Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Chapter 2 – The Earthy Origin of the Church
Lesson 167 – Ascent and Session: Now You See Him … Now You Don’t. Now You See Him
15 Feb 2001
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Isaiah 26:3-4, just to review a basic promise in Scripture and to relate that promise and learn to respond to these promises by looking at the rationale that surround them; these are not isolated texts but these are promises that are meant to be understood in the context of all Scripture. Isaiah 26:3-4 is a command to trust, there’s a reward, it says “steadfast of mind” in my translation but it means basically a perfect peace. “In steadfast of mind Thou will keep him in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee.” If you look at the structure of this promise carefully, notice that it’s an announcement that certain people will be kept in perfect peace, and those people who are kept in perfect peace are the steadfast of mind. In the context the “steadfast of mind” is explained, the one who “trusts in Thee.”
Verse 4, “Trust in YAHWEH [the LORD] forever, for in God the LORD,” God Jehovah, “we have an everlasting Rock,” and that’s the imagery of trusting or coming to rest on a foundation. And the doctrine of God as the Rock is amplified in the New Testament and it’s the Jewish carpenter who was more than a man who assumes that this Rock imagery applied in the Old Testament Jehovah applies to Him. That’s one of those great promises that you want to look at, jot down or keep a card with some of these references on them, because you should find yourself using these throughout the day or throughout the week as situations and the usual disasters strike one after another. These are good recovery promises to use.
We’re going to begin our study on the next event. Turn to Acts 1 because we have looked at the post-gospel events, and we’ve studied the ascent, the ascension and session of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve noted that this was a physical ascent and session. Altogether very, very little attention is devoted to this. I think if we took a survey of everyone sitting here, there’s not one of you that could say you’ve heard an in-depth sermon any time in your Christian life on the ascent and session of Jesus Christ. It’s a tragedy because the Lord Jesus Christ’s ascent and session, as we said, is a physical transport of His human body to a place in the universe. You can fiddle around with geometry questions about where in the universe this place is but the point remains that there is a specific, physical, geographical location in the universe where the Lord Jesus Christ is seated, such that if you had a video camera you could take a picture of Him sitting on His throne by the Father’s right hand. He didn’t disappear, His body didn’t dissolve, He didn’t turn into a spirit. There is a physical body at the helm of the universe.
In our day when we tend to imagine in terms of science fiction some creatures out of Star Wars, etc. the universe is run by a representative of planet earth. That is a pretty astounding statement to make when you think of the size and magnitude of the universe. Out of that we said that the Lord Jesus Christ’s ascent and session began the final age of history, which would begin with His ascension and move on to the time of His return, so that the Lord Jesus Christ has two advents in history. From the standpoint and perspective of the Old Testament these two advents were coalesced in prophecy; they were not easily distinguished. There was a suffering theme in the Messianic prophecies and there was a glorification theme in the Messianic prophecies.
So confusing was this to the Jews that they literally believed there were two Messiah’s. The first Messiah, the suffering servant Messiah would be Isaiah 53, it would be Joseph; Joseph was the type of the suffering Messiah. Then they believed because they had to deal with this and this, they had to get this together somehow, so they brought in the glorification to refer to the Son of David. But by the time the Gospels are finished we now know that there are not two Messiahs, there is only, but there are two advents of the one Messiah.
Historically this is what happened, and you want to understand this because it comes up again and again in prophecy. We’re going to see it as we get into the second session. All I can think of to illustrate this is an accordion. The idea is that when history is looked at prophetically it’s like the accordion is compressed, and there’s statements made that are true, but it turns out with time the accordion begins to stretch so that the events that looked close together in history now become spread apart. This starts in the Garden of Eden. Eve is called by her name Evah, Chavvah, from the Hebrew word “to life;” Adam called his wife Eve; her real name in Hebrew is isha. In the common language in the Old Testament this is the word for male, ish and this is the word for female, isha. When they’re created that’s what they are, ish and isha. Later on ish gets a name called Adam, which is related to the earth, ’addam, it also might relate and hint to the fact that he had darker skin because the word ’ addam means a brownish reddish color, and isha, the woman - her name is taken from the word for life. And Adam calls her Eve because of the promise of the gospel, the protevangelium that God told Adam about.
She turns around and in her first son that’s born, this lady, Chavvah, turns and she says I’ve gotten a man, and it can be translated I’ve gotten a man the lord. So she thought her first child might have been the Messiah, right there. She was right in that God would deliver a Messiah through the seed of the woman, but we now know there was many centuries of stretching out that occurred between the time of Eve and the time of the final Messiah. You see this again in the book of Daniel, Daniel thinks the restoration is going to happen because the seventy years of captivity are almost finished, and then it turns out, No Daniel, it’s going to be seven times seven, stretching out again. Keep that in mind, that’s a Biblical precedent.
We want to move on to the next thing which is Pentecost. This is woven together with the ascension and session of Christ. This is why, in the notes I have stated the title for the first chapter “The Heavenly Origin of the Church” and the title for the second chapter “The Earthly Origin of the Church” trying to tie these two events together. Pentecost must be seen in the light of what transpired prior to Pentecost, i.e. that Jesus Christ as a human being sat at the Father’s right hand. The session precedes and forms the basis of Pentecost. Pentecost didn’t just happen; it’s not sort of an accident in history. Pentecost flows out of the ascension and session.
