Dispensationalism and the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9; An introduction

DispensationalismDaniel 9 allows Jerusalem a further 70 cycles of 7 years each—490 years—to achieve 6 goals.  The prophecy therefore promises that Jerusalem would be restored to Israel to serve as their executive capital.  The city is rebuilt constructed to receive the Messiah, but it is again destroyed because it did not receive the Messiah.  In Dispensationalism the last seven years are the seven last years before the Return of Christ, when the antichrist rule.  In the traditional interpretations the last seven years revolves around the Cross. 

Articles

This is the first article in a series on the Dispensational Interpretation of Daniel 9:

(1) Introduction to Dispensationalism and Daniel 9: Overview of the text of Daniel 9 and of the Dispensational interpretation
(2) Time indications in Daniel 9: When was the decree issued, when did the Messiah appear and when did God suspend His covenant with the Jews?
(3) Whose covenant is confirmed in Daniel 9:27; God’s covenant with Israel or the devil’s?
(4) Who confirms the covenant for seven years; the Messiah or the prince?
(5) Is the last week the last seven years before Christ returns?
(6) Dispensationalism Daniel 9 and the Antichrist: Other inconsistencies compared to the text
(7) When will the Daniel 9:24 goals, set by for the 490 years, be fulfilled?

Origin

John Nelson DarbyEvangelical Christians today extensively hold to the Dispensationalism view on eschatology, in spite of its relatively recent origin.  Dispensationalism is often linked with the teachings on prophecy by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)—from the 1830s on—and the Plymouth Brethren of Ireland.  Scofield (1843-1921) of the United States was influenced by Darby and presented the view of seven dispensations from Eden to the new creation in the notes of the widely used Scofield Reference Bible.

Overview of the Prophecy

Daniel the prophetsDaniel received the Daniel 9 prophecy in the year 538 BC.  At that time the Jewish nation was in Babylon in captivity, and Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins.  Daniel prayed for Jerusalem (9:16), the sanctuary (9:17) and for his people (9:19).  While still praying, the angel Gabriel appeared to him (9:21) and gave him the extremely compact and powerful prophecy contained in verses 24 to 27:

Verse 24

The prophecy commences with the announcement that 70 weeks have been decreed for Israel and for its capital city, Jerusalem, to achieve 6 goals:

Seventy WeeksSeventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to
   finish the transgression, and
   make an end of sins, and   
   make reconciliation for iniquity, and
   bring in everlasting righteousness, and
   seal up the vision and prophecy, and to 
   anoint the most Holy. (KJV)

Israel’s calendar followed a seven-year cycle in which every seventh year was a Sabbath for the land (Lev. 25).  The 70 weeks are 70 of those seven-year cycles, and consequently equal to 490 years.

The remaining three verses describe the events through which the six goals above were to be achieved.

Verse 25

This verse indicates when the 490 years start:

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to Rebuild Jerusalem Jerusalem

To identify this decree, it is important to distinguish between “restore” and “rebuild”.  “Restore” in the original text means to give the city back to its previous owner.  “Restore” does not include the idea of rebuilding.  Jerusalem was the judicial and executive capital of the Israeli people.  To restore Jerusalem means that it will be returned to the Jews to serve as their capital from which they would rule their whole nation, according to their own laws as a theocentric society.

Verse 25 continues to say that the Messiah Prince would appear 69 sevens (483 years) after that decree:

from the issuing of a decree … until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (NASB).

Verse 25 concludes by adding that the rebuilding of Jerusalem would be “in troublous times”.

Verse 26

This verse shifts the focus back to the Messiah.  While verse 25 indicated that the Messiah will appear at the end of the first 483 years, verse 26 states that he would be cut off “after” the 69 sevens.

Verse 26 then again diverts the focus to Jerusalem, stating that it will be destroyed again.  Since 70 weeks have been decreed for Jerusalem, it must be this destroyed after the end of the 70 weeks.

