The Significance of “To the Jew First” — [2 of 2]

 

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

This is a continuation from Part 1 of 2. This is a highly significant passage, one of the most important passages in the New Testament as it relates to Israel and the Church and the Kingdom of Christ of the New Covenant.

 

Acts 2:29-36:

29 Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; 31 he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear. 34 For David ascended not into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet. 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.

 

Interpretation of Acts 2:29-36

What happened on the Day of Pentecost was the beginning of the Church, which is the Kingdom of Christ, as Peter reveals in this passage. While Peter didn’t have complete understanding of the Kingdom of Christ before Pentecost, he most certainly did on that day, having received the Holy Spirit and his eyes opened. We’ll go through this passage verse by verse. However, I would encourage you to read all of Acts 1 and 2 so you’ll see the context in which this part of Peter’s sermon is given:

 

(Acts 2:29-30) – 29 Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne;

 

When “David” is mentioned in the NT, it often has to do with the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:10-17; 1 Ki 2:33,45; 1 Ki 9:5; 1 Chr 17:11-14; 2 Chr 6:16; Is 9:7; Jer 23:5; Jer 30:9), where the coming Messiah sits upon the throne of David in His kingdom (Mk 11;10; Lu 1:32; Jn 7:42; Acts 15:16-17).The Jews were looking for their Messiah (and still are today) to come and set up His kingdom where He would reign from the throne of David as their King. Peter is referring to that kingdom here. He begins to reveal at this point that Jesus is, in fact, upon His throne now — meaning, that it doesn’t await His return, as Premillennialism teaches.

 

(Acts 2:32-33) – 32 This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear.

 

Peter continues and declares to all the Jews present that Jesus is at the “right hand of God” now, referring to the throne that Jesus sits upon. Notice also that the kingdom is associated with the receiving of the “promise of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, having received the Holy Spirit, and having been baptized into the body of Christ (the Church), Jesus now sits upon His throne, in His kingdom — which is His Church, as Peter reveals:

 

(Acts 2:34-35) – 34 For David ascended not into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet.

 

This statement by Peter is highly significant, as it’s a parallel passage with 1 Corinthians 15:21-26, which I covered in another post. Compare what Peter says here in Acts with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

 

(1 Corinthians 15:21-26) – 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be abolished is death.

 

Both Peter and Paul confirm that the Kingdom of Christ is now, that Jesus is reigning as King now (Col 1:13). A close examination of both of these passages reveals that the Church of Christ and the Kingdom of Christ are one and the same — which is a spiritual kingdom.

 

The Jews were looking for an earthly kingdom where their Messiah would rule from the throne of David. Premillennialists are looking for the same type of kingdom. However, now having an accurate understanding of that kingdom, Peter reveals what was revealed to him:

 

(Acts 2:36) – 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.

 

Peter wants “all the house of Israel” to know that “God has made him both Lord and Christ (Messiah).” In other words, Peter was informing them that Jesus is their Messiah, the one that Israel had been waiting for, that He is their King, and that He is ruling now in His kingdom. He’s letting them know that their understanding of the Messiah’s kingdom was inaccurate. Peter was, thus, giving them the correct interpretation of all those OT prophecies.

 

Discussion

We see that from the first day of the establishment of the Church, Peter explains the meaning of the prophesied kingdom, the kingdom of their Messiah. It’s also important to understand that this kingdom relates to the land promises, as well. For the Jews understood the kingdom to be in the land of Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, and that it would last “forever.” This is the “restored kingdom” they all looked forward to, and still do today.

However, since Christ’s kingdom has its ultimate form in the Eternal Kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2), the land that was promised to Israel is the land of the new earth, which is the “new Jerusalem.” The fact that the OT says that it will last forever, is proof enough that it can’t possibly refer to any kingdom of this world, because life in this world is temporary, and will be destroyed someday.

It’s only the new Jerusalem that will last forever on the new earth. Therefore, the land that was promised in the OT was merely a type and shadow of a land of far greater worth. When one thinks about it, the idea of a promised land that pertains to this sinful world, is not a very good deal. What God promised Israel was actually something far beyond their imagination and far more wonderful.

