by A.E. Knoch

THE gradual introduction of the truth for this present administration of God's grace is brought before us in a variety of ways in the Word. The apostle through whom it came describes his ministry as a continual change from glory to glory (2 Cor.3:18). Not only that, but his associates were also changing. There are five characters which give us a biographical outline of the transition from Pentecost to the present. Barnabas, Paul, Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus give us a moving picture of the introduction of this dispensation.

These men were public characters. Undoubtedly, the record we have of their lives is limited to those features which illustrate the trend of the truth. The last three are specially chosen, in the order given, to be the subjects of Paul's personal epistles. Barnabas was twice instrumental in bringing forward Saul, and was separated with him for his first missionary journey.

In this series we see a constant descent in physical standing. Barnabas, the Levite, held almost the highest place the flesh could have in relation to God. He was not only of the seed of Israel, but belonged to the one tribe which monopolized nearness to Jehovah in the divine service. Paul was a Benjamite, not so high in the physical scale, yet far above the despised nations. Timothy occupies a middle place. His mother was a Jewess, but his father was a Greek. Paul circumcised him. Titus was the standing example that circumcision in flesh was not for the nations. Onesimus was not only uncircumcised and an alien, but a slave, the lowest in the social scale.


But for two things Barnabas might have been the logical channel to make known the truth for the present. He had a high standing in flesh, for he was a Levite. He was not a great sinner, like Saul, hence could not be the chief example of grace. These two advantages disqualified him. If the present grace flowed through Israel, as was to be expected in the early chapters of Acts, Barnabas would be an ideal channel. The Levites were teachers. Good men like him will be missionaries to the nations when the kingdom is set up. His name means "Son of Prophecy," which took on the sense "Son of Consolation" in Aramaic. He was a regular spokesman for God so long as blessing was through the chosen nation. He was a consolation in the midst of the prevailing apostasy.

Those who read the opening chapters of Acts with discernment will notice one great lack. In the kingdom of God to be set up on this earth blessing will not be confined to Jews and proselytes. They are to have the more blessed place of being a blessing to the other nations. Yet in Pentecostal days the nations were never reached. They preached the word to none but the Jews only. Peter and Stephen went to proselytes, The question is, while they were so intent on their own blessing, was God preparing a suitable channel for carrying the message to the aliens in these early days? We believe that those who look beneath the surface can see plain indications that He was. Barnabas was the one qualified for this service.

There was one thing against him so far as his standing in Israel was concerned. Like Saul of Tarsus, he was born in a foreign land. He was a native of Cyprus (Acts 4:36). He was a living evidence of Israel's disobedience and dispersion. His parents should not have left the land which Jehovah gave them. Yet he himself evidently returned to Jerusalem, and we find him first under his personal name, Joseph, evidencing his faith in God's promised kingdom by selling some property of his own and bringing the money to the apostles at Jerusalem. Others also did this, but he is the only one mentioned by name. His act is in contrast with that of Judas, who bought a freehold, and also with that of Ananias and Sapphire, who dissembled and were judged.

His foreign birth, however, favored a foreign ministry. He would be at home among the Greeks, and have perfect command of the language which was understood in foreign fields. His name, Joseph, is another intimation. Joseph was a type of Messiah blessing the world. Of old, Joseph not only saved his own family from the famine, but also was the saviour of Egypt. The action of the apostles in surnaming him "Barnabas" (Acts 4:36), is indicative of their lack of interest in the welfare of the nations, and the ministry for which he was fitted. Like the one hundred forty-four thousand who will carry out this ministry in the millennium, Barnabas was a celibate (1 Cor.9:6). In all things he was suited to this service. The mention of the name Joseph is, perhaps, the earliest hint in the book of Acts indicating God's intention of evangelizing the nations.

It will be noted that Barnabas becomes the means of Saul's temporary association with the disciples in Jerusalem. This is significant, for it was counter to the trend of the truth. It is evident that neither Saul nor Barnabas understood that they were to be severed from the Circumcision. Saul tried to join the disciples. But their ignorant fear was symptomatic and indicative of God's plan to divorce Saul and his message from the holy city. Barnabas' intentions were the best, but Paul's boldness soon made his residence in Jerusalem dangerous. The Hellenists, by their opposition and threats, accomplish God's end, and frustrate Barnabas' plan to unite Saul with the rest of the Circumcision.