The CrossIt is important to note how the prophecy repeatedly jumps back and forth between Jerusalem and the Messiah.  Verses 25 and 26 switch four time from the one to the other.  As discussed in the article Poetry and Chiasm in Daniel 9, the prophecy of Daniel 9 is a form of poetic parallelism in which Jerusalem and the Messiah are the two foci.  These two foci stand in cause-effect relationships; the city is rebuilt to receive the Messiah, but it is again destroyed because it did not receive the Messiah.

Verse 27

The first part of verse 27 focuses on the final seven years:

And he shall with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (9:27 KJV)

The only event during the first 483 years is “restore and rebuild Jerusalem”.  The death of the Messiah, the “confirm the covenant” and the “cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (9:27) all happen during the final seven years.  These final seven years therefore are the core and the real purpose of the 490 years.  The first 483 years merely serve to locate the last seven years in time.

The last part of verse 27 describes unspecified destruction.

Conclusion

Daniel 9 is very different from the other prophecies in Daniel.  Daniel 9 is literal and only deals with Israel and the 490 years.  The other prophecies are symbolic and deal with all nations and with all time.

Dispensationalism: interpretation in brief

In Dispensationalism:

The 490 years start with the second decree of Artaxerxes I (Neh. 1-2), who gave Nehemiah permission to repair Jerusalem.

The first 483 years end with Jesus’ triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The 490 years are not viewed as continuous, but a huge “paren­thesis” or “gap” is inserted between the first 483 years and the final seven years.  The entire “church age” is a gap during which the prophetic clock has stopped ticking.

The seven years are the final seven years before the Return of Christ, commencing with the rapture of the church.  The rapture includes the resurrection of dead saints and the translation of living saints.  They will secretly be removed from the earth.

Confirm the covenantDuring the 70th week the antichrist will arise; a revived Roman empire whose prince will oppress the Jews and bring upon the world a 3½ year tribulation during the latter half of the seven years.

Traditional Interpretation

There is not much difference between Dispensationalism and the traditional Protestant interpretations of the first 483 years.  Both start the 490 years with a decree of Artaxerxes and both end the first 483 years in the time of Christ.  The major difference is with respect to the final seven years. In the traditional interpretation:

From a decree to restore – The 490 years began with Artaxerxes’ first decree in 458/7 BC.

Baptism of Jesus ChristUntil Messiah the Prince – 483 literal years later the Messiah appeared at His baptism in AD 26/27.  This was also the beginning of the final seven years.

Sacrifice cease – 3½ years later, in the midst of the final seven years, Jesus was killed, causing “the sacrifice and the oblation to cease”.  These sacrifices pointing forward to His death and lost their purpose and meaning when He died.

Last seven yearsConfirmed – Jesus Christ confirmed God’s covenant with Israel during the final seven years:

First through His personal preaching for 3½ years before His death;

Then, for a further 3½ years after His death, by sending His disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit to Israel only.  In those 3½ years the church consisted only of Jews and it still adhered to all Old Testament laws.  It was a sect of Judaism.  See Early Church.

The End – God’s 490-year covenant with Israel came to an end 3½ years after His death, when Israel rejected Him by persecuting His Spirit-filled disciples.  After this the gospel was suddenly redirected from Jews only to all people.

Jerusalem destroyed – Since 490 years were decreed for Jerusalem (v24), Jerusalem was not destroyed during those 490 years, but only in 70 AD.

Importance of Daniel 9 in Dispensationalism

The importance of the Seventy Weeks prophecy for Dispensationalism can hardly be exaggerated.  Dispensationalism often appeals to Daniel 9 as the clear proof that the entire Church Age is a parenthesis in the prophetic program which is found between verses 26 and 27 of Daniel 9.  The other schools of Christian thought on eschatology are able to survive even when their views of Daniel 9 are proven false, but Dispensationalism eschatology stands or fall on its interpretation of Daniel 9.

Summary

Daniel 9 goalsDaniel 9 sets 6 goals for Israel.

For this purpose it grants Jerusalem a 70 weeks.  Israel’s calendar was divided into groups of seven-years, where every seventh year was a Sabbath.  The 70 weeks are 70 of those seven-year cycles, and consequently equal to 490 years.

