“Beginning at Jerusalem”: Preparation, part 1.

Scripture references:  Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:9.

When we get into the study of individual passages in Acts, we’ll return to printing them at the beginning of each post.  For now, we trust you will read the references yourself.  Remember, our attitude must always be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Introduction:  We cannot divorce the Book of Acts from what goes before it.  As we noted in our first post, Pentecost happened less than 2 months after what seemed to be the absolute crushing of the disciples’ hopes and expectations, cf. Luke 24:17-21.  We believe it will be helpful to see how the Lord instructed His disciples in the days between His resurrection and His ascension.  We have 5 records of such times.  Each record seems to have a different emphasis, so we’re going to look at each one of them separately over the next two or three posts.

1. Matthew 28:16-20, The Master’s Command.

The Master’s Authority.  Verse 18b reads literally, “has been given to Me all authority (“exousia,” the right to command, jurisdiction) in heaven and on earth.”  This emphasizes that it is the Lord Who has the authority.  Nowhere in Scripture is it said that He’s given or transferred it to anyone or anything else.  There is no “head of the church” on this world.

In some circles, we hear a lot about “church authority.”  I spent some time among folks like this in earlier days, and this seemed to be their whole thing.  If something wasn’t done under “church authority,” it couldn’t have been of the Lord.  Now, I’ll admit, I have some reservations about “para-church” organizations.  I know the rationale is that such organizations can do more than the local church, and that may be true, but it seems to me that the churches in Acts did pretty well without mission boards, Bible colleges or denominational hierarchies.  The problem with such things is that they take time, talent and money from the local church to support themselves.  I may be wrong, but it could be that if we’d quit depending on human wisdom and ingenuity and do things the way the Lord laid them out, we might be surprised at the results.

So what did the Lord “lay out” for His church?

The Church’s Ministry.  The church is to “disciple” all nations…..  We seem to understand that this simply means “to evangelize” all nations.  And, certainly, that’s where it starts.  The problem, it seems to me, is that is also where it ends.  But the word translated “disciple” means “student,” “learner”.   Cf. Matthew 11:28-30.  This doesn’t mean that every convert has to go to “Bible College,” but rather that, through the local church, they are to be taught by word and example what it means to be a Christian.

I admit.  Just a few month after I was converted, I left for Bible college.  And I’m thankful for that experience.  If nothing else, it indirectly led to the young woman I married nearly 47 years ago.  But there were many other things, as well.  But I was “adrift” in a manner, as well.  There were 800 students in the freshman class.  There was no one there to “mentor,” to “disciple” me, a young believer.  The NT pattern is that the older believers in the church teach the younger.  And there is the “gift” of pastor-teacher.  The man who stands behind the pulpit has an obligation which affects eternity as he teaches and preaches.  Spurgeon said that the idea of standing before the thousands in his church crushed him into the dust.  In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote to Timothy, And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed under the ministry of that godly elderly pastor – at least, he seemed elderly to me at the time.  

According to our text, “discipling” has three parts:

1. baptizing, v.19  Among other things, New Testament baptism is an identifying of believing sinners with their Savior, even as He was identified with them, Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 3:5, 6, 13-15.  I know there’s a lot of teaching about baptism and its saving power, etc., and it’s not really our purpose to get into all that here.  But baptism is supposed to be an evidence of our salvation and our willingness to obey our Savior.  It was never intended to be the means of being saved.

2. teaching, v. 20a.   This isn’t to be just some theoretical or academic exercise.  I have nothing against “books,” but the problem I see with most of our instruction is that it’s out of books, which are what some man says about the Bible.  These may be useful, but how much better would it be if we simply let Scripture speak for itself? Further, it’s to be some teaching that relates to life.  We do need to know about “doctrine,” what we think about God affects how we think about everything else.  But what does it say about marriage, about the family, about how I relate to God and to others?  And is this life “all there is”?

I admit, the Bible has a lot to say.  It takes a while to get around it – something I think isn’t possible in this life.  After all, Ephesians 2:7 tells us that its going to take God Himself the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  This means in no way that He will have difficulty in this, just that we’ll never get to the end of it.  There used to be a TV show that promised “a world of never-ending wonder.”  This is it. 

