Chapter 6

The Throne and the House of Israel

Paul's First Recorded Sermon

Acts 13:14-48.

The main features of this passage were presented when dealing with the subject of the Davidic Throne, introduced in Luke 1. We may gather some further confirmation of our position by a closer look at this address. The first necessity is to draw the reader's attention to Galatians 1:

"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the Grace of Messiah unto another Gospel; which is not another, but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the Gospel of Messiah. But though we, or an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."

What was this Gospel Paul had preached, and was now being perverted? The answer is that it was the Gospel preached in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, the central place of his Galatian ministry. So the preaching in that place assumes prime importance; it behoves us to understand it clearly. As previously stated, Scofield ventures not a single note; but he prefixes a heading:— "Theme; justification by faith" ( p. 1166 ). This is a complete understatement; whilst justification by faith is the CLIMAX of the sermon, the SUBSTANCE is a declaration of fundamental doctrines, upon which the final appeal is based. To see only the appeal, and miss the main structure of the message, is poor Bible teaching.

Consider the theme and argument of the apostle.

  1. He summarises the history of Israel with its culmination in the Davidic Kingdom and the divine will relating thereto.
  2. He then asserts that God had fulfilled His promise to David and accomplished Israel's deliverance in the resurrection of Jesus: "Of this man's seed hath God, according to His promise, raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus" ( verse 23 ).
  3. He then summarises the ministry of John the Baptist, and his announcement to Israel that Messiah had come.
  4. He then declares the meaning and purpose of Messiah's Advent and work: "To you is the word of THIS salvation sent" ( verse 26 ). Obviously, Paul is stating that the salvation of Israel, as portrayed by the prophets and the Covenants, is now being offered them. It is not an earthly, political deliverance, with national supremacy, but Gospel salvation. This was the "Grace of Messiah" referred to in the Galatian quotation above.
  5. He then proceeds to state the central facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and announces to his hearers the meaning of them. In the plainest of terms, which had but one meaning for the Jews who listened to him, he declares that
  6. God had fulfilled His Covenant promise: "We declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God HATH FULFILLED the same unto us their children in that He hath raised up Jesus again." Note, Paul does not say simply a guarantee that God would fulfil the Covenant at a later date ( as Futurists say ), but he states emphatically, "God HATH…"
  7. Lest there should be any misunderstandings, HE QUOTES THE VERY PSALM WHICH EVEN DISPENSATIONALISTS ACKNOWLEDGE IS A PSALM OF THE SETTING UP OF THE KINGDOM—Psalm 2. Turn-to this psalm and what do you find? Simply this: that the verse Paul quotes ( "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" ) follows verse 6, and is said to be the decree establishing the event recorded in verse 6. What is that event? Here it is, for every pre-millennialist to read: "I have set My King upon MY Holy Hill of Zion." If this does not mean that Paul was telling these people that by the resurrection God had set His King on Zion's Hill, then we had all better give up the English language as a meaningless jargon. One thing is certain; however pre-millennialists may twist and stretch these words, the Jews addressed by Paul that day understood what he meant.
  8. Even that is not all. To make things doubly sure, Paul declares that the resurrection had resulted, not only in the fulfilment of the Throne Promise to David, but has also brought into operation all the Royal provisions for the subjects of the Kingdom: "And as concerning that He raised Him from the dead…He said on this wise, 'I will give you the Sure Mercies of David'." ( verse 34 )
What is this but an unqualified assertion that, from His Throne, Jesus Messiah is dispensing to His People the Covenant blessings of His reign? And where is this prophecy recorded? Isaiah 55, which has been well-described as "the most vivid Gospel chapter in the O.T.".

