Part 2 - During the Acts Period and After
The Acts Account Unfolds
The gospel for the circumcision waned weaker and weaker throughout the Acts period. The time had come for the Apostle Paul to preach a gospel designed for the gentiles since the Israelites had rejected the kingdom offer.
Romans11:25 (KJV) For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Environment and Calling of Paul (Saul)
He was born in Tarsus, the principal city of Cilicia and thus had the right of Roman citizenship (Acts 21:39; 22:25-29) Born in approximately 1 A. D. (Acts 7:58; Philemon 9). He was born to Hebrew parents, of the race of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5). Though born in Tarsus he had been schooled in Jerusalem. He must therefore, have been yet a boy when was relocated, in all probability for the sake of his education, to the holy city of his fathers. His training was in accord with the Hebrew Scriptures and the strictest sect of the Pharisees (Acts 26:4, 5; Phil. 3:15). He was taught by Gamaliel, son of Simeon, who was the great grandson of the renowned Hillel (Acts 22:3). Saul is first mentioned at the stoning of Stephen, where he sanctioned his murder (Acts 7:58; 8:1).
Saul was called by Christ about two years after Pentecost, 32 A. D., while on his way to Damascus to persecute the saints (Acts 9:1-61).
The rulers at Jerusalem employed this one man, Saul, to stamp out of the land this heresy, that is beginning to gain ground among the common people. They give him authority, as he was the right man for the job. And off he goes on this errand of murder. Saul was drawing near to Damascus where he was determined to deal very harshly with the followers of Messiah. Suddenly, more than the brightness of the midday sun, a light from heaven flashes around him.
Acts 9:3 (KJV) And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
Acts 9:4 And he fell to the earth,…
God does not strike him dead, although he has committed sin worthy of death. Proud arrogant Saul lay prostrate in the dust. He now had all that vanity knocked out of him, no longer full of self-esteem and self-worth and sees himself as nothing.
Acts 9:4 (KJV)… and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
Acts 9:5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Acts 9:6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
Think of the proud, religious Pharisee being led by the hand into Damascus. There he meets Ananias who said to him, “The God of our fathers fixes upon you beforehand to know His will, and to be acquainted with the Just One, and to hear the voice of His mouth, that you shall be His witness to all men of what you have seen and hear” (Acts 22:14,15). Do we not perceive in these impressive words the foreknowledge of God, so in keeping with His great design for all mankind? And, notwithstanding his guilt, Christ further said to Paul, “Go! For I shall be delegating you afar to the nations” (Acts 22:21). Thus, in a very marked way, we see the apostle as one extricated from the people and from the nation of Israel, to be God’s herald and a teacher of the gentiles (nations) in knowledge and truth.
The conversion of Saul is one of the most incredible events of Christianity. It demonstrates the power of God’s grace and mercy. Before his conversion he was a fierce adversary of the church. He had the fervour to wipe out those who would leave the Jewish faith and follow the Saviour. His conduct called not for mercy, but for swift, severe, judgment by God. His heart was full of threats and murder against the disciples of Jesus (Acts 9:1-2). He was proud and self assured that he was doing the right thing.
The call of Saul is an incredible exhibition of God’s grace on record in the sacred Scriptures. Never before was favour granted to one who deserved nothing but the utmost condemnation. Saul’s calloused, defiant, rebellious heart is captivated by this display of remarkable grace, and responds to this overwhelming favour shown by Christ with faith and love toward Him.
1Tim 1:14 (KJV) And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
1Tim 1:14 (CLV) Yet the grace of our Lord overwhelms, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.
Thus, neither feeling his need, nor seeking for the Lord’s favour, Saul of Tarsus is conquered and saved by the exhibition of the Lord’s grace and glory, and so becomes a pattern in this age for those who are believing in Him for salvation.
1Tim 1:16 (KJV) Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
1Tim 1:16 (Emphatic Diaglott) but through this I received mercy, that in me first might show forth Jesus Anointed the all forbearance, for an example of those being about to believe on him for life age-lasting;
The Advancement of God’s plan
The call of Saul marks a significant advancement in God’s plan and administration described in the book of Acts. His separation to be the apostle of the nations, to proclaim the evangel of God, is a truth not well known by many, nor recognized and fully appreciated as it should be. We need to recognize that Paul (Saul) is the chosen instrument of God, called, separated and commissioned as the apostle, herald and teacher of the nations (gentiles) in knowledge, grace and truth.
Paul’s message incorporates faith and grace and negates the emphasis on works and reward.
In this era, the epistles of Paul give us more enlightenment than the gospel taught by the 12 Apostles. We find as we read Paul’s epistles, there is a gospel taught by Paul for the gentiles/nations and a separate one that was taught by the 12 Apostles to Israelites and proselytes.
