Acts 3, The Prophets, and the Church Age

March 16, 2010

In my last post I considered dispensationalism and ecclesiology, noting that the descriptions of the future kingdom, in the OT prophecies, do not agree with the assessment of the New Testament church age as described by the apostles.

Now that I’ve been following the (modified) Horner Bible reading plan for a year, I can definitely see a benefit:  really becoming familiar with what God’s word actually says.  After all, one year of this reading plan results in the following:  almost three readings through the Prophets, six readings through the New Testament Epistles, and over seven readings through the book of Acts.  From the Prophets I now notice several major themes, including the pattern of Israel’s apostasy, followed by God’s judgement, and then the wonderful hope of future restoration of Israel: into a right relationship with God, and the associated blessings of that — dwelling in the land in peace, safety and abundance.

In my current reading through Acts, Peter’s message in Acts 3 especially sticks out.  Notice verse 21 especially:

(Jesus) whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  (ESV)

My last post mentioned the overall differences between the Old Testament prophecies and the present church age.  This passage in Acts 3 is far more direct and to the point.  Jesus must remain in heaven (referring to this age) “until the time” (future) “for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

Now, what did the prophets speak about, and what is meant by the restoration (the “restoring”)?  Acts 1:6-7, just two chapters earlier, answers the second part of this question.  After 40 days spent with Jesus post-resurrection, the apostles asked Him, “are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  As has often been pointed out, if the amillennialists are right and this age is the kingdom, this would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to correct their understanding.  Instead, He simply told them that it was not for them to know “the times or dates” of when it would come.  Acts 3:21 clearly refers to the same thing, a future restoration that will come after the present time (while Jesus remains in heaven) — in other words, at our Lord’s Second Coming.

Back to the first question:  what did the prophets speak about?  Again, multiple readings through that section of the Bible (Isaiah through Malachi) show the very oft-repeated theme of apostasy-judgment-future restoration and blessing, and all of these relate to national Israel, with language concerning “the house of Judah and the house of Israel.”  The theme is so prevalent throughout these books, that it boggles my mind that anyone could conceive of the idea that the first two parts — apostasy and judgment — involve Israel, but the third part — future restoration and blessing — is something completely disjointed from the previous two and said to apply to the Church instead.  A strong, solid knowledge of the Old Testament prophets, and the book of Acts (plus the many descriptions of the current Church age as a good contrast) makes the truth plain.

Biblical ignorance — and sinful Gentile pride, the very thing the apostle Paul warned against in Romans 11– is behind that which now boggles my mind.  Such ignorance and pride itself are an indication of the underlying problems with the Church age, as yet more proof that the Church age is NOT the kingdom of God, is NOT the fulfillment of all that the prophets spoke of long ago.

In years past when my own Bible study was more lacking (casual reading through the Bible once a year, and listening only to what was taught at my own church), I likewise did not think about these issues so much — and at a superficial glance, it does sound good when a pastor skims over a few verses out of Isaiah or Jeremiah and says “this is talking about our age now.”  We know the great things that Christ did for us in His atoning work on the cross, and eternal life in heaven, and so, naturally, it sounds great to hear that the Church is the wonderful outworking of God’s plan.  We’re all Christians, and the gospel is going out victoriously into this age and changing lives, and so it seems natural that God is doing all this for us Gentiles in the Church Age.

With such general ideas, I once supposed that previous generations of the Church age were much better than now:  that people were really more godly, moral and church-going back in the middle 20th century, or the early 20th century, or other times before that, such as on the 19th century frontier, Victorian England, colonial America, etc.  Perhaps other times were more outwardly civilized, with the restraints of law and societal pressure, but the more I learn and read of history the more it truly agrees with what the Bible says about this current Church Age.  I have read many sermons from C.H. Spurgeon, delivered in the 1850s (150+ years ago), that one would surely think were talking about the early 21st century.  Then as now, most people did not really read their Bibles, did not take the time and effort and were more interested in magazines and popular literature.  Then as now, people were lazy with excuses regarding church attendance and with really living a good Christian life.  Then as now, only a few Christians spoke out against and contended against the constant barrage of errors and evils coming against the church.  Then it was Spurgeon; now it is leaders such as John MacArthur, and others at various points throughout church history.

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