These considerations are confirmed by the fact that Barnabas was the one chosen to go to the first gentile converts at Antioch. The apostles had no hesitancy in choosing him to help the Greeks there who had believed (Acts 11:22). He did not take anyone from Jerusalem to aid him. Perhaps he remembered how powerful had been Saul's witness to the Hellenists in Jerusalem, and that Saul was especially commissioned to preach to the nations, for he soon went to Tarsus to hunt him and he brought him to Antioch. They evidently became the local leaders, for both are sent to Jerusalem to relieve Judea in the great famine (Acts 11:27-30). Let us note here that it is always "Barnabas and Saul," for the former was the leader and Saul always took a secondary place until his name was changed to Paul. Note how gradual is the trend to present truth. The nations, indeed, have been reached, but there has been no break with the Circumcision. All seems still in harmony with the blessing through Israel, under the twelve apostles.

It is worthy of notice that it was during their journey to Judea that they take up Mark (Acts 12:25). Undoubtedly he was chosen to wait on them partly because he was a cousin of Barnabas (Col.4:10). Such a fleshly relationship is no basis for fellowship in service in this economy. It was quite the thing in the kingdom service of Barnabas. This mistake was made in order to teach us how unfitted is the flesh for the spiritual dispensation toward which all was tending. Mark soon left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). This is exceedingly suggestive of the failure of Israel to go to the nations. Barnabas, because he was a relative, was minded to give him another chance, when they were about to revisit the places where they had been (Acts 15:37). But Paul would not have it. It may be that he looked beneath the surface and saw that a spiritual ministry should not be based on a fleshly tie. Let us look beyond the personal in Mark's defection and Barnabas' contention with Paul. These things must needs be in order to exhibit the conflict between flesh and spirit which characterizes the incoming of this economy.

Mark never did embrace the truth given to Paul. He retained his physical standing as one of the Circumcision (Col.4:10,11). Himself a signal failure in service, he was a fit medium for chronicling the acts of the perfect Servant. He wrote the account of our Lord's life which bears his name. In the evangel of the kingdom he became a success. But the equipment for that ministry was entirely inadequate for the higher realm of Paul's new revelations. Mark's failure is a divine indication that flesh is unfitted for it. The clash between Barnabas and Paul was God's means of further separating the latter from the Levite and his cousin, who were hindering the spiritual trend of the evangel. Henceforth Paul takes the place which Barnabas had held.

In Antioch, while Barnabas was still the leader in the current toward present truth, both he and Saul were severed to this special ministry by the holy spirit (Acts 13:2). The full force of this is seen more clearly if we remember that, at about the same time, James, the brother of our Lord, usurped control of the Circumcision saints. He was not accorded the supremacy by any spiritual fitness or right, but principally because he was near of kin to Christ. At the same time that Paul's ministry is becoming more spiritual the Circumcision are becoming more carnal.

The change of leadership from Barnabas to Paul takes place at a crisis which is in fullest accord with it. Sergius Paul called for "Barnabas and Saul." As the latter had been specially commissioned for the nations, he takes the lead. The crisis is clearly marked, for the record runs: "Now Saul, who is also Paul..." He is no longer Saul, the aid of Barnabas, but Paul, the apostle of the Uncircumcision. Barnabas is not given a single word of recognition in this key occurrence.

Paul begins this ministry by performing his one destructive miracle, the blinding of Elymas, the Jew, Bar Jesus. This is manifestly a sign of the blinding of the nation of Israel, for they had become false prophets and they were withstanding Paul's evangel. In a very real sense Paul's subsequent ministry is based on this blindness. Henceforth, Paul goes to the nations despite the opposition of Israel. Blessing comes to the nations notwithstanding their attitude. Mark soon goes back to Jerusalem. Barnabas takes a secondary place. Henceforth it is "Paul and Barnabas," unless they are among the Circumcision (Acts 15:12,25).

At this time Barnabas still stood for the blessing of the nations through Israel. Bar Jesus, the false prophet who sought to turn Sergius Paul from the faith, represented Israel in an entirely different attitude. They were antagonistic. The subsequent experience of Paul and Barnabas in the synagogues amply confirms this. This is doubtless the reason why Barnabas has nothing to say to Sergius Paul. Israel is becoming a curse, rather than a blessing. This completely nullifies the ministry which Barnabas was to have carried on. It prepares for the introduction of the present grace, which comes to us, not on the ground of Israel's blessing, but because of their temporary repudiation.