3. understanding, v. 20b.  This is about our understanding.  It’s simply to remind us that it is the Lord with whom we have to do and not simply with church or some religious organization.  It’s not about “us” as all.  But it’s also an encouragement – He’s always with us.  The task we’ve been given is truly a “Mission Impossible.”  I know we don’t really think that:  it’s just a matter of the right approach or the right atmosphere or the right something else, but it’s not.  As well go to a cemetery and tell the people there to live.  (If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I’m truly sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your sorrow.)  Especially with the lost, we’re talking to people who are spiritually dead and at enmity with God, Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7.  Even with believers, we’re dealing with people who are involved in many things which make it hard sometimes to concentrate on what really matters.  But He is with us to strengthen and encourage us. The battle truly is the Lord’s, 1 Samuel 17:47.

2. Mark 16:14-20, The Manifestation Commending the Churches.

I know there is a lot of discussion over the authorship of these verses.  We’ re not going to get into all that.  It’s enough for our purposes that they don’t disagree with the apparent intent of this Gospel and there are many who distort them to their own discredit and to the discredit of the Word of God.

There is a three-fold “manifestation,” if you will, in these verses.

1. through “preaching,” v. 15.  Again, the thought of Matthew 28:18-20 in intensive preaching of the Gospel, not just in “evangelism,” but in discipling.  Evangelism is only the start.

2. through “profession,” v. 16.  Some cults us this verse to “prove” their doctrine of salvation through baptism.  That’s not what it and the other NT verses about baptism are talking about.

Baptism is important, but not because that’s how we’re saved.  Remember, baptism is to be an identification with our Lord; we’re trusting Him with our souls.  In Matthew, He commanded believers to be baptized.  It’s the first step in the Christian life.  Many “believe” who “draw back to perdition,” Hebrews 10:38, 39; John 2:23-25.  There’s much more that could be said about this.  We did so in our study in Hebrews, but for now, baptism is one evidence, if properly done, that a person has truly believed.

This verse also goes against the Reformed view of infant baptism:  “The baptism [of an infant] becomes a seal of the blessing which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by an act of personal faith.  Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, p. 47, emphasis added.)  According to the Lord and the subsequent teaching of Scripture, baptism is the confirmation of faith, and not the other way around!  Baptism is our profession of faith.

3. through “proof,” v. 18.  This is the verse which causes most of the controversy, as some with more zeal than knowledge handle poisonous snakes and drink strychnine as “proof” of their “faith.”  This is not what the Lord meant.

Notice that these signs “follow” believers; they aren’t to be “sought out” by them or deliberately performed as “proof.”  Cf. Acts 28:3-6 and Paul’s experience along this line.

The teaching seems to me to be that there will be evidence that the message preached by the disciples is not just another religious message.  There were plenty of those in the Lord’s day and there are plenty of those in our day.  The Book of Acts abounds in miracles done to substantiate the message of the early church.  However, notice Acts 14:3; 19:11 and others.  These miracles were not “automatic.”  See also 2 Corinthians 12:12, where Paul speaks of the signs of an apostle. Evidently, miracles (and tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit) were apostolic only, and were not passed on by them.

Verse 20 seems to help our understanding.  If you notice, the word “them” is in italics, as not being in the original language, but added by the translators.  If we leave it out, the verse reads like this:  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Amen.  (emphasis added). There was abundant evidence of a supernatural power behind the message.  Now, we believe that the age of supernatural miracles has passed, but we also believe that when the Word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is evident, and the conversion of a sinner is as dramatic as any miracle in the New Testament.

Hebrews 8:1-13, A Tale of Two Covenants

[1]Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: we have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, [2]a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.
[3]For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. [4]For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law, [5]who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.  For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  [6]But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
[7]For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  [8]Because finding fault with them, He says, “Behold the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – [9]not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.  [10]For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  [11]None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  [12]For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.
[13]In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.  Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

In our last post, we talked about the two priests in Hebrews 7.  Briefly mentioned were the covenants which underlay their ministries.  Chapter 8 continues the writer’s thought that the Levitical priesthood was temporary because it was unable to complete redemption.  As the writer develops later on, animal sacrifices could not take away sin.  The Levitical priesthood was “introductory” in that it was a primer, a basic revelation of the holiness, righteousness and justice of God, and the exacting and inflexible nature of what is required to stand in His presence uncondemned, cf. 2:2.

Chapter 8 deals with the fundamental difference between the Levitical priesthood and the priesthood of Christ.  This difference is not simply found in the fact that the Lord Jesus is God.  If, as some claim, Jesus was only a creature, exalted though He may have been, He would have been able only to bring Himself to heaven.  If only a creature, Jesus would have been under the same obligation as all other creatures to serve and obey God and His life would have had merit only for Himself.  But since He is God, His life and death have infinite merit and value – enough to have saved multiple worlds had God so chosen.

