(Acts, Hebrews, James)
WERE THE opening words of the book of Acts weighed as they should be, it would revolutionize the creed and course of Christendom. It is a continuation of the proclamation of the kingdom; the creeds connect it with the inception of the church. The accounts of our Lords life did not complete the kingdom ministry. He chose commissioners or apostles to carry it on after His ascension. The book of Acts is an account of the kingdom ministry as carried on by those chosen by the Lord, in the power of the holy spirit. It takes up the thread of what Jesus began to do and teach and continues the same teaching and the same operations to the very end.
Christ heralded the kingdom to Israel. He accompanied His proclamation with signs and marvels in the land of Israel. The apostles enlarged the sphere of its proclamation as He instructed them, but the very same kingdom which the nation had refused was again proclaimed by the authority of the risen King.
Both Luke and Acts were written for Theophilus. Luke is called first account ... concerning all which Jesus begins both to do and to teach. Hence Acts may well be regarded as a sequel to Lukes account. It has the same sympathetic breadth, dealing with the human aspect of the kingdom. It also continues the ministries contained in the other accounts, as the close student will discern when he seeks to analyze the addresses it contains. The apostles acts are based on the various commissions which our Lord gave them while still with them. Only such commissions as the last kingdom commission (Matt.28:19,20), which is not in exercise until Christ takes His great power and reigns (Rev.11:17), are absent from their ministry.
For forty days He was with them and spoke of the things pertaining to the kingdom. As a result they wished to know whether the kingdom would be restored at that time. This question and the answer flashes its light upon the very heart of the book. Not yours is it to know . . . They were to go on proclaiming the kingdom in ignorance of the effect of their ministry. If it had been Gods will to restore the kingdom then, doubtless He would have encouraged their hearts by assuring them of the success of their proclamation. The inference is all too clear: the book of Acts is an account of the rejection of the kingdom after it had already been refused and the King crucified. They were to receive power, not to rule, as when the kingdom is established, but to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the limits of the earth. This would, of course, include the other nations, but only as proselytes, like Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48) under the ministry of Peter, or as guests (Eph.2:12) and debtors (Rom.15:27) under the ministry of Paul.
Peter is the central figure in the first half of the book; Paul becomes more and more prominent in the latter half. He duplicates every sign or miracle which Peter performed, yet his ministry in the book of Acts is consistently confined to the kingdom, as it was to be proclaimed among the nations. It is only at the very close that he turns from the apostate nation and quotes Isaiahs prediction against them.
When the nation of Israel rejects the repeated proclamation and is thrust aside to give place to the present grace, as dispensed in Pauls later epistles, what becomes of the individuals in the nation who received the message of our Lord and His disciples? Some, we know, like Paul, were incorporated in the new body, in which all physical distinctions vanish. But the great bulk of the believers among the Circumcision never became members of Christs body and still clung to the Kingdom. What is to be done with them now that the Kingdom is in obeyance?
The epistle to the Hebrews answers this question. That they are the believers of the book of Acts is evident from many allusions. That they are Hebrews is manifest, not only from the title (which may not be inspired) but from the opening words as well as the tenor of the whole epistle. We read of, . . . God speaking to the fathers in the prophets. Apart from the fact that this cannot refer to any nation except the Hebrews, we are assured in Romans (9:5) that the possession of the fathers is one of their peculiar privileges.
The epistle to the Hebrews read in this lightas written to Hebrews whose faith was sorely tried by the postponement of the kingdomwill yield rich and satisfactory results. They are led step by step to see that this is no new thing. Israel has always failed as a nation through lack of faith. Nor is their position a new one. There has always been a remnant who were true to Yahweh, who died in faith not having received the promises. They are added to this great class. They are like the sons of Israel when Moses led them out of the land of Egypt. Only those who believed entered the land. So they are exhorted to faith like the worthies of old.
To appeal to this epistle for truth for the present time can lead only to the dimming or denial of the transcendent grace in which we share. If those who had the faith of the kingdom apostatize what can there be but judgment? But those today who believe God can get nothing but grace.
THE EPISTLE OF JAMES
How can we mistake the plain directions on James envelope?
TO THE TWELVE TRIBES IN THE DISPERSION
The twelve tribes. What twelve tribes? Four times do we read of twelve tribes. Twice we are assured that the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt.19:28; Luke 22:30). Is there any other nation which could possibly be intended? The names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel are on the portals of the new Jerusalem.
Should we not pray to God to give us grace to acknowledge that He never speaks of any other twelve tribes but those of His chosen nation? This letter is not addressed to any other tribe of any other nation.
But it is not addressed to the whole nation for it is limited to the dispersion. Who are they? Some of the nation dwelt in the land that Yahweh had given them. Others dwelt in foreign countries. These were given the special title of the diaspora, or the dispersion.
You will be seeking Me, and you shall not be finding Me. And where I am you can not be coming. He spoke of His return to the Father, but they asked themselves, He is not about to go to the dispersion of the Greeks and teach the Greeks? (John 7:35). This Greek dispersion is spoken of in Acts 6:1; 9:29; 11:20, being there called Hellenists. They were Jews affecting the speech and culture of the Greeks among whom they lived. They retained this name even after they returned to the land of their fathers, for their customs and speech were quite distinct from the Jews of the land, so that some of the dispersion to whom James wrote lived in Greece. In fact, they were dispersed all over the known world. But, just as it is today, their race marks cannot be eradicated, no matter where they are. They cling to the sacred rite given to them by their father Abraham. To them the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the law, the liturgy and the promises all belong (Rom.9:4).
Shall we filch this letter from them, or shall we leave it for them, and enjoy the rare wisdom it contains, and glorify God for its perfect adaptation to them at the time when they will so sorely need its teachings? James is the same name as Jacob. Perhaps we have erred in suggesting it was written to the twelve tribes of Israel: rather it was written to the twelve tribes of Jacob the supplanter. His descendants are seen in this epistle in the same character in which he excelled before divine grace had taught him his own crookedness and helplessness and changed his name to IsraelUpright-is-Subjector.
Besides, James writes in the character of a slave. As such he addresses them because they, too, are viewed as in the sphere of service. All is considered in this light. Justification is not viewed from the Divine standpoint, but from the human; not from grace but from works; not from the unconditional covenant with Abraham (Gen.17) to which Paul refers (Rom.4:13); but to the trial of his faith (Gen.22), when his faith was perfected by his works (James 2:22).
We find, then, that James wrote to the twelve tribes outside the land. His own name, Jacob, is the key to their spiritual condition, and the entire epistle is tinged with this. It is the lowest of the letters. He never calls them saints, but sinners (James 4:8). They are under law (James 4:11). They are friends of the world (James 4:4). They have forsaken the land for gain (James 4:13). They heap up treasures for the last days. Judgment awaits them from the hand of Yahweh of Hosts (James 5:4). Does not this fit Israel in the impending tribulation, when they forsake the land for Babylon?
Our translators, in their endeavor to conceal its true character from us, translate sunagõgê, assembly (James 2:2) though they never so render it elsewhere in its more than fifty occurrences. It was written to the twelve tribes, and they worshiped in a synagogue.