Another significant scene, which is not found in the book of Acts, shows us the weakness of the flesh which led to the replacing of Barnabas by Paul. When Cephas came to Antioch he showed that he was no longer Peter the brave apostle, but Cephas, the man of flesh, because he sacrificed the truth in order to please the carnal James, our Lord's brother. Barnabas should have stood firm against this weakness, but he could not rid himself of his physical prejudices. He played the hypocrite with the rest (Gal.2:13). Paul stands alone for the great spiritual foundation truth that justification is by faith, not by law. So far as the record of his ministry is concerned, this is practically Barnabas' last appearance.

Barnabas is intentionally brought before us as the most commendable character in the book of Acts. No other man is called "good" (Acts 11:24). His championship of Saul at Jerusalem was mistaken, but we cannot blame him for his ignorance. His journey to Tarsus to bring Paul to Antioch must be regarded as an important step toward present truth. It is difficult to understand his career unless we consider him as the vessel tentatively chosen to reach the nations through Israel, depending on their reception of the Messiah. As their defection spreads, he gradually yields to his chosen friend, Paul, who was not called until Israel had given very definite indications that they would reject the evangel of the kingdom.


On so great a subject there is much to say, but we will simply seek to point out those incidents in his career which
constitute the long ascent to present truth. Like Joseph, or Barnabas, his connection with the nations is suggested by the place of his birth. Both were born in foreign lands, near the sea, which is a type of the nations. Possibly there is no more blameless character in the Hebrew Scriptures than Joseph, and few worse than Saul, the first king of Israel. The same is true of their namesakes. Barnabas was a good man and Saul was very bad. We have no reason to believe that Barnabas ever opposed Messiah or His people. But Saul distinguished himself as the most malignant of His enemies, and the fiercest persecutor of His saints.

This is a most important point. Paul is not only our apostle, but our pattern. If grace is to be the principle ingredient of this economy, it must be manifested first of all in the call of Saul. Grace could not be called into play in the case of Barnabas. His sins were not great enough. His background was not black enough. Only a religious, self-righteous, murderous fanatic like Saul could rank as chief of sinners. Add to this the notable fact that he was allowed to persist in his course until he went outside the land, and we have a perfect premonition of God's present work transcendent grace outside the pale of Israel. Saul had committed the "unpardonable" sin and was doomed to eonian extermination. Nothing could save him in the land.

His commission to the nations is too obvious to need more than a mere mention. But the fact that he did not immediately align himself with the leaders in Jerusalem, but went off into the Arabian desert, he himself deems a strong argument in favor of his special ministry. It was three years before he met Cephas in Jerusalem (Gal.1:17). He met very few of the saints in Judea. At first they were afraid of him. Barnabas befriended him, so that he was acknowledged. But his encounters with the Hellenists, or foreign Jews, soon made his stay in Jerusalem impossible, and he went back to his native city, Tarsus. In the providence of God, he could not labor in Jerusalem. Circumstances separated him from the Circumcision.

His next field is a contrast to this. Barnabas again befriends him, but takes him to Antioch this time, where some Greeks have believed. This is in line with his commission, hence he remains there a whole year, teaching. Then he goes up to Jerusalem again, to relieve the famine. This is significant. Where Saul is there is plenty. Jerusalem lacks sustenance. This is quite as true in spirit. Saul (or Paul) always got into trouble when he went to the holy city. His visits always served to sever him from it, instead of uniting him to the Circumcision saints. And this notwithstanding the fact that he came with presents for the poor. This time they called Mark to go with them. This young man helped to further emphasize the failure of the Circumcision in their attitude toward the nations.

Mark might have been a Timothy or a Titus if he had not been a Jew of Jerusalem. His flesh and the influences controlling him were all contrary to the trend of Paul's ministry. It probably was not altogether the hardships of Asia Minor which induced him to return to his home just as Paul was about to enunciate the first hint of justification at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14,15), to be followed soon after by the evangelization of Lystra, where Timothy heard and believed. He could not be in full sympathy with the message which more and more was leaving Jerusalem and the Circumcision to their unbelief and was being received among the far-off aliens.

