The Gospel is Proclaimed to the Gentiles
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Description of the expansion of the gospel to the gentiles.
Flow of Acts 2:17-21
III. The gospel first proclaimed to the Gentiles 9:32-12:24
A. Peter's role in the expansion of the gospel 9:32-11:18
B. Debate and decisions of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15
Lecture 5: The Gospel is Proclaimed to the Gentiles
This is the 5th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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Flow of Acts 2:17-21 (continued from Lecture 4)
Acts 2:17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’ These three points constitute a series. I will pour forth out my Spirit and these things will follow. That is an action and thus you have an action or purpose. ‘Thus even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’ You will notice that this is the same point and there is again an action and result. It is the same kind of construction. Well, how do these two relate together? Well, you could say this simply as a restatement. I actually take this as progression because I put a lot of emphasis on the word ‘even’. So all of verse 17 is the first idea and verse 18 is the second idea. Eighteen progresses on seventeen. An interpretative judgement in that following is part of the previous: ‘I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.’ There is a lot of discussion whether this is eschatological, end time’s phenomenon or is it talking about what took place in his day? I am not sure myself. These are to wonders and signs that will come about, these things. This could be at the end of history. So he continues: ‘The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ This is also a series of two things that will happen along with a key word ‘before’ the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. This is a temporal clause, a time clause. 20c is temporal to 20a and b. When will this happen? It will happen before the great day of the Lord.
I will show wonders in the heavens above. If the sun and the moon with the darkness and blood are the signs then it is a series. Thus verses19 and 20 is functioning as a series and seems to be describing some kind of judgement. And in verse 21 for those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved requires real interpretation here. Even though all these terrible things are happening, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Even though there is a judgement coming, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. So verses 17 and 18 say, I will pour out my Spirit and people will prophesy, then 19 and 20 says that a judgement is coming but those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. So we have put the text together in two parts: God will pour out his Spirit and people will be saved. So God is doing a saving work in this age and Joel’s prophesy in 2:26 is being fulfilled. The era of salvation has dawned and it is a time for the Spirit to be poured out. It is a time by which you can call on the name of the Lord and be saved. It is the day of salvation.
III. The Gospel First Proclaimed to the Gentiles 9:32-12:24
A. Peter’s Role in the Expansion of the Gospel
Acts 10 and 11 is where we are introduced to Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. He really isn’t a pure pagan because we are told in verse 2 that he was a devout and God-fearing person? He was a generous person who prayed to God regularly. He seems to belong to the people of God. So an angel of God appears to him. The angel tells him to see Simon Peter in Joppa. In verse 9, the narrative scene shifts from Cornelius to Peter. Peter goes on top of the house to pray at about lunch time and he falls into a trance from God and sees a heavenly vision. This is not an ordinary occurrence. It is a significant moment where heavens open and a sheet is descending and there were animals and birds and reptiles. And a voice says to kill the animals and eat them; Peter says he can’t in verse 14 because they are unclean. But the voice said to him, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’
In the next scene, Peter was confused about this vision. Why would God tell him to do something contrary to the Teachings of the Law? At that moment three men sent by Cornelius arrived at his house. The Spirit tells Peter to go with these three men. In verse 23, they travelled back to Cornelius where Cornelius falls at Peter’s feet in reverence. Peter tells him to get up as he was only a man. Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people and said that he is not allowed to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. He had a vision of unclean foods and God tells Peter to tell them. Peter sees the connection between unclean food and unclean people. So Peter had been thinking about this vision. So God has shown me not to call anyone unclean that don’t follow the purity laws of Judaism. If you are going to hang with gentiles, you have to eat their food so you have to have a cultural breach between Jews and Gentiles. So Cornelius tells Peter what happened and Peter realizes that it was true that God shows no partiality and in every nation those who fear God is acceptable to him. Either Peter is talking about an unbeliever that has been drawn to God or Peter is speaking of evidence that one belongs to God. There is this change in one’s life. But you don’t have to be a Jew to be close to God or to follow purity laws. But some gentiles did follow purity laws and aligned themselves with the Jewish people.
Then Peter starts talking about the Gospel in 10:32. He talks about John the Baptist in verse 37 and God’s anointing of Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit. So now he starts with Jesus’ baptism and beginning of his public ministry. Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. We don’t know how long Peter was speaking of Jesus’ miracles and signs he performed. He says that we are witnesses to these things so Peter isn’t making these things up. Peter finally gets to the main of point of Jesus being put to death and hanging him on a tree, but he says that God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. He fulfills the Scriptures and everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins. But there is no invitation here. There is not a call to believe and repent as we saw in the other accounts. Peter is just telling what is happening.