There’s some nuances in the text of Acts so let me highlight some things on page 24 and then we’ll go to the process we’re going to use to study this event. There’s something important about this, “Christ has become the great ‘divider’ of mankind and the conqueror of the principalities and powers.” Jesus Christ is a divider and you still see it today. It’s interesting to watch. The lawyers that consider themselves to be the protectorates of the public school system will tolerate witchcraft in the public classroom, they will tolerate Indian chants in the public classroom, but what won’t they tolerate, what is the one religion that they won’t tolerate in the public educational forum? The gospel. They can’t articulate it, I mean, they’re only lawyers. But the normal people of the world have the perception that Jesus Christ is offensive. You mention, unless you’re cursing His name and that’s acceptable language in the work place, but if you mention Him in a normal tone of voice, you get tension real fast. There’s an air and an aurora about the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ve told this story before of the graduate students at a university and they were taking a course in leadership and the professor got on the board and spent a whole hour or two lecture on this, and he went to the board and said give me the characteristics of the ideal leader. These 60–70 people came out a leader had to be very wise, but the leader had to be one who knew people, who empathized with the common man, etc., etc., etc. After they got through all these characteristics it was quite obvious that the only person who ever filled all those characteristics was the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the girls in the class that I knew very well, a strong believer, and she’d heard the foul-mouths enough in class so she decided to rock them a little bit, so she said, “Well, prof, do you know what that looks like? It looks like you’ve just done a biography of Jesus Christ.” She told me later on, she said she got that word out of her mouth, and the temperature in the class room dropped about ten degrees, didn’t have to turn on the air conditioning. What causes this? It’s because people intuitively know the Lord Jesus Christ and something about Him that is offensive.
He is a divider and He’s there for a reason. The Church is centrally involved in the continuation of His work. In the second paragraph I’m pointing out there is a fundamental question that Acts starts with, right off the bat. “While both the Father and Son in Heaven were thus ready to begin the Church, further work was needed. The unanswered question of the disciples in Acts 1:6 had to be answered.” We’ll look at that tonight. “What about the coming of the Kingdom promised in the Old Testament now that the nation Israel had rejected Christ?” This created a crisis.
In the third paragraph I summarize where we’re going with all this. “The Holy Spirit began this mission on a special day in the divinely-designed calendar of Israel, the day of Pentecost. Just as the advent of the Son” this next sentence is the essence of this chapter; follow it carefully. “Just as the advent of the Son was a complicated event involving many Old Testament prophecies, a divided reception among the Jews, and a ‘stretching out’ of history in a new age, so the advent of the Third Person of the Trinity similarly became a complicated event.” We’ve looked at the Second Person of the Trinity, now we’re going into a study of the Third Person of the Trinity.
“This chapter will trace the Spirit’s Pentecostal work and show how the Church began amidst a time of tumult in Israel. We will follow the same method,” we’re going to do with this what we did with the session. Remember with the session we said let’s look at the historical event first, then we’ll look at how the people who are on the ground, on location, experienced, witnessed this event, how did they interpret what was going on. They had to interpret what was going on, I mean, the ascension and session of Christ, how high did He ascend before he went in the cloud? We don’t know. A cloud came upon the mount of ascent, they could have watched His body go floating up, maybe 100 feet, 200 feet, 500 feet, 1,000 feet, but eventually it was ensconced in the cloud. That’s the end of the observation, so everything else you read in the New Testament is an analysis of an unseen thing that wasn’t physically observed, namely that He ascended to Heaven and sits on the Father’s right hand. True, He appeared to Stephen and He appeared to Paul from the Father’s right hand, verifying the interpretation.
We have to look at the event first, so that’s what we’re going to do. We want to look at the text and ask the question, what was observed at Pentecost? We’re going to see that there are two basic questions. One is, “What was observed,” and the next question is, “When was it observed?” Obviously at this point we’re only on the “what” not the “when.” So we want to look at Acts 1 and I want to go through it pretty carefully because there are things here in the text that we want to watch carefully.
Acts starts out, Luke is talking to Theophilus, we don’t know who Theophilus was, other than he probably was the guy who paid money to have Luke write the book of Acts. Some people feel that the whole book of Acts, as well as Luke, was produced and gathered together from Luke through Theophilus as part of the preparation for the trial of Paul in Rome, that this book is very concerned with legalities. The reason scholars think that, there are many reasons, but one of the reasons is that Luke in Acts is very careful to document the political response to the gospel. There are a lot of events in there if you think about it, how Paul gets arrested, what happened, what he said to the official, what the official said to him, every time an official is mentioned his jurisdiction is specified in terms of Roman law, etc. This may well have been a court brief originally; of course the Holy Spirit used that for the whole Church to be briefed.
We don’t know who Theophilus was but you notice in verse 1 he says “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach,” clearly the “first account” is the Gospel of Luke. But notice the verb in verse 1, pay careful attention to this, what do you notice about the verbs in verse 1 that suggest something about the book of Acts? How does he qualify what Jesus did? If you look carefully you’ll see the word “began.” Isn’t that strange? Think about it, he says that the Gospel of Luke tells all that Jesus “began to do and teach.” What does that say about Acts? That this is a continuation. So if you look at the text what he’s actually saying, the first account is where Jesus began to do and to teach, now I’m going to continue what He is teaching and doing.