When Barnabas and Saul were severed for their special ministry, the indications were that Barnabas would continue to be the leader. Yet this very severance by holy spirit seems to have revolutionized the relationship. Barnabas normally stood for union, not severance, and flesh, not spirit. The change put Paul, as his name now becomes, into the place of prominence. Indeed, Barnabas, from this point onward, is gradually ignored, and we are engaged with Paul's ministry henceforth.

The new condition of affairs is vividly presented in their contact with the gentile, Sergius Paul (Acts 13:6-12). We have no record that Barnabas said a single word. The blinding of the false Bar Jesus changes the whole aspect of affairs. It shows that Israel, as a nation, could not channel blessing to the other nations, but was a hindrance to their faith. This took away the ground from under Barnabas' feet. It provided the proper conditions for the exercise of Paul's message. The change of his name from Saul, suggestive of the apostate king, to Paul, which means "interval," gives a strong hint of a parenthetic period in which Israel is set aside, and the nations reached apart from their intervention.

Soon after this Paul spoke at length to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch. When many of them, like Bar Jesus, contradicted and blasphemed, then Paul and Barnabas made a joint statement: "It was necessary for the word of God to be spoken first to you. Yet, since, in fact, you are thrusting it away, and are judging yourselves unworthy of eonian life, lo! we are turning to the nations" (Acts 13:46). This was a great advance toward the present. It is the enunciation of a principle quite contrary to what had preceded. Then, if the Jews will not receive the evangel, there was no hope for the gentile. Now, if the Jews will not accept God's mercy, then the gentiles will receive God's grace. This, we repeat, is a key to this economy, which is based on Israel's apostasy, not on her blessing.

At Lystra, in all probability, Paul received his highest revelations, while he was lying outside the city presumably stoned to death. The utter grace of this should not escape our hearts. The evangel is just beginning to be preached to the nations. Urged on by the Jews, they stone the messenger of God, and leave him for dead. Under law, in the kingdom, this would call for severest judgment. But, under grace, it is the appropriate place to reveal the celestial destiny of those who received Paul's evangel. This knowledge could not be made public at that time, but it doubtless had a strong influence on Paul's subsequent career. Henceforth he knew that, as soon as Israel's apostasy was ripe, God had a celestial allotment for those who were temporarily connected with the proclamation of the kingdom.

Strange as it may seem, God often uses His opponents to perform His will. Now the radical Circumcisionists are used to emphasize the graciousness of Paul's evangel. They come down to Antioch and seek to fasten the rite on all the believers. In fact, they want to make proselytes of them. Paul and others are sent to Jerusalem to get a ruling on this question from the apostles. He does not trust his case to the open convention, which could easily be stampeded by the Judaisers, but had private previous conferences with the most influential. In this way he won over Peter and influenced James, and won a temporary injunction against the Jews who threatened to wreck his testimony.

It is most significant that Peter's last recorded utterance brings him to the border line of present truth as at no other time. "Through the grace of the Lord Jesus we are believing, to be saved in a manner even as they" (Acts 15:11). He could never have come this far if God had not prepared his heart by the call of Cornelius. He cannot see that Paul is doing much more than what he was led to do. He remembers his reluctance and the vision which corrected his prejudices. And he recalled the opposition of his friends to his conduct. He now sees Paul in the same difficulty and does his best to help him out. How superficial and transient was his mood is evident soon after, when he goes to Antioch. Afraid of James, he caters to the Jews. But the Acts account is through with him when he opens the door of faith to the nations, or, perhaps we should say, to the Jews.

The end of Peter's speech seems to be distorted. We might expect him to say that the nations would be saved by grace. But he turns to insist that, beneath all the outward ceremonials which attend the salvation of the Circumcision there is the substratum of grace. The divine intention of Peter's words, it seems to me, is to open a passage by which some of the Circumcision, at least, could enter into the grace which Paul was proclaiming. The same is true of his subsequent commendation of Paul, in his epistle. We must remember that Paul's evangel was for the Circumcision as well as the Uncircumcision. While Peter and others could not enter into the present grace because they have their destiny fixed on earth, there is no reason why some of those to whom Peter spoke and wrote should not accept the greater grace. Peter's last words prepare them, for this.

The decrees suggested by James were a backward step in Paul's ministry. True, they definitely settled the contention in his favor. Circumcision and law keeping were not to be required of believers among the nations. Yet it put the nations under the jurisdiction of James. Releasing them from a divine law it enslaved them to human decrees. They were a sign of Israel's political superiority on earth in the kingdom. They did not last long. Their principal use was to furnish a background for the present grace, in which they are abolished (Eph.2:15). Perhaps there is no more striking difference between Acts and Ephesians. In one the decrees are formulated and enforced. In the other, they are repealed. Paul still has a long way to go toward his goal.

