To properly understand the message God is intending to convey to us in the Bible, we must take great care to consider how all of the various parts of the Bible fit together. Various writers were speaking specifically to certain specific people groups (Jew, Gentile), often with a word that pertained specifically in that era; as God works progressively thru the ages to accomplish His purposes with mankind. Let us pick up where we left off on my last blog.
In Acts 9, as Saul travels to Damascus to continue his persecution of the Believers, the risen Jesus appears to him. Saul is chosen as Christ’s instrument to bear His name “before both the nations and kings, besides the sons of Israel...” (Acts 9:15-16) Paul is the first, then, to be specifically commissioned to go to the Gentiles (“nations and kings”), although he is also commissioned to go to the “sons of Israel” as had John the Baptist, Jesus and Peter.
Elymas (Bar-Jesus) and Sergius Paul
One of the first incidents we read about in Saul’s ministry is the encounter with Elymas, the Magician, also known as Bar-Jesus, in Acts 13. Sergius Paul, a proconsul who is an intelligent man (a Gentile), calls for Saul and Barnabas. Sergius Paul asks to hear the word of God, but Elymas the Magician “withstood them, seeking to pervert the proconsul from the faith.” Saul chastises Elymas for “perverting the straight ways of the Lord,” and Elymas is blinded, “not observing the sun until the appointed time.” The proconsul becomes a Believer.
Here, for the first time, we see that Saul “is also Paul.” (Acts 13:9) Saul is a Hebrew name, while Paul is Greek. It is interesting that we are told of Saul’s new Gentile name at the precise point where a Jew attempts to stop the word of God from going to a Gentile.
Also interesting are the words spoken to Elymas when he is blinded “until the appointed time.” This is very similar to Paul’s explanation in Romans 11:25 that the callousness of Israel has come “until the complement of the nations may be entering,” after which time all Israel shall be saved. The incident with Elymas seems to be a picture of God’s plan to set aside (or blind) Israel, for a time, while the word goes to the Gentiles.
Paul becomes the central figure in Acts
Remember Paul has received a dual commission. He is to go to the “nations and kings” and to the “sons of Israel.” As he travels Paul generally goes first to the synagogues. He gathers some believers, but others reject him and even attempt to kill him. Peter, who had been the primary figure in the early part of Acts begins to fade, and Paul becomes the primary figure after the incident with Elymas.
Rejection by the Jews … Salvation to the nations
Throughout the remainder of Acts we read of the persecution of Paul by the Jews who reject his message. Finally in Acts 28:17 Paul calls together the “foremost of the Jews.” Some are persuaded, but others disbelieve. (Acts 28:24-25) As they disagree with one another, Paul concludes the book of Acts with these words:
“Let it be known to you, then, that to the nations was dispatched this salvation of God, and they will hear. ” (Acts 28:28)
The final two verses in Acts report that Paul remains in Rome for two years, welcoming all who come to him. He heralds the kingdom of God, and teaches “that which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ.” We learn what he taught as we read the letters of Paul, from Romans through Philemon.
Paul’s message was not just a continuation of Peter’s message.
We err when we think there is just one “Gospel.” I was always taught that when we read the word “Gospel” in the Bible it is always the same. When we define “The Gospel” it is a compilation of every occurrence of the word in the entire New Testament. But this is mixing together things that are different.
“Gospel” comes from the Greek “evangel.” It simply means “good news.” This is made clear from Luke 1:19 where the “evangel” is brought by Gabriel to Zechariah, and it is the good news concerning the coming birth of John the Baptist. Throughout Matthew the “evangel” concerns the coming kingdom. But as the kingdom is rejected, could the “evangel” have changed? First the “evangel” went only to the Jews, who awaited their kingdom. Peter caused quite a stir when he took the “evangel” to Cornelius, a Gentile. They were all quite amazed when the holy spirit fell upon these Gentiles who heard. When Paul went to take the “evangel” to the proconsul (a Gentile), Elymas (a Jew) tried to stop him.
But it is not just a difference of who the “evangel” is being preached to! It is a different message.
There are several instances where Paul refers to the evangel as “my evangel.” Why does he use this terminology? Is there not just one evangel ... the evangel? In Romans 2:16 Paul says,
“God will be judging the hidden things of humanity, according to my evangel, through Jesus Christ.”
Here Paul is speaking of the nations, not of the Jews who are awaiting a restoration of their kingdom. It is a different topic; a different message; a different evangel. In Romans 16:25-26 Paul again refers to “my evangel,” and here he makes reference to: “the revelation of a secret hushed in times eonian, yet manifested now...”
Could Paul’s “evangel,” then, contain new information from God not previously revealed by the prophets of old, or by John the Baptist, or even by Jesus Himself? Paul tells us in Galations 1:11 that this evangel he brings “is not in accord with man. For neither did I accept it from a man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
If Paul’s “evangel” is simply a continuation of the same “evangel” being proclaimed by Peter, why would Paul have not simply studied under Peter and the other apostles? In Galations he feels it is important to tell us that he did not get his evangel from any man, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
In Galations 2:7 Paul makes the distinction between the evangel “of the Uncircumcision” and the evangel “of the Circumcision.” Grammatically, the genitive case is used, and not the dative case. This means that the proper translation is not the evangel to the Circumcision or Uncircumcision, but the evangel of the Circumcision or Uncircumcision. The distinction is not made between the recipient of the evangel. Instead, the distinction is made in the evangel itself. Paul has been entrusted with the evangel “of the Uncircumcision” and Peter is entrusted with the evangel “of the Circumcision.”
