The Apostleship of Paul: Part 1

Acts 1‑12  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The book of the Acts of Apostles is rather the book of the acts of Peter and of Paul, the apostle of the circumcision, and the apostle of the Gentiles. In the events recorded in that part of it which gives us Peter's ministry (that is, chaps. 1-12.), I judge that we can discern such an order and meaning as prepares us for the Lord's further purposes among the Gentiles by the subsequent ministry of Paul. I would thus briefly notice and interpret these events.
1.-While waiting, according to the commandment, for the promised power from on high, the disciples, under the leading of Peter (constituted chief in the Jewish ministry, Luke 22:3232But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:32); John 21:1616He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:16)), commit it to the Lord to fill up the vacant bishopric of Judas. This was needful, as I shall observe more particularly by-and-by, that the Jewish order of twelve apostles might stand full and complete; and that this was done with the full intelligence of the mind of God, appears further from this-that the Lord seems at once to undertake what His servants thus commit to Him, for He honors the lot (the Jewish form of discovering the divine will in such matters, Josh. 19:1010And the third lot came up for the children of Zebulun according to their families: and the border of their inheritance was unto Sarid: (Joshua 19:10); 1 Chronicles 24:55Thus were they divided by lot, one sort with another; for the governors of the sanctuary, and governors of the house of God, were of the sons of Eleazar, and of the sons of Ithamar. (1 Chronicles 24:5); Numbers 26:5555Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. (Numbers 26:55)), and Matthias is numbered with the eleven apostles; and the Holy Ghost in the next chapter seems to adopt Matthias in his new office, by falling upon him equally with the rest without any rebuke.
2-7.-The number being thus filled up, the Holy Ghost is given according to promise; and Peter again takes the lead, and preaches the risen Jesus to the Jews. The enmity of the Jews, however, sets in, and proceeds through these chapters, increasing gradually, just as it had done before against the Lord. The apostles, however, like their Lord, go on with their testimony undismayed; great grace is upon all—holy discipline keeps them pure—and with great power the apostles give the testimony to the resurrection. But as the enmity had worked against the Lord till they crucified Him, so now does it work against the apostles, till they run upon Stephen and stone him. And as the heavens had received the crucified One, so do the heavens open to His fellow-sufferer and witness. And in him the church receives a living pledge that the heavenly glory was for her as well as for her Lord, for the world had now rejected both.
8—-This being so, Jerusalem could no longer receive the sanction of God, for it had fully declared its sin, and for a season must be cast out of His sight. The disciples are therefore now scattered from Jerusalem, and the Jewish order is disturbed. This chapter giving us the acts of one who had been sent forth, neither as from Jerusalem nor by the apostles at all. Philip goes forth-and at first preaches Christ in Samaria, and is then sent down by the Spirit “to Gaza, which is desert,” to bring to the flock a lost sheep that was still straying there, but known to God before the foundation of the world. But immediately afterward he is borne by the spirit to Azotus (the place next to the desert where men and women could be found), that he might proclaim there, and in all other places, the grace which says, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” Thus by his mission to Gaza, and then by his rapture to Azotus, Philip's ministry is made to signify the sovereignty and universality of that grace which the Lord was to publish.
9.-The channels for the life and power that is from the Son of God to flow in among the Gentiles were now fully opened; for Jews, Samaritans, and Proselytes, had now been called. All was ready for the gathering of the first-fruits of the Gentiles. But before this was done, and present judgment upon Israel thus publicly sealed, the Lord gives, in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, a sign of the future conversion of Israel (see 1 Timothy 1:1616Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:16)). A sample, no doubt it is, of that long-suffering that saves every sinner. But Israel is to be made the great final witness of that long-suffering, and is principally pointed at by this sign; and therefore all that accompanies this great event is a foreshewing of the things that are hereafter to mark and accompany the repentance of Israel. Saul's looking on Him whom he (not personally, of course, but as one of the nation) had pierced—his being shut up three days without sight, and neither eating nor drinking—the removal of this judgment, and his baptism, all shows us the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem looking on Him whom they pierced, and mourning, every family apart, and their wives apart, and then proving the virtues of the cleansing fountain opened for their sin and for their uncleanness. Jerusalem will then be the signal witness of sovereign grace, as Saul now is (Zechariah 12; 13). And in further proof of this mystical character of Saul's conversion, we may observe that he tells us himself, that he obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly in unbelief; and this is the very ground of final mercy to Israel; as the Lord prayed for them, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (See also Acts 3:1717And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. (Acts 3:17).)