It is at this time that Timothy is called into service. Superficially, his circumcision seems another backward step. We must remember, however, that it was not done until the question of its status had been settled. Perhaps there was more need, at this time, of reminding the Jews that Paul's evangel was also for those of the Circumcision who would receive it.

Saul was not called until he was outside the land. It is probable that his greatest revelation was received at the limits of his first missionary journey, at Lystra, as far from Jerusalem as he had hitherto journeyed. Now he is called to Macedonia, and at Thessalonica, the farthest point he reached, he makes known the prior expectation and eclectic resurrection of those who receive his message. At Corinth he makes known the conciliation. Later he goes to Rome, his greatest distance from Jerusalem, before he writes the revelation of the present secret administration. None of these later revelations are mentioned in the book of Acts, for they are outside its scope. If the Lord's presence in the air were a part of the kingdom message it would have been made known to them in the land, and it would have found a place in the Acts, which chronicles the fortunes of the kingdom.

The omissions in the historical record we call the Acts of the Apostles are most significant. Far more of their acts are overlooked than are recorded. Ever since its true subject was lost there has been a tendency to inject these into the narrative. Some have actually inserted Paul's epistles where they are supposed to belong! The church's rule has been, "If it is in Acts it is for us." It should have been, "If it is in Acts, it is not for us." On the other hand, we may be quite sure that revelations coming through the apostle Paul at this time, which are not in Acts, most certainly are preparatory for present truth. Acts gives us quite an extended account of Paul's visit to Thessalonica. It gives us a summary of his argument in dealing with the Jews (Acts 17:2-4). But there is not the slightest hint of the momentous revelation which is contained in his epistle to them, nor of his writing that epistle.

The very fact that he did not reveal it to them while with them in flesh, but later by letter, is indicative of its spiritual contents and tendency. Such incidentals are not accidents. It should assist us to grasp the intensely spiritual character of this economy to note that Paul presented none of it to the saints in person. There was no physical presence. How easy it would have been for Paul to deliver his messages to each place in person, and give us a record of each as it was spoken in Acts! But because these messages were spiritual they were written while his flesh was absent. Because they are beyond the scope of Acts they were not recorded in it. And each new advance in truth finds him further from the holy city and the people of the covenant, in flesh as well as in spirit.

This thought is more and more evident toward the end of Acts. He warns the Ephesians that they would not see his face again (Acts 20:25). He is arrested. His itinerant ministry ceases. He finally is a prisoner in Rome. Scholars have labored hard to prove that he was released, but the evidence is by no means conclusive. It is not in harmony with the trend of the truth. The transcendent spiritual message of the present comes to us from one whose flesh is infirm and confined in prison and bound with a chain. It is proof positive of the failure of the kingdom proclamation. It absolutely destroys all hope of present physical blessing.

Acts almost ignores Paul's Galatian campaign and hurries him out of Asia to Macedonia. It emphasizes his testimony and sufferings in Thessalonica, and the fact that the Jews were not as noble as those in Berea. These eagerly received the word and tested it by the Scriptures. Judging by the account in Acts, any new revelation at this time should have been granted, first of all, to the Berean nobility, who were worthy. Do we not see another intimation of God's grace, in honoring the Thessalonians, rather than the Bereans, with two inspired epistles, written not to obedient Israelites, but to those who had recently turned to God from idols? Present truth does not follow Berean faithfulness in Israel, but Jewish apostasy in Thessalonica. It is better to be a Thessalonian gentile believer than a noble Berean Jew.

Not long after this we find him at Corinth. The attitude of the Jews causes him to exclaim, "Your blood be on your head! I am clear. From now on I shall go to the nations" (Acts 18:6). The Lord gave him a vision, assuring him that he would not be illtreated. The Jews tried their best to annoy him. The notable fact emerges that God definitely engages Himself against the people of the covenant. Instead of receiving and proclaiming the kingdom they oppose it and threaten the life of its herald. There is little to show any advance in truth during Paul's long stay in Corinth.

