Replacement Theology|– The Conversion of the Gentiles– Fulfilling Prophecy! #27
Continuing with our chain of thought that the NT writers affirmed that they were preaching nothing but the hope of Israel, and that their hope was not delayed and had not failed, I want to call attention to one of the key passages in the book of Acts, Acts 15. Before getting to a full discussion of that text, let me set the context.
Keep in mind that Peter had been given “the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19f). That authority was exercised on the day of Pentecost when he proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead – in fulfillment of God’s promise to David that he would raise the Christ to sit on his throne (Acts 2:29f). Be sure to read our comments above (Article #23) about the fact that Peter called his audience’s attention to the fact that what was happening on Pentecost was in fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel:
1. The prophecies of the resurrection of Messiah.
2. The prophecies made to David, that God would raise Messiah to sit on David’s throne.
3. The prophecy that Messiah would be seated at the right hand of the Father (Psalms 110).
4. The prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit in the last days (Joel 2:28f).
This raises a question: If God’s OT promises to Israel had been postponed, and if, on the day of Pentecost, God was doing something unknown in Israel’s OT prophecies.,why in the world did Peter speak so eloquently and powerfully of the fact that the events surrounding Jesus’ passion and that day of Pentecost were in fact in fulfillment of Israel’s OT prophecies? Why is there not one word from Peter or any of the apostles on that august day, that even remotely suggests to us that Pentecost was a “starting over with a new “Plan B” because of the failure of “Plan “A”? Why did Peter speak so much about the remarkable fulfillment of Israel’s promises that day, instead of saying at least something of the postponement of Israel’s hope? Pentecost was the affirmation of fulfillment not failure! This is very important!
From Pentecost onward, Peter is presented to us as one of the key leaders of the church in Jerusalem, even in the midst of the persecution that arose. But then, a stunning thing happened.
In Acts 10, Peter, the apostle to the circumcision, but, the one with the keys to the kingdom, was called upon by the God of heaven to preach to the Gentiles! Peter absolutely did not want to preach to the Gentiles, and this raises an important point.
It must be remembered that part of the cherished hope of Israel was the restoration of all twelve tribes under Messiah. A host of Old Testament prophecies made it clear that in the kingdom, all the tribes would serve Messiah under a New Covenant (Ezekiel 37). While the restoration of Israel was a foundational tenet of Israel’s eschatological hope– and Peter would surely have no problem facilitating the fulfillment of that hope– the calling of the Gentiles into the body of Israel– being grafted into Israel’s things, per Romans 11 – was a mystery that was simply not well understood or grasped by Israel (Romans 16:25-26). There were OT prophecies of the calling of the nations to join Israel in the kingdom (Isaiah 61-62). Thus, it was not a 100% unknown tenet. Nonetheless, the idea that the Gentiles would be called into a full equality in the kingdom, with Israel, was not well known, and certainly not well accepted.
Replacement Theology and the Samaritans| What Does This Mean?
In Acts 8, first Philip, and then the apostles had gone to Samaria to share the gospel of the kingdom and the Spirit with those new converts to Messiah Jesus. This would have been seen as a normal, expected part of the restoration of Israel. Samaria was the epi-center from which the Diaspora went, and was viewed still as the very epitome of apostate Israel. Neither Peter or any of the apostles had any objection to converting the Samaritans! They may be “half-breeds” but, they were still seen, at least in some ways, as “Israel.”
The same cannot be said of the Romans. We should not be surprised when Peter initially refused to share the gospel of Christ with a Roman centurion (Acts 10). After all, Romans were pretty much despised by all Jews of the day! So, in stark contrast to the mission to Samaria, accepted and approved by the apostles and the leadership of the church at Jerusalem, Peter simply did not want to go to Cornelius’ house. He did not want to share the gospel with that Roman soldier! And even when he did, he encountered stiff opposition from the leaders at the church at Jerusalem.
As we will see, Peter was essentially called on the carpet for preaching to a Gentile, a Roman (Acts 11)! Now, remember, that same church leadership had no objection to the preaching of the gospel to the Samaritans, because of the historical connection between Samaria and the Israelites. So, preaching to the Samaritans was part of the “restoration of Israel” foretold and anticipated by the Old Covenant prophets and longed for by good faithful Jews. But, preaching to a Gentile, who was not even a Samaritan, was another thing entirely.
Take note of the fact that even after the Lord had “convinced” Peter to go to Cornelius’ house and preach to him, that the moment he walked in, Peter said: “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?” (Don’t you find it almost funny that Peter said he came “without objection” to Cornelius’ house?
Replacement Theology| Peter, Cornelius and the Fulfillment of Israel’s Promises!
Peter reminded Cornelius that it was unlawful for him to enter the house of a Gentile. This reflects on the Jewish antipathy toward those that were “not of the tribes” (Greek allophule) or, “not of the seed (allogenes). Those of Israel were not to “mingle” or associate with those outside their nation. (Again, keep in mind that Peter and the leaders of the church at Jerusalem had no such reservations about going to the Samaritans). Be sure to go back above and read Larry Siegle’s excellent comments on the mystery of God as relates to the conversion of Cornelius and the subsequent mission to the pagan nations.
When Peter proclaimed the gospel of Christ, his death and resurrection, and now the forgiveness of sin through faith, the Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household. If we think Peter was “moved” by his vision of the sheet from heaven and the Lord’s voice speaking to him, now, he is totally blown away!
Take careful note that Peter, having been spoken to directly by God from heaven, informing him that he was to preach to Gentiles, it seems that even as he spoke to Cornelius the pieces began to “fall into place for him.” He said, “To him the prophets witness that through his name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10: 43). Do you see what Peter has done? Do you catch the power of what he said?
Peter, who adamantly did not want to preach to Gentiles, was convinced by the Lord to preach to the Gentiles there in Caesarea. Seemingly, as he spoke, he realized, he remembered, that even the OT prophets had foretold that “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins”– not just Israelites, not just Judeans– but, “whoever believes in Him!” (Compare Revelation 22:17). And, to our point, Peter now realizes that his preaching to the Gentiles was part and parcel of the Old Covenant promises and prophecies made to Israel! Peter realized that what was happening, right then and right there, was not Replacement Theology, but, Fulfillment Theology! What an event!
There could not be a clearer proof that the Old Covenant did predict the church and the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter was not preaching the postponement of the kingdom! He was not preaching a message different from what the OT prophets said, for he undeniably now “justified” (and realized) that his preaching to Cornelius was foretold in “all the prophets” all along!
What Peter said there in Cornelius’ house, and what happened even as Peter spoke those momentous words, was incredible. But, it is not the total story. The “rest of the story” reinforces what we have shared in earlier installments of this series on Replacement Theology. What we will see as we continue our study of the conversion of Cornelius is, if possible, an even stronger repudiation of the false charge of Replacement Theology. Stay tuned!