The Book of Books—Part 11

The Church and Its Mission

THE first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels, present a portrait of Jesus, the one whom the Creator, our Heavenly Father, sent into the world in fulfillment of his promises to provide a redeemer and savior to rescue man from sin and death. From the teachings of Jesus contained in these books, we learned that it is the divine plan that a small company should be selected from the world of mankind to be associated with him in his kingdom, and that he personally began the selection of these.

It was to this called-out class that Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) The fifth book in the New Testament, called The Acts of the Apostles, reveals the manner in which the early members of this little flock of Jesus’ faithful disciples became established, and how they went about fulfilling their commission to be ambassadors of Jesus. The apostles were the ones chosen by Jesus to be the inspired leaders of his witnesses.

While Jesus was still with his disciples in the flesh, he promised that after he went away he would send the Holy Spirit to comfort them, and to guide them “into all truth.” (John 15:26,27; 16:6,7,13) After his resurrection, when Jesus appeared to his disciples the last time before he returned to heaven, he renewed this promise. (Acts 1:8) It is in the second chapter of the Book of Acts that Luke, the writer, records the fulfillment of these promises of Jesus to send the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit—mistranslated Holy Ghost in the King James Version of the Bible—is the invisible power of God used by him to accomplish the good purposes of his will. In Genesis 1:2 we read that “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Here God’s Spirit is referred to as a creative power. In the lives of the disciples this Spirit, or power, was one of revealment, of comfort, of guidance, and of strength to do his will in the face of opposition. Frequently in the Bible, the pronouns he and his are used with reference to the Holy Spirit. But this also is an incorrect translation, for the Holy Spirit of God is not a person.

The Holy Spirit came upon the waiting disciples at Jerusalem in a miraculous manner, and in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that when he returned to his Father he would send this Comforter, the Holy Spirit. They needed this experience to establish still more firmly their faith and confidence in Jesus as the Messiah. He had left them, and even though they had been convinced of his resurrection from the dead, they would have been in a difficult position to represent him in an unbelieving world without this definite evidence of his return to the heavenly courts.

This wonderful experience occurred, Luke tells us, “when the day of Pentecost was fully come.” (Acts 2:1) Pentecost was one of the special feast and assembly days of the Jews, many thousands of whom visited Jerusalem each year for the occasion. This meant that there were Israelites in the city at the time from many countries, all speaking the language of the country from which they had come.

One of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit at that time was the ability it gave the disciples to speak to their visiting countrymen in the language of their various homelands. This was called speaking with tongues. It was, at the time, a very practical demonstration of divine power, for it accomplished God’s design to give the natural descendants of Abraham, scattered throughout various parts of the then known world, a witness concerning the messiahship of Jesus.

Jesus forewarned his disciples that they would be hated and persecuted, even as he was, and this opposition to the Christian cause first began to manifest itself at Pentecost. The enemies of Jesus attacked his followers with bitter, untruthful words. Instead of recognizing that God’s blessing was upon the disciples, these enemies charged that they had become intoxicated. The Apostle Peter quickly and energetically refuted this charge, and in one of the most masterful sermons ever preached, explained to his hearers the true significance of the amazing manifestation.

Previously Peter had been opposed to Jesus’ giving himself up voluntarily to die. With the other disciples, he was frustrated and bewildered when the Master was crucified. They did not understand the reason for his death, and began to wonder whether or not he truly was the Messiah. But now the Holy Spirit had come, and in addition to enabling them to speak in tongues, it enlightened their minds to the significance of what had occurred. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth, and that it would call to their remembrance the things which he had taught them.—John 14:26

These promises were now fulfilled, so the once confused Peter, addressing that pentecostal multitude, explained that Jesus had died in fulfillment of prophecy, and, in keeping with the promises of God, had been raised from the dead; and as he himself had promised, had shed forth that which they did now see and hear; that is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:14-33) The Holy Spirit also revealed to Peter the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies, and he now quoted from the Book of Joel to show that hundreds of years before, the Lord had promised to pour out his Spirit “upon his servants and handmaids.”—Joel 2:28-32