This is an introduction to the whole book of Acts as to what’s going on here, because now the Lord Jesus Christ… this is why we covered ascension and session first. Whatever the Holy Spirit does down here He’s doing in response to something going on up here. What’s going on up here is that the Lord Jesus Christ is still in command. He may physically not be here on planet earth but He is running the show from Heaven. And what happens down here, whatever the Holy Spirit does, He does to carry out the Lord Jesus Christ such that what happens when it’s driven by the Holy Spirit is akin and inseparable from the Lord Jesus. So if we could say the first account is all that Jesus began to do, the second account is what He continues to do to this day.
Going back to the first account he says, “about all that Jesus began to do and teach,  until the day when He was taken up,” there’s the ascension. So clearly the ascension and session marked the separation between the Gospel and Acts, it’s that event, not Pentecost, it is the ascent and session that mark the separation here. “… until the day that He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” In the tenses, He was taken up after He had given orders, through the Spirit, to the apostles. So Luke affirms that the basis of authority in the Church is the apostles. That’s going to be a subject we’ll get into, the apostolic Church. But if you’ve recited the so-called Apostle’s Creed, I’m sure you’ve seen this phrase, “the holy catholic and apostolic church.” People see that phrase and they think of the Roman Catholic Church. Do you see “Roman” in that sentence anywhere? There’s no Rome, this word means universal, “I believe in the holy universal” meaning it encompasses all men, all languages, “the holy universal apostolic church.” Why does it say “apostolic church?” How do we know Jesus Christ? Is Jesus Christ walking around today? No. Then how do we know Him? We know Him through the witness of the apostles who generated the corpus we call the New Testament. So our means of knowing Christ is through the apostles who He commanded.
Then it very carefully qualifies who an apostles is in verse 3, it says that those apostles whom He has chosen, “to these,” pronoun “these” has the antecedent and the antecedent of the pronoun “these” in verse 3 has to be a noun somewhere, and the noun that’s the antecedent to the pronoun is “apostles.” So “to these,” i.e., to the apostles, “He also presented Himself alive,” so that’s something else He did, “after His suffering, by many convincing [or infallible] proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” It’s important to notice something else about this text.
Notice in verse 3 several things are going on. It’s saying that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to these people alive after His resurrection, after His suffering. When He appeared, and His appearances are recorded in the Gospels, not all of them but many of them, He appeared physically. How do we know He appeared physically and not as a ghost? Get this straight; we’ve got to see the physical body of Jesus Christ because when He showed up what did He do? He ate. What did He say when Thomas doubted? Reach here, touch, empirical, we touched, we heard, we saw, that’s all empirical, that’s all physical. Mohammed, with all due respect, did not rise from the dead. Buddha did not rise from the dead. None of the other religious leaders ever rose from the dead. Jesus Christ uniquely rose from the dead. Now if He presented Himself alive “by many convincing proofs,” we don’t know what all those convincing proofs are, we just have the report of Luke; he says that they are very convincing.
Keep in mind the guy who’s writing this is a doctor by profession, and he’s done some very thorough research. As we’ve said many times, Luke’s writings are the only gospel writings that really deal with how women felt when they were pregnant. Why do you suppose Luke, of all the Gospel writers, brings that up? Because he’s interested in that, He’s a doctor, he went back and asked them. Why do you suppose he was attracted to what they thought about when they were pregnant? Because of the claims of the virgin birth. Do you think a doctor might be interested in the virgin birth? I guess so! So Luke had his head screwed on and he did some careful work here.
He says in verse 3 that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared many times over a forty day period, he doesn’t include them all, but notice how he ends the sentence. He says the subject of conversation that the Lord had with the apostles was about “the kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God is the debate; we spent four weeks on Reformed theology and Dispensational theology. Two years ago we went through amillennialism, premillennialism and postmillennialism. Included in all that is a discussion and a disagreement among Christians about what is the Kingdom of God, and the issue we want to look at in this text is how the Kingdom of God is described. Why? Because there are those, amillennialists, who believe—sincerely believe—that the Kingdom of God refers to a spiritual kingdom, not a political, physical, observable kingdom. There are the premillennialists who say that the Kingdom of God is a physical, political kingdom. There’s a disagreement here; one side is right and the other is wrong. There are the postmillennialists who believe actually sometimes in a modified physical kingdom that will come in by the Church as the Church advances civilization, etc. He “presented Himself” is the main verb. It’s explained an “appearing,” sequences of appearances, not only appearances but also speech, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke and He taught.
Verse 4 moves things on and we have the statement that He gathered them together, this is before He ascended, He doesn’t ascend until later in this chapter. So there He is, he gathers them together, He calls the meeting. “And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem,” where in the Gospels does He command people to leave Jerusalem? When they see the beast in the temple, then you get out of Jerusalem, and you get out fast. So there are different commands and you’ve got to sort this out. Here He’s telling them I don’t want you to leave, I want you to stay, I want you “to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,” He said, ‘you heard of from Me.’” What is it that they “heard from Me” which is this promise? Now He’s introduced something else in verse 4 and you want to keep track of this. There’s something called the promise and there’s something called the Kingdom of God.
Let’s go to John 14:1 when the Lord Jesus Christ took the disciples aside and He prepared them for the Church Age. In this so-called Upper Room Discourse, Jesus Christ went through an entire revelation of stuff that was never before revealed in history. This was not considered to be part of the Kingdom of God. It says “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” Now the Lord is in the place with a resurrected body; we who believe in Jesus Christ will share that place in resurrected bodies, “I go and I am preparing a place for you,” not a spiritual 8th dimension, this is a place. “I go and I prepare a place.”