The fundamental difference between the priesthoods of Aaron and Christ lies in the covenants underlying their respective ministries, cf. 8:6.  The First, or Mosaic Covenant, could not take away sin or do anything about the condition of the sinner.  The New Covenant, underlying Christ’s priesthood, can and does both.

It’s essential to understand that there are two covenants involved in this matter.  And, though we won’t go further into the subject, Scripture lists several other covenants.

A large percentage of professing Christendom, in what is called “Covenant Theology,” disagrees with this idea of “several other” covenants.  This may not seem to be important, but it is.  This system of thought, that there is only one covenant, not several, has several distinct features:

1.  In the words of Dwight Hervey Small, a well-known Reformed writer:  “There is one basic, underlying covenant of grace; this is the covenant relationship between a gracious God and a sinful race.  This gives continuity to all God’s redemptive dealings with man.  But the form of the covenant relation undergoes sufficient change in administration as to warrant distinction in Scripture.  We can speak of the Edenic form of the covenant, or of the Abrahamic form, or of the Mosaic form, or of the New Testament form.”

“The covenant established with Moses was essentially the same as the covenant that was established with Abraham.”  (Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, pp. 37, 33.)

2.  There is no distinction between the nation of Israel and the church.  The church began with Abraham (Small, ibid., p. 161), or with Adam (Kuiper, R.B., The Glorious Body of Christ, p. 22), and is not specifically of the New Testament.  Israel and the church are merely different forms of the same thing.

3.  There is no future fulfillment of Old Testament verses with reference to the nation of Israel, which has been supplanted by the church (cf. note on bottom of p. 7, Weston, Charles Gilbert, The Weston Study Bible).  Nor is there to be a “grossly carnal” future Millennium, in which the Lord Jesus sits on an actual throne in Jerusalem (Clement, George H., The ABC’s of the Prophetical Scriptures, p. 40).  Covenant theologians are, therefore, amillennial, although not all who are amillennial hold to covenant theology.

Several teachings depend entirely or in part for their existence on Reformed covenant theology.  Among them are:

1.  Infant baptism.  According to this view, infant baptism replaces circumcision as the “sign” of the covenant.  Elaborate arguments are brought forth to justify this view.  I found it interesting that Dabney, a noted Reformed scholar, in discussing believers’ and infant baptism, refers to eight verses teaching believer’s baptism.  In the next paragraph, when he turns to infant baptism, he says this, “We add that baptism is also to be administered to ‘the infants of one or both believing parents’.” (Conf. 28, par. 4).  (Sorry, I have no further reference for this quote.)  Why doesn’t he simply mention those Scriptures which teach infant baptism, or clearly show that the apostles baptized infants?  He can’t.  There aren’t any.  That’s why there’s a need for “elaborate arguments.”  The whole doctrine of infant baptism rests on the effort to equate Israel with the church.  Indeed, covenant theology was introduced during the early years of the Reformation to defend the practice in argument against the Anabaptists, who rightly rejected it – and paid for it with their lives.

Just let me say that even if baptism does replace circumcision, even in the OT infants weren’t circumcised either to be born or to become members of the nation of Israel.  They were circumcised because they already had been born and were members of that nation.  So, baptism is for those who have already been born-again and, by virtue of that second birth, are members of the body of Christ.  Besides, circumcision wasn’t replaced by another symbol, but by the reality it symbolized – namely, regeneration (the new birth, salvation).  Believer’s baptism looks back to that, not to an Old Testament ritual.

2.  An established state-religion, based on the OT theocracy, in which every member of a nation is a member of “the church” by virtue of their baptism as infants.  In such a system, there is no liberty of conscience, no liberty of dissent.  In fact, the original Westminster Confession had a very strong section on the duty of the church to suppress all “blasphemies and heresies,” with the church defining what those were.  It was only after the War for American Independence that the Reformers, dealing with reality, substituted that section with one allowing religious liberty.

As we turn to our text, we see two things in the chapter:

1.  The “shadow” of the “first” covenant, 8:1-5, cf. 10:1.
2.  The “substance” of the “final” covenant, 8:6-13.

In the midst of all this talk about “covenants,” the writer is still setting forth the superiority of Christ:
1.  He is “seated,” v. 1.  The OT priests never sat while on duty because their work was never done.
2.  He is in heaven, v. 1.  Aaronic priests functioned on the earth.
3.  He is a “minister…of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man.”  There may or may not be an actual “building” in heaven, I don’t know for sure, but what Moses and the others built, while certainly “real,” nevertheless it only foreshadowed the redemption that was coming.  They could not provide “the real thing.”