Now Peter understood that Jesus could be confident in the face of death because he trusted in his Heavenly Father’s promises to raise him from the dead. In order to prove to his hearers that it was in the divine plan that the Messiah should die and be raised from the dead, Peter quoted Psalm 16:8-10, a prophecy depicting Jesus’ great faith in his Heavenly Father. It reads: “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”

In this Old Testament prophecy, it is the Hebrew word sheol which is translated ‘hell’. As we have already seen, this is the only Hebrew word in the Old Testament which is translated hell. In quoting the prophecy, the Apostle Peter translates sheol by the Greek word hades. This proves that hades, so often translated hell in the New Testament, has the same meaning as sheol of the Old Testament, that meaning being death.

The fact, then, that Jesus was in hell from the time he died until his resurrection simply means that he was in the condition of death. This is in keeping with another prophecy concerning him which states that he would pour “out his soul unto death.” (Isa. 53:12) The soul is the being, and Jesus, as a being, died that he might take the sinner’s place in death. It was thus that he became the redeemer of the sin-cursed and dying world of mankind.

It was the Prophet David who wrote the prophecy containing the statement, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,” but Peter emphasized that it could not apply to David, because he had not been raised from the dead. Concerning David the apostle said, “He is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day.” (Acts 2:29) Many might claim that David had gone to heaven, but Peter states that in his day, David was still both “dead and buried.”

It was a stirring sermon that Peter preached. In addition to calling attention to the fulfillment of prophecy, he emphasized the guilt of those who had been instrumental in crucifying the Lord of glory. The account says that “when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”—Acts 2:37

These were all Jews, therefore brethren of the apostles. But now these who were pricked in their heart were about to become brethren in Christ. They were instructed to “repent, and be baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ.” (vs. 38) Three thousand Jews repented that day and were baptized. These “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (vss. 41,42) In verse forty-seven we read that the Lord “added to the church daily such as should be saved.” This is the first time the word church appears in the Book of Acts. It is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, meaning a calling out. Jesus expressed this same thought when he said to his disciples, “I have chosen you out of the world.”—John 15:19

It is important to recognize the truth which this word conveys, and it is doubtless by divine providence that it is used so early in the Book of Acts. The apostles and other disciples of Christ were not sent out to convert the world. God’s purpose through them was to select from the world a little company who later, when exalted to glory with Jesus in his divine government, would become the channel of God’s blessings for the remainder of the world of mankind.

So, through the Book of Acts, we find that the church is always a humble group, small in number, having no influence in the world and not desiring such influence. No other name than Christian is given to the disciples of that time; and this title is mentioned only three times—in Acts 11:26; 26:28; and I Peter 4:16. Believers were first called Christians at Antioch. (Acts 11:26) No denominational names were given to the first believers. They were simply the church, the called-out ones. There was the church at Jerusalem, the church at Ephesus, etc., and sometimes mention is made of the church which met in one or another of the homes of the brethren.

As we have already quoted, the record states that beginning with Pentecost, God daily added to the church such as should be saved. No one can become a member of the true church of Christ through his own volition, nor does the enrollment of one’s name in a denominational church register constitute one a member of Christ’s church. Jesus explained that no one could come to him unless his Heavenly Father drew him. It is God, through the power of the Gospel, who draws men and women to Christ, and upon the basis of their acceptance of and obedience to the Gospel, makes them members of his church—those whom he is calling out from the world and preparing for joint-heirship with Christ.

Nor does the expression, such as should be saved, imply that the only ones to be saved through the blood of Christ are those who during the present age are made members of the true church. The salvation referred to here is the salvation offered to believers during the present age upon the basis of faith. Through faith these are released from the condemnation which is upon the world, and if they are faithful to the terms of the Gospel they will attain to immortality in the resurrection.