Notice the action in verse 3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and [I will] receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” This is a reception, and I want to notice something about this. The Church is going to be received to the Lord Jesus Christ and be with Him forever. There’s a motion here, so to speak. Then He goes on and He describes many, many different things. He says in verse 25, “These things I have spoken to you, while I am yet [abiding] with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.  Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled,” which is a refrain from John 14:1, “nor let it be fearful.”
He’s preparing them for His absence and He’s preparing them for His absence by promising that in the interim, in the inter-advent age, between the First Advent and the Second Advent, the Holy Spirit will come in a way that He did not come in the Old Testament. He’s not referring to an Old Testament prophecy. There’s not one Old Testament prophecy here. This is all new stuff, and He’s saying that the Holy Spirit will then be with you as your Comforter, as the one who goes alongside and helps.
John 16:7, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” History has cause/effect in it, history has a contingency in it, and there are things that can’t happen until other things happen. Here it is right in the inner workings of the Trinity. You can talk all you want to about God’s decrees are going to come to pass, but there’s a pathway to get there and there’s certain things that have to happen before you get down to the end of history. So here He’s giving you this.
He says that the Helper won’t come, but if I go I will send Him to you. Now what’s different about John 16:7 and 14:26? What do you notice different about the source of the Holy Spirit? In chapter 14 it’s the Father that sends, but in chapter 16 it’s the Lord Jesus Christ who sends. That gets into something else we’ll get into, that split the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church, that little thing that I just showed you, whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. You can say, “How could you split a church over some trivial little thing like that?” Obviously they didn’t think it was very trivial. Those are coming attractions we’ll get into, why that’s a very important thing.
Going back to Acts, we’ve shown you that’s where Jesus talked about this promise. Now we have this promise of the Holy Spirit occupying earth between the time of the First and Second Advents. In Acts 1:4 He gathers them together, He commands them not to leave Jerusalem, “wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which’ He said, ‘you heard from Me.’” Verse 5, “For John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
We’ve got to go back to Luke’s first volume, to when John the Baptist started talking about these baptisms. We’ll go back to see what Luke had to say. We could go back to other Gospels, but since we’re in Luke’s Acts we probably want to get Luke’s perspective on what’s going on. Going back to Luke 3 what we want to check, we’ve already gone back to John to check this promise thing out, now we’re talking about baptism of the Spirit and we want to get some background on what was going on there. In Luke 3, notice how precise Luke is, here’s the historian in him, verse 1, he dates it, he locks it into the Roman Empire chronologies, notice how complete verse 1 is. He discusses the Roman issue, “Tiberius Caesar,” he describes Pontius Pilate who was a subsidiary agent of the Roman government in Palestine, he describes about Herod who was this treacherous Jew that the Romans worked through, the Herodian family; his brother Philip, I mean you’ve got it all spaced out here because Luke is interested in saying the Christian religion is not some hokey-pokey thing off into the spiritual realm. It’s what happened inside real history.
In verse 2 he dates it in terms of the Jews, he’s got every calendar going here, he’s got the Roman calendar, he’s got the subsidiary administrative calendar, now in verse 2 he goes to the Jewish high priest calendar; you couldn’t ask a guy to give a better historical context of this thing. So he says, “the Word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.  And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.” I don’t have a map of where this took place, but if you draw a picture of the north end of the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee is up here, the Jordan River comes down here, and you have Jerusalem here. Israel is such that the height of land is right along here. You go east of that you go down; you go west of that you go down. Since the winds are from the west you get rain showers on this side so this is all fertile; this side the winds descend, it’s dry and you get desert. So out in the middle of this road that, by the way, still exists, you can drive out, it’s a windy little road and there’s Jericho ruins, and you go along this road and you’ll see these dunes and everything else, it’s just total desert. This is where this recluse preacher called John the Baptist had his ministry. People had to come from this nice comfortable place, Jerusalem, down the road, out in the middle of the desert.
It’s interesting where he held his ministry. He must not have followed the church growth movement very well, he didn’t keep up with the manuals of how to do surveys of what people need and be ready for them, make it convenient. He didn’t have any school buses, all he had was the Word of God … such a tragedy. “And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Now this was something new for the Jews because baptism in Judaism was used of Gentiles who wanted to affiliate with Jews in the synagogue. The act of baptism was a confession of cleansing and forgiveness that… you know, you’re just those dirty Gentiles, and you’ve got to wash up before you become part of our club. Baptism had that connotation. Well if baptism had that connotation, how do you suppose Jews felt when he comes out there, they all come walking out on their burros or whatever their substitute SUV’s were at the time, and they come out here and here’s this guy out in the middle of Timbuktu, preaching this gospel and then further insulting them saying you’re not even going to be part of the Kingdom unless you get baptized like the Gentiles that you don’t like.
You’ve got to see this guy was not only a recluse, a hermit, he was very offensive, he had a personality, nobody liked him, and Jesus said later on, you know, it’s interesting, you people fuss at Me because I go to the parties. Jesus went to parties, He was very sociable. He could sit down and talk to a prostitute and not be shocked, the religious crowd couldn’t do that. So here He is, He’s the party man, John is out there with the locusts or something, and Jesus said you know, you people are really interesting. He said you criticize Me because I go to the parties, then you criticize him because he doesn’t go to the parties. It sounds to Me like it’s your problem, not ours. That’s exactly the way Jesus handled personality differences. People are attracted to different personalities in the ministry, but the personality ultimately doesn’t make a bit of difference. It’s who has the Word of God and who doesn’t.