Paul's extended sojourn in Ephesus is most suggestive in the light of our present inquiry. Perhaps no city in the gentile world was as sacred as this. It was, for the nations, in some degree, what Jerusalem was for the Jews. Artemis of the Ephesians had a magnificent shrine and a world-wide worship. Here it was that Paul severed the disciples from the synagogue and burned up a valuable collection of books on magic. His message comes into conflict with Judaism on the one hand, and demonism on the other. Here is the central crisis in his ministry. From this, the leading religious city among the nations, Paul makes known the great truth of the conciliation, which sets aside Israel's religious supremacy. At the close of his stay in Ephesus he reveals all that great body of truth which is contained in Romans and Corinthians.

In Acts the only plain declaration of the great change in his ministry is contained in the enigmatic words "as these things were fulfilled" (Acts 19:21). There is no hint of the fact that Paul no longer would know Christ according to the flesh (2 Cor.5:16), that those under his ministry were justified and reconciled, that they were the "body" of Christ, that further light had been given concerning the secret of the resurrection, of which he had spoken to the Thessalonians. We should not expect to find these things in a treatise on the kingdom. Paul's ministry to the dispersion must fail, even as did that of the twelve in the land. His message for the nations must change, to accord with the defection of the favored people.

He now faces his last visit to Jerusalem. Every journey to the holy city is a going back in a figurative as well as a literal sense. There is no blessing there. He brings the bounty of the nations, and in return is made a prisoner. Israel's apostasy takes tangible form in the chains which bind him. During all this period, until he finds himself in Rome, there is no further progress in the truth. The final revelation cannot come until Israel's political place is taken from her, and this must be done in Rome, not in Jerusalem or in the land of Israel. Therefore, he is certain that he shall see the city of the Caesars. Nothing can hinder that. When he might have been released, he appeals his case. The final act of the kingdom tragedy must be staged at the imperial capital.

Paul's shipwreck is a graphic picture of the collapse of his kingdom testimony among the nations. Many had embarked with him, hoping for a happy voyage into the earthly kingdom. The ship goes to pieces beneath them, the cargo is lost, yet all are saved because they are with Paul. When the kingdom failed to materialize, many of the Circumcision apostatized. Others died in faith, according to the exhortations in Hebrews. But those who had received Paul's message were saved through the catastrophe, and with him received the later, higher unfolding of the prison epistles.

Paul, as God's ambassador to mankind, takes up his residence in Rome. There he becomes the standing symbol of peace. His bonds demand war. No earthly power would suffer its ambassador to be loaded with chains. But the high court of heaven refuses to interfere on his behalf, in order to show the world that God's attitude today is one of settled, unchangeable peace. Mankind can offer Him no greater affront, they can give Him no more flagrant cause for fighting, but He refuses to be drawn into conflict with them during this day of conciliation.

In Acts his chain is on account of the expectation of Israel (Acts 28:20). In Ephesians he is the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the nations (Eph.3:1). In Acts he proclaims the kingdom by word of mouth. No doubt he also spoke of the latest and greatest, the final and finishing revelation which was made known soon after he came to the city. In Acts we have only a hint that he taught "that which concerns our Lord Jesus Christ." What a vague yet revealing word this is! If the book of Acts contained the truth for the present, it would certainly not dismiss the mystery of Christ and the secret economy, which embody the truth for us, in such a summary fashion. To its very end Acts preserves its character as a chronicle of the kingdom, and absolutely refuses to step over the boundary into the present grace.

May we not see, in the closing days of the aged apostle, a veiled intimation of the end of this administration? All in the province of Asia turn from him (2 Tim.1:15). Only Luke was with him. His kingdom ministries, as recorded by Luke, may be acknowledged by some of the saints, but those celestial unfoldings which are the very essence of his evangel for the present are almost unknown and unacknowledged. The test of truth today may be made a very personal matter. What place have we for Paul in our theology? Have we also abandoned him in his Roman prison? If so, we are turning our backs on the truth. If we abide with him there, by means of his epistles, we should reach the very summit of divine revelation and possess the touchstone to present truth.


Though Peter is not one of those who received the truth for the present, it is both interesting and important to understand the relation he sustained to it. The chief of the Circumcision apostles was prepared to acknowledge Paul's commission to the nations by his own experience in the case of Cornelius. He was himself reluctant to go to the house of the proselyte, and needed a special vision to break down his prejudice. Notwithstanding his rank and influence, he was called severely to task for entering the home of aliens and eating with them. He defended himself on the ground that God had received them, giving them the holy spirit without any ceremonial act, such as baptism or the laying on of hands.