Again, from the very beginning of the Church, Peter informs them and explains to them that the events regarding Christ and the events of Pentecost, was the time of their fulfillment as a nation and as a people. This was not what they were expecting, so Peter had to give them the understanding that they lacked. This is why it was “necessary” that they be given the message of Christ “first.”

Peter wrote two books of the NT, but in neither book did he mention an earthly kingdom. But what is his focus? It’s on the Church (1 Pe 2:1-10) and the Eternal Kingdom (2 Pe 1:11; 2 Pe 3:10-13,18). In Acts he reveals the Church to be the kingdom of Christ, and in 1 Peter he reveals the Church to be the New Israel in Christ as a spiritual nation.

 

[Note: To be clear, the Church continues as Christ’s Kingdom into the Eternal Kingdom, where His Church will then be complete.]

 

And lest we get the dispensational idea that this fulfillment for Israel means that Gentile believers merely join them in all the promises of an “earthly kingdom,” Paul discredits that idea in the following passage:

 

(Ephesians 2:13-16) – 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, 15 having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; 16 and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:

 

What Paul explains in this passage is that this “one new man,” this “one body,” is not merely a combining of Jews and Gentiles, but an entirely new creation of a new people. We are all one in Christ, where there is no Jew or Gentile, but a new entity, a new organism, a new spiritual race, a new spiritual nation (1 Pe 2:4-10). Together we are heirs to all the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Note what Sam Storms says about this passage (from his book “Kingdom Come”):

 

Quote:

By “new man” Paul means the Christian community in its corporate identity, the Church. This new man is not simply an amalgam of the old in which the best of Judaism and the best of the Gentile world are combined. This is a completely new creation in which distinctives of Jewishness and Gentileness are irrelevant. Thus, as Lincoln says, “they have not just been brought into a mutual relationship, but have been made one in a unity where both are no longer what they previously were (cf. vv. 15, 16, 18). In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world.” Therefore, it’s not as though Gentiles are transformed into Jews or Jews into Gentiles. Rather “the resulting new humanity transcends the two old entities, even though unbelieving Israel and disobedient Gentiles continue to exist.

Unquote

 

Again Sam Storms:

Quote:

The “one new man,” i.e., the Church, in which both believing Jews and believing Gentiles were united by the blood of Christ, was heir to all the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The dispensational idea that in the age to come Israel would hold privileged status and be the unique focus of God’s eschatological activity and blessing was ruled out by this passage.

Unquote

 

Both Peter and Paul were Jews. Both were Apostles. Both contributed to the NT Scriptures. Both spoke about Israel and the Church. Both talked about the kingdom of Christ. But neither of them confirmed the idea of a future earthly, millennial kingdom. On the contrary, they provided a new revelation about its true identity. They both provided a new revelation about the identity of Israel in the Christian era. If an earthly kingdom was something they still looked forward to, wouldn’t they have talked about it while discussing these matters, knowing how central a coming Messiah and a coming kingdom was in the religion and culture of Israel? It’s completely reasonable that they would have. But the reality is they, instead, provided a new revelation about the true identity of Israel — that we are the Kingdom of Christ in Him, that the Church is that kingdom.

Correcting this misunderstanding about the Kingdom, would naturally be one of the first things that the Apostles and prophets would need to do as Jewish Christian leaders. As believing Jews, clearing up misconceptions regarding Israel in the plan of God in the gospel era of the New Covenant, would quite understandably be their primary mission to the Jews of that day. This is something that every new Jewish believer in Christ would have to be taught. Peter and Paul did that. It only makes sense that their purpose was to explain the OT Scriptures to them in the light of Christ, so that there would be no confusion.

The fact that this confusion still exists today is not the fault of Peter or Paul. They did their part. The failure is on a theology that is based on an OT understanding, rather than allowing the light of the NT to reveal what those scriptures mean. The fact that dispensational premillennialists share basically the same understanding regarding Israel and the Messiah’s kingdom with unbelieving Jews, should be a red flag to them. The only real difference between the two is that unbelieving Jews don’t accept Jesus as their Messiah. However, dispensational premillennialists believe that will change someday.

