Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Transition Period Can be Hard to Understand

Did the recipients of the Jewish epistles, Hebrews through Revelation,  understand that even though the Jewish epistles were written to them (as Jews in dispersion, the Little Flock), they were not for them because they were prophecy and would not be in effect until the future?  

‘Jews of the dispersion’ (Jews scattered among the gentiles) is a misnomer.  Although those books are written to the Hebrew people, the main focus is the Little Flock that was scattered.  ‘Jews of the dispersion’ is just a general term for all Jews in the Roman Empire who are outside of the nation of Israel. 

The books of Hebrews through Revelation are written to the believing remnant of Israel.  I’ll give you an example.  Paul talks to us, the church, the body of Christ, in his books Romans through Philemon, and we are his specific audience; but there is a more general audience in this dispensation of grace which is all gentiles and all Jews.  Paul speaks generally to whosoever will listen.

It was the same with God’s word in time past.  A gentile who was exposed to the word of God could hear it and believe.  When the Jews were out among the gentiles, the word of God also went out.  There were synagogues throughout the Roman Empire in the first century.  We see in the book of Acts that Paul would go to the synagogues wherever he traveled.  The word of God was out there even before the dispensation of grace began.  Gentiles had access to the word of God.  They had to come to God through the Jew.

The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to all Jews during his earthly ministry; but the books of Hebrews through Revelation are written to the believing remnant in Israel.  The Lord Jesus also spoke privately to his disciples.

The Jews of the dispersion had access to the word of God.  They had the old testament.  They had some understanding of what God was doing through the earthly ministry of Christ and believed on him, but that doesn’t mean that they each had perfect understanding of all things.  It is the same in the body of Christ.  Most members don’t believe or understand Paul’s revelation of the mystery (Rom. 16:25) beyond the cross for salvation.  There are different levels of understanding even among dispensational grace believers.

What did the recipients of the books of Hebrews through Revelation believe?  They understood that there was a transition period.  They understood that God began to do something different with the Apostle Paul.  The Lord Jesus Christ ascended around A.D. 30.  God gave Israel one more year to repent (Acts 1 – 7).

Luke 13:6-8
He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.  Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?  And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:

Then Paul was saved and God started doing a new thing.  It is difficult to nail down all the details.  The fall of Israel is in Acts 7 (stoning of Stephen).  The diminishing of Israel is Acts 8 through 28.  Actually the diminishing of Israel continued all the way to A.D. 70 with the destruction of the temple.  (Israel stumbled when they crucified Christ.)

Romans 11:11-12
I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?

Paul’s epistles were being written the same time that Hebrews through Revelation were.  During that time the leaders of the Little Flock (James, Cephas (Peter), and John)…

Galatians 2:9a
And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars,

…were also beginning to understand what God was now doing.  This is a time of transition and no one completely understands every detail; but we can use the scriptures to see that Hebrews through Revelation were written in the first century so that God could canonize the scripture.  You have to understand prophecy; God wrote things at a certain point in time, but they were for the future.  God did that all the time.

Habakkuk 2:1-3
I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.  And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables,
[God is telling Habakkuk in his day to write this vision down...]
that he may run that readeth it.
[Someone is going to read it and do what God says.]
For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.

This vision is for...the future!

Daniel 9:24b
and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.

In other words, God is saying:  “I’m telling you now Daniel, but it’s for the end times.”  That is not uncommon with God.  He prophesies a lot, particularly in the prophetic program.

You have to take into account that there is a transition period happening in the first century.  Because it is a transition, things are not always concrete.  Although Israel fell in Acts 7 and continued to diminish throughout the rest of Acts, God wasn’t operating two programsb per se, but two programs existed simultaneously.  God was diminishing Israel’s prophesy program while he was increasing the mystery program for the body of Christ. 

During that time, God chose to have all of his word written and completed in the first century (that is, Paul’s epistles and the Jewish epistles Hebrews through Revelation).  He used the prophets in the body of Christ to canonize the scripture. 

Although God wrote Hebrews through Revelation back in the first century while Paul’s books were in effect, those Jewish epistles were not in effect during the dispensation of grace.  When Paul was saved, the information called the mystery of Christ, the dispensation of grace, was in effect – from the moment Paul was saved until now.

God knew.  Paul didn’t know everything.  The Little Flock certainly didn’t know everything.  It took time; it was a transition period.  When Paul got saved, the administration that God was starting up was the dispensation of grace.

1 Corinthians 12:5
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

But God had Peter, James, John, Jude and the author of Hebrews write down the information so that it could be placed into the scriptures.

I have no doubt that right from the beginning Paul shared what he knew with Peter.  Paul didn’t know and understand it all and neither did Peter.

Galatians 1:15-19
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace [free gift],

He is talking about his salvation on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).  To do what?

To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood [any apostles or councils]:  Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.

The only other time Paul mentions Arabia is Galatians 4:25.  Chances are very good that Paul went to Mt. Sinai in Arabia, the same place Moses went and for the same length of time (40 days), to receive the first installment of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).  Christ didn’t give him a lot of information at that time, but he gave Paul the message that saves.  I know some think that Paul was on Mt. Sinai for three years, but it was 40 days.  God would not take Paul away for three years at the start of the dispensation of grace.

Moses was on Mt. Sinai 40 days when he received the law (Ex. 24:18).  Right after Christ was anointed for ministry when John the Baptist baptized him and the Spirit of God came down and anointed Jesus as the prophet of God, he went out into the wilderness for 40 days (Mark 1:13).