So here he is, in the middle of the desert and he begins to preach this offensive message. And he goes back in verses 4–6 and quotes Old Testament prophesies of the Kingdom. Isn’t that interesting, we’re back to the Kingdom of God thing again. He says  “Every ravine shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough roads smooth.  And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  He therefore began saying to the multitudes who were going out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers,” wouldn’t that be a nice way to start a sermon, you bunch of snakes. That’s how he started; this is right out of homiletics on how to have an introduction to a very winsome way of talking to people. Then he says  “Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham our father,’ ” in other words, don’t fall back on your Jewish heritage because the Kingdom of God that’s coming isn’t going to respect your Jewish heritage, it’s going to respect whether or not you have trusted in Jehovah, the God of Israel.”
It’s going to be a trust issue, not a racial issue, not a cultural issue. The issue is whether you believe or reject Jesus Christ, period. That’s the message he has to give and it’s hard for John to do this. But then he begins to mention things. He says in verse 9, “And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Watch how fire is used. Verse 10, “And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, ‘Then what shall we do?’  “And he would answer and say to them, “let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise,” he begins to give them ethical issues. He talks to soldiers.
By the way, notice in verse 13 and 14 he doesn’t say get out of the army because you became a Christian. A good point; Christianity is not for pacifists. People down through history have always argued … and they’ve argued on the basis of church history because there was a time when Christians did get out of the Roman army but it wasn’t because they didn’t want to serve the Roman army as soldiers, it was because in the Roman army they had so corrupted the thing you had to swear to Caesar as Kurios, and as a Christian they couldn’t salute Caesar as Kurios so they got out, but that wasn’t because they were pacifists. If they had to kill somebody they killed them as unto the Lord. They were soldiers who were trained to kill. That’s why they had swords, lethal weapons, not promiscuously, but when justice has to be done justice has to be done. If it’s killing someone for it, then you kill someone for it, that’s part of being a soldier.
I’ve never understood pacifists. We had to deal with this all the time during the Vietnam War; we had all these little mealy-mouthed people with a Fonda calendar or something because they were worried about what we were doing to the Vietnamese. Well you know what happened? When the communists took over South Vietnam there was a million Vietnamese that died in boats, and then where were all these people. It’s very interesting; all the critics of the Vietnam War didn’t lift a finger to help the poor Vietnamese that were out there dying for weeks in boats from lack of water, lack of food and everything else. It showed they weren’t interested in ethics at all; they were cop-outs and losers. And they, of course, brought this country into a state of humiliation by their betrayal of American soldiers that gave their lives in Vietnam. Understand from the text of Scripture the Bible is not against the military; it is not against the police.
Verse 15, “Now while the people were in a state of expectation….” And they asked him, are you the Christ. No, he says in verse 16. Then in verse 17 he gives a picture. In other Gospels John mentions “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” but look what he does in verse 17, he says, “And His winnowing fork is in His hand to clean out His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” There’s the tip on what this baptism business is, because there are two, actually there are three baptisms that John is talking about: baptism of fire; baptism of the Spirit; baptism of repentance. Only one of these is a ritual baptism. The ritual baptism is number three. That was water. Number one and number two are not rituals, they’re realities. And the baptism of the Spirit is the coming and advent of the Holy Spirit; people often mix these two up and say we’re baptized with the Spirit and with fire. You hear that in certain Christian circles. I surely hope not, because the baptism of fire here is the Second Advent of Jesus Christ.
Look at the metaphor that he’s using of the wheat. The farmer takes the wheat in these large grain shovels and he throws the wheat up in the air. Why does he throw it up in the air? [blank spot]
What’s the chaff a picture of? Unbelievers. So the baptism of fire is associated with the Second Advent of Christ; the baptism of the Spirit is associated with those who have trusted in Christ and look forward to this Kingdom.
Now let’s go back to Acts and pick up the nuance from the Lord’s words. He says, verse 5, “John baptized with water,” there’s baptism number three, ritual baptism, and then He says “but you,” who’s the “you?” The “you” are the ones that He’s presenting Himself alive to, these are the Christians, the believers. “But you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” that’s baptism number one, “not many days from now.” He doesn’t mention baptism number two, for a reason. He mentions baptism number one.
Now He begins to do an amazing thing. Something happens right here, and you have to watch the text carefully to catch this. He just got through talking about what? He’s talking about somehow this Holy Spirit and promise, and He’s connected the baptism of Spirit with this promise thing, because the Holy Spirit is common to both of those topics. Now they say in verse 6, “And so when they had come together, they were asking Him,” in the Greek language this is an imperfect tense, which means, and should be understood as they kept on asking Him, it wasn’t just one time, they kept pressing Him to answer this question. But look at the question. “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Why do you suppose they asked “at this time?” What had He just said in verse 5? He said not many days hence you will be baptized with the Spirit. So what the Lord is doing now is…, remember we said this whole thing started off with two things, there’s this promise thing and there’s the Kingdom of God thing. The Kingdom of God thing was in the Old Testament, the promise thing was something new that was revealed in the Upper Room Discourse. It’s not in the Old Testament, there’s nothing in the Old Testament about the Holy Spirit coming down like that, and Jesus making a home for somebody and that sort of thing.