10-11.-A pledge of Israel's future conversion being thus left them, proclamation of present judgment upon them is made by the call from among the Gentiles of a people for God. This is done by the ministry of the apostle of the circumcision; and most fitly so. For he had received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and was also the representative of Jerusalem, who is however faithless, and as such divorced for a while. But Peter's title to this, as representing Jerusalem, being thus allowed, we find a church of Gentiles gathered at Antioch by other hands, and Barnabas and Saul, rather than Peter, called to the help and comfort of it.
12.-And now the Lord had only publicly to dismiss Jerusalem for a season. But as He had before pledged Israel's future conversion, so does He, as I judge, now pledge to them their future restoration. To me, I confess, this chapter has great beauty and meaning, presenting both the sorrows and the deliverance of the remnant in the latter day, and the full ruinous overthrow of their enemies. James is slain with the sword, as hereafter at Jerusalem the complaint will be this, “their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem” (Psalm 79; 2; 3). Peter, also, the hope of the circumcision, is cast into prison, the enemy thus all but prevailing against the Israel of God.
But he was to go no farther, for Peter is to appear to be the Lord's prisoner, rather than Herod's. He sleeps between his keepers. He lies there “a prisoner of hope. '' The enemy is strong and mighty, and the remnant have no relief but in God. But that is enough. They make prayer without ceasing for him, till at length this prisoner of the Lord is sent forth out of the pit, as Israel will be in the latter day (Zechariah 9; 11; 12). At first he was like one that dreamed, thinking that he saw a vision; and so were his company, saying, “It is his angel.” But so will Israel be hereafter.
They will sing, '' When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.” But in the sudden joy of their heart, they will have to add, “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing “; as Peter, coming to himself, now says, “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.”
All this is to me sweetly and strikingly significant. But the sign does not end here. In royal apparel, Herod sits upon his throne, having thought it well to be highly displeased, as though vengeance belonged to him. He makes an oration to the people, and they give a shout for him, saying, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.” Thus he takes to himself the glory which was God's, and immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, “and he was eaten with worms, and gave up the ghost.” So will “the lawless one” magnify himself above all, and sit upon the mount of the congregation on the sides of the north, saying, “I will be like the Most High.” He will do “according to his will!” but “he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” (Daniel 11:36, 4536And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. (Daniel 11:36)
45And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him. (Daniel 11:45)
). “So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.”
Thus is final mercy pledged to Israel. Under these signs of their conversion and restoration, and of the overthrow of their enemies, they are now left prisoners of hope. The Lord Himself gives them a sign, and then hides His face from them; goes His way for awhile, and leaves His sanctuary. All this prepares us for a ministry beyond the bounds of Israel; and accordingly, in the opening of the next chapter, we find the word sent forth to the Gentiles, Jerusalem as the source of grace and ministry forgotten, and the name of Jew and Gentile left without distinction.1
Such I judge to be the course and meaning of the events that occurred, during the ministry of the circumcision, under the hand of Peter, as we have them recorded in these chapters. But what, I ask, was the nature of the ministry itself? What were the hopes that it spoke of to Israel? And what was the call that it made upon Israel? We shall find, in answer to these inquiries, that the apostles spoke of the proper national hopes of Israel, calling on them to repent in order that they might attain them, and be blest on the earth. They declare Israel's sin in crucifying the Prince of Life; God's acceptance of this crucified One; and, upon repentance, the remission of Israel's sins, and the fulfilling of Israel's hopes.
Thus, in Peter's sermon in the second chapter, his testimony to Israel was this—that the resurrection secured the promises made to David's throne; that the ascension was the source of the given Spirit; that Jesus was to abide in the ascended place till His enemies were made His footstool; and upon all this he calls on Israel to repent. But he says nothing about the church ascending after her Head, and her consequent heavenly glory. So in the third chapter (after he and John had recognized God's house in Jerusalem), in his preaching he calls on Israel to repent in order that the times of refreshing might come from the presence of the Lord, when Jesus should return to them, and all things promised by Moses and the prophets be accomplished. But all this, in like manner, was a testimony to the hopes of Israel and the earth, and not a testimony to the heavenly glory. It was a publication of the acts and promises of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the children of the prophets and the children of the covenant. And so in the fifth chapter we have this-"Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins"-words very strongly marking the value which the Spirit in Peter gave to the resurrection of the Lord in its application here to Israel as God's nation.
