’ll be responding to a few more objections raised by the late L. Ray Smith (who was zealously opposed to the view that more than one “gospel” was being heralded at any point during the “Acts era,” or that there was more than one eonian expectation to which people were being called by God during this time).

Two callings, two expectations and (therefore) two evangels

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t think one can really appreciate why there would be a need for (or why there would’ve been a need for) two evangels apart from an understanding and appreciation of the fact that (1) not every believer during the Acts era had the same eonian expectation, and that (2) it was by hearing and believing a particular evangel that one was called by God to their particular expectation.

According to the position to which I hold, the company of saints that Paul referred to as “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body” or “the body of Christ” should be differentiated from the company of saints that he referred to as “the Israel of God” in Gal. 6:16. And what we read in Romans 11:26-27 can, I believe, help us better understand what makes these two companies of believers different from each other. From these verses it’s evident that the expectation belonging to those who will be part of the “all Israel” referred to by Paul is an expectation that’s based on God’s covenant relationship with Israel, and will be realized when, in fulfillment of what we read in these verses, Christ will be “turning away irreverence from Jacob” and “should be eliminating their sins” (which, we’re told, “is [God’s] covenant with them”).

In contrast with the eonian expectation that is in accord with Israel’s “prophetic program,” the eonian expectation to which people began to be called at the start of Paul’s ministry among the nations (and which belongs to a company of believers that consists primarily – but not exclusively – of Gentiles) should be understood as distinct from Israel’s covenant-based expectation. Rather than involving an earthly allotment in the kingdom that’s going to be restored to Israel, the expectation that belongs to those in the body of Christ will involve an allotment that is “among the celestials” and “in the heavens,” and (as argued in my study on the imminence of the snatching away as well as in my related study on the timing of the snatching away in relation to the 70th week) will begin to be enjoyed by those to whom this expectation belongs at least seven years before Christ’s return to earth.

Those to whom Israel’s covenant-based expectation belongs are called to their eonian expectation through the evangel that Paul referred to “the evangel of the Circumcision” (Gal. 2:7). It was this evangel that believers such as Peter, James and John (as well as Paul himself, on certain occasions) heralded to the Jewish people, and which Peter – on one occasion – heralded to a small group of uncircumcised, righteous-acting “God-fearers” (i.e., Cornelius and his household). In contrast, the evangel through which people are called to the heavenly expectation that belongs to those in the body of Christ is referred to in Gal. 2:7 as the “evangel of the Uncircumcision.” It is this evangel that Paul and his co-laborers (e.g., Barnabas, Timothy and Silvanus) heralded among the nations, and is to be distinguished from the evangel to which the majority of Jews were called to their eonian expectation.

There are a number of verses in Paul’s letters in which the calling and/or expectation of those in the body of Christ is referred to. For example, in Ephesians 1:17-18, Paul prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may be giving you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realization of Him, the eyes of your heart having been enlightened, for you to perceive what is the expectation of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of the enjoyment of His allotment among the saints…”

Paul referred to this calling and expectation again a little later in this letter: “I am entreating you, then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit with the tie of peace: one body and one spirit, according as you were called also with one expectation of your calling (Eph. 4:1-4).

See also Rom. 8:28-30, Rom. 9:23-24, Eph. 4:1-4, 1 Tim. 6:12 and 2 Tim. 1:8-9. That it was through Paul’s evangel that those to whom Paul wrote were called by God to their eonian expectation is affirmed in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: “Now we ought to be thanking God always concerning you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, seeing that God prefers you from the beginning for salvation, in holiness of the spirit and faith in the truth, into which He also calls us through our evangel, for the procuring of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This fact is further confirmed in Gal. 1:6-7, where we read, “I am marveling that thus, swiftly, you are transferred from that which calls you in the grace of Christ, to a different evangel, which is not another, except it be that some who are disturbing you want also to distort the evangel of Christ.”