Jerusalem was to be restored.  “Restore” does not mean rebuilding.  In the original text to restore means that Jerusalem will be returned to the Jews to serve as their capital to rule the whole nation.

The prophecy repeatedly jumps back and forth between Jerusalem and the Messiah.  The prophecy of Daniel 9 is poetic parallelism in which Jerusalem and the Messiah are the two foci.  The city is restored and rebuilt to receive the Messiah, but it is again destroyed because it did not receive the Messiah.

The final seven years are the core and the real purpose of the 490 years.  The first 483 years merely serve to locate the last seven years in time.

Daniel 9 is very different from the other prophecies in Daniel.  Daniel 9 is literal and only deals with Israel and the 490 years.  The other prophecies are symbolic and deal with all nations and with all time.

In Dispensationalism the first 483 years end with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but the last week is the final seven years before the Return of Christ, when the antichrist will bring upon the world a 3½ year tribulation.

There is not much difference between Dispensationalism and the traditional Protestant interpretations of the first 483 years.  Both start the 490 years with a decree of Artaxerxes and both end the first 483 years in the time of Christ.  The major difference is with respect to the final seven years. In the traditional interpretation the final seven years include the 3½ years that Jesus preached in person and the 3½ years after His death, when He preached through His Holy Spirit to Israel only.

Dispensationalism is highly dependent on its interpretation of Daniel 9.  If the dispensational interpretation is Daniel is proven false, the entire Dispensational scheme collapses.

NEXT:   Time indications in Daniel 9: When was the decree issued?  Are these 490 years of 360 days each?  When did the Messiah appear and when did God suspend His covenant with the Jews?  The last seven years, which are the core of the prophecy, is identified by these time indications.

TO:  Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO:  Daniel 9: List of available articles

Confirm the covenant in the 70th week; Who makes what covenant with whom?

During the last of the seventy weeks “he” will confirm the covenant with “many”.  This refers to God’s covenant with Israel.  Through the seventy weeks-prophecy God extended His covenant with Israel for a further 490 years.  But during those last seven years the Messiah will confirm the covenant with many from Israel.  After that the covenant comes to an end.

Daniel 9:27 reads:

And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week

The “one week” is the last of the Seventy Weeks, but who is “he”?  What covenant is this and with whom does he make this covenant?

The Covenant of God

SinaiThrough Moses God made a covenant with Israel, but because of their disobedience, Israel went into exile.  At the end of Seventy Years of exile God, through the prophecy of Daniel 9, extended His covenant with Israel for a further seventy weeks of years (490 years).  On the basis of the arguments below it is proposed that the covenant in 9:27 refers to God’s covenant with Israel:

As discussed in the previous article (The Covenant in Daniel 9), the divine covenant is the central theme in Daniel 9 that integrates the prayer and prophecy into a unit.  This context speaks against the supposition that an altogether different covenant is abruptly introduced in the last 7 of the 490 years.

The word “covenant” appears in 6 verses in Daniel.  In four verses it is explicitly God’s covenant (9:4; 11:28, 30, 32.).

Some propose that covenant in 9:27 is not God’s covenant with Israel because of the absence of the article “the”, but in Daniel 11:28, 30, 32 “covenant” is also used without the article, while the reference is explicitly to God’s “holy covenant”.

He” refers to the Messiah.

The “he” in verse 27 must refer to a person mentioned in the previous verse.  This verse reads as follows:

Jerusalem destroyed
Jerusalem destroyed

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary …” (Daniel 9:26).

The “Messiah” is therefore the dominant figure in verse 26.  The “prince” is a subordinate figure.  It is not even the subject of the clause.  The subject of the clause is “the people.”

Dispensationalism proposes that the “he”, who will make a firm covenant with many in verse 27, is the “prince” of verse 26, and that this prince is an end time Antichrist.  He will enter into some pact at the beginning of the last seven years and then—in the course of those seven years—break his covenant.  Objections against this view:

(1) According to verse 26 “the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary”.  This refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century.  If his people refer to the first-century Romans, and if the prince is an end-time Antichrist, then the people and their prince live 2000 years apart, which is an unnatural interpretation.