These, however, as we have seen, are being prepared to live and reign with Christ, that together with him they might be the channel of salvation from death for the whole world of mankind during the kingdom age. Thus the calling and preparation of the church to be with Christ is merely the beginning of salvation opportunities. In God’s own due time, as we learned from the promises of the Old Testament, the knowledge of God’s glory will fill the earth, and all mankind will be given the opportunity to accept the divine provision of salvation from death through Christ, and in accepting and obeying the laws of the kingdom, will live forever.

Gentiles Invited

The Book of Acts records the circumstances under which the Gentiles were first given an opportunity of becoming a part of the church of Christ. When Jesus first sent his disciples into the ministry of the Gospel he said to them, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 10:5,6) There was a reason for this. In our study of the Old Testament we saw that the natural descendants of Abraham were then God’s chosen people; not because he had no love for the Gentiles, or because he had no intention of blessing them, but because he had selected Abraham’s seed to be his channel of blessing to the remainder of mankind.

But this was conditional upon their obedience to his law. Our study of the Old Testament revealed that the Jewish nation was almost continuously disobedient. The final test came when Jesus, their Messiah, presented himself to them. They rejected him, and just before he died he said to that nation, Your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matt. 23:38) This was merely, however, the rejection of the nation as the ruling house of God. As individuals, the Jews have continued to have the same opportunity of believing in Christ as have the Gentiles.

God foreknew the course the Jewish nation would take, and through the Prophet Daniel indicated that he would confirm the covenant with them for a period of seventy weeks. (Dan. 9:23-27) These proved to be symbolic weeks, in which each day represented a year. The total period was, therefore, four hundred and ninety years. Four hundred and eighty-three of these years, or sixty-nine weeks, had elapsed when Jesus began his ministry, a ministry which was terminated in three-and-one-half years by his crucifixion.

Daniel’s prophecy reveals that in the midst, or middle, of this seventieth week the Messiah would be cut off, but not for himself—he would die for the sins of the whole world. After Jesus’ death there would therefore remain three-and-one-half years of exclusive favor for the Jewish nation. Then the Gentiles would have an opportunity to become followers of Jesus, and if faithful unto death, to live and reign with him in his kingdom.

It was in accordance with this divinely foretold timetable that Jesus, when he appeared to the disciples for the last time before returning to heaven, commissioned them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Previously he had restricted their activities to the one nation of Israel; but now, even though there were still more than three years of exclusive opportunity left for that nation, he knew that if they followed his instructions to begin their work at Jerusalem, then expand it throughout Judea, the time would expire before any Gentiles were reached.

But finally the time did come for the Gospel to go to the Gentiles. The Lord arranged the circumstances in connection with the first Gentile convert in such a way as to convince the disciples—all of whom thus far were Jews—that a new era had begun in which Gentiles were no longer to be barred from the church. The first Gentile convert was Cornelius, and the Apostle Peter was used to present the Gospel message to him.

This was in fulfillment of a prophecy made by Jesus in which he told Peter that he would give him the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 16:19) Peter used one of these keys on the day of Pentecost when, through his preaching to the Jews there assembled, he opened up to them the privilege of becoming joint-heirs with Jesus in his kingdom. He used the other key when through the Gospel he presented the same opportunity to the Gentiles, Cornelius being the first.

The circumstances of Cornelius’ conversion were unusual. He was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.” (Acts 10:2) He had a vision “evidently about the ninth hour of the day.” An angel spoke to him, and Cornelius asked, “What is it, Lord? And he [the angel] said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the seaside: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.”—vss. 3-6

Toward evening of the next day, when messengers from Cornelius were proceeding to visit him, Peter went on the roof of Simon, his host, to pray. He became hungry, but the evening meal was not ready, so he fell asleep, and into a trance. In this vision he saw a sheet, or a basket, let down from heaven “wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.”—vss. 9-12

Then “there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.” Peter replied, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” Then the voice “spoke unto him again, the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (vss. 13-15) This was done again the third time. The significance of this experience was not clear to Peter until he returned with the messengers sent by Cornelius, and in response to his preaching witnessed the repentance and conversion of this Gentile and his kinsmen and near friends, and saw the evidence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them. (vss. 17-38) It was now God’s will for the unclean Gentiles to come into the church.