So Jesus has said this promise of the Holy Spirit that is related to John’s baptism is coming here and it’s only a few days away, you guys hang around because it’s going to happen in a short time. So they’re saying to themselves, you know, He’s just been talking about this Kingdom, we’ve heard it all from Isaiah, Jeremiah, is this when the Kingdom is going to come too? They’re asking in addition to that. But notice, in verse 5 the Lord gives a specific answer concerning the promise, “not many days hence” this will happen. But then He shies away, when it says in verse 7, His response to the question are you going to bring the Kingdom in, too? Are you going to bring that long-awaited thing out of the Old Testament prophesies? And He says, verse 7, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.”
Verse 8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” see, there are two things going on here, and this is the dilemma of an interpreter of the book of Acts. There is a binary theme running here; there’s this Old Testament anticipation and then there’s this new thing that’s also happening with it. It’ll get resolved as the book of Acts goes on, but right now it’s not resolved, except if you compare verse 5 with verse 7 clearly something radical has happened. The baptism of the Spirit that previously John had said that Messiah is going to come, He’s going to bring in the Kingdom and He’s going to baptize you with the Spirit, now Jesus is, as it were, splitting off the baptism of the Spirit which becomes soon, “not many days hence,” but then He demurs when they say are you going to bring the Kingdom in with the baptism of the Spirit? It’s not for you to know. So we have a certainty over the promise and a contingency over the Kingdom.
This is why I warned you back when we were dealing with the Reformed theology, I said one of the problems is that you can’t theologically isogete this text. You’ve got to let the text speak to you, and the text is saying there’s contingency in history here. Even the Lord is saying I’m not going to tell you, it’s up to the Father, meaning it could come soon, it could come in the far distance—it’s all contingent. That bugs certain people who have this very heavy hyper-Calvinism that history can be so open like this, so contingent. But what does the text say? It’s not contingent with regard to God, clearly it says that. So the heart of the Reformed theologian is this should be protected, in verse 6 they say are you going to bring the Kingdom and He says “it is not for you to know … the Father has fixed them” however, “by His own authority.” So there’s no violation of the sovereignty of God here. It’s just that He’s not telling us and He’s letting His plan work His mysterious wonders in history.
So “It’s not for you to know the times,” now something else in verse 7, if the Kingdom has changed in its form from the physical political picture of the Old Testament to something new and spiritual, do you see that addressed in verse 7? Is verse 7 dealing at all with a qualification of the king and the content of the Kingdom, or is it dealing only with the time of the Kingdom? It’s only dealing with the time. So there’s no correction in the text of verse 7 to the question in verse 6. In verse what do they say? “Will you restore THE Kingdom to Israel?” That’s pure Old Testament stuff. You would have thought that had the Kingdom going to be coming in was in some new form that the Lord would have corrected it in verse 7 and He doesn’t. He’s saying the Kingdom will be restored to Israel, because He doesn’t say it’s not going to be restored to Israel, the Kingdom will be restored, God has His fixed times, it’s not for you to know.
Then we have the ascension, verse 8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses,” something else is going on because now in verse 8, the Old Testament idea of the Kingdom was, and it’s clearly stated in the prophets …, here’s the eastern end of the Mediterranean, here’s the Dead Sea, the idea of the Kingdom was that all nations will come to Jerusalem. That’s the motion, convergence. What kind of motion do you find in verse 8? Divergence. So something is going on here and it’s very radically different from the classic Old Testament passage. He says whatever this promise is, when He “has come upon you, you will be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even to the uttermost part of the earth.” That’s the outline of the book of Acts. You can outline the book of Acts by those geographical locations. The first few chapters of Acts, they’re all in Jerusalem. The next few chapters they go out in Judea and Samaria, and then after that they go into the uttermost parts of the world.
By the way, notice verse 8, “you shall be My witnesses both” the way we read verse 8 sometimes is wrong. We look at verse 8 and say the Holy Spirit is going to lead us unto the mission field, He’s going to do this, and He’s going to do that. That’s not terribly wrong except we have in our mind is that we’re going to obey the Lord and we’re going to go out and be missionaries. That’s the usual interpretation. But if you read carefully the book of Acts that’s not just how Luke is picturing it, because in every one of these movements from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the uttermost parts of the world, the Church is dragged, kicking and screaming into the next outer ring. It’s persecution in Jerusalem that drives them into Samaria. It is Paul being yanked out from being a murderous persecutor of Christians, he has an argument with Peter, an argument with the Church officials, they can’t stand him, he argues and so he takes off and he does his gospel thing in the uttermost parts of the world.
Now what’s so eloquent about verse 8 is that it’s saying that the Holy Spirit is going to do this, whether the Church gets with the program or not. As a matter of fact, talk about suffering, the argument of the book of Luke is that the only way verse 8 can ever happen is that the Church has to get kicked in the butt every so often because it won’t do what it’s supposed to do, a very unflattering view but it’s very real. I mean, come on, we’re all big boys and girls; we know that’s the way it works. That’s the way God works in our lives. What I love about the Bible is it’s realistic; it’s not some super spiritual thing that’s going on here. This is candid stuff by the author and the Creator of the universe.
