A Community Established

The remaining verses in Chapter 2 and the next six chapters of Acts provide a window on the community of believers in Jerusalem in the days following Pentecost.  Up to now we have proceeded at an excruciatingly slow pace in our discussions, needing to be very careful to establish in detail the scenario that Luke has actually recorded.  We’ll be picking up the pace from here, but as we do so let’s not forget what we have learned so far:

  • There has been no mention of a change to a dispensation different from that which Israel was expecting — the restoration of David’s kingdom by the prophesied Messiah.
  • That kingdom would be prefaced by the Great Tribulation, which would result in Israel ruling the world and all mankind being blessed through Israel.
  • The twelve apostles had been promised that they would sit on twelve thrones ruling over the twelve tribes in the new kingdom.
  • The Holy Spirit had come as promised by the prophet Joel and by Jesus Christ himself.
  • Paul, God’s special apostle to the gentiles, has not yet appeared in Luke’s narrative — and will not until the very end of the seventh chapter.
  • The Dispensation of Grace, the day of the Church, is still a mystery hidden in God.

Throughout the coming six chapters God is still offering the kingdom to Israel, if her religious intelligencia will only repent of murdering their Messiah.  God is still showing them great patience and mercy, as He does to this very day.  Gradually, God set Israel and her prophetic promises aside because of their unbelief and did an end-run around their obstinacy to reach the gentiles in spite of Israel.  The book of Acts is the historical record of that process.

God loves Israel greatly, and is longsuffering.  He will not set her aside forever, nor will He destroy them in judgement.  Their day will return!  How fortunate we are that Israel was obstinate and God had to temporarily set them aside.  As the Apostle Paul puts it,

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?  May it never be!  But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.  Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! …For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written… From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.  For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.  Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  (Romans 11:11-12, 25-26, 28-33)

Surely God, the author of the entire Bible, would not hide such a major transition in a dark corner.  After all, He spent every word of the Scriptures on Israel’s history and promises from the first verses of Genesis 12 to the passages in Acts we are now studying.  Surely the setting aside of Israel and her promises would be a drastic turn of events and would occupy a significant amount of description and explanation.  In fact, God took an entire book to describe it historically (the book of Acts) and thirteen letters from the Apostle Paul to describe its theological ramifications.

The events we are about to study describe things that are no longer taking place among God’s people today, the church of this Age of Grace — because they belong to Israel and her promised kingdom.  Those who deny this have not grasped the special message God gave to Paul for the gentiles, nor have they grasped God’s purpose in providing the book of Acts for us to study.  Paul says plainly that Israel has been set aside in unbelief and that God is dealing directly with the gentiles now.  Just as we have seen in the first two chapters of Acts, that is certainly not the case, nor will it be for the next six chapters.  It’s still all about Israel and the coming to life of her ancient prophetic promises.  At this point in Luke’s narrative, the jury is still out on whether this is the real thing, or, sadly, just a foretaste.

The Effects of Peter’s Explanation of Pentecost

The concluding verses of Acts Chapter 2 are straightforward in their description, and need no interpretation.  But if we can see them with fresh eyes, unfettered by old presuppostions, they can be quite surprising.  Here’s an outline of Acts 2:41-47, but please read it for yourself now and check the accuracy of my outline:

  1. 3,000 of Peter’s audience repented and were baptized on that very day.
  2. The 3,000 devoted themselves continually (spent all their time and energy) to
    1. being taught by the Apostles
    2. participating in fellowship
    3. “breaking of bread”
    4. prayer
  3. Everyone felt a sense of awe; many miracles were happening through the Apostles
  4. They were all together, and shared everything in common
  5. They began selling property and sharing the proceeds with anyone in need
  6. They continued every day
    1. single-mindedly
    2. in the Temple
    3. in each others’ houses
      1. breaking bread
      2. sharing meals
    4. with gladness and sincerity of heart
    5. with continual praise (be careful — the verse breaks are man-made)
  7. They were favored by “all the people”.
  8. God added to their number every day.

This is enough to warm the cockles of any evangelist’s heart!  The number of people being saved every day has historical parallels such as the Great Awakening and most recently the spiritual crusades by Billy Graham and others.  And we certainly pray and hope for such a moving of God among the lost today.  But consider for a moment what these more recent new believers do after the moment they are saved.  Do they spontaneously (or by our teaching with our approval)

  • stop earning a living and spend all their time together?
  • sell all their possessions and give the proceeds to the needy or to the church leaders?
  • stand in awe of miracles performed by their leaders?
  • have the “same mind”?
  • eat in a continuous round of home-based pot-luck meals?
  • experience favor from the rest of society?

One or two of these behaviors today would result in fairly rapid ruin!  Isolated groups of believers (and unfortunately, cults) have attempted to live like this on occasion.  I have a book from my college days entitled When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of A Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World by Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter (Paperback - Jan 1, 1956).  By secular authors, it was nonetheless a fascinating study of a particular cult whose attempt to live this kind of life ultimately failed.

My point here is that we do not teach new believers to do these things today, nor do they do it “naturally”.  In the light of our own economy and work ethic, this seems outlandish — especially the selling of all property and turning over the proceeds to church leaders.  But God was “dead” serious about this practice, as we will read concerning Ananias and Sapphira in Chapter 5!  Clearly the scenario described in the end of Acts 2 belongs to a different age, program, or dispensation.  Remember, this word really is oikonomos — economy!

God’s approval of the practice of selling all possessions and giving the proceeds to the Apostles, of having all things in common, is clearly a terrible misfit with our economic experience today.  But it was a perfect fit for the believers in Jerusalem.  What was their prophetic expectation?  The Christ had come, and the long-promised Kingdom was appearing daily before their very eyes.  Soon they would all be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams and would be released from the economic and political bondage of Rome and her tax collectors!  If you were in their shoes, what would you have done with your wealth?

They “communalized” their wealth because they expected a complete reversal of economy in a very short time, so for whatever days of the old economy remained, they decided to share with each other — and maybe even “live it up” a bit.  To put it in inadequate worldly terms, these folks were having the holiest party history has ever seen, waiting for their Elvis to come in the building!  It fits perfectly with Israel’s prophetic kingdom, which was still being preached, offered, and certified by signs and wonders through the hands of those who would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel — and now demonstrated – at this point in Luke’s narrative.  Indeed, this is a foretaste of what life in the Millennial Kingdom will be like, as the King’s wealth will provide for all!

In each of the coming posts, we’ll see this principle over and over.  Each episode is characteristic of what life will be like during the Millennial Kingdom.  God is giving Israel a foretaste of the kingdom in the hope that there will be national repentance.  Indeed, Israel has one toe in the Kingdom waters through these 3,000 believers. 

Again, with Paul and with biblical hindsight, we humbly praise God for His infinite wisdom that brought salvation to us in spite of Israel’s obstinacy when He was prevented from doing so through Israel’s rule.

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