That from which they were being “transferred” was the evangel of the Uncircumcision, which came to Paul “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12), and with which he had been entrusted to herald “among the nations” (Gal. 1:16; 2:2, 7). Prior to the beginning of the administration given to Paul for the nations (i.e., the “administration of the grace of God”), however, the only eonian expectation to which one could be called was that which belongs to Israel and her prophesied role during the eons to come. And during this time, there was only one evangel through which people were called to this expectation. Peter (whose letters were addressed to those among the believing Jewish remnant) referred to this calling in the following verses:

“As obedient children, not configuring to the former desires, in your ignorance, but, according as He Who calls you is holy, you also become holy in all behavior, because it is written that, Holy shall you be, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15).

“But if, doing good and suffering, you will be enduring, this is grace with God. For for this were you called, seeing that Christ also suffered for your sakes, leaving you a copy, that you should be following up in the footprints of Him Who does no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth…” (1 Pet. 2:20-22)

“Now the God of all grace, Who calls you into His eonian glory in Christ, while briefly suffering, He will be adjusting, establishing, firming, founding you” (1 Pet. 5:10).

The Evangel of the Circumcision

But what is the evangel through which Peter and those to whom he wrote were called to their expectation? Concerning the question of what, exactly, constitutes this evangel (and makes it a message of good news for those who are called to their expectation through it), my friend remarked as follows:

“Let me ask you this, because it was an exercise I went through when searching this matter out. IF the gospel Peter heralded was different than that of Paul, can you please articulate to me what the gospel of the circumcision actually is? Pretend I am a Jew and you are heralding to me the “gospel of the circumcision”. Explain to me this good news.”

Apparently, when my friend searched this matter out and sought to answer the question he posed to me, he came to a very different conclusion than I did. Rather than concluding that the “evangel of the Circumcision” is distinct from the evangel that Paul heralded among the nations, he concluded that they are indistinguishable. I think the conclusion at which my friend arrived is mistaken.

The “kingdom gospel” to which my friend was referring – i.e., the “evangel of the kingdom” – is the evangel 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” that is to precede his return to earth at the end of this eon (Matt. 24:14). As heralded by Christ and his apostles, this evangel involved the fact that the kingdom of God “is near” (Matt. 4:17, 23; 10:5-7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:1-11; cf. Matt. 3:1-2). The “nearness” of the kingdom that Christ affirmed should not be understood as meaning that the kingdom was supposed to come within the lifetimes of Christ’s disciples (and then got “postponed”). Rather, the nearness of the kingdom of God means that, from a prophetic standpoint, its arrival is relatively imminent, and that little time needs to transpire in order for it to arrive.

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.

Although I’m not convinced that the 69th heptad of Daniel ended with Christ’s “triumphal entry” (I’m inclined to believe it ended on the day of Christ’s baptism), I think Knoch was 100% correct that the proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom by Christ was based on the fulfillment of that the prophecy concerning the arrival of Israel’s Messiah at the end of the 69th heptad. Significantly, it was not until after Jesus was baptized and anointed by the holy spirit (at which point Jesus received his Messianic office and the power by which he performed miracles during his earthly ministry) that he began heralding the “evangel of the kingdom.” As I hope will be made clear to the reader by the end of this section, by heralding the truth that the kingdom had drawn near, Jesus was implicitly identifying himself as the Messiah of whom Daniel and the other prophets had foretold – i.e., the one destined to sit on “the throne of his father David” and reign over the house of Jacob 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).

That Peter and the other disciples understood the kingdom of God to be “near” (i.e., imminent from a prophetic standpoint) is evident from the exchange between Christ and his disciples in Acts 1:6-8. In these verses we read the following:

Those, indeed, then, who are coming together, asked Him, saying, “Lord, art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Yet He said to them, “Not yours is it to know times or eras which the Father placed in His own jurisdiction. But you shall be obtaining power at the coming of the holy spirit on you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in entire Judea and Samaria, and as far as the limits of the earth.”