Gal 2:7 (KJV) But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the Uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter.
There is a gospel of the circumcision and a gospel of the un-circumcision. Notice that the word “of” is used in describing the relationship, and does not say “to”. If the gospels were identical they would be described as the “gospel to” and not the “gospel of”. Thus the use of the preposition “of” is defined as “belonging to, relating to, or connected with.” This grammatical distinction was mentioned in the previous article (link to that). This indicates that the gospels were NOT identical. Not at all. There is the gospel for the circumcision (nation of Israel) and an expanded for the Uncircumcision (gentiles/nations). Why?
The gospel that Christ and the 12 Apostles proclaimed concerned the establishment of the Kingdom of God, and was primarily focused on the people of Israel and proselytes (converts to Judaism). The gospel that Paul preached and wrote about concerned the message of God’s grace to all mankind.
Here are a few scriptures among others that tell us of the unique calling and commission of Paul:
Acts 9:15 (KJV) But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
Acts 13:2 (KJV) As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Therefore, the purpose of this series is to illustrate that Paul is the chosen instrument of God, called, separated and commissioned as the Apostle, herald and teacher of the nations in knowledge, grace and truth.
The gospel that God commissioned Paul to proclaim brings to us glorious revelations of God’s truth that was not known prior to Paul’s calling.
If we eliminate Paul’s epistles from the New Testament then we find an aching void in the continuity of Scriptural truth. Apart from Paul’s epistles we know absolutely nothing of God’s program for the current era since the close of the Acts period. . Many who study the New Testament assume that the teachings concerning the Kingdom of God, with its keeping of the law, Sabbath observance, and doing works like fasting, water baptism, keeping the holy days is to be applied to our day today. This is incorrect. If this was true Paul’s epistles would be useless. Without Paul’s letters we lack the bridge that crosses the gap between the early church that was formed at Pentecost which waned and the future Kingdom – the Millennium.
The Progressive revelations given to Paul
The Apostle Paul was called by God to proclaim a marvellous message which was different from the original gospel preached by the 12 Apostles. His calling was unique in many ways.
Gal 1: 15- 16 (Emphatic Diaglott NT) When but it pleased the God, that having set apart me from womb of mother of me, and having called through the favor of himself, to reveal the son of himself to me, so that I might announce him to the nations …
Paul received the gospel he called his from the resurrected Christ, not from any man, let alone the Apostles:
Galatians 1:11 (KJV) But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
It was not the same gospel as that proclaimed by the church at Jerusalem ? It was not the same as Peter, James and the others taught. Why was it necessary for Paul to have to get it by revelation from the Lord? Clearly it was not the same gospel. Then why try to force the messages of those who are all zealous of the law, to agree with Paul’s new revelation, called a secret by him, which excludes various elements of the law.
Phases of Paul’s ministry
Very soon after he was converted by God on the road to Damascus, Paul proclaimed the resurrected Christ:
Acts 9:20 (KJV) And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
This marked the beginning of his progressive ministry. Right from the start Paul was hated by the Jewish leadership. He went to Arabia prior to the next phase of his ministry to be taught by Jesus Christ from Heaven. This is noteworthy.
Gal 1:17 (KJV) Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
Paul speaking of himself:
2Co 12:2 (KJV) I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
2Co 12:4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Paul was caught up to the third heaven and was taught by Christ Jesus for 3 years. He likely knew of the dispensation of grace before he had penned any of his epistles. Hence they were written with it in mind, and with the object of preparing the saints for its eventual reception. God was ordering all of Paul’s acts and words in view of the impending out pouring of grace, which could not come until the full apostasy of Israel. Furthermore, let us note that Paul was given his revelations in instalments. His ministry went from glory to glory. Then, after the apostle warns the Jews that the salvation of God is dispatched to the nations, and that they will hear (Acts 28:28), he commits the secret to writing. He began his teaching and it was a step by step progression of the revelation he had received concerning the entire counsel of God.
The next phase of his ministry began when he and Barnabas were severed by the Holy Spirit from the twelve apostles, the prophets, and teachers
Act 13:2 (KJV) As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Paul and Barnabas went throughout Asia doing the work that God had assigned to them.
Paul’s teaching in this second phase of his ministry was first carried on independently of the twelve (Acts 13:1—14: 27), and then completed in association with them. The twelve were sent to the Circumcision. They went to their respective spheres because of the character of the commission under which they acted. Every circumstance and assertion in the context goes to show that while Paul cautiously obtained the fellowship of the twelve, the terms of that very fellowship sent him one way and them another. Indeed, the apostle did not preach this gospel when in Judea.
At the Jerusalem conference described in Acts 15, it was decided that it was not necessary for believing gentiles to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. That decision was then conveyed to the churches by Paul, and his companions. The churches rejoiced for the consolation (Acts 15:31). Paul continues to go forth carrying on a two-fold ministry.