It was somewhat difficult for the Jewish believers to become adjusted to this broadened aspect of the divine call to joint-heirship with Christ. A miraculous vision was essential to help Peter grasp the fact. However, the other disciples remained more or less hesitant, especially since there seemed a likelihood that these Gentiles, with their different customs and practices, might defile the church and disrupt the fellowship of the brethren.

An apostolic conference was called at Jerusalem to consider the issue, and Luke reports the proceedings of this conference in Acts 15:6-20. Peter attended, and related his experience in the conversion of Cornelius. This convinced the brethren that the Gentiles were being received by God. James, apparently the chairman of the conference, summed up the matter, saying:

“Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon [Peter] hath declared how God at the first [or, for the first time] did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”—vss. 13-18

This is a wonderful summary of the divine plan for the church—the called out ones—from among both Jews and Gentiles. James, quoting Peter to prove his statement, explains that God first visited the Gentiles, not to convert them all, but to take out of them a people for his name. This calling out work of God in the present age constitutes the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David, or the spiritual house of David. Then, through Christ’s kingdom (the reestablished house of David), all the resurrected world of mankind will be given an opportunity to gain everlasting life on earth.

James concludes his summary of the divine plan for the salvation of mankind with the statement, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” From this we can be assured that there has been no miscarriage of any feature of the divine plan, no failures in the outworking of God’s loving purpose to restore the human race to life in his own due time. In our review of the books of the Bible thus far, we have seen the plan of God unfold, and the marvelous manner in which many of its details have already been carried out.

The plan of God, those works which have been known to him from the foundation of the world, contain important time divisions. One of these comprised the world before the Flood. After the Flood a new world began, which continues, the Scriptures reveal, until its destruction in the climax of the time of trouble, or day of the Lord. (II Pet. 3:10,12) Then there will be another new world, figuratively described by the Prophet Isaiah as a “new heavens and a new earth.”—Isa. 65:17

The world which began after the Deluge is divided into ages insofar as the outworking of God’s plan is concerned. From the Flood to the death of Jacob, God’s dealings were exclusively with certain individuals such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore this can be properly designated the Patriarchal Age. It was during that age that God made his wonderful promises to bless all the families of the earth through the seed of Abraham.

At the death of Jacob, God began to deal with Jacob’s twelve sons as a group, which became a nation, the Jewish nation. Thus the period of time from the death of Jacob to the coming of Christ we may designate the Jewish Age, because it was during this time that God dealt with the Jewish nation. Through Moses he gave them his Law. He sent his prophets to them, and when they were obedient to the Lord he prospered them and protected them from their enemies.

Thus he held them together as a nation, and prepared them to receive their Messiah and become associated with him in his future kingdom through the promised blessings which would flow out to all the families of the earth. We have already learned of their failure to qualify for this high position, and now, through the Gospel, the invitation was being extended to individuals among the Gentiles who would accept it, and who would obey the terms of discipleship.

But this was not an emergency measure on God’s part, as James declared to the conference in Jerusalem, known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world. His plan for the world before the Flood was known and accomplished. What he designed for the Patriarchal Age came to pass. God knew that despite all his mercies toward the Jewish nation, the majority would fail when the final test came. So from the foundation of the world he planned to “visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name.”—Acts 15:14

God’s plan, however, does not provide for calling the Gentiles as nations, but as individuals, and upon the basis of individual acceptance of the Gospel. The work of God in the earth from then until now has been accomplished through the drawing power of the Gospel, so we may designate this the Gospel Age—the age in the plan of God during which individuals from among both Jews and Gentiles who respond to the Gospel are trained and tested in preparation to live and reign with Christ in that kingdom which later will bless all the families of the earth.


Jesus had forewarned his disciples that as his witnesses they would encounter much opposition from the world. He said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) As the Book of Acts reveals the activities of the apostles and other believers in connection with the establishment of the Early Church, it relates a number of incidents in which unbelieving Jews and Gentiles alike were unfriendly to Christians. By intimidation and by imprisonment, they endeavored to hinder, and if possible, to destroy the work of the disciples.

