Replacement Theology| Cornelius and the Holy Spirit = Fulfillment Theology!
In our last installment we began laying the context for a proper understanding of one of the key Messianic “Temple” prophecies of the Old Testament. Be sure to read that previous article.
After Peter had (reluctantly) preached to the pagan Cornelius (Although he was a “God-fearer” he was nonetheless a non-proselyte. He was not of the tribes of Israel. He was a true “Gentile” in the sense that is commonly understood).
Peter and his entourage was shaken by the fact that Cornelius and his household had received the Holy Spirit and spoken in tongues and prophesied. That had only happened like this back on Pentecost. It was not a common occurrence, so, for it to happen, for it to be given to this pagan – no matter how pious he might be – and his household was truly amazing, shocking and challenging to Peter and his group.
Upon witnessing this amazing occurrence, Peter immediately challenged the entire group: ‘Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit, just as we have?” (Acts 10:47). Peter was clearly stunned that Cornelius and his household had received the gift of the Spirit in the same way, the same manner as the apostles on Pentecost. The impartation of that gift must be seen as fulfillment of Joel 2!
Remember that in Acts 2, when the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter unequivocally affirmed “this is that” in declaring the events of that day as the partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that in the last days, the Spirit would be poured out “on all flesh.” Here was Cornelius, a pagan, receiving another manifestation of the promise of Joel! This means that, as Peter had already declared in v. 43, the Old Covenant prophets had foretold the acceptance of anyone of faith. The fact that Cornelius received the Spirit was “another” fulfillment of Joel 2! Israel’s promises had not been postponed. They had not failed! Cornelius’ reception of the Spirit was proof!
Replacement Theology| The Presence of the Spirit = Fulfillment of Israel’s Promises!
There is an important point to consider here. Peter was an apostle and a prophet, inspired by the Spirit. What is so important about this is that Israel in the first century, and for centuries earlier, believed that the prophetic Spirit had departed from Israel with the book of Malachi. And, here is the critical point, the Spirit would not return to Israel, until the last days and the establishment of the Messianic Temple! The Spirit would only return, in other words, when God’s promises to David, to set Messiah on the throne, were fulfilled.
N.T. Wright, cites several sources, both Rabbinic and scholarly, who point out that the second temple (i.e. in Peter’s day) did not have the Spirit, the Shechinah. He shows that during the entire second temple period, there were no writers that affirmed that the Spirit had returned. No prophet or priest ever said that YHVH had come to the second temple! They always pointed to the last days and the Messianic temple. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Vol. 1, (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2013)104-107.
Likewise, Barton, says: “The conviction seems to be widespread in early Christianity that the spirit of God had returned, a sign that the last day had arrived (a point stressed by the author of the Acts of the Apostles when he describes the events of the Day of Pentecost as a sign of the Last days in Acts 2:17.” (John Barton, The Biblical World, Vol 1, (Routledge, London and New York, 2002)145.
So you catch the power of the reality of the out-pouring of the Spirit on Pentecost? Peter said it was the fulfillment of Israel’s promises. Do you see the implications for the out-pouring of the Spirit on Cornelius? Peter said it was the fulfillment of Israel’s promises! There is not a word here about postponement. No delay of Israel’s promises. No, this falsifies the charge of Replacement Theology. It is Fulfillment Theology directly from the mouth of Peter!
Notice the following argument:
The Holy Spirit had departed Israel with Malachi.
The Holy Spirit would return in Israel’s last days to bring in the kingdom.
The Holy Spirit had returned to Israel on Pentecost (and don’t forget John the Baptizer, who was full of the Spirit from his mother’s womb!) and in the apostles and prophets of Christ in the church.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the household of Cornelius and Peter affirmed that it was the same Spirit and the same actions as were manifested on Pentecost– fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel!
(From this alone, one could rightly conclude that Israel’s last days had arrived and the Day of the Lord was near).
The incredible scene there in the house of Cornelius, when the Spirit came on him, carries with it incredible eschatological implications that are often not investigated.
But that is not all.
When news of Peter preaching to Cornelius, a pagan, reached the leaders of the church at Jerusalem, they called Peter on the carpet to explain his actions. I must reiterate at this juncture how important it is to “catch the power” of what was happening.
Did the Jerusalem leaders call anyone on the carpet to explain their preaching to the Samaritans? Not a word of protest! Indeed, there was overt approval. When the leaders of the Jerusalem church – including Peter! – knew of the successful preaching of the kingdom there, Peter himself went to Samaria to lay hands on the new converts so that they could receive the Spirit! He went there to communicate approval and acceptance of the Samaritans. No objections. No sheets lowered from heaven were needed. No voice from heaven correcting any reservations about sharing the kingdom news with Samaria. Not a syllable of either disapproval or even reservation about preaching the kingdom to the Samaritans. There is such a stark contrast between that situation and Peter’s response to the command to preach to the Roman centurion! The conversion of the Samaritans was the fulfillment of God’s promises to restore Israel. But, the Samaritans were not being restored nationalistically, nor were they receiving a renewal of their possession of the land promises. They were not told that those promises were now on hold while God temporarily instituted Replacement Theology – as we have documented that Thomas Ice affirms. Peter and the apostles preached the kingdom in Samaria and imparted the Spirit to them – this is prophecy fulfilled!
However, when news of the Peter’s actions with Cornelius reached the leadership at Jerusalem, as just noted, they called on Peter to explain his actions. It is important to note that following the conversion of Cornelius, others began to share the gospel with Gentiles. Some in the church, those zealous for “the law” began to teach that while it was “okay” to bring the Gentiles into the kingdom, those Gentiles had to be followers of Moses and the Law. They had to be circumcised or else they could not be saved! This was an incredibly important, challenging issue! (And I would note that circumcision – and its relevance to eschatology – is still not properly understood by many believers today!)
The leaders of the Jerusalem church discussed the issue, concluding, by guidance of the Spirit, that it was improper to impose circumcision on Gentiles. They would be considered full members of the body of Messiah without being subject to Torah! Here is an expression, even if not fully understood by those men, of the Mystery of God, the equality of Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ! Notice the Peter said that God had shown that there was now “no distinction” between Jew and Gentile believers– between any person who believes in Christ (v. 9).
That council then concluded, in a speech by James, that what Peter had initiated and what was taking place in the conversion of the Gentiles was foretold by Israel’s Old Covenant prophets, and was in fact proof that Israel’s restoration, as promised in those prophecies, was taking place!
So, for Peter and for the Jerusalem council, the out-pouring of the Spirit on Cornelius was proof positive that what “all the prophets” foretold was being fulfilled. As we will see in the next installment, they saw the conversion of the Gentiles as the direct fulfillment of God’s promises of the restoration of Israel, because in their own prophecies, Israel had to be restored before the nations could be called into Israel’s blessings! In Israel’s prophecies “the tabernacle of David” had to be raised again (the restoration of “all Israel”) in order that the rest of mankind could then be saved!
In our next installment, we will look closer at the incredible scene and speech in Acts 15, and how it relates to the unfortunate charge of “Replacement Theology.” What we have seen in this installment on Cornelius and the Spirit is actually enough, but we will see that there is not one word about Replacement Theology; it is all about Fulfillment!