It’s important that we allow the Apostles and believing Jews, provide the needed understanding. For they were living in the beginning years of Christianity, in the midst of all the course-changing events surrounding Christ and Israel and the Church. We must see things from their perspective during this transitional period from Old Covenant to New Covenant.

Christianity is the completed form of the Jewish religion (Judaism). God’s plan for Israel evolved. It had two phases. The first phase was Israel under the Old Covenant, which prophesied and pictured Christ and His Church. The life and ministry of Christ was the transition stage to the second phase, which was Israel in the New Covenant. On the Day of Pentecost, the Jewish religion was in complete form. It was a new beginning for them. It was the end of Israel as they knew it and lived it, and the beginning of a spiritual nation in Christ, which is the Church.

They became a new people in Christ with all other believers of the world, where all people distinctions are done away with in Him. Together we are the true seed of Abraham, which is spiritual in nature. In Christ we are the true children of Abraham and the true children of God (Ro 4:16; Ro 9:6-8; Gal 3:15-16, 26-29; Ro 2:28-29). This New Israel in Christ was always in view in the OT prophecies. Becoming a spiritual nation in Christ is their glory. It’s their complete and final form. There’s nothing more that needs to be fulfilled for the people of Israel, for it’s all been fulfilled in Christ and His Church.

In the beginning of the Church and the Church era, the believing Jews essentially owned it. For the most part, it was believing Jews who initially made up the Church. It started right there in Jerusalem. The message about Christ and the teachings of the Christian faith was theirs to spread to the rest of the world. It was believing Jews that God used to begin the process of evangelizing the world, to bring believers from all nations into this New Israel, where we are all one in Christ. The believing Jews in the days of the Apostles discovered that their true identity was in Christ and His Church, and that it was their mission to spread the truth of their faith to the rest of the world, which was now a Christian faith.

The idea that Israel still awaits completion, is missing the whole point of what they were to become in Christ. If believing Israel didn’t find their completion in Christ and His Church – of whom He is Head – what in the world was it that they experienced in the days of Christ, Pentecost, and the beginning years of the Christian era? Are we to believe that there is yet another phase for Israel to be fulfilled? If that’s the case, then the message they proclaimed in the beginning of the Church era was incomplete. We need to emphasize the point that it was believing Jews that God used to establish Christianity!

Think about that! It was believing Jews who established the Christian faith, with all its doctrines. That includes most of the NT Scriptures. It was their message. It was their message to the rest of the world! If there was still an earthly kingdom yet to be fulfilled for the nation of Israel, would they not have included that in their message? Would that message not stand out in the NT Scriptures, which were mostly written by Jewish believers? I think it’s entirely reasonable to think so. The message that the believing Jews preached in the early days of Christianity, was the same message they preached to both Jews and Gentiles — for in Christ we are all one new people and share the same blessings in Christ.

In the beginning of the Christian era, if there was a separate plan for Israel apart from the Church, then I believe there would have been a need to provide separate Scriptures to the Jews that explain the OT prophecies regarding Israel and God’s future plan for them — in a manner that is different than how it’s explained in the NT as we have it today.

As it is, the NT Scriptures (written mostly by believing Jews), is addressed to both groups of believers – Jews and Gentiles – which do not present a future earthly kingdom. The silence speaks loudly. The “thousand years” of Revelation 20 doesn’t provide a good enough case for such a kingdom, because this is mentioned in a book that is filled with symbolism. Therefore, a very strong case can be made for the idea that the thousand years spoken of in Revelation is merely symbolic for a long period of time, which refers to the whole Church age.