What we’ve talked about, we’ve gone through Acts 1 with some background and I want to just review a few things in the notes. On page 25, I’ve given the Gospel background; we’ve gone through that in the text; we’ve gone to Luke 3. Something I didn’t mention, the next to last paragraph on page 25, is the role of John the Baptist. I mentioned that back when were going through the Old Testament. What was the role of a prophet in the Old Testament? He picked the man who would be the king. The prophets were the king-makers. We use that term derogatorily, a smoke-filled room type thing, the “king-makers.” These guys were real king-makers. They picked the king, it wasn’t a democracy operating here, the prophets picked the king. John the Baptist isn’t saying oh gee, would you vote for Jesus. He’s not running an election campaign. John the Baptist is saying Jesus has already been selected, I’ve authorized it, I’m the prophet and God told me that this guy is it, so you accept my word. If you don’t like it you’re snakes. That was the announcement of the Kingdom; John was the king-making prophet but operating as a classical prophet.
“Since the Kingdom of God would admit only saved individuals, it was necessary that the people be challenged to believe on the Messiah. Those who did would constitute the Old Testament prophecies referred to as the faithful ‘remnant.’ There had to be a ‘judgment’ upon the nation to separate believers and unbelievers.” So that’s the theology behind it. I covered the last paragraph when I was talking to you about the issue of contingency in history.
On page 26, “The Lord’s Further Revelation” that’s what we just covered, that “Jesus’ response is very important and forms the core of the book of Acts. He loosens the association of the Spirit baptism with the Kingdom by insisting that the Spirit baptism would come shortly whereas the time when the Kingdom would come was not necessarily so imminent.” That’s another one of these surprises that you see in history. This is going to open up what we call the dispensation of the church, or the Church Age. It’s a new thing, with new modus operandi, with a new relationship to Jesus Christ that was not totally foreseen in the Old Testament, it wasn’t really seen at all, it was a surprise. Why do you suppose it was a surprise? Because if it had been revealed it would have prophesied that Israel would have rejected the Messiah. It would be kind of a negative prophecy.
So the Lord has His plans here and He says are you going to accept My Son, hey, Israel, are you going to accept My Son, are you going to accept Him as Messiah? No…think you’re going to stop My plan, sorry guys, got another plan over here, I’ll set you aside for a while. I’m going to work with the Church. They could say, “You’re going to do what?” I’m going to work with the Church. Well, we never heard that before. That’s right because you wouldn’t listen to the Messiah and what was the Messiah talking about in the Upper Room Discourse. Well, we didn’t get to see the Upper Room. That’s right, because you were unbelievers. So the revelation of the Holy Spirit to the Church is the new thing. We’ll follow that up and work with that.
Notice the next note on page 27, we’re going to get into Acts 2 and the phenomenon of what was going on Pentecost morning. We have to pay attention to some of the details in that text.
Question asked: Clough replies: All of Acts is a very coherent book; the problem with Acts is that there are two things going on, two themes and one of them you’ll see is the Kingdom of God, thought about in classical Old Testament terms. The problem with this is that the emphasis on the Kingdom of God starts to eclipse as you go down, and the emphasis on the Church and what God’s doing in the Church increases. So you get these two themes and it’s somewhat hard sometimes to thread these out because you’ll have … we’ll get into this, on the day of Pentecost Peter’s sermon and what that sermon is really doing, that is not a classical evangelistic sermon that we would think of in the developed Church Age style. It’s not like Acts 17, for example, when Paul went to Athens. So there are some differences here, and particularly on the day of Pentecost that we’re coming up to, there are stunning things happened but they were not the kind of things that were directly anticipated in the Old Testament prophecy. So you have this situation where Peter is going to get up and he’s going to say this is what Joel forecast, this is what Joel prophesied, but if you look back at Joel you don’t see it prophesied. So we get into this issue of what it means to “fulfill” again, that we talked about in the Appendix.
I’m just saying that Acts is a coherent book but it’s not quite so easy to interpret as some would have you think. The epistles are actually a lot easier to interpret than the book of Acts. Acts kind of requires a lot of thought about the Old Testament and the New Testament. You’ve got to tread your way through there.
Question asked: Clough replies: Luke 3:16, the fire is a judgment. The issue there is he’s talking to them all, and remember, he’s got a mixed multitude coming out to see him. He’s not just talking to believers here. That was the whole point of his ministry, to separate the wheat and the chaff. John was like … he could have been Elijah, if the Kingdom was going to come and the people had accepted Christ, remember what Jesus said, remember that strange passage, it’s so difficult, kind of weird, where Jesus said, well if you’d accepted the Kingdom John was Elijah. So you go back and say well what function was Elijah. Think about it, what was Elijah in the Old Testament. Was he sent to a godly nation? No. He was one of the tough guys that God sent in to a troubled situation. That was Elijah, and it was not a compliment to the nation Israel, at the time, for John the Baptist to be told that they needed an Elijah, because if they needed an Elijah that means that they were in a spiritual state like Elijah in the Old Testament and that was the northern kingdom when it was apostacized over Baalism. So why would you want to bring in the heavy guy, the bad man, to work when everything’s fine. I don’t think so. So the ministry of John the Baptist was like that of Elijah, to split the nation.