Here we find that, forty days after the disciples had received instruction from the risen Christ concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3), they believed that Christ was going to be “restoring the kingdom to Israel” (cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:14, 22-27; Luke 12:32). In fact, the question they asked Christ suggests that this was the very subject on which Christ had been instructing them during the forty days leading up to his ascension. Notice, also, that Christ doesn’t say anything to correct their belief that he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel, or tell them they were mistaken for believing this. He simply told them that it was not theirs “to know times or eras which the Father placed in his own jurisdiction.”

Christ’s response to his disciples implies that he is going to restore the kingdom to Israel, but that it was simply not God’s will for them to know when, exactly, this time would come (thus, we read elsewhere that the “day of the Lord” – i.e., the prophesied period of divine indignation that will prepare the earth for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel – will come “as a thief in the night”; see 1 Thess. 5:1-3; cf. 2 Pet. 3:10). To their surprise, the restoration of the kingdom to Israel was not going to happen immediately. Instead, Christ was going to ascend to heaven, sit down “at the right hand of God,” and remain there for an indefinite period of time (in the meantime, Christ’s apostles would be empowered to do important evangelistic work in his absence). But the kingdom that they had in view did not become any less “near” after Christ ascended than it was at the start of Christ’s public ministry.

In addition to confirming the fact that the kingdom was understood by the twelve apostles as “near” after Christ’s death and resurrection, their question to Christ also helps us better understand the nature of the kingdom that they expected Christ to establish on the earth. They understood it to be a kingdom that is going to be “restored to Israel.” But on what did they base their understanding of the nature of this future kingdom? Well, in addition to what Christ directly taught them concerning the coming kingdom of God, there are a number of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that the disciples likely had in mind when they asked Christ whether he was, at that time, going to be restoring the kingdom to Israel. In fact, it’s quite possible that Christ appealed to some of these very prophecies in his post-resurrection teaching on the subject (although even if he didn’t, we can assume that what Christ taught his disciples was completely consistent with what is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures).

Among such prophecies concerning the kingdom that’s going to be restored to Israel is what we read in Daniel 2:34-35, 44 and 7:27. From these verses it’s evident that this future kingdom is not only going to be established on the earth, but it’s a kingdom that’s going to be given to the saints among Daniel’s people (i.e., Israel). Similarly, in Ezekiel 37:21-28 (cf. 36:24-31), we read that the kingdom that’s going to be restored to Israel will be a geopolitical kingdom that will be established in the land that God promised to Israel (the boundaries of which are specified in Numbers 34:1-15 and elsewhere), and which will constitute the geographical territory of the kingdom. We also find that God’s servant, David, will reign as king over the restored nation, and that God’s “sanctuary” (a magnificent temple described in detail in the closing chapters of Ezekiel) will be “in their midst for the eon.”

In accord with this fact, it is on the earth that the reign of the Messiah was prophesied to occur (Jer. 23:5; 31:1-40; Isa. 2:1-4; 11:6-9; 14:3-7; 32:15; 35:1, 6-7; 51:3; 61:1-62:12; 65:17-25; Ezek. 36:24-38; Mic.2:12-13; Amos 9:13; Zech. 14:8-20). It is also on the earth that believing Israelites expected to live and reign with Christ. In Rev. 20:4 we read that the resurrected saints will “live and reign with Christ a thousand years,” and in Rev. 5:10 we read that the saints “shall be reigning on the earth” (cf. Matt. 6:10; 13:41, 43; Luke 21:31). And the city from which they will reign will be a restored city of Jerusalem, which will be located on Mount Zion (Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:22; 14:4-21; cf. Rev. 14:1; 20:6-9). From these and other verses it can be reasonably inferred that the kingdom which is to be restored to Israel will be located on the earth. And it is this kingdom that I believe Christ and his twelve apostles believed was “near,” and which made the “evangel of the kingdom” a message of good news for those Israelites who believed it.

