As Peter and John entered the Temple area the crippled man implored them for alms (Acts 3). Unable to give that, they gave him a far greater gift, his health. The excitement generated by this miracle gave rise to one of the most stirring promises, and theologically significant sermons, in scripture.
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said to the fathers, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. `And it shall be [that) every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. “You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, `And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ “To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one [of) [you) from your iniquities.”
It is our intent to show from this text 1.) the identity of what was to be restored; 2.) The nature of the restoration; 3.) Acts 3 and the passing of the Old Covenant; 4.) Acts 3 and the parousia.
THE RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS:
THE OBJECT OF RESTORATION
Proper interpretation of Acts 3 clearly depends on the determination of what was to be, or will be, depending on a person’s view, restored. The word apokatastasis (restoration) means to restore, to set back to the correct position. (Bauer’s Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1979, second edition)92).
The word itself does not itself indicate the object or nature of restoration. It simply means to set aright what has gone wrong. Thayer’s lexicon says that it is “the restoration not only of the true theocracy but also of that more perfect state of (even physical) things that existed before the fall.” (Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1973)63).
We would agree that the focus of restoration in Acts 3 was Israel; not however, material creation. This is the overall message of Luke’s book.
Scholars have long debated the purpose of the book of Acts.
Conzelmann suggested that Acts was to teach the church how to live in light of the failed parousia. ( Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke, (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1961) 137: “As the life of the world continues, there arise certain problems concerning the relation of the Church to its environment, which had remained hidden at the beginning because of the belief that the End was imminent.” Thus, the purpose of Acts was “damage control” in light of failed eschatology. What a tragic and faith destroying view)!
Bruce says the purpose of the book is three-fold: to show the continuing work of Christ, through the Spirit, after His resurrection and ascension; to, “defend Christianity and Paul against the accusations of various opponents”; to demonstrate the successful mission of Paul in standing before the emperor in Rome. (F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Eerdman’s, 1984) 29+).
Thiessen suggests a four-fold purpose: To supply authoritative information about the early church leaders; to demonstrate the unity of the early church among Jews and Gentiles; To show that Paul was not a troublemaker and thus undeserving of imprisonment; To show that God was with the apostles by means of miracles, wonders and signs. ( Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdman’s, 1943)184).
While there is some merit to some of these suggestions–except Conzelmann’s–we would suggest that the purpose of Acts was to chronicle the completion of the World Mission in its proclamation of the fulfillment of the restoration of Israel.
THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL
A quick over-view of Acts will show that, “The author appears to go out of his way to show the close connection between Christianity and its antecedents in Judaism.” (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, The Gospel and Acts, (Chicago, Inter-Varsity Press, 1965) 318).
1.) Chapter 1:6–“Will you at this time restore ( The word restore,(Acts 1:6, is apokathistemi. The word in Acts 3:21 is apokatastasis. The words are virtually identical and found together in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary). The kingdom to Israel?”
Note: It is commonly asserted that the disciples’ question revealed a mistaken concept of the kingdom. However, if so, it means that Jesus opening the eyes of his disciples to understand the scriptures (Luke 24) did not “take” and that the forty days of instruction concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) were misunderstood. Whereas scripture unequivocally declares that the disciples did not understand Jesus’ teaching about his resurrection there is no textual indication whatsoever in Acts 1 that the disciples were in error in regard to their questions about the kingdom. I am currently writing a couple of articles on Acts 1 to demonstrate the imminence of the kingdom in that chapter, and, to show that Luke had a specific prophetic source in mind that he used as the template for the chapter, and for the book.
2.) Acts 2:29-37–God had fulfilled his promise to sit the Messiah on the throne of David.
3.) Acts 4:23-31–The disciples understood the death of Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalms 2. Yet Psalms 2 declared that the persecution of God’s anointed one would ensure–not prevent–the enthronement of the Messiah.
4.) Acts 5:31–Peter declares that God exalted Jesus, “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
5.) Acts 13:15f–Paul shows that Jesus was given “the sure mercies of David” (v.34) and warns of judgment if Israel rejects Him as Messiah (v. 40-41).
6.) Acts 15:13–James cites Amos 9 as proof that God was fulfilling His promise to “rebuild the tabernacle of David that is fallen down.” The tabernacle of David had to be restored for the Gentiles to be saved. The Gentiles were being saved. Therefore the lineage of David was being restored.