"How everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters…Seek ye the Lord while He may be found…Let the wicked forsake his way . . ., etc., etc.". These, and many others of the great Gospel words that have been sounded forth by Gospel preachers down the centuries, are the marrow and substance of Isaiah 55. And it is THERE, in the very heart of this "Gospel Chapter" that the promise is given of "the sure mercies of David". No wonder Paul asserted the resurrection was the fulfilment of the Covenant promise.
  1. Then comes the glorious application of Paul's message: "Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that by this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by Him all that believe are justified from all things" ( verses 38-39 ).
So this was the Gospel Paul preached. That Jesus of Nazareth was Israel's Messiah; this was proved by the resurrection; by this, God had, set His King on Zion's Hill; from that Throne He is now dispensing the "sure mercies of David". These are not carnal, political comparable blessings David spoke so much of in the "salvation" ( verse 26 ), "forgiveness" ( verse 38 ), "justification ( verse 39 ), and "eternal life" ( verse 46 ). ( Space does not permit elaboration; but let the reader go through the Psalms and see how these were the very things in which David exulted. He will then have no difficulty in understanding what "the sure mercies of David" are; any ideas of "millennial blessings" will be scattered to the four winds. )

Finally, note that, when the Jews rejected the word, Paul turned to the Gentiles, and preached to them THE VERY SAME MESSAGE HE HAD PREACHED TO THE JEWS ( verses 43 and 46 ).

This was the message that was being perverted in Paul's day. History is repeating itself, and today the perversion comes from people so intensely evangelical.

The First Church Council

Acts 15.

Of this passage Scofield says: "Dispensationally, this is the most important passage in the N.T." For once we are of practically the same mind as the doctor. But we are convinced this passage is the Waterloo of Futurism and pre-millennialism. IT WAS THIS PASSAGE, with its inescapably clear teaching, THAT CONSTITUTED THE FIRST MAJOR CHALLENGE TO THE AUTHOR CONCERNING THE THINGS HE HAD BEEN BROUGHT UP TO BELIEVE.

I well remember the many times I read this Scripture and thought, "What an awkward customer James is; why didn't he express truth in proper dispensational terms?" Repeatedly the challenge was shelved; what hiding places I sought. I tried to dismiss it with the evasion "Great teachers hold to its dispensational character; they must be right; time will give me a clearer understanding." Being a regular reader of the Acts, I was coming to this passage frequently; the challenge would not be silenced. "How could James speak like this if he believed the Church was a parenthesis in the Kingdom plan of God?"

Well, understanding came at last—understanding that brought a flood of light on the whole of the Bible, and the results are found in these pages. May the reader be made to feel the tremendous force of this Scripture in the same way.

One of the grand features of Acts is the gradual separation of the hearts and minds of the apostles and their followers from all distinctively Jewish prejudices and ideas. This was done in several ways.

  1. Practical experiences ( e.g. Acts 8 and 11:20 ).
  2. Divine revelations ( Acts 10 ).
  3. By the Holy Spirit's Illumination of O.T. Scriptures. 

Some of the latter we have already seen; we now reach the crucial point in this development.

The Christian Church, originally almost all Jewish, had now witnessed a vast accession of Gentiles through the missionary work of Paul. There was still a powerful Judaistic element at Jerusalem, and they raised the problem of the relationship of these Gentiles to the Old Covenant. They demanded submission to the Law and circumcision. The First Council was called to meet the situation, and the threat of division was completely destroyed and the issue satisfactorily settled. Two things produced this result:

  1. The testimony of Peter and Paul;
  2. Something, perhaps even more forceful, viz. an application by James of an O.T. prophecy as a result of remarkable divine illumination. 

This declaration by James demands the honest consideration of every student; here the battle is decided. If James meant what the dispensationalist asserts, then we can have no more contention with them; it is settled that, after the "Church age" Christ will return and re-establish the Davidic Monarchy on earth. But if this interpretation is not true, and the one we contend for is correct, then pre-millennialism is shattered beyond recovery. The "future Kingdom of Israel's glory" is but one of the many myths that have encumbered the Christian Church.







Here, then, are the crucial words:

"Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return and will build again the Tabernacle of David that is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up; that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom My Name is called."