The two administrations with their respective messages parallel each other. The earlier one in accord with the establishment of the church at Pentecost. This church was composed of Israelites and proselytes. The second administration commenced with calling of Paul and consisted of believers from the nations (gentiles). The former decreased in significance and the latter increased both in revelation and glory throughout the Acts period.
In the synagogues Paul proclaimed the hope of Israel for the establishment of the Kingdom of God, under the ruler ship of the Messiah. Outside of the synagogues He preached justification by faith and grace, to Jew and gentile alike. See Acts 14: 28—19: 21.
So when the preaching of that kingdom tapers into an temporary obscurity a need arose for just such a ministry as Paul’s. The Acts records how God used Paul as a servant to bring the centre of attention of kingdom preaching to a gradual close, and just as gradually inaugurate the new gospel leading up eventually to the previously undisclosed essentials given in his latter epistles. This transitional period is covered by Acts 13 to Acts 28. During this period the epistle to the Romans was written and it was marked by the transitional character of that period.
On his third missionary journey, it was in Ephesus that he spoke for the last time in a synagogue. Thereafter he spoke at other venues.
Act 19:8 – 9 (KJV) And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
Paul remained in Ephesus and surrounding area for about two years and God magnified his ministry. Mightily grew the word of God and prevailed (Acts 19:20). It was during this period that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians. 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Romans. Notice Paul’s assertion that he became the minister to the gentiles (nations).
Rom 15:16 (KJV) That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
And in 2 Cor. 5 we find him using the terms “new creature (creation)” and “reconciled”, terms not mentioned in the gospel of the kingdom of God proclaimed by the 12 Apostles.
2Co 5:17 (KJV) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
It was the period after Paul’s visit to Ephesus that he penned his epistles. The book of Acts does not give us much detail about this. The instructions which Paul gives to the elders at Miletus (Acts 20) provides some details regarding their responsibility as overseers of the church and states that his course is now wholly on the ground of the gospel of the grace of God. However no substantial detail is given in the book of Acts and further information must be gleaned from his later epistles.
When Jesus Christ was on earth, He intentionally gave no indication of a two thousand year pause in prophetic history: In Acts, likewise, Peter seems to promise the immediate return of the crucified Messiah if the nation of Israel would only repent. Now when we come to the end of the record contained in the book of Acts, if we have no Pauline epistles to round out and complete and explain that history and the way it ends, we feel like stepping over the edge of a enormous cliff into a gaping space, and catapulting down through pitch-black darkness for two thousand years with never a ray of light to lessen the dreadfulness of our predicament.
The Apostle Paul was called by God to proclaim a marvellous message which was different from the original gospel preached by the 12 Apostles and Christ while on earth. His calling was unique in many ways.
Clearly, Paul became the chosen vessel, called, separated and given over to the grace of God for the nations, leading them from glory to glory unto maturity and full assurance of understanding in all the will of God. All the evidence shows that Paul wrote to the gentiles (nations), and that all of his epistles are for us and about us, covering that long period from the ascent of Christ into the Heavens until His return to earth in glory.
In Romans 11:15 Paul states that with the time of Israel’s setting aside, the era of the preaching of the conciliation began. “Their casting away is the conciliation of the world.” At one time salvation was of the Jews, and the time will come again when they shall be the channel of blessing to all the families of the earth during the Millennium, but not before.
But Israel is now temporarily set aside. God makes their rejection of Him the occasion of revealing the blessings of grace and conciliation. When Christ again takes up Israel, at His return, the day of the Lord with its judgments will proceed, and the preaching of the conciliation will be withdrawn until the new heavens and new earth are established.
Throughout the Scriptures, the nation of Israel was given pre-eminence, except when we read the prison epistles of Paul (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians). The preaching of the kingdom tapers into a transitory veil and the need for Paul’s ministry was created by God. The Acts records how God used Paul as an engineer to bring the train of kingdom preaching to a gradual close, and just as gradually inaugurate the new gospel leading up eventually to the conciliation and the secret of the prison epistles.
As mentioned earlier, there is a gospel of the Circumcision (which included faith and works), and there is a gospel of the Uncircumcision (salvation by faith alone). Now Paul was to carry this latter gospel to the gentiles, while the Apostles from Jerusalem were to proclaim the former to the Jews. Note that never do we find a record where this was ever changed, cancelled, or fused into one gospel.
But now the middle wall of partition separating the people of Israel (the circumcision) from the gentiles (Uncircumcision) has been torn down.
Eph. 2:14 (KJV) For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
Now is the era for the dispensation of grace, this awe-inspiring news, –the word of the conciliation and grace glorious–the remarkable good news never before bestowed to man, now made known by Christ through Paul.