The Reckoning; With Reason and Recapitulation

Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

Let me stop here for dramatic effect. Don’t you think that John, James, Andrew–maybe not Thomas because he is a doubter–would all be thrilled that the gentiles were receiving Christ? We will come back to this.

And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, a certain cobject coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, and when I had fixed my gaze upon it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. “And I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Arise, Peter; kill and eat.’ “But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ “But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ “And this happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. “And behold, at that moment three men appeared before the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. “And the Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. And these six brethren also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. “And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning. “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ “If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Why did Luke include Peter’s re-telling of the events when he could have simply stated that; “and Peter proclaimed and recalled all that had happened to them?” Scrolls were expensive and of limited length, why take up precious scroll space re-telling the same story for the third time? Remember the genre and to whom Luke writes: Theophilus. Granted, we don’t even know who Theophilus was, but it is a Greek name, we can reasonably assume that he was a gentile himself. This fits the context as well, that is, the re-recapitulation of the events that brought the gentiles into the faith-flock. Nevertheless, Luke sees enough merit in this event to keep repeating the things that had happened. Another possibility is that Luke saw the pushback against Peter and wanted to stress how Cornelius’ vision and experience was in complete corroboration with Peter’s; and with the Holy Spirit behind it all. I guess it’s simply one of those things that bears repeating. It may not seem like a big deal to us, but noticing the reaction and pushback Peter received, we see that it was a very big deal to the circumcised, ethnocentric people. Even with the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus, the believing Jews of that day were in total distrust and disdain towards the gentiles.

We remember that the Jews in the first century didn’t have dealings with the Samaritans, we have read this in John 4. Yet when they heard that the Samaritans had received the Spirit, they immediately sent them Peter and John. This was not the case when they heard Peter was eating with the Romans. Can we understand this? Is that racist? The Samaritans were still partially part of Israel, that is, most Samaritans were blood descendants of Jacob. They occupied roughly, the land given to their fathers, from the time of Joshua and the judges, the United kingdom of Israel, after the split with Judah, and even after the Assyrian invasion. Many intermarried, some never left and most never came back, yet they were not the Northern Tribes anymore, they were as Assyrian and other nationalities as they were Israelites. Nevertheless, they assumed that Jacob was their ancestor and since the split with Judah, they were almost always at odds with them. But because of the teachings of Jesus and because he specifically said they would be witnesses to Samaria, the disciples and apostles were happy to go to Samaritans, it was seen as reconciliation. Moreover, based on the context and traditions, Samaritans would have been circumcised–it’s kind of a big deal to them–but not the Romans

Romans had no such connection, no such circumcision and were seen as invaders and oppressors. To the Jews, if Samaritans were dogs, the Romans were dog…you know what. The Romans had invaded their country, like the Babylonians and Greeks before. Worse yet, they had foreskins. Notice the context; “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” They were, as Peter was previously, obsessed with their ethno-religious culture. Again, I believe this is why Luke recapitulates the story three times. This was a very big deal. Lord willing, we will see this develop further in Acts.

“But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence,” and the events that ensued are retold. If you have not noticed, there are a lot of “buts” in the Bible. In most cases it’s the masses versus the single man. Usually, men sin, but God forgives; men lie, but the prophet speaks truth. In Peter’s case we see a similar scenario. The people present say to Peter, you ate with uncircumcised men but Peter says God told him to based on the events–the vision, the Spirit speaking, the men that came to him, the testimony of Cornelius and the confirmation by the Holy Spirit falling on the gentiles so that they spoke in tongues. “In an orderly sequence,” Peter proclaimed that Jesus called the gentiles, that is, detail by detail and line by line, in the presence of eyewitness. Peter made sure he had a good argument because what has happened goes against everything they have been taught. I share the same struggle. We’ve been taught that the gospel fails and that men go from bad to worse as the church falls into apostasy, based on passages ripped out of context. I believe the opposite is true, that just as Isaiah prophesized, there will be no end to the increase of his kingdom.

