1 Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
2 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;
3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
4 God also bearing witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
Please ensure that you have read the previous post before continuing. In said post I discussed WHO is the Israel of God. We found from three authoritative New Testament Witnesses (John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul) the message that the children of God are not specifically the children of Abraham, but rather, those who receive the Messiah of the Jews: Jesus Christ.
(I made the joke to my wife that I was writing this series because I felt I have too many friends – believe me, I understand what I am saying is unpopular (particularly among Christians in this hour.) But I have had a revelation regarding pertinent latter-day issues, and am laying ground-work in order to share that revelation… ‘And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.’ (Luke 7:23))
This Truth opens salvation to all men; previously – that is, under the Old Testament witness – SALVATION HAD BEEN LIMITED TO THE HEBREW NATION, AND THOSE WHO FULLY COMMITTED THEIR LIVES TO OBEY THE CUSTOMS, AND LIVE BY THE CULTURE OF THE POLITICAL NATION OF ISRAEL.
Quite literally, under the old covenant (the relationship of man with God during the time of the ‘Old Testament’), in order for a Gentile to be considered a part of the nation of Israel – i.e. in order for them to be ‘saved,’ they had to follow all the rules and customs of Jewish custom. Every male would first have to be circumcised, as the Hebrew males were, and the family of any Gentile desiring salvation would have to fully submit to the law of Moses (the LAW of God), AND the priesthood of Levi (for the remission of their sins). For ease of discussion, I will put these into a comprehensive list that we can refer back to:
- Covenant of circumcision (the foreskin (an unnecessary layer of skin surrounding the penis) would be trimmed away from the body – sorry for the graphic description, but it is essential that we understand the ‘type’ of the custom so we will be able to fathom its meaning
- The Law of Moses (the rules for living holy, and sanctified life before God)
- The Levitical Priesthood (The members of the Jewish tribe of Levi were the official intercessors between God, and man, they were to teach the people, atone for their sins, and complete the temple service.)
The thought that a Gentile should have to submit to these in order to receive salvation under the Old Covenant should not be offensive to us because the Jewish culture – in that original form – was set in place, and regulated by God.
Here was the trouble to the Hebrew nation, however: when Jesus, the Messiah of God came, He fulfilled all things pertaining to the Law and the Prophets in Spirit, and in Truth (Matt 5:17). The covenant of circumcision, the law of Moses, and the priesthood were all fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ – the Messiah of the Jews.
Now, it is important to note what the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets means. Believe it, or not, Jesus never fully explained what it meant to His disciples while He was in the earth. Even the Apostles had to slowly discover the meaning of the fulfillment of the covenant, the law, and the priesthood as the church was formed over time in the book of Acts. Recall Jesus before Jesus was crucified, He said this to His disciples:
12 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
The education of the disciples was not over at the ascension of Christ, but when the Holy Spirit would come – HE would guide them into ALL TRUTH; yes, even the Truth that they could not yet bear. This is one of the reasons why the book of Acts is so pertinent – it is not only a record of the dealings of God with the early church, not only the chief example of how the church ought to live; it is also the continued education, and discipleship of the Apostles, which began in the Gospels.
One of the things that the church needed to be educated on by the Holy Spirit – one of those things that they could not yet bear to learn before the death and resurrection of Christ was God’s acceptance of the Gentiles irrespective of their following the customs and culture of the Jewish nation.
God had to show Peter in a vision (actually three visions) that the dietary restrictions (for example) of the Jews were no longer to be strictly adhered to (Acts 10:9-16). This should not have been altogether a shock to Peter, because Jesus Christ, Himself had already said so – and specifically emphasized this point to Peter. Not sure? I’ll quote it:
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”) (NIV)
In Matthew’s rendering of this same story (Matt 15:15-20) we see that it was, specifically Peter who asked Jesus to explain what He meant. The funny thing, too, is that this thing Jesus said that they wanted Him to explain was not actually a parable! In asking what it meant, Peter believed it was a parable (Matt 15:15 & Mark 7:14) because the concept was so far outside the scope of his cultural understanding of God’s Word!
Jesus had plainly said that nothing a person consumes makes him unclean. When asked to explain the ‘parable’ He virtually says, word-for-word the same thing.
So, here Peter was told by Jesus Christ in the flesh that no food is unclean, but he didn’t believe it! He was so inundated with Jewish culture – specific dietary laws set forth by Moses – that even when Jesus plainly declared a Truth, his eyes were holden to it! Now, several years later, Jesus had to tell Peter the same thing THREE TIMES in a vision in order for him to be willing to travel, and eat with Gentiles! Now, it was essential that Peter, finally learn this lesson just at this moment, because Jesus had also commanded:
And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you:
This was a command specifically pertaining to evangelism. How could Jews go into gentile cities, and spread the message of Jesus Christ if all there was to eat was pork?! They would quickly starve! In fact – it may be that this was the very command of Jesus which precluded the early Jewish Christians from going among the gentiles. How can you go an bear witness among a people if simply being among those people is contrary to the law of the God you are witnessing of?! It cannot be done – not without a lot more resources than the early poor, and persecuted Christians had!
Bear this in mind, however: under the Old Covenant, Peter was right not to eat unclean food – Peter was right to refuse to have anything to do with gentiles. They did not submit to the covenant of God, the commands of God, or the priesthood of God – they were unclean people! You and I (if you be a gentile) were unclean people. We were lost in darkness, and had never a hope of salvation. You and I, would be on our way to hell without knowledge of the Son of God.
Yet even still, Peter could not fully believe that God’s New Covenant with man extended to all people regardless of whether had been privy to the Covenant of Abraham, the law of Moses, and the Levitical priesthood (Jewish culture), until the Holy Spirit was given in power to uncircumcised gentiles who were (also) un-initiated into Jewish custom, and culture!
44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
45 AND THEY OF THE CIRCUMCISION which believed WERE ASTONISHED, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This full story of Peter’s vision, and preaching to the uncircumcised (those outside of the Old Covenant – the covenant God made with Abraham) gentiles can be found in Acts 10. In fact, this story is so important to the early church that it is not ONLY found in Acts 10, the story is retold TWICE in the book of acts, thus it is declared a total of THREE TIMES in the book (Acts 10; Acts 11:5-17; and Acts 15:7-11).
Now – you’ve got to bear in mind that this single testimony from the life of Peter (which was important enough to be told three times in the book of Acts) was a HUGE perspective shift to the Jewish Christians. God’s acceptance of the Gentiles broke ALL THREE UNBREAKABLE (to the Jew) STATUTES FOR LIVING!
- It broke with the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision – for the uncircumcised were accepted by God, and given the fullness of the Holy Spirit
- It broke with the law of Moses – for the gentiles neither knew, nor practiced the Jewish law, and yet were accepted by God, and given the fullness of the Holy Spirit
- It broke with the Levitical priesthood – for the gentiles entered not into the temple, submitted to no priest, nor did offer sacrifice to atone for their sins, AND YET WERE ACCEPTED BY GOD, AND GIVEN THE FULLNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
In fact, the only way that these gentiles could be said to have submitted to the Jewish culture was that they honored the One True God in spirit, and in Truth (Acts 10:2)!
In what way did they submit to the God of Israel? In one way only: they received the message of Jesus Christ – the Jew’s Messiah.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, and the prophets. All we receive the fullness of God not through works of the law, not through the old covenant, but through faith in the Son of God.