While the council was called to decide whether the gentiles who had believed should be compelled to be circumcised and keep the law, Peter was Paul's principal protagonist against the Pharisaic legalists. His speech at this time is exceedingly significant, for it closes Peter's ministry in the book of Acts. Just as the book itself leads us up to, but never into, present truth, so Peter, speaking to his Circumcision brethren, leads them to the very edge of Paul's ministry. He begins with a statement which would lead us far astray, if taken from its context. There are many passages in Acts like this. He claims that God chose him as the channel through whom the nations were to hear the evangel, and believe (Acts 15:7). It would be easy to deduce from this that Peter, not Paul, is the apostle of the nations. Yet no one at the council would get this impression. Peter speaks of a single experience in the past, Paul told them of a marvelous ministry in the present.

Peter then makes a notable statement, which doubtless saved the day for Paul. Because God did not discriminate between Cornelius and the Circumcision in the gift of the holy spirit, Peter recognized the great truth that their hearts had been cleansed by faith. Nothing else was needed. The spirit did not wait for baptism or the imposition of hands. God accepted them on the basis of belief. This is Peter's nearest approach to present truth. He cannot go further, so he fades from view. The most prominent character in the first part of the Acts disappears the moment that he comes to the border of the new economy which was then only in its formative stage.

Then Peter takes up the salvation of the Circumcision. He declares that the law is a yoke which neither their fathers nor
they were able to bear (Acts 15:10). Then follows a most remarkable statement, well worthy of being the last words of the great apostle in this transitional account. The turn of thought is quite novel. We would expect him to say that the nations would be saved in some way like the Circumcision. But be reverses this. He recognizes that grace is the underlying basis of all salvation. So he says "through the grace of the Lord Jesus we are believing to be saved in a manner even as they" (Acts 15:11).

This closing confession of the great apostle seems to us to be especially intended to point the Circumcision to Paul's evangel. Not that Peter intended it so, for he had no idea of the tremendous width of the cleavage which was just beginning. James, at this very conference, shows that he does not understand where Paul's ministry is leading. They all
suppose it is but the blessing of the nations, through Israel, foretold in the prophets. The whole book of Acts is like this. It begins with the statement. "It is not for you to know the times or the eras." The whole action recorded in the book is based on ignorance as to the time of the kingdom's restoration. Only at its end is Israel set aside.

The fate of these Circumcision disciples presents a serious problem. From the book of Hebrews we learn that many of those who were once enlightened apostatized (Heb.6:4). They tasted the powers of the Pentecostal era, but fell away when the promised kingdom did not materialize. Others, however, died in faith, not being requited with the promises, like the patriarchs of old (Heb.11:13). Peter was one of these. In the former resurrection he will be roused to sit on a throne to rule one of the tribes of Israel.

There was still another group among the Circumcision, who consorted with Paul, who received his message, and who were embraced in the celestial allotment. Paul himself was one of these. Perhaps most of them were won by Paul from the synagogues among the nations. The great burden of Ephesians is that, in the present grace, the Circumcision and Uncircumcision are one. In presenting the truth, however, Paul first takes this group of Circumcision believers, and changes their allotment from earth to heaven (Eph.1:3-12) and then gives the same allotment to the believers among the nations.

Not only are Peter's closing words in Acts calculated to call the attention of the Circumcision to Paul's ministry, but the same thing occurs in his epistles. At the close of his last letter he calls attention to Paul's writings, in which there is an explanation of God's "patience" (2 Peter 3:15,16). If any one of them cannot understand why the kingdom does not come they are referred to Paul. Doubtless many of them did this and entered into the present grace.

Thus we see that Peter points to the present, without understanding it or entering it himself. These intimations are strikingly placed at the very end of his public utterances in Acts, and close his written record.

In Paul's epistles we have another view of Peter's relation to the present. When he went to Antioch, soon after the conference in Jerusalem, he fellowshiped with the gentiles at first, then he shrank back and severed himself, for fear of James and his party (Gal.2:12). This encouraged the rest of the Jews to do the same, so that there was a split in Antioch between the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision. Now this action is the exact opposite of the truth. As set forth in Ephesians, Jew and gentile are to become one. The presence of Cephas (Peter according to the flesh,
Gal.2:11) created division. No wonder Paul withstood him to the face! Peter cannot come into actual contact with the grace of today without causing conflict and confusion. The same is true in spirit. Peter's message mars and unmakes Paul's ministry.