Now, as noted earlier, the fact that the prophesied kingdom of God was “near” implied that the prophesied Christ (the Messiah or “Anointed One”) had arrived, and could be personally identified. In other words, the fact that the kingdom that’s going to be restored to Israel had drawn “near” implied that the one through whom this restoration is going to take place – the Messiah – had “come into the world,” and that all the Messianic prophecies concerning him (e.g., Daniel 9:24-27) had begun to be fulfilled. Thus, the truth concerning Jesus’ identity that we’re told was revealed by God to Peter – i.e., the truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-17) – would’ve constituted a message of good news for Israel by virtue of the fact that it meant that the One through whom the kingdom is going to be restored to Israel had arrived. Moreover (and as noted earlier), Christ’s announcement that the kingdom had drawn near was his way of implicitly identifying himself as the Messiah through whom this kingdom was going to be established (a truth which those with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” – e.g., Christ’s own disciples – would’ve picked up on).

In accord with this fact, we read in John’s “Gospel Account” that it was by believing “in the name [i.e., in the identity] of the only-begotten Son of God” that the people of Israel could 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 not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18

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 is believing 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. In John 20:30-31 (cf. 1 John 5:1, 5) we read:

“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.

Notice that John provided, in these verses, the very reason for which he wrote his Gospel account. This can only mean that, for John, the fact that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” is the simple truth that constitutes the evangel through which he believed those for whom he was made an apostle (which, in Gal. 2:7-10, is said to be “the Circumcision”) could “have life eonian” and enter the kingdom that is going to be restored to Israel.

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).

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. This is especially evident from the way in which Peter concluded his first speech (delivered on Pentecost): “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 clear: to make known to his Jewish audience the truth concerning the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, the man whom Israel had crucified. For those Israelites who believed this evangel, the next step on the path leading to their 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).

Again, the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, was indeed good news for those among God’s covenant people who believed it, since it meant that the One through whom the kingdom is going to be restored to Israel had arrived (which, again, is a truth that was implied by the announcement that the kingdom of God had drawn near). Thus we see that the “evangel of the kingdom” heralded by Jesus during his earthly ministry was not actually a different evangel than the evangel which proclaimed Jesus’ Messianic identity, and identified him as the Savior that God promised to bring to Israel (see Acts 13:23). Rather, the “evangel of the kingdom” and the “evangel of the Circumcision” were simply two ways of referring to the same evangel. The earlier expression of this evangel for Israel (which directly communicated the fact that the kingdom of God was near) implied the prophesied arrival of Israel’s Messiah, while the later expression of this evangel (which explicitly identified Jesus as the Messiah) implied the nearness of the kingdom. And it is this evangel which is going to be heralded “in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations” (and because of which believers among God’s covenant people are going to be persecuted) during the final years of this eon, after the present administration of the grace of God has ended.

We see the interconnection between the fact of Jesus’ Messianic identity (which, again, is a truth that we’re told had been revealed to Peter by God) 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 events that will be leading up to, and signifying the soon occurrence of, Christ’s return to earth at the end of the 70th heptad (vv. 19-20).

The implied connection between the fact that Jesus is the promised Christ and the relative nearness of the kingdom of God is made even more explicit in Peter’s next message to his Jewish brethren. In Acts 3:17-23 we read the following:

“And now, brethren, I am aware that in ignorance you commit it, even as your chiefs also. Yet what God announces before through the mouth of all the prophets -- the suffering of His Christ -- He thus fulfills. Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins, so that seasons of refreshing should be coming from the face of the Lord, and He should dispatch the One fixed upon before for you, Christ Jesus, Whom heaven must indeed receive until the times of restoration of all which God speaks through the mouth of His holy prophets who are from the eon. Moses, indeed, said that: A Prophet will the Lord your God, be raising up to you from among your brethren, as me. Him you shall hear, according to all, whatsoever He should be speaking to you. Yet it shall be that every soul whatsoever which should not hear that Prophet shall be utterly exterminated from among the people.