We confess that, since the day we discarded our dispensational spectacles, the statement is so plain we are amazed that anyone could stumble over it. In fact, WE CLALLENGE DISPENSATIONALISTS to DISPROVE THAT FOR 1800 YEARS NO TEACHER IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH DID STUMBLE OVER IT AS THEY NOW DO. But stumble they will, and it serves to illustrate how men will juggle with words until they have fitted them to accommodate a theory they are intent on upholding at all costs. I am reminded of the old man in the Bible Class. It was inevitable he would discover in the passage under consideration, a meaning different from that agreed by others. That day they had reached the verse, "And David danced before the ark". Everyone agreed it could mean only one thing. But the old man was not to be outdone so easily; he found a "deeper suggestion". The text implied, not one dance, but two. David danced first, and the ark danced after him. He would have made a first-class dispensationalist. This "deeper meaning" is an ever-recurring feature of their system. Is a N.T. explanation of an O.T. passage a stumbling block to their theory? Then push it forward to the distant future, and locate it in the "future Kingdom age". This is the escape here; BUT IT WILL NOT DO, AND IT EXPOSES THE FALSITY OF THE SYSTEM.

Consider what James says. First, he summarised the record of Peter and Paul with the statement that "God had visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name." Secondly, he asserts the validity and divine nature of this event by telling the Council it was in perfect agreement with the teaching of the prophets. Then thirdly, in the most natural and logical way, he did what every dispensationalist would do when contending for the Scriptural character of any procedure—he gives his bearers "chapter and verse" to prove it. And the statement that the inspired apostle quoted to "clinch" his case was as dramatic a word as it was possible to repeat:

"I will return and build again the tabernacle of David. . ., etc.". 

In other words, to prove his case, and at the same time repel the pro-Jew tendencies of those who had threatened the unity of the Church, James states, WITHOUT ANY OPPOSITION, THAT THE GREAT PROPHECIES OF THE O.T. WERE NOW BEING FULFILLED IN THE ESTABLISHMENT AND SPREAD OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.

We contend that this is the only sensible understanding of James' words, and they express a doctrine of vast importance which is confirmed right throughout the N.T., viz. that in the great work of the Gospel whereby God is gathering men of every nation, according to the prophecies of the O.T., He is building again the tabernacle of David. The Royal Kingdom of the son of Jesse had crumbled in the dust with the apostasy of Israel, until it was nothing but a booth in the wilderness. But the burden of prophecy was glorious in its wondrous sweep; that lowly booth was to be built again, and its extent was to be "to the uttermost part of the earth", embracing all nations. This was to be realised in the One to Whom the Throne would be given by an everlasting covenant. That One had come, and by His resurrection and ascension had obtained the Kingdom. "All power in heaven and on earth" was His. What a sovereignty! And so, when His ambassadors, commissioned from His Royal court went forth to declare to Jew and Gentile the "glad tidings, that the promise made unto the fathers, He bath fulfilled the same," and multitudes bowed in submission to David's Greater Son, the apostles, taught by the Spirit, saw the indisputable signs that ',the booth" of David was being built again into a Kingdom greater and grander than David or Solomon ever knew.

In other words, THE KINGDOM PROMISES OF THE O.T. ARE BEING FULFILLED NOW, IN THIS GOSPEL AGE, AND PRE-MILLENNIALISM IS AN EMPTY DREAM.

But what do these people say in their last desperate defence? Scofield's notes supply the answer, as follows:—

  1. The taking out from among the Gentiles a People for His Name is the distinctive work of the present church age.
  2. "After this" ( i.e. the out-calling ), "I will return". "The verses which follow in Amos describe the final re-gathering of Israel."
  3. "I will build again the Tabernacle of David". i.e. the re-establishment of the Davidic rule over Israel. 

