Reading the Bible Yourself – Part 8David Tavender
The Results of Right Division
It will be noticed that, in the previous chapter, a distinction was made between the letters written during the Acts period and those written after the Acts period. This is because, at the end of Acts, there was a change in dispensation. In other words, God instituted a new set of conditions under which believers would now live.
If we “rightly divide” the Scriptures we will begin to see which parts of the Bible are meant to be read and applied directly to the church of today, and which parts are for our learning and observation only. The way to do this is to compare verses of Scripture and observe the similarities and the differences between each one.
We now aim to illustrate the differences between the conditions in operation during the Acts period, and the conditions in operation for believers today (which began at the close of the Acts period). This will be done by comparing verses from the book of Acts and letters written during the Acts period, with verses from the letters written after the Acts period (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & 2 Timothy, Titus & Philemon).
(a) Jews and Gentiles – During Acts
Ever since Abram was called by God in Genesis 12, Gentiles (non-Jews) had not been able to share in God’s blessings, unless they became Israelites by way of circumcision – Exodus 12:48. This situation continued throughout the gospels where we find the Lord instructing His disciples not to preach “among the Gentiles”, but to “Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).
From Genesis 12, right up until Acts 10, Gentiles weren’t even mentioned in Scripture unless they came in contact with Jews! However, in Acts 10 Cornelius (a Gentile) was converted to the faith and was not required to become an Israelite – not by any ceremonies, nor by any other way. We see here for the first time a Gentile believer being approved by God to share in His blessings.
What then was the reason for this? “Salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious” (Romans 11: 11). In other words, what had once belonged exclusively to Israel was now being given to Gentiles in order to prompt the Jewish nation to be faithful. We see further evidence of this fact throughout the book of Acts. In each case, the apostle Paul preached to the Jewish community first before approaching the Gentiles.
“When they arrived in Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the
Jewish synagogues.” (Acts 13:5)
“At Iconium, Paul and Bamabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue.” (Acts 14: 1)
“When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with a soldier to guard him. Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews.” (Acts 28:16-17)
The book of Romans, written during the Acts period supports the fact that Israel still had the dominant role in God’s plans.
“The gospel … is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1: 16)
“There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 2:9)
“[there will be] glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 2: 10)
Jews and Gentiles – After Acts
(Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; I & 2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon)
When Israel (on the whole) continued to disbelieve the message of the apostles, they temporarily ceased to maintain the dominant place in God’s plans. This action took place in Acts 28:28. After the Jewish nation had been judged in this way, God revealed a previously hidden part of His plan for mankind. He was revealing a “mystery” (or “secret”),
“the mystery made known to me (Paul) by revelation … was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed … This mystery is that, through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together … members together of one body” (Ephesians 3:3-6).
“[Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two [groups of people] one.” (Ephesians 2:14)
For further study see Acts 13:15,46; Acts 17:1,2, 10; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:26,27.
(b) The destiny or “hope ” of believers – During Acts
In Acts 3:17 Peter told the “men of Israel” that it was through ignorance that they had crucified the Lord. He went on to urge them to:
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out … that he may send the Christ” (Acts 3:19, 20).
The Lord would have returned and established the kingdom on earth in those times if Israel, on the whole, had repented from their sin. During that time, Paul and the other apostles taught that Christ might possibly return soon.
“For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.'” (Hebrews 10:37)
“the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:8)
“I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:7,12,20) (See Appendix 3.)