7.) Acts 17:3–Paul’s message was that Jesus is the Christ. The Messiah was to restore and save Israel, Isaiah 62.
8.) Acts 23-28–Paul repeatedly affirms that he was on trial for preaching what, “Moses and the prophets” foretold (24:14). Paul’s gospel was the message of the, “hope of the promise made by God to our Fathers” (26:6). His message was the imminent fulfillment in Christ of “the hope of Israel” (28:20).
Clearly, Luke’s concern in Acts is to chronicle, “The striking success (not the rejection) of the apostolic mission to Israel which represented the restoration of Israel as promised (Acts 15:13-18).” ( Mark Nanos, The Mystery of Romans, Minneapolis, Fortress, 1996)268. The fact that Luke records the proclamation of the fulfillment of God’s promises to restore Israel does not mean that the message was gladly accepted by all of the Jewish audiences (e.g. Acts 13, 17, 18). It does show that God had faithfully performed His act of restoration and that Israel was being told of that and invited into it.”)
In fact, the restoration of Israel– so that the rest of mankind might enter her salvation– is Luke’s entire focus in Acts! ( I present this important concept, Acts and the Restoration of Israel, in a 50 lesson series MP3. This study can be ordered here.
While it is indubitably true that Acts contains pneumatology, ecclesiology, Christology, and eschatology, etc., all of these things are presented within the framework and context of God’s faithfulness to His promises to Israel. It is the failure of modern exegetes to be sensitive to Luke’s use of Israel’s prophecy that leads to a failure to appreciate the grand purpose of Acts.
With the evidence above it would be surprising indeed if the “restoration of all things” in Acts 3:21 was not the restoration of Israel. This view is supported by the prophetic use of Luke’s word translated “restoration.”
RESTORATION IN THE PROPHETS
When Israel sinned, Jehovah, in fulfillment of His covenantal promises of judgment, removed them from the land. Yet amid the judgment came the promise of restoration. Those promises were both historical as well as Messianic. By this we mean that there was the promise of actual restoration to the land and the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem, and there were the promises of the coming of the Messiah to exalt Israel. The word Peter used to speak of “the restoration of all things” was a key word used by the prophets to promise these things.
In Jeremiah 16:13-15 Jeremiah told Judah that they were about to be removed from their beloved land. Yet he also promised, “I will bring them back (LXX, apokatastasis) into their land which I gave to their fathers.” (My emphasis, See also 24:6). This promise was fulfilled under Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 1;5;6; Nehemiah 9:36f).
In addition, Jehovah also promised to restore Israel under the righteous “Branch,” of the line of David, under whom Judah and Israel would be restored (Jeremiah 23:5f). This Messianic prediction is parallel with the prophecy of Amos 9 and other such texts. Israel’s restoration under Messiah is the focus here.
One of the most significant predictions of the “restoration” is found in Malachi 4:5-6. The Lord said that Elijah was to come and, “he will turn (apokatastasis ) the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Elijah, the Restorer, was to urge Israel to “remember the Law of Moses”; thus, the framework of “restoration” was within the confines of Israel’s world. He was not to be a prophet to the nations per se.
The work of Elijah was eschatological; he was to appear before the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5-6). (See my11 tape audio series on John the Immerser as Elijah and last days prophet. John is one of the most significant eschatological figures in scripture yet is commonly ignored. For some insight into John’s eschatological significance, see my written debate with Jerry McDonald and the one with Olan Hicks. Both debates can be found on here).
Thus, Elijah was to come and do the work of restoration in anticipation of the Day of the Lord. This fits well with the context of Acts 3. Peter says Christ would come at the climax of restoration. Notice that Peter said the restoration of all things was the object of the prophets and they “spoke of these days”(Acts 3:24)–the days before the parousia. Thus, restoration before parousia, not parousia then restoration.
Elijah, as Restorer, was to minister to Israel and (attempt to) turn them back to the Law before the Day of the Lord. In Acts 3 Peter says the prophets who spoke of that promised restoration spoke of his days–those were the days in which John as Elijah had appeared. Israel was the focus of Elijah’s work of restoration; Israel was the focus of Peter’s ministry of repentance. More to follow.