And as the proper fruit of this preaching and of these hopes, we find the conduct and practice of the saints to have been this—they present beautiful order and grace in the way of settling their earthly possession—they get favor with all the people, as Jesus had in His infancy at Nazareth—they continue daily in the temple, as though they knew not how soon the Lord might return to it—and they heal all disease among the people, as the Lord had done when He walked through the cities and villages of Judea. But beyond all this, perfect as it was in its season, there was something still. The church had still to take with Jesus her earth-rejected and earth-rejecting character. Citizenship in heaven, death as to the world, and life hidden with Christ in God; a looking forth towards the things within the vail after the glorious Forerunner, were great and new things still to be brought out of the treasury. Neither Peter's testimony, nor the church's conduct, were such as exhibited them. The glory within the vail first looks through, when Stephen's face shines as the face of an angel. And this was beautiful in its season also; for Stephen was soon to be made the first witness of the heavenly calling. Martyrdom was the needed ground of the full manifestation of this calling. The apostles might have suffered shame, and stripes, and imprisonment; but there was still space for repentance to Israel, as there had been during the Lord's ministry (though He in like manner suffered shame and rejection) till his last visit to Jerusalem. The cross, however, had closed the earthly things upon the Lord: and so did the martyrdom of Stephen close them now upon the church; and awful separation for a while was made between all who are the Lord's and the present evil world.
Thus till this death of a saint after the resurrection, the time had not come for the bringing out of this thing (the heavenly calling of the church) from the treasury of the divine counsels. Types, and the other intimations of it had been from the beginning. Our Lord had given the vision of it on the holy mount, but it was dimness in the eyes even of the apostles. He hinted at “the heavenly things” which the Son of man alone could speak of (John 3), but they were not perceived. “The little while” of His abiding with the Father, was as strange to the disciples as to the Jews. His ministry of these things was to them proverbs (John 16:2525These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father. (John 16:25)). And so even the ascension of the Lord was not of itself adequate ground for the manifesting of that glory. For it was needed to Christ's forming the Jewish believers for godly citizenship on the earth, the Holy Ghost being received through the ascension, “for the rebellious,” that is, for Israel, “that the Lord might dwell among them"-dwell among them here. But on the martyrdom of a believer in the Lord thus risen and ascended, the time had fully come for the manifesting of the heavenly calling, for the showing out of this mystery, that Christ was to have a body which was to share with Him the glory on high into which He had himself ascended, whose citizenship was not to be in Jerusalem, but in heaven.
“In the regeneration,” as the Lord speaks, that is, in the coming kingdom of the Son of man, there will be saints that will find their proper place on earth, the Israel of God. Then the twelve apostles will be manifested in connection with the twelve tribes, and the saints with the world (see Matthew 19:2828And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28); 1 Corinthians 6:2, 32Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? (1 Corinthians 6:2‑3)). All this will be the glory and joy of that happy time, and most beautiful and perfect in its season. The Son of man seated on His throne of glory—the apostles judging the twelve tribes—and the saints, the world. The servants will then share in the kingdom of their Lord, having authority with Him and under Him over the cities of His dominion. But this time is now delayed, for the earth has refused it. Israel has cast the heir of the vineyard out, and killed them that were sent to them (1 Thessalonians 2:1616Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. (1 Thessalonians 2:16)). Another testimony was therefore now to go forth, a testimony to the loss of Israel's and the earth's hopes for the present, and to the call of an elect people out of the earth for heaven. And Saul the persecutor, that is, Paul the apostle, was made the special bearer of it.
How rich was the grace displayed by the Lord in choosing Saul to be the vessel of this heavenly treasure! At this very time he was in full enmity against God and His anointed. At his feet the witnesses whose hands had been first upon Stephen, laid down their clothes. But this is the man that is to be made God's chosen vessel; and such is the way of the Lord in abounding mercy. Before this, man's fullest enmity had been met by God's fullest love; for the cross was at the same moment the witness of both, as the person of Saul is now. The soldier's spear, as one has observed, drew forth the blood and water—sin has drawn forth grace. And now, as we may say, Saul's journey to Damascus was the spear making its way a second time into the side of Christ; for he was now going with commission and slaughter against the flock of God. But it was on this journey that the light from heaven arrested him. The blood of Jesus thus again met the soldier's cruel spear, and in Saul is shown forth all long-suffering for a pat tern to them which should hereafter believe.
The sovereign grace that saves the church was thus displayed in Saul. But the heavenly glory that is reserved for the church, was also displayed to him, for he sees Jesus in it. And by these things his future ministry is formed.
[J. L. H.]
(To be continued)