Question asked: Clough replies: Sometimes, because on the day of Pentecost people think that fire came down, they associate what happened on Pentecost with fire, the Methodist Church you know, they have the fire thing come down, and if you look carefully at the text it, doesn’t say it’s fire - it says it’s like fire. It’s the shape of a tongue and it’s parted, like fire. So it’s some strange phenomenon, but it’s not really fire fire. So you have these two things, and we’ve got through the three baptisms and they all get mixed together, and it’s trying to sort it out, well let’s see, baptism number three happened with John the Baptist. Then baptism number one, that occurs in Pentecost, and then baptism two doesn’t and why. Here’s a tip to sort this out. We’ve just been through the life of Christ. When Jesus Christ came His First and His Second Advent were coalesced. And it would have been theoretically possible for the Kingdom to come to Israel had Israel accepted the Messiah. The cross would have had to work in there somehow, but the idea was that the Kingdom was near, that’s what the Gospel says. Now we know the Kingdom wasn’t, because they rejected and so now we have this accordion thing again.
If you will take that idea and apply it to the coming of the Spirit, you’ve got it knocked, because the Holy Spirit was prophesied to come to set up the Kingdom, but if the Holy Spirit came to set up the Kingdom and the Kingdom couldn’t come because Israel rejected the Messiah, what is the Holy Spirit supposed to do now? He’s a guy without a job, so to speak. He shows up but to do what? He can’t bring in the Kingdom because Israel hasn’t received Messiah yet, so now we’ve got an interesting thing. That’s why I pointed you so carefully to that text where Jesus says the Spirit is going to come, but I’m not telling you about the Kingdom. And He connects that with the Holy Spirit’s doing something different. He’s come, but like Jesus in the First Advent, the Holy Spirit on His first Advent can’t fulfill all the Old Testament prophesies, so the Holy Spirit is going to come again. He’s going to come and He’s going to set up the Kingdom. There’s going to be two advents of the Holy Spirit, just like there are two advents of the Son. And that’s what makes things so complicated in here.
That’s the problem, next week we’ll get into Acts 2, when Peter gets up and he says this is that spoken of by Joel, and Joel’s talking about the coming of the Spirit, but it’s the First Advent of the Spirit. Now certain things happen with the First Advent, certain things happen with the Second Advent, just like certain things happened with the First Advent of Jesus, and some things happen with the Second Advent of Jesus.
Question asked: Clough replies: And then it’s ended. See there’s internal consistency here because He’s got to leave before He can come again. [same guy says something] Not in the sense of time but in the sense of prophetic fulfillment it is very parallel.
Question asked: Clough replies: That the apostles understood that at this point? Oh, I don’t think so. I think it was Paul that made the breakthrough. You get that impression, because even when Peter writes his epistle, remember what he says about Paul’s writings? He says this is kind of heavy stuff, and I think God groomed Paul to do the thing about the Church. This is why in university classrooms you’ll hear this, more than once I’ve heard this and I’ve talked to college students, they love to tell you in a university classroom that it was Paul that screwed up Christianity. You’ve probably seen that in Time Magazine or something like that. If we could just get back to the way Jesus left things instead of this guy Paul coming along, and he screwed it all up. Well, they observe something that’s true; these guys are observant. There is something that Paul did that isn’t finished in the Gospels. Paul introduces a whole new theme here, and if you think about it, the way God worked in Paul’s life, He set Paul up to do that, because what had Paul not seen that the rest of the apostles did see? The Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnate life. Paul didn’t see that. He saw Him on the Damascus Road, but that was after He ascended.
So Paul knew the Lord Jesus Christ as the ascended One, and he knew Him after all this had happened, and he spent years and years thinking about this. So when you get to Paul and you read in Ephesians 1, what does Paul say? He says this is a mystery; it was a mystery that was not revealed in the Old Testament. So Paul did contribute a tremendous theology to the Church and it’s not that Paul differs with Jesus, it’s just that Jesus worked at one moment of history, Paul worked at a subsequent moment of history. You always have this sequence thing in their chronological order to make sense of the Bible because history changes things, decisions change. It’s very difficult, this is not an easy class and most of you have been with me so you know how we proceed. This is hard stuff and don’t feel bad if you’re confused by a lot of this stuff because this is hard, it’s hard for me to work through this and get it halfway consistent and right. Remember we said church history is progressive. The understanding of the mission of the Church just started 200–300 years ago. We’re still in an era of history where we’re learning this stuff, hopefully preparatory to getting it straight before the Lord Jesus Christ comes back for us all. It would be kind of nice that when He finishes it, oh you guys finally got it together, great, okay, come on. But it takes time to work through this.
Question asked: Clough replies: The passage that he’s talking about, what Peter is doing is he talks about Paul’s letters that people don’t like, along with the other Scripture. And what he’s saying there is that Paul’s writings of Scripture, and it’s a stunning statement, it’s a stunning thing, but again you’ll hear in a university classroom, oh, the New Testament didn’t come into existence for 300-400 years afterwards, it took the Church to understand all this. Well, maybe in official conferences yeah, but how do you explain the fact that right there in Peter’s epistle they’ve already accepted the canonicity of Paul’s letters? Come on. Of course they want to rewrite that and say that didn’t really mean that, etc. But that’s revisionism, that’s not studying the text as it is.
We’ll go on in Acts 2 and we’re going to get into the tongues issue and see what that’s all about, and as we get into this, we’ll get into this cessionist thing. Remember we talked about justification by faith being a Protestant thing over against Roman Catholicism. We’re going to have the other thing that called cession, “c”—not—“s”, cessionist. All Protestants have been cessionists in that the conditions of the book of Acts ceased, so you cannot perpetuate Acts through the rest of the Church Age. No apostles.