Presuppositions and preconceived notions are difficult to dissolve, while easy to disprove. I will use the alleged, signless pre-tribulational rapture as my proof source. Some of the most glaringly dogmatic dispensationalists say that the rapture can happen at anytime, citing the imminent return of Christ. Ironically, I agree with that–that Christ could return at any time, that is, his return could be imminent but I believe it could also be far off–it depends on God’s standard as to the spread of the gospel to the world. However I would equate the “rapture” with the “second coming.” That is the final and ultimate end to the world as we know it where Jesus meets his people (all of  them from every tribe and nation) in the air and returns to earth with them. But for the dogmatic dispensationalists the rapture is only for the church, atheist, Muslims, and Israel remain, then, and only then, will the “antichrist” whom they also call, “the man of lawlessness,” be revealed. Also, the dogmatic dispensationalists say that “at the last trumpet we’re out of here.” Here are the problems and absolute refutation of this delusional dogma: Seven more trumpets sound after the alleged pretribulational rapture and Paul says that the “rapture” cannot happen until after the “man of lawlessness” is revealed. Like Jesus did to the Pharisees, I don’t have to make an argument to expose the error in their’s.

Notice; “Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?’ And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say to us, “Then why did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From men,” we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.’ And answering Jesus, they said, ‘We do not know.’ He also said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.'”

Therefore to those who say that the rapture comes without signs and that we as a church will be gone before the “Antichrist” is revealed, explain the following: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.?” Two things, according to the dogmatic dispensationalists proof-text of a pretribulational rapture, must happen before said pretribulational rapture–“the Antichrist” and the rebellion. We call these signs therefore the rapture is not signless, based on their own dogma. I am afraid that it gets worse for the dogmatic dispensationalists. 

“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” The dogmatic dispensationalists are quick to point out that after Revelation 4, the church is never seen again because they have been raptured. They quote, as I have, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as proof of a pretribulational rapture and proclaim, “at the last trumpet we are out of here.” Meaning that, at the final blow of a trumpet, that is the last, final, ending, closing, never to be blown again trumpet, the church is raptured, which  is somewhere between Revelation 3 and 5, leaving God’s angels to blow seven more trumpets. I am not making this up, I couldn’t. And yes, I once believed it and preached it. But like the proverbial snow that built up on Peter’s branch until it broke, progressively I have had my mind changed by considering the context and letting my presuppositions and preconceived notions fall by the wayside. I will be the first to admit, that the hardest thing to admit, is when one is wrong. Yet the circumcised disciples seemed to have no problem admitting that they were wrong, based on Peter’s testimony. 

“And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'” The Pharisees wouldn’t have said this much like the dogmatic dispensationalists as far as the pretribulational rapture is concerned, won’t bend. Though their argument is decimated, so that I need to make no argument, they won’t let the heavy snow break the branch of dogma. A dogma in which God does show partiality–this is why I am forced to call them out. The dogmatic dispensationalists call out all other viewpoints as heretical and say that they do damage to the gospel. How does preaching that the gospel wins damage the gospel? How did the gentiles being welcomed into the faith flock ruin their religion? Now we are getting somewhere.

After the civil war between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America, the badly beaten General Robert E. Lee was said to have been present at a church meeting in the reeling South when a tall, well-dressed, black man came​forward to receive communion. As the story goes, the still segregated southerners stopped short in their steps to the altar, stunned, in silence by the situation. But none other than Robert E. Lee walked up next to the black man, knelt down with him and took communion with him. When asked how and why he would take communion with a black man, Robert E. Lee replied,  “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