(2) If “he” makes a new covenant for one week, then he cannot break his covenant in the middle of the week.

Confirm the covenant

The verb translated “make a firm” in the NASB is “gâbar”.  Strong’s short definition of this word is “prevailed“.  Of the 25 times this word appears in the OT, the NASB translates it 14 times as prevail. The evidence of the usage of gâbar in the Bible (“The covenant of the Seventieth Week” by Meredith G. Kline) indicates that verse 27 has in view the enforcing of a covenant previously granted.  It is not a verb for the making of a new covenant.  It should therefore be translated as “make firm a covenant”, and not as “make a firm covenant”.  The KJV translates it as confirm the covenant and Young’s Literal Translation reads “strengthening a covenant”.  Confirm a covenant implies a covenant that existed prior to the last seven years.  If so, it can only refer to God’s covenant with Israel.

The Many

The many”, with whom he will confirm the covenant, most often refers to God’s people.  For instance:

The Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities“ (Isa 53:11)

Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days” (Dan 11:33; See also Dan 11:39; 12:3; Matt. 26:28; Hebr. 9:26-28; Rom 5:15, 19; 1Co 10:33).

The covenant in 9:27 is therefore God’s covenant with Israel.

End of the week

Seventy weeksDaniel 9 does not specify a specific event for the end of the Seventy Weeks.  However, the Seventy Weeks was an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, as also indicated by the phrase, “Seventy weeks are cut off for your people and your holy city” (9:24).  The seventy weeks therefore end when God’s covenant with Israel ends.  It will be the end of all Jewish privileges as the covenant people.

This is confirmed by verse 27, which reads, he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.  This is last of the seventy weeks.  When that week comes to an end the messiah will no longer confirm the covenant with Israel.

NEXT:  Poetic Pattern and Chiasm
TO: Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO:  Daniel 9: List of available articles

Daniel 9: Translations differ with respect to whether the messiah appear at the beginning or end of the 490 years.

Daniel the prophetsDaniel 9 prophecies a period of 490 years.  It also predicts a messiah appears.  In some Bible translations the messiah appears at the end of the first 49 years.  Other translations the messiah appears close to the end of the 490 years.  This difference in the translations is due to assumptions with respect to punctuation, for there was no punctuation in the originally text of Daniel 9.  This article shows that the messiah appears close to the end of the 490 years.

The Two Translations

In the RSV and some other translation of Daniel 9:25 the messiah appears after 49 years:

Daniel 9 Seven weeks… from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks.  Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again …

The AB, ERV and the NEB follow a similar translation.  Given this translation the messiah cannot be Jesus Christ because the decree to restore Jerusalem was issued more than 400 years before Christ, as will be discussed below.

But in the NASB, KJV, NIV, ASV, ERV [margin], MLB and the JB and some other translations the messiah appears after 7 + 62 weeks (483 years), and therefore can be Jesus Christ:

… from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again …

The reason for the difference in the translations is punctuation (commas, full stops, etc.).  In the original Hebrew there was no punctuation.  The original Hebrew did not even have spaces between words.  When it comes to the Old Testament, all punctuation is interpretation.  The context must determine the punctuation.

So which translation is correct?

Septuagint(A) When the Hebrew was first translated into Greek, about 2000 years ago, punctuation was added.  The punctuation of all the ancient Greek translations, namely the Septuagint (LXX) and those of Theodotion, Symmachus, and Aquila and the Peshitta, treat the 7 and 62 weeks of Daniel 9:25 as a single period at the end of which the Messiah appears.  The Vulgate and Syriac, and in modern times also the NASB, adopted this punctuation.

Masoretic Text(B) The Jews first added punctuation to the Hebrew about 500 years after Christ; in the Masoretic period.  The Masoretic version of Daniel 9 adds an athnach (a principal disjunctive divider within a verse) after the words “seven weeks.”   This athnach resulted in the RSV transla­tion, in which the messiah appears at the end of the 7 first weeks.  The RSV follows the punctuation added by the Jews about 500 years after Christ.  There seems to be no reason to follow the Jewish translation.  They had a motive to remove Jesus from the prophecy.