Peter’s prophecy that Christ will be dispatched from God and return to earth after Israel has repented echoes an earlier prophecy from Christ himself in Matthew 23:37-39:

“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! who art killing the prophets and pelting with stones those who have been dispatched to her! How many times do I want to assemble your children in the manner a hen is assembling her brood under her wings-and you will not! Lo! left is your house to you desolate. For I am saying to you: You may by no means be perceiving Me henceforth, till you should be saying, ‘Blessed is He Who is coming in the name of the Lord!’

According to Christ’s prophecy in this passage, it is not until after Israel has repented and come to embrace Jesus as her Messiah (thus recognizing him as the one who “is coming in the name of the Lord”) that they will be perceiving him again. Until this time comes, “heaven must indeed receive” Christ. But it’s evident from Peter’s messages that he believed that, from a prophetic standpoint, little time had to elapse before this event took place (hence his exhortation that Israel “repent” so that it could occur).

Thus, both Peter and those to whom he heralded his evangel knew that, with the arrival of the Messiah into the world, the “last days” had arrived as well, and the prophesied kingdom of God (i.e., the kingdom that is going to be “restored to Israel”) was therefore “near.” The fact that Jesus of Nazareth – the man Israel had rejected and crucified – was “the Christ, the Son of God,” implied that this kingdom was “right around the corner,” prophetically speaking. From a prophetic standpoint, the arrival of the Messiah meant that little time needed to transpire in order for the kingdom to arrive. Even if modern-day Gentile readers miss the prophetic significance of the heralded claim that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the Jews to whom Peter heralded this evangel (as recorded in Acts) would not have failed to make the connection between the Messianic identity of Jesus and the nearness of the kingdom over which he will be reigning as King. 

The ecclesia that predated “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body”

An important point that those holding to the “one gospel” position fail to appreciate is that the evangel of the Circumcision – i.e., the truth that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31) – is an evangel that was able to be believed (and was believed) before Christ’s death and resurrection. Throughout his earthly ministry, those among “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” to whom Christ declared he’d been sent (Matt. 15:24) were being called by God to Israel’s covenant-based expectation through this evangel.

In accord with the fact that the evangel of the Circumcision predated the death and resurrection of Christ, we find that the called-out company of saints (i.e., the “ecclesia”) to whom this covenant-based expectation belongs was already being formed during Christ’s earthly ministry.

In fact, in the very passage in which we find Peter explicitly affirming the Messianic identity of Jesus, Christ referred to this ecclesia. In Matthew 16:15-19 we read:

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. Now I, also, am saying to you that you are Peter, and on this rock will I be building My ecclesia, and the gates of the unseen shall not be prevailing against it. I will be giving you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatsoever you should be binding on the earth shall be those things having been bound in the heavens, and whatsoever you should be loosing on the earth, shall be those having been loosed in the heavens.”

In Luke 12:32, Christ referred to this “ecclesia” which he was “building” as a “little flock” to which God was going to be giving the kingdom (i.e., the “kingdom of the heavens” of which we’re told Peter would be given “the keys”). Whether they realized it or not at the time, everyone who came to the realization that Jesus is the Messiah through whom the kingdom will be restored to Israel was being called to this expectation during Jesus’ earthly ministry, and being added to this company of believers.

It’s also clear that the “little flock” with which this ecclesia began didn’t cease to exist after Christ’s death and resurrection. Rather, it simply grew larger (see Acts 2:36-47; 4:4, 5:14 and 11:24). Although the growth of this company of saints seemed to slow down significantly by the time that Paul was called on the road to Damascus, we know that in the late 50’s A.D., the ecclesia to which Christ referred in Matthew 16:18 consisted of “tens of thousands” of believing, law-keeping Jews (see Acts 21:20). And the leaders of this company of believers were, from the beginning, the twelve apostles chosen by Christ (with Mathias replacing Judas; see Acts 1:15-26).

Part Two:

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