We struggle with this distinction today, and try to blend the messages together into one “Gospel.” This is exactly what those in Peter’s day tried to do. It is the reason they challenged Paul for not requiring circumcision of the Gentile believers. They had a hard time understanding that God was doing a new thing, which is why Paul found it necessary to explain that his evangel came not from men, but was a revelation from God, and it was a different evangel!
If we fail to see this distinction, we blend together things that are different as we proclaim “The Gospel.” When Jesus is talking about the kingdom which is to come, and when He talks about Gehenna (most often translated “hell”) as the fate of those being punished for their crimes in the kingdom, we see the need to “spiritualize” the kingdom and Gehenna because we think it is all part of the same message. Whereas Jesus was talking about the physical fate of those deserving punishment in the physical kingdom, we have come to see Gehenna as an eternal hell for Unbelievers. But in doing so we ourselves have become unbelievers ... at least to the extent that we do not believe from God’s Word that there is still a kingdom to come upon this earth, with Christ reigning upon the throne.
Is the Kingdom still to come upon the earth?
Just before Christ ascended into heaven He is asked by His followers, “Art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) The Lord does not chastise them for missing the point. He does not tell them an earthly kingdom is not to come. Instead He tells them, “Not yours is it to know times or eras which the Father has placed in His own jurisdiction.” The kingdom is still to come. But Israel has been hardened “until the complement of the nations may be entering. And thus all Israel shall be saved...” (Romans 11:25)
Consider the book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is an unveiling of the kingdom that will one day come upon the earth. It is the kingdom in all of its fullness that was foretold by the prophets. The Jews had been hardened for a time, until the complement of the nations enters the ecclesia (the “called-out ones” – generally translated “church”). But now the time has come for “all Israel to be saved.” (Romans 11:26) So Christ does return, and the kingdom of the heavens as prophesied by Daniel and proclaimed by Christ now comes upon the earth.
“And loud voices occurred in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of this world became our Lord’s and His Christ’s, and He shall be reigning for the eons of the eons! Amen!” (Revelation 11:15)
Even through the very end of Revelation the kingdom is for the Jews. The nations are blessed through Israel, but Israel is prominent. But a part of Paul’s message was that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek...” (Romans 10:12) In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul tells us of this new thing God has done. Here he says that the nations were once, “in that era,”
1. Apart from Christ
2. Alienated from the citizenship of Israel
3. Guests of the promise covenants
4. Having no expectation
1. Christ razes the barrier
2. He makes the two (Jew/Gentile) into one new humanity
3. He reconciles both into one body
The rejection of the kingdom by the Jews seems to defeat God’s purposes, but God’s will cannot be thwarted. The rejection of the kingdom evangel has resulted in the Gentiles being brought into the ecclesia ... the Body of Christ. Like Joseph’s rejection by his brothers which eventually led to the fulfilling of God’s purposes, now Israel’s rejection has ultimately been used by God to accomplish His purposes.
To help us understand Paul’s function as God’s chosen instrument, let us remove him from the scene for a moment. In the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” the viewer (and George Bailey) is shown what would have happened in Bedford Falls had Bailey never been born. What if Paul had never been born, or what if he had been judged and destroyed for persecuting and killing the early Believers?
Without Paul, our Bible would contain 13 fewer books. We would jump from Acts to Hebrews. The kingdom that was foretold by the Old Testament prophets and proclaimed in Matthew through Acts would have come more quickly. There is no setting aside of Israel until the complement of Gentiles comes in, which Paul spoke of. The Gentiles are only blessed indirectly through the nation of Israel.
But if there is no delay for the sake of the Gentiles, there is also no need for Hebrews through Jude, which were letters directed to the scattered Jewish believers (those who had received the evangel of the Circumcision), as they awaited the kingdom. We lose 8 more books from our Bible. The kingdom which was preached by Christ, and which was later proclaimed by Peter and the other apostles after the resurrection in Acts, now comes in Revelation. As Revelation ends we have the Jewish kingdom restored, and the nations are blessed through Israel. Christ reigns upon the throne. Satan is in the lake of fire. Those whose names were not found written in the scroll of life have also been cast into the lake of fire.
Without Paul, this is where things end. At least this is the extent of God’s plans that would have been revealed to us, if Paul had not been given more revelation to be shared.
George Bailey is brought back to reality. His mouth is bleeding, his clothes are wet, and Zuzu’s petals are back in his pocket (my apologies to those who have never seen this movie). Paul did live! Paul did see the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, as undeserving as he was. God did reveal things to Paul, which he shared with us in his evangel.
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, as both are on equal standing as joint heirs. Just as in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Through one offense for all mankind for condemnation (Adam), thus also it is through one just award (Christ) for all mankind for life’s justifying. It is God’s will that all men are saved. God is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will. Christ is the Saviour of all mankind, especially (but not exclusively) of believers.
But if the book ends with the lake of fire burning, how can these things come to pass?
When we read a book we are used to events that flow chronologically as we read. But the Bible is not an ordinary book. The end of all things is not found in Revelation, for God showed things to Paul which had been secrets in the past, but which were revealed to him. Things were revealed to Paul which were not revealed to John, the writer of Revelation.
As John was given the revelation he recorded which is found at the end of our Bible, he was shown the events upon the earth as the promised kingdom was instituted. As Daniel had prophesied, it was a kingdom which was greater than any previous kingdom. Christ Himself is upon the throne. The righteous live, and the wicked are punished.
But it is within Paul’s writings that we are told what will happen even beyond the events of Revelation.
Next: Paul tells us of “The Consummation” – the completion of God’s plan and the climax of human history.