What are we to say of such an "interpretation" of this passage? Even in his dispensational days, the author was conscious of a sense of uneasiness at such "stretching". Today it appears what it really is—a travesty of exposition, with words ceasing to have a settled meaning. Look at the statements again. James says, "To this ( the calling of the Gentiles ) agree the words of the prophets, as it is written . . ." Then follows the Scripture quotation. Now by every common sense rule of understanding the meaning of sentence, THE SCRIPTURE QUOTED MUST REFER TO THE EVENT WHICH PRECEDES IT, AND IN CONNECTION WITH WHICH IT IS QUOTED. Yet the theorists, driven by the exigencies of their system, assert IT HAS NO REFERENCE AT ALL to the event mentioned, but refers to the Second Advent and the future destiny of Israel. We ask: Where in the whole realm of Scripture controversy is there to be found another instance of such treatment of Scripture language? Look at every other quotation of the O.T. in the N.T., and it refers to the event that provoked the quotation. Dispensationalists make this one the grand exception; their "manipulation" of this passage is worse than that of Luke 23:43 by the American sects that advocate "soul-sleep"—"Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." This most wondrous word of grace is degraded by these isms into "Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise."

So do the followers of Darby treat this magnificent witness of the first Christian Council.

But not only is this "interpretation" a grave misuse of language, it is an insult to the intelligence of the apostle, for it alleges that JAMES QUOTED A SCRIPTURE WHICH HAD NO REFERENCE TO THE PROBLEM UPON WHICH HE WAS CALLED TO ADJUDICATE. The problem faced by the Council was an urgent, practical one, viz. what to do about vast numbers of Gentiles who had become their brothers-in-Christ. To assert that James tried to settle the issue by quoting a Scripture that was 2,000 years ( perhaps more ) distant in its application, and, in any case, HAD NO REFERENCE TO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, is the gravest possible reflection on the mentality of the apostle.

To quote Allis once again: "It is hard to believe that James would have beclouded the issue by quoting a passage from the O.T. which had no bearing upon the question under consideration. If James was a good dispensationalist, he would have said something like this: "Brethren, what you say may be perfectly true, since the Holy Spirit has blessed your labours among the Gentiles. But you must remember that the prophets have nothing to say about the Church, so we cannot appeal directly to them." " ( Prophecy and the Church, p. 148 )

It might be well also to refer to Allis's comment on the phrase "I will return" ( 15:16 ). He points out that this has no reference to the Second Advent ( which dispensationalists see everywhere ), but is used frequently in Scripture as an idiom for "again", in the sense of "doing it again". it is rendered thus 49 times. Thus, the simple meaning of Acts 15:16 is that it is an emphatic way of stating "I will build again".

We feel confident in this interpretation of this important passage ( in line with all the great expositors of Christian history ). It necessitates no straining of the apostle's words to it a pet theory; it casts no aspersions on James' wisdom and expository ability; it takes the words just as they are, applying them as James did, and IT PRODUCES A DOCTRINE IN CONFORMITY WITH THE REST OF N.T. TEACHING.

The Judgement Day

Acts 17:31.

"He hath appointed a Day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained."

Until dispensationalism came along just over 100 years ago, every Christian expositor and preacher understood this statement to refer to the Final Judgement Bar of God. But once again a new interpretation came along. We have previously quoted Dr. Marsh's outline of the millennium and its attendant "facts". Among them, it was stated that the millennium would be an administration of righteousness, and this text was then added as "proof". So the Day of Judgement here is the millennium! Blessed millennium! It is simply marvellous what you can put into it.

Adhering to the historic meaning, we would say that, whilst we would not press for any doctrine simply from this verse, nevertheless it carries a strong implication that there will be one General Judgment of mankind. The thought of a series of judgements for separate classes of people, separated by one or more dispensations, is completely absent. Surely, if Paul believed in a Great Judgement for the lost only, separated from the judgement of Christians by over 1,000 years, he would have used different language! Moffatt's rendering is impressive: "He has fixed a Day on which He will judge the world justly by a man whom He has destined for this."

Comments