To this day he is lauded for that and oft quoted, some so inspired that they have even written songs containing the quote. But do we consider the context or see things from the perspective of a former southern slave in the post antebellum south? (Post antebellum south? that’s ironic enough to leave it in.) Some, like myself, argue that the civil war was less about slavery than states’ rights. But in the fight over states’ rights, why didn’t the southern states free their slaves in order to avert bloodshed? In today’s current cultural climate the media and the masses use the moniker G.O.P. as a derogatory term. They don’t understand the historical context. G.O.P. stands for the Grand Old Party because its formation was to stop the spread of slavery–they were abolitionists who fought for and won the “freedom” of the slaves in the American south. Therefore they desperately desired for nothing other than the end of slavery. Why then would Robert E. Lee be willing to die and kill over slavery? If his motivation was the rights of the states, why would he and Jefferson Davis not fight to free the slaves in order to avoid war? My point is that Robert E. Lee said that the ground was level at the foot of the cross and that was it, he didn’t fight for level ground in the life of the African descendants. He didn’t see the former slave as his equal. It’s actually quite a condescending quote, given the context of the civil war and slavery.

And this is why I take much exception to the dogmatic dispensationalists–while claiming to be supporters of Israel, they actually expect two thirds of Israel to be slaughtered in a future fulfillment of Matthew 24 and “Jacob’s trouble.” Take a deep breath and think about the ramifications of this dispensationalist, dogmatic discourse. In Matthew 24 Jesus said to flee from Jerusalem when they see these things taking place, head for the hills, like Lot, don’t look back, don’t even grab a jacket. Yet they insist that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews. It makes no sense. The dogmatic dispensationalists want to round up the Jews in Jerusalem to await a slaughter of which the world has never seen, so that the Lord will save some of them, even though they claim Israel is the apple of God’s eye. On the other hand, I see the gospel of Jesus as their reconciliation and the reconciliation of the world. That is, one chosen people by faith in Jesus as illustrated by Paul in the picture of the olive tree and Abraham staring at the stars.

Picture yourself a Palestinian Christian whose home was confiscated by Israel, would you say, “well, the ground is level at the foot of the cross, it’s what God has to do to awaken his people.” Because I guarantee that when communism comes to America you won’t be saying that when your personal property is confiscated, even though we always see revivals in communist countries.

God’s plan for ethnic Israel is not a land in which he can slaughter two thirds of them, Jesus is, was and will be his plan for Israel as it is with all the nations. God has made the two into one, Peter explains this in today’s text and Luke recapitulates the story three times. Paul goes to great lengths to expound on this. We have been taught that God will use a future tribulation to save some of Israel but what does Paul actually say about saving some of Israel?

“I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”

Paul’s ministry would be magnified if he made Israel jealous? Think about this for a minute. Also remember that the partial hardening of Israel is temporary. The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that this will end during the future fulfillment of a great tribulation called the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble.” But again, that would only be partial–one third. Israel is approaching that number now, that is, there are more messianic Jews than ever before. Could it be that God’s plan for Israel is salvation through Jesus Christ and not through slaughter? Could it be that is also God’s plan for the world?

I think I know the answer because I have read ahead. “And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed. After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands.”

Heard, however, saw–as when John heard the elder say Lion of Judah but saw a Lamb as if slain, he also heard the number of 144,000 but when he looked he saw a great multitude, that no one could count from every nation, tribe, tongue and people. As Jesus is represented by a Lion and a Lamb, the people of God, true Israel, all Israel are represented by 144,000 and a number so great that no one can count it. It seems like we have heard something similar with a different metaphor. Abraham was told to look at the stars, if he could count them, “so shall your descendants be.” With an estimated 100 billion galaxies with who knows how many stars, I’ll let you do the math. Or, if you live on the coast, count the grains of sand.

What it all boils down to is this: the circumcised men believed what they had been taught rather than believe the unadulterated word of God. They thought that they had a special standing before God and the uncircumcised people were pond scum. They called their partial, circumcised brothers dogs, imagine how much they disdained the Romans. They couldn’t believe Peter ate with them, much less that God could choose them to have an inheritance. But Peter, solemnly testified to the truth. Unlike us, when confronted with the truth, like Peter, they change their minds.

“‘He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?’ And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'”




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