The Key that Fits
It has been suggested to me on more than one occasion that we make too much of Acts 28:28, as a definite dividing line. Only recently a writer said that he felt that the Church as we know it today was a gradual process, merging slowly out of the former dispensation, and not coming suddenly, as it were, into being, after the end of the Acts of the Apostles. The writer suggested that we could not put our finger upon any one spot and say, “Now, there, that is when the Church of the One Body began, ” because it was just a growth out of believers of former days. He recognized that the Children of Israel had been set aside as a nation, but he wanted to know what had happened to all the Jews and Gentiles who believed on Christ during Paul’s ministry, before the end of Acts. Did they go out into blindness along with the Children of Israel, or were they automatically gathered into the Church of the One Body of Ephesians?
Well now, before we answer the last part of that question, I want us to look at some of the many problems which are completely answered for us when we see Acts 28:28 as the great dividing line. In fact, I want us to see how wonderfully the key fits! Take for instance those troublesome verses at the end of Mark’s Gospel. What a worry they have been to both translators and expositors alike. (see Mark 16,17 to the end), “And these signs shall follow them that believe:
1. they shall cast out devils
2. they shall speak with new tongues
3. they shall take up serpents
4. drink any deadly thing
5. recover the sick by laying on of hands”.
You see, if any one of those things is a sign of a believer then I am not a believer. No friend, and neither are you, if you face it honestly. So fearful of the implications of that passage have some translators been, that they have left it out altogether! One manuscript has a place for them, but leaves it blank.
However, if you read the Acts of the Apostles, you will find these very signs are taking place. Notice particularly that in the VERY LAST CHAPTER of that book these signs are following. A poisonous reptile fastens itself upon Paul’s hand, but he takes no harm. Almost immediately afterwards he heals Publius of dysentery (bloody flux). So then, as these signs do not take place in believers today, a change must have taken place, SINCE Acts 28:9. Putting down the change as to taking place at Acts 28:28, you see how the key fits. Then you find Paul makes two definite statements concerning himself. In the one he declares that:
“For the hope of ISRAEL I am bound with this chain”.
In the other he calls himself:
“A prisoner for you Gentiles”.
When did that change take place? It is “for the hope of Israel, ” in Acts 28:20, so if you put the change over down at Acts 28:28, then you will see how the key fits. Nearly all the problems which have been so difficult to solve throughout the years can be answered by asking just one question. Which side of Acts 28:28? Take, for instance, those two verses in the Epistle of James (chapter 5,14-15), “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up”. It is often tried today. Occasionally it may work, when a psychological factor enters in, but usually it only leads to disillusionment and disappointment. You see it is Mark 16:18 all over again. There have been no such miraculous healings since when? Why Acts 28:28 of course.
Then having seen that these miraculous gifts were in operation right up to the end of Acts of the Apostles, it can be used to decide for us when certain Epistles were written. Take, for instance, the Epistles to the Corinthians, In 1Cor. there are two or three chapters almost solely devoted to spiritual gifts, tongues, healings, prophesies and so on. We see that, and we can recognize at once that that Epistle was written to the Church which was existing before Acts 28:28. That explains so much, because the key fits. Then again it explains another thing. It has often been noticed that the writers of the epistles in the New Testament all seem to have been expecting the very near return of our Lord Jesus Christ. James says, “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (chapter 5,8). John says, “Even now…whereby we know that it is the last time” (1John2:18). Paul says, “This I say brethren, the time is short” (1Cor.7:29), and many other places. One could hardly call 2,000 years, and perhaps more, as “night,” or “at hand,” “short”, but so long as the children of Israel – as a nation – had opportunity of repentance, the early return of our Lord could have been expected. When they were set aside, the return had been postponed. The Apostles who wrote before, knew nothing of any postponement, and when was that? Why Acts 28:28-again the key fits.
Let us think once more about the healing ministry. Both Paul and Peter were great healers. In Acts 5:15, it tells us that they “brought forth the sick into the streets, on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow them” (verse 16). “Also a multitude…bringing sick fold…and they were healed EVERY ONE.” So, with Paul; in Acts 19:11, it tells us, “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul; so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them”. How is it, then, that Paul has such anxiety about Ephaphorditus? How was it that he left Trophimus at Miletum SICK? Why did he recommend a little wine to Timothy for his oft infirmities? The reason is that they happened after Acts 28:28. The key still works.
Let us look at them – Epaphroditus for instance. Someone recently asked, “How do we know that Paul did not heal Epaphroditus by laying on of hands?” Well, if he did it must have been “fear healing,” not “faith healing,” for it says, “he was sick nigh unto death, but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow”. (Philippians 2:27). I did get a bit of a shake up though, when the same writer said that Trophimus was left at Miletum sick, and that was before Acts 28:28. I thought immediately. “Well, if that is so, something has gone wrong with the key,” so I forthwith reached out for my Bible and concordance to make sure. Well, this is what I found. Three times only is Trophimus mentioned, twice during the Acts and once in 2Timothy 4:20. On the two occasions in the Acts there is no hint of anything being wrong with him, but in 2Tim. it says that Paul left him at Miletum, sick. As 2Tim. is the last of Paul’s epistles it must have been written long after the end of Acts. So once again the key fits.
Now I wonder whether you remember the second half of the question. It was, “What happened to all the Jews and Gentiles who believed on Christ during Paul’s ministry before the end of the Acts? Did they go into blindness along with the Children of Israel? Or were they automatically gathered into the Church of the One Body of Ephesians?” I think there is a very short answer to that. It is one word, “neither”. After Israel had passed off the scene as God’s chosen people at Acts 28:28, another Gospel message was written, viz, the Gospel of John. It commences by saying, “He came unto His own and His own (people) received Him not”. (John 1:11). John then throws the door wide open to the whole world. Seventy times he uses the word “world”. His great message goes out to “whosoever will”. His great subject is “believe” and “receive” everlasting life. (no crowns mentioned in John’s Gospel, except one). All we believers have swept through those gates, including the believers of the Acts period-unless they went back to Judaism. So we all became one great family in Christ. Now for those who have gone on, and have not gotten bogged down in “by-pass meadow” or given up at the “hill of difficulty,” another gate further on is discovered. This one is revealed to us by Paul. Paul’s message is not the world, but to “the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph.1:1, Col.1:2). Paul’s prayers are for these saints and faithful ones, “that ye may KNOW what is the hope of His calling” (Eph.1:18), and that “ye might be filled with the KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col.1:9). It is a gate of knowledge. He tells us of himself that “I count not MYSELF to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” So then as Paul goes on to say, “Let US therefore as many as perfect (full-grown) be thus minded”. To this we add a loud Amen.