The first disciple actually to give his life for the cause was Stephen. He was taken before the Jewish Sanhedrin for trial, where he presented a brilliant oration in which he outlined the messianic hopes of Israel. He showed that Jesus was the Messiah of promise, and traced God’s dealings with the fathers of Israel, from Abraham to Moses, their revered lawgiver. He declared that Moses had foretold the coming of the Just One whom they had murdered. But this testimony served only to make them more bitter against Stephen, and he was stoned to death.—Chapter 7

The Lord strengthened Stephen for this difficult experience by favoring him with a vision. Describing it, Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (vs. 56) This must have given Stephen additional assurance that Jesus was the Messiah of promise and that death in his cause would ultimately lead to joint-heirship in the messianic kingdom. But it did not mean that Stephen joined his Lord the moment he died, for verse sixty explains that “he fell asleep.” Yes, he fell asleep in death to await the return of the Lord, when, through a resurrection from death, he would become associated with him in heavenly glory.

Saul of Tarsus

With the trial and stoning of Stephen, there is introduced one who is very prominent in the New Testament Scriptures. He was Saul of Tarsus. Saul was among those who tried and condemned Stephen to death. He was a bitter enemy of the disciples and “made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and hailing men and women committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3) Armed with letters of authority from the high priest, Saul was on his way to Damascus to continue his fight against the church, determined to stamp out the Christian heresy—as he supposed it to be—when “suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”—Acts 9:3,4

Saul asked, “Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” (vs. 5) Saul was convinced, and in a spirit of true humility asked what the Lord would have him do. He was directed to go to a certain house in Damascus where he would receive his instructions. Saul was converted, and became a servant of the church instead of its enemy.

Ananias, a disciple of Damascus, was sent to Paul, the Lord having first said to him, “He [Saul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”—Acts 9:15,16

Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he became the great Apostle Paul, commissioned by the Lord to be, in a special way, an apostle to the Gentiles. Immediately upon his conversion he began to preach Christ in Damascus. Some of the apostles remained in Jerusalem to serve, but Paul traveled extensively in the ministry of the Gospel—throughout Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. He was instrumental in establishing many of the first congregations of Christians.

Like the other disciples, much of the time he was under the fire of persecution, either from Jews or from Gentiles. On one of his journeys to Jerusalem, to deliver funds he had collected for the famine-stricken brethren there, he was warned that “bonds and imprisonments” awaited him. (Acts 20:23) His friends advised him not to go, but his reply was, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”—Acts 21:13

Paul went to Jerusalem as he had planned. Visiting the Temple there he was mobbed by his countrymen, and then taken into protective custody by the Roman police. Although a Jew, Paul was by birth also a Roman citizen, and therefore had the right to appeal his case to Caesar, which he did. Although this meant remaining a prisoner for years, he nevertheless was taken to Rome under government protection against the assaults of his Jewish enemies. He was finally beheaded in a Roman prison.

On one of his missionary journeys, Paul visited Athens. While there, he sought out the Jews in their synagogues and in the marketplace, and daily discussed the Gospel with devout persons. The record says that “then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? Other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.”—Acts 17:17,18

That there should be a resurrection of the dead does seem strange to heathen philosophers. Of all the religions of the world, the Christian religion alone holds out the hope of a resurrection of the dead. Heathen religions, on the other hand, do not accept the reality of death. Death, they claim, is but the gateway into another form of life. Many denominational churches have come under the spell of this delusion, claiming that there is no death.