On the one occasion when Peter enters into Paul's epistles (aside from mere references) we are given his characteristic
attitude, as well as our proper attitude toward him. The passage between Peter and Paul in Antioch is no mere personal quarrel or entertaining historical incident. It is a vivid and graphic picture of a great truth. If we must have sacred paintings, let us have one in which Paul is withstanding Peter to his face. If this scene had not been forgotten the history of the church would have been far different. In its theology the church has blotted out Paul with Peter. Instead, with Paul, we should censure Cephas and send him back to the Circumcision where he belongs.

Peter's place, then, is a double one. Unwittingly, he is used by God to open the door to the Circumcision, so that some
may enter into the transcendent grace of this economy. But among the nations themselves, though at first he seems to come with the unifying, gracious conduct which befits us, he soon shows where his sympathies are, for he makes havoc of the very fundamentals of the present grace. Great is Peter, the prince of the apostles of the Circumcision, in his own place. But when he enters that which approaches the present he is rejected before all by the apostle through whom the secret administration is about to be revealed.


Timothy is a living exposition of a great truth that pervades Ephesians. In him the two, Circumcision and Uncircumcision, were made one. His mother was a Jewess, but his father was a Greek. He embodied both. He sets forth their vital union.

The time of his call is most significant. Paul had gone out to the nations, as far as Lystra. There, when he was stoned and left for dead, we suppose he received the abundance of the revelations which he afterwards made known in Ephesians. It was a great spiritual crisis, a vast advance toward present truth. Then it was that Timothy heard Paul and became a believer. But he did not immediately become his companion. Timothy does not enter the service until the kingdom proclamation in the land had practically ended, after the conference in Jerusalem. He accompanies Paul among the dispersion and is his messenger to the nations.

Paul has often been criticized for circumcising him. But it must be remembered that the question of circumcision had been settled. It was a concession to Jewish prejudice, not a rejection of the truth. Besides, to be a representative character, as we are supposing, in whom both parties unite, he should not only be Jewish, but circumcised. He should be as much of a Jew as a gentile.

If the two classes had not been made one in Christ Jesus, Timothy would present quite a problem. What would be his standing, Jew or Greek? In him we see a physical expression of the new humanity, in which such distinctions vanish. Let us remember that the present is not an exclusively gentile dispensation. It includes Israelites as well. Though Israel as a nation is apostate, the evangel goes to them as individuals just the same as to the other nations. The result is a vital union between those who are called out of Israel and the nations, which is pictured for us in Timothy.


In Titus we have the representative gentile of the transitional era. He was especially chosen to accompany Paul to Jerusalem to provide a living example and witness to the truth that circumcision is not necessary to salvation. Perhaps we may view him as the embodiment of Galatians, or of all of Paul's preprison epistles, especially when he went to Jerusalem. Then he was a guest, a partaker of Israel's physical sustenance, just as the nations were still dependent on Israel's spiritual bounties.


Here we have a picture of ourselves! Onesimus has no place in Acts. He has no experience of that economy. He was the fruit of Paul's bonds. A runaway slave, he is caught by a prisoner in Rome, and returned to his master in the glorious freedom and grace of Christ. Such should be our experience. We escaped from the service of God and fled from His presence. We were most unprofitable. Through Paul, the prisoner, we have returned to God, not only loaded with love and all spiritual blessings, but with the power to please and profit Him. Onesimus means "profitable." I have little doubt that God's dealings with the nations in this era of His grace will be the most profitable of all His vast adventures, It will bring Him an untold return of loyal love and heartfelt adoration, not only from ourselves, but from the hearts of an admiring universe.

These three only - Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus - are especially named as Paul's children in the faith (1 Tim.1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 10). They present us with the threefold results of his ministry for the nations. In the wisdom of God, the brief record of their lives gives us a graphic glimpse of His gradual introduction of the truth which is ours in this era of His transcendent grace. For many this transitional period is difficult to understand. May our meditation on the lives of these men of God help us to trace His hand. As we leave the Levite and descend to the slave, may our hearts burn within us as we grasp the accumulating grace which culminates in the faith which is ours today in Christ Jesus.

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