But in verse 44, it all changed as the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. The believers from among the circumcised were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit is being poured out even on the gentiles. They can’t believe this. They weren’t even asked to believe and now they are believing and speaking in tongues and extolling God. They have accepted Jesus into their lives and been forgiven of sins. Peter decided to baptize them because they had received the spirit and became part of the church. We are talking about the sovereignty of God working here. They received the Spirit before they were baptized so we can’t say that you must be baptized to be saved. We saw that the Samaritans spoke in tongues to show that they were the people of God. They speak in tongues here to show that they are part of the church and thus to verify that God has given them the Spirit. I don’t think that pattern is demanded from everybody henceforth. But this is a very important moment in salvation history.
We hear the story again in chapter 11. It says that the apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. Peter goes back to Jerusalem where the circumcision party criticized him for eating with them because the food wasn’t prepared according to Scripture. But Peter explained the vision that he had from God saying that he has made this clean. I was then told to go to Joppa and declare the message to them. I remembered the word of the Lord and how he said that John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. They acknowledged that God had granted repentance to the Gentiles. They glorified God. As far as Cornelius is concerned, it is possible that he is already saved by special revelation not apart from the Gospel. Cornelius wasn’t a pagan who didn’t know anything about the Gospel. Or it could have been that Cornelius got saved when he heard the Gospel. Another thing that is clear here; food laws are no longer required for the people of God. He is saying laws that were binding on the Jews are no long required for the people of God. We see this also in Mark 7:19, an editorial comment of Mark and also in Colossians 2:16-23 and Romans 14. This was a salvation historical shift in laws. So the food laws were not given for health reasons. But I would argue that as Christians we are under the Law of Christ and that includes moral norms. These will remain in force until the second coming of Christ.
B. Debate and Decisions of the Jerusalem Council
We really don’t have time to look at all of the missionary journeys of Paul and the things he did. Paul and Barnabas had been on their first missionary journey in Act 13 and 14. This was actually planned to go to the gentiles that ended very successful. They come to Antioch in chapter 15. All of these people were becoming Christians without being circumcised. There were men from Judea and teaching that salvation was dependent upon circumcision. A similar situation to Acts 11 and in Genesis 17:9-14 that you must be circumcised to be part of the people of God. It is not an option; it is a requirement. So there was a debate over this, Paul and Barnabas started arguing with these people. They then took this to the Jerusalem Council, the apostles and elders there. Luke is writing this in agreement with Paul and Barnabas. They get to Jerusalem and reported in; some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees said it was necessary to circumcise new believers and charge them to keep the Law of Moses. These people had committed themselves to Jesus and were now saved and so their argument was Jesus and being circumcised which was what the Bible said. The elders in the church in Jerusalem were part of the process in deciding this along with the Apostles. After a lot of debate, Peter says that God chose that the gentiles to hear the Gospel of Christ and believe. Peter is talking about Cornelius here and what happened some ten years before. God gave them the Holy Spirit just as he gave to us.
God made no distinction between the gentiles and the Jews but cleansed their hearts by faith. We talked about purity laws cleansing a person but here we see that faith cleansed the hearts. Why are you testing God by put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither us or our fathers have been able to bear. So our teachings have been a yoke with no one being able to bear because we can’t. But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus. We are not saved by doing but by believing. The law requires perfection and we all fall short of that so we are saved by believing. So Peter applies what happened to Cornelius and the lesson learned then to the Council. The assembly kept silent. We see that Paul is a liberal in regards to food laws. Peter is in the middle doing things with gentiles and with Jews. James is more to the right ministering to the Jews all the time and thus the most conservative. He ends up getting stoned in Jerusalem in AD 62. All of this caused a little diversity in the early church being somewhat different. This is the brother of Jesus by the way, not James the Apostle who was dead. This James wrote the epistle of James. He also talks about the Cornelius event and says that the prophets basically agree with Peter and Paul.
We are only given one passage from Amos, ‘after this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild it ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the gentiles who are called by my names, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old. Christ is the fallen tent of David that has been rebuilt. There is a reference to Isaiah 45 here. So James is saying that the Old Testament points to a day where circumcision would not be necessary for gentiles in the New Age. So in verse 19, he says we ought not to trouble the gentiles with this. This was the main decision of the council that circumcision was not required for salvation. This decision keeps the freedom in the Gospel of grace. But James does say that gentiles were to abstain from the things polluted by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood. So these were four rules instituted by the Council but these things were not required for salvation, or for all times. They are only temporary in order to facilitate fellowship between Jews and gentiles. This would help them to get along together culturally.