If the Jewish Apostles and prophets and writers of the NT in the early years of the Christian era, didn’t understand the Kingdom of Christ to be His Church – as a spiritual kingdom – then they didn’t do a very good job of explaining it as a future earthly kingdom. Again, they would need different Scriptures written just for the nation of Israel, providing explanation in the context of Christ and what He came to do for them. But where are they? Where are those Scriptures? Other than the NT, all that we can point to is the OT. But what should be obvious, all we need are the NT Scriptures to explain the OT Scriptures. Did Jesus and the writers of the NT not refer to and interpret those Scriptures? Was Israel not the primary focus during the time of Christ and His Apostles and the beginning of the Church? Of course they were!

Therefore, the idea that the Jews were not experiencing the fulfillment of God’s complete plan for them during this monumental time in Israel’s history, is inconceivable. Of all people, it was the Jewish believers (who were experiencing all the events of that critical transitional period from OC to NC), who were the most qualified to explain what was going on in those days — that they were now complete in Christ as one people, believers of all nations, and that together they were a spiritual kingdom.

That’s what Peter revealed on the Day of Pentecost. This is what Paul revealed in his writings. Same with the book of Hebrews, which was addressed to believing Jews. This is what the NT does overall. The NT sheds the needed light on the OT. Without the NT Scriptures, there’s no way we can properly understand the OT promises and prophecies regarding Israel and God’s plan for them. To give priority to the OT over the NT is a grave mistake. It’s all-important that we place ourselves in the sandals of the Jewish believers in the days of Christ and His Apostles. When we consider all the monumental events of that time period, it’s easy to see that those were the days of Israel’s fulfillment.

Believing Jews today shouldn’t explain God’s plan for Israel or the NT Scriptures according to Dispensationalism. The early believing Jews are the pattern for them. Explanation must be provided through the eyes of those first believers in Christ who were experiencing all the course-changing events of their day. Dispensationalists in general, must set their theology aside and simply try to see what they did. The Jewish Apostles and prophets had a perspective that we can’t relate to. Their front seat perspective must be given top priority if we’re going to correctly understand the events surrounding Israel of their day.

Through the revelations given to the Apostles and prophets – which gave us the NT Scriptures – I believe the early Jewish believers understood the relationship between Israel and the Church. Therefore, we must pay careful attention to what is written In the NT about both groups of believers (Jew and Gentile) — because the message is one. It’s the same message to both groups. The writers of the NT would need to teach believing Jews in manner that would answer their questions about God’s plan for Israel. This surely would have been a major objective for those writers. Again, the message given to the Gentiles is the same message given to the Jews. One message, one plan, one people.

The idea that the OT Scriptures reveal something that the NT Scriptures don’t, would be inconsistent. There’s a consistency and harmony between all elements of truth. Jesus Himself said that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, which represents the entire OT Scriptures. Jesus, as the Word Himself, gave us the completed revelation regarding Israel in the form of the NT Scriptures. It was His Jewish Apostles that He trained and commissioned to spread His message to both Jews and Gentiles. Is it not reasonable to conclude that if Jesus had a separate plan for Israel apart from His Church, He would have made it clear in those NT Scriptures? Such is not the case. What actually is very clear, is that we are all one in Christ, that we are a new creation in Christ, a whole new people, a spiritual and holy nation (Eph 2:11-22; 1 Pe 2:4-10; Gal 3:14-16, 26-29; Ro 9:6-8).

 

Conclusion

Under the Old Covenant, Israel was the central focus of God. It was to and through Israel and His prophets that He spoke and carried out His will in the world. It was to Israel that He gave His commandments and revealed His will. It was through Israel that salvation for the world was provided, for it was through Israel that Christ came. When Jesus entered the world and began His ministry, they were still under the Old Covenant. God’s primary focus was still on the nation of Israel, and Jesus Himself was focused primarily on Israel. On the Day of Pentecost, the focus was still primarily on Israel, for all the prophecies regarding Israel were fulfilled on that day. They became a spiritual nation and a spiritual kingdom on that day, where all believers were brought into union with Christ and His body, which is the Church ( Col 1:24; Eph 1:22-23; Eph 5:23).

Therefore, the Jews were the first in line to receive the gospel message. They were first in line to deliver the gospel message. Initially it was their message to the rest of the world. That is the significance of “to the Jew first.”