So Paul goes into Arabia and returns to Damascus and is ready to preach.  By Acts 9:31, he is out preaching the Lord Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus (to mostly Jews but also gentiles).

Acts 9:31
Then had the churches rest [because Saul was no longer persecuting them] throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
[Paul has some information about who Jesus Christ is and what he came to accomplish at Calvary.]
Then after three years [three is the number of completion] I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.  But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.

So within three years of his salvation, Paul goes to communicate the first installment of the gospel that he learned from the Lord Jesus Christ at Mt. Sinai in Arabia.  He goes to see Peter.

Galatians 1:18
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.

By A.D. 34 Paul has communicated to Peter and to James, the Lord’s brother, (two of the writers of Hebrews through Revelation) that gospel.  Paul didn’t have all the information.  He continued to have visions and revelations from the Lord for another 30+ years. 

2 Corinthians 12:1
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

Galatians was the first book that Paul wrote (by A.D. 34).  He completed his last epistles, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, around A.D. 66.

So he communicated to them the information that he had at the time.  He had the clear preaching of the gospel of grace and maybe a tad bit more of the mystery, but not much.  That is what he shared with Peter and James.  Did they keep this revelation to themselves?  No.  They in turn shared it with the kingdom saints.

So when Peter and James later wrote their epistles, they understood that there had been a change in the program.  They had discussed it with Paul and then they told the people they ministered to, by letter and word of mouth.  The apostles/elders in Jerusalem held great sway over the Little Flock, including those in the dispersion.  The word of God that Paul shared with Peter and James would naturally spread.  They were wondering when the kingdom would come; they wanted to know what God was doing and why there was a delay.

Peter had the Jerusalem church under his watch-care.  They had sold all they owned and had run out of money.  Peter and James needed to explain the situation to them.

Another thing to take into account is that Paul wrote other letters to churches that are not scripture.

1 Corinthians 5:9
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

There were other letters that the apostles wrote which were not scripture; but they were valuable to the readers.  Who is to say that Peter and James did not write other letters to the Little Flock that explained there was a change in the program and that God was having them write scripture even though he was doing something different through Paul.

That’s the thing—we don’t know.  It was a time of transition and we weren’t there.  But what we do know is that when Paul was saved, God began building the church the body of Christ.  People then were being saved into the body of Christ and saints were being edified in the mystery, as God gave them spiritual gifts; and finally the written word of God through Paul.

Colossians 1:25
Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;

I also know that God was compiling the Holy Bible that we have, so he needed to have Peter, James, John, Jude and the author of Hebrews write those books so they could be included in scripture; but those books could not have been in effect in A.D. 31 because Paul was saved and the program changed.  They no doubt understood that God was completing the scriptures and that their epistles would not go into effect at that time.  And if they were not in effect when Paul got saved at the start of the dispensation of grace, which will continue until the body of Christ is raptured, then the place and purpose for those books is in the future – after the dispensation of grace ends.

Galatians 1:21-24
Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:   But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.  And they glorified God in me.

The Little Flock knew about Paul and his gospel by word of mouth.  They knew that God was doing something different through Paul.

Ananias had heard about Saul way up in Damascus.

Acts 9:10, 13
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.  Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:  And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

He even knew that Saul had letters from the chief priests to go after them.  Word got around, but it took time.  Paul had to go to Jerusalem and meet with the council to give further revelation 14 years after first meeting with Peter and James (Gal. 1).  That was 17 years after his salvation and he had more understanding himself.

2 Peter 3:15-17
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord [God hasn’t finished the prophetic kingdom program] is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
[Paul had written to these people to further explain the change in program.  Remember this is the transition period.  The Little Flock had to rightly divide the word of truth as we do.  Paul’s letters and the Jewish epistles were all circulating.  They had to see that they were not saying the same thing and that only Paul’s epistles were in effect at that time.  We need to know all of scripture and so did they.]
As also in all his epistles,
[Paul wrote epistles that are scripture but he also wrote letters to them which were not.]
 speaking in them of these things;
[What things?  The change in the program; the postponement of the kingdom; the new doctrine of grace for gentiles; the new agency – the church the body of Christ.]
in which are some things hard to be understood,
[I bet they were!  Peter makes it clear that for Jews, these things were hard to be understood.  When something is hard to be understood, will all people ‘buy it’?  Some will; some won’t. God knows.]
which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
[The ones who wouldn’t have understood were the unlearned and the unstable.  That is the problem.  They would do it to all the scriptures; they wouldn’t rightly divide (then or now).]
Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before,
[Peter is talking to people who already know about it and he is reminding them.]
beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.

There were many Jews in the first century who were sharing what they heard from Peter, James and Paul – saved Jews in the kingdom program (the Little flock), and Jews who were saved after Paul (members of the body of Christ).  The third group of Jews in the Roman Empire was lost Jews (part of the ‘heathen’).

The believing Jews were reading all the epistles written by Paul and the Hebrew writers and they realized they needed some understanding; they needed to rightly divide the word of truth and understand that the only doctrine that was in effect was from Paul.

The book of Acts is a book of transition—and should never be used to get doctrine from.  That is why it is so misused and misunderstood.  You really have to be a Pauline, dispensational, grace-believing, workman that rightly divides the word of truth to be able to deal with the book of Acts, and all of scripture.  There are transitional things happening in Galatians, I and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Romans.  Then things begin to change in Paul’s prison epistles, so you have to rightly divide all of scripture.

Hopefully this helps!

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