(C) The addition of an athnach seems to indicate an anti-Christian bias.  Pusey, p. 190, n. 1, quotes Rashi to the effect “that on account of ‘heretics,’ i.e. Christians,” the clause was divided by an athnach.

Two different messiahs(D) Fair treatment of the text requires that the Messiah in 9:26 be the same as the Messiah in 9:25. Two different messiahs in two consecutive verses are unlikely.  If only one messiah appears in this prophecy, and if he appears at the end of the first seven weeks (49 years), and if he is killed after the end of the 69th weeks, then he is at least 434 years old when he is killed, which is not possible.  He must therefore appear at the end of the 62 weeks, as in the NASB, NIV, KJV, Young’s Literal and many other translations.

(E) The problem can be solved by noting that this passage is poetry and then by analyzing the structure of the poem.  This shows that the text swings back and forth between the City and the Messiah.  The table shows how the prophecy alternates between the two foci:

(A) City                                                                           (B) Messiah
from … decree to restore … Jerusalem         until Messiah the Prince
seven weeks                                                                and sixty-two weeks
will be built again                                                      cut off after 62 two weeks

This analysis shows that the seven weeks apply to the rebuilding of the city, while that the end of the sixty-two weeks relates to the Messiah.  (source William Shea)  This poetic analysis rules out the Masoretic punctuation and confirms that the Messiah appears at the end of the 62 weeks.

NEXT: Does Daniel 9 describe the same Crisis as the other prophecies in Daniel?
TO: Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO: Daniel 9: List of available articles

Early Church; Sect of Judaism

The Church started with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, but for a number of years it existed as a sect of Judaism.  The message, directed by the mighty Power, focused on Jerusalem only.

SUMMARY

The first 30 years of the church can be divided into four phases.

The first phase commenced with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and ended when the church was scattered from Jerusalem through persecution (8:1).  Estimates of the duration of this phase vary from one year to four years.

During this phase God’s Holy Spirit worked mightily, performing many great miracles (2:43; 5:12-16; 6:8; 4:22; 5:18-19), giving courage to the apostles and power to their sermons. In a few years the church grew from the initial group of 120 to many thousands (2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7).  However, the church was confined to Jerusalem, consisted of Jews and Jewish proselytes only and functioned as part of Judaism.  Indications of the Jewish nature of this first phase are:

In Jerusalem – The church received the power of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (1:4).  The Jewish Council (5:21, 27) later declared “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (5:28).  This first phase of the early church closed with the comment: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (6:7).

Pentecost – God selected Pentecost to pour out His Holy Spirit.  On that annual festival devout Jews from all nations, who spoke the language of the nation where they were born, were gathered in Jerusalem (2:10, 5). God also gave His followers the ability to speak the languages of these foreigners, indicating God’s purpose to reach Jews from all over the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.  On that day 3000 Jews were added to the church (2:41).

Call to repentance – Peter, the primary spokesperson during this phase, did not hesitate to blame the Jews for the death of “Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst” (2:22-23, 36; 3:13-15; 4:10-11; 5:30), but he also called the Jews to repentance, teaching:

That God exalted Jesus to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior to grant repentance to Israel (5:31);

That, for Israel first, God raised up His Servant Jesus and sent Him to bless Israel by turning them from their wicked ways (3:26, 20) and;

That the promise of the Holy Spirit is for them (Acts 2:38-39; 3:19).

It is therefore clear that God did not reject Israel for killing Jesus.  God continued to give preference to Israel after Christ’s death.

Jewish Sermons – The sermons were entirely Jewish, indicating that it was intended for Israel alone.  Peter addressed his audience as “Men of Israel“ (2:22, 36) and quoted liberally from the prophets (2:17-21, 25-28; 3:18, 21-25).  Stephen’s defense before the High Priest and the council was also thoroughly Jewish, summarizing Israel’s history (Acts 7).

In the Temple – The church worshiped every day in the temple (2:46; 3:1, 8 and 3:11), where only Jews were allowed.  God gave them explicit instruction to preach in the temple (5:20, 25 and 42).  God gave a most significant miracle at the temple (3:1-10), attracting the attention of all the Jews worshiping in the temple, and giving Peter the opportunity to witness powerfully (3:19; 4:4).