The Athenian philosophers decided that they would like to hear more from Paul. The account states that “they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus [Mars’ Hill, the highest court in Athens], saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.”—Acts 17:19,20

Paul accepted this invitation, knowing it was a good opportunity to present the Gospel of Christ to these Gentile philosophers. As he stood on Mars’ Hill, below him to the left was a valley in which had been erected many idols, each of which was ascribed to a certain god, one being labeled, “To the Unknown God.” Towering above him to his right was a giant heathen temple (partially preserved ruins of this temple still exist) known as the Acropolis. His audience reclined on the slopes of the hill below him. In this setting, opening his discourse, Paul called his hearers’ attention to their idol, the Unknown God, and said, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”—Acts 17:23

Alluding to the massive and imposing heathen temple on the hilltop above him, Paul said, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing that he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.”—vss. 24-26

Among all the gods of which the Athenians were so proud, there was none that could give to all life, and breath, and all things. The God who could do this was unknown to them, and only a few who heard Paul’s explanation of the true God were prepared to believe on him. There have been a few in every age, as Paul explained, who “seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. For in him we live, and move, and have our being.”—vss. 27,28

Having explained that the true God is a living God, and one who gives life and breath to all, Paul added for the further benefit of his idol-worshiping hearers, “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (vs. 29) Then, referring to the Athenians’ lack of knowledge of the true God, Paul continued, “The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”—vss. 30,31

The times of this ignorance referred to by Paul was the entire period from Eden to the first advent of Christ. During all that time God winked at the superstitions and idolatrous worship of the Gentile nations—the heathen, as they are called in the Bible. And while Paul said that now “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent,” this call to repentance has not been intelligently heard as yet except by the few. It began to sound forth in Paul’s day, but not until the Millennial Age will its clarion tones of truth and conviction reach all mankind. So it is still true of those who have not been reached by the call that God winks at their lack of knowledge of him, and holds them responsible for their wrongdoing only in proportion to the measure of their enlightenment.

What a wonderful message of hope Paul gave to the Athenians when he explained that God had appointed a day, a period of time, when he would judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, Jesus Christ the righteous! The word judgment includes the thought of a trial. According to Paul, therefore, all men are to have a future trial for life, a trial in which Jesus, who gave his life for the sin-cursed world and was raised from the dead by his loving Heavenly Father, will be the presiding Judge. This does, indeed, give assurance of the future happiness of mankind.

Nor did Paul present this reassuring message to the Athenians by his own authority. He spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit of God which had inspired the Prophet Isaiah to write that when the Lord’s “judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Isa. 26:9) In our study of the Book of Ezekiel, we learned of God’s design to awaken the Sodomites and other wicked people of the past from death. And Jesus said that it would be more “tolerable” for them in the “day of judgment” than for the Jewish cities who rejected him.—Ezek. 16:53,60-62; Matt. 10:15

Paul would also know of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, a parable designed to portray the work of the judgment day, when all would have an opportunity to manifest a sheep-like attitude before the Lord and receive his approval and blessing. To the sheep in this parable Jesus will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”—Matt. 25:34

This is the kingdom, or dominion, that was given to our first parents, but which they lost because of their disobedience to divine law. (Gen. 1:27,28) It will be restored to mankind at the close of that day which God has appointed, in which he will judge the world in righteousness. This is the great objective toward which the plan of God has been leading throughout the ages.

“Times of Restitution”

This great objective of the divine plan is further elaborated upon in the Book of Acts by the Apostle Peter. While the chief concern of the apostles was to establish believers in their hope of participating with their returned Lord in the work of his future kingdom, they also, and logically, continued to emphasize the great purpose of Christ’s kingdom, which is the blessing of all the families of the earth, and explains that then there will be “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”

This summary of one of the important teachings of the prophets is part of a sermon which Peter preached in explanation of a miracle he had just performed—the healing of a man who had been unable to walk from the time of his birth. (Acts 3:1-9) Peter explained that the miracle had been performed through the power of the resurrected Jesus—“through faith in his name.” (vs. 16) It was a miracle of restoration, and was used by Peter to illustrate the universal purpose of Christ to restore all mankind to life, following his return and the establishment of his kingdom.