2. The Substance of the “Final” Covenant, 8:6-13.

The First Covenant was not able to accomplish redemption because that system was designed only to show the need for redemption, the penalty for a broken law and the nature of the payment for that broken law.  It couldn’t actually provide the pardon necessary to escape sin – the breaking of the Law.  It’s in this very thing that the priesthood of Christ is “better”.  And the reason it’s “better” is found in the covenant underlying it, which the writer explains in vs. 8-13.  Notice the various aspects of this “new covenant.”

1.  The time of the New Covenant, v. 8, “the days come;” v. 10, “after those days.”  This is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34, but note the rest of that chapter! (to v. 40), also Jeremiah 32:36-44.  Both of these references show that something more than the Law is required if even Israel is to come to God.

2.  The beneficiaries of the New Covenant, vs. 8, 10:  “house of Israel,” “house of Judah.”  While I have no desire to get into the interpretive jungles which entwine themselves around these verses, it seems obvious to me to whom and of whom these verses speak.  And if they don’t refer to the actual nation of Israel, or Judah, and God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He meant?
The point is that Israel will never be reconciled to God through their adherence to the Mosaic Law.  Neither will anyone else.

3.  The substitution of the New Covenant, v. 9, also v. 11.  “Teaching” was an essential part of the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 6:7.  The historical reference of v. 9 establishes that “Israel” cannot be “the church,” as many teach.  It is a gravely dangerous thing to play semantic games with the word of God, to teach that we have to “look below the surface” to find out what it’s really saying.  While I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of its teaching in this life, and maybe not in the next one, either, what it teaches about God and sin and salvation is plain enough that there is no excuse for mistaking its meaning.

4.  The substance of the New Covenant, vs. 10-12.  These verses may be summarized in one word:  redemption.  The restoration of Israel does not come apart from redemption.  The crucifixion of Christ did not invalidate the promises of God, like this one, to Israel, so that her place in God’s redemptive purpose has been taken over by someone else and she is shut out.  Nay, it is through that very rejection and crucifixion that Israel will one day be redeemed as a nation.
Four things form the substance of the New Covenant:
a.  internal righteousness, v. 10a.  Contrast Deuteronomy 29:1-4.  What God did not do at Sinai, He will do because of Calvary.  The Mosaic Law is an external code, powerless to do anything to change the internal character of a person.  The New Covenant deals with that very thing, Jeremiah 31:33.
b.  immediate relationship, vs 10b-11a.  This is as opposed to “mediate.”  The OT Jew could never go into the Holy of Holies.  He could only do this through the annual observance of the Day of Atonement, in which the High Priest, and he alone and only on that day, could enter that place, where God dwelt.  But now, through Christ, the saved Jew, or Gentile, can come directly into the presence of God.  He or she needs no other priest; they don’t need Mary or “the saints,” don’t need “the church” or some religious organization.  Indeed, to say that one does need any of them is terrible blasphemy.
c.  individual reassurance, v. 11b, “they all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest (emphasis added).  Never in the history of Israel can this be said to have happened.  Even in days of the greatest spiritual revival, and though the nation itself had a “relationship” with God, there were only some who knew the Lord individually.  But there is coming a time, in the words of Romans 11:26, when “all Israel shall be saved.”
Since the whole section of Romans 9-11 deals with “Israel after the flesh” (Romans 9:3), Romans 11:26 can’t be said to refer to some sort of “spiritual Israel” which really has nothing to do with Israel.  Rather it refers to a time when Israel herself will be made “spiritual,” that is, she will be redeemed.  This doesn’t mean that every Jew who ever lived will be saved, but rather that every Jew alive at that time will be saved.
Even though the church enjoys the blessings of the new covenant by the grace of God, we can’t say that it’s really been fulfilled.  After all, “teaching” is a major part of the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, 20, and of the “gifts” to the church in Ephesians 4:11-16.  The time is coming when it and they will no longer be necessary.
d.  incomprehensible redemption, v. 12.
Sin will be forgiven, but more than that, it will be banished.  God’s people will have nothing to repent of, to be sorrowful over, to wish had never happened.  We have such superficial views of sin and salvation that I don’t think we really have any idea what that will be like.

5.  The succession of the New Covenant, v. 13.  By this, we mean that the New Covenant will supercede and take the place of the Old, Mosaic, Covenant.  It is, after all, a “new” covenant.

A better one.