In conclusion, during these first few years God limited the efforts of His Holy Spirit to Jews. The church grew extremely fast, but consisted of Jews only, continuing to live practically as Jews. Christianity at this time was a subset of (part of) Judaism, and the dramatic actions of the young church were still confined to Jerusalem.

DISCUSSION

For a period of forty days after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His chosen apostles (Acts 1:2), proving to them than He is alive (1:3).  At the end of the forty days He was taken up into heaven (1:2-3).

Just before He was taken up, He gave orders to His apostles (1:2) not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait in Jerusalem to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:4-5).  Ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, the remaining 120 followers of Christ (1:15) were all together in one place.  Suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind that filled the whole house. There appeared what looked like tongues of fire that came to rest on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages (2:1-4).

On that day and during the subsequent years God’s Holy Spirit worked mightily.  Many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (2:43; 5:12; 6:8).  A man that was more than 40 years old (4:22), and who was lame from birth (3:2), was healed at the temple (3:1-10).  The apostles were securely locked up in prison (5:18, 23), but an angel released them (5:19).  The people of Jerusalem “even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them” (5:15).  “People from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were … bringing people who were sick … and they were all being healed” (5:16).

The Holy Spirit gave courage to the apostles and power to their sermons.  The church grew from the initial group of 120 to many thousands in a few years.  On the day of Pentecost alone the followers of Jesus increased from 120 to more than 3000 (2:41).  “The Lord was adding to their number day by day” (2:47).  After the healing of the lame man at the temple there were more than 10000 believers (4:4).  Thereafter “all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (5:14; 6:1, 7).  This is amazing, considering that the Leader of the group was killed, but instead of His followers hiding away, the number of followers increased exponentially on the basis of the teaching of these “uneducated and untrained men” (4:13).  This shows the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, the church was limited to Jerusalem, consisted of Jews only and functioned as part of Judaism.  Indications of the Jewish nature of this first phase are:

IN JERUSALEM

Jesus explicitly told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit (1:4).  The Jewish Council (5:21, 27) later declared “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (5:28).  This first phase of the early church closed with the comment: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (6:7).

PENTECOST

The church received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, when devout Jews and proselytes from all nations were gathered in Jerusalem (2:10, 5).  These Jews and proselytes included, amongst others, Parthians, Medes, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans and Arabs (2:9-10).  They spoke the language of the nation where they were born.  They also heard the sound from heaven and came together to see what it is.  The Holy Spirit gave the believers the ability to speak the various languages of these people.  These foreigners were amazed to hear the 120, whom they knew were Galileans (2:7), speaking in their own foreign languages of the mighty deeds of God (2:11-12).

The fact that God chose Jerusalem and the day of Pentecost to pour out His Holy Spirit, and that He gave His followers the ability to speak the languages of these foreigners, indicate God’s intention to reach Jews all over the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.  On that day 3000 Jews were added to the church (2:41).

JEWS CALLED TO REPENTANCE

Peter, the primary spokesperson during this phase, did not hesitate to blame the Jews for the death of “the Holy and Righteous One”::

On Pentecost Peter said to the Jews: “Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man … you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (2:22-23) AND “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (2:36).

In his speech in the temple, after the healing of the lame man, Peter said to the Jews gathered in the temple: “His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate … you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life” (3:13-15)

The next day, after they were jailed for teaching in the temple, Peter said to the “rulers and elders and scribes … gathered together in Jerusalem” (4:5, 8): “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone” (4:10-11)

The Jewish Council (5:27) later complained, “you … intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (5:28), but Peter reiterated “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross” (5:30).

But God did not reject Israel for killing Jesus.  Christ’s prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” was an expression of God’s heart. Israel still had the opportunity to repent (3:17-19).  Therefore Peter and the apostles preached repentance to the Jews:

Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you and your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:38-39)

After the lame man was healed, Peter said to the Jews in the temple, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away” (3:19).

Not only did Peter preach repentance to the Jews; he preached repentance for Jews first.  He assured his