It is this general work of healing and restoration which Peter describes as the restitution of all things. He reminds us that this glorious future work of Christ had been foretold by all God’s prophets since the world began. In our study of the Old Testament books we noted many of these wonderful promises of God. As an example of this prophetic testimony concerning the times of restitution, Peter refers to the promise made to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.”—Gen. 22:18; Acts 3:25

Peter also cites a prophecy by Moses. “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me.” (Deut. 18:15,19; Acts 3:22,23) Peter’s reference to this prophecy indicates that it will have its fulfillment through Christ after he returns and his church is associated with him in his kingdom. It will be then that all mankind will be given an opportunity to hear “that prophet,” and those who obey will live forever. Those who refuse to obey will be “destroyed from among the people.”—Acts 3:23

In declaring that all the prophets had foretold the times of restitution, Peter speaks specifically of “Samuel and those that follow after.” Samuel records the statement by Hannah in which she says, “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” (I Sam. 2:6) It was because of original sin that the Lord condemned Adam to death, and this resulted in the death of all mankind, because all were born in sin. It was thus that the Lord killeth. But the Lord also maketh alive. This will be in the resurrection.

The text describes this in another way, saying of the Lord, “He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” Here the word grave is a translation of the Hebrew word sheol, which, as we have seen, is the only word in the Old Testament which is translated ‘hell’. In this statement, we have the definite statement that those who go to the Bible hell do not necessarily remain there, for a provision has been made for their return to live on the earth. This provision, as we have seen, is through Christ, the redeemer, who himself went into hell, the death condition, to take the sinner’s place, and thus provide for his release.

Job, another prophet of the Lord, expressed his confidence that the Lord would restore him to life, saying, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait [in death] till my change come; thou shalt call, and I will answer thee; thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.”—Job 14:14,15

The Prophet David foretold many beautiful and wonderful things about the times of restitution, emphasizing that these blessings would reach the people through the administration of Messiah’s kingdom. Speaking of the times of ignorance later referred to by Paul, and describing it as a time of darkness, David wrote, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” the morning of the new day, the day of Christ’s reign.—Ps. 30:5

David also foretold that in the times of restitution peace shall come to the people, and that the poor shall be delivered from their oppressors, the chief of which is Satan, the Devil. David wrote, “In his days [when Christ shall reign] shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.”—Ps. 72:7

The Prophet Isaiah had many wonderful things to say about the times of restitution. He prophesied that the Lord would “swallow up death in victory” (Isa. 25:8); that he will open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, and cause the “lame man to leap as an hart;” also that “the ransomed of the Lord [all mankind] shall return [from death] with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.”—Isa. 35:5,6,10

The Prophet Jeremiah foretold the restitution of children. In a message of comfort to mothers, he said, “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they [the children] shall come again from the land of the enemy.” (Jer. 31:16) The land of the enemy is the condition of death. This is one of the Old Testament prophecies promising a resurrection of the dead.

Daniel wrote that the “God of heaven shall set up a kingdom.” (Dan. 2:44) Speaking of the great time of trouble which is even now upon the nations, and of the phenomenal increase of knowledge that has come to the present generation of mankind, Daniel also wrote, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” (Dan. 12:2) The expression, dust of the earth, reminds us of the original sentence of death passed upon our first parents, when God said to them, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen. 3:19) The promise that those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake is therefore a definite assurance that God proposes to restore the dead world to life.

Through the Prophet Hosea, the Lord foretold that he would “ransom” the people from the power of the grave, sheol; that he would redeem them from death. Then he added, “O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave [sheol, the Bible hell], I will be thy destruction.” (Hos. 13:14) Jesus was the one whom God sent to ransom the people. He took the sinner’s place in death.

So we might continue quoting the testimony of the prophets concerning the coming times of restitution. In our study of the Old Testament books we noted many of these promises. This coming time of blessing for all mankind is the great theme song of God, and he has guaranteed its accomplishment by sending Christ to die for the people. His shed blood ratifies all God’s promises. The fulfillment of these wonderful promises of restoration for a lost race awaits only the completion of the church, the ones called out from mankind. It is the beginning of this calling-out work that is recorded in the Book of Acts. That work, we believe, is now nearly completed, and soon the promised blessings of restitution will, through the agencies of Christ’s kingdom, begin to flow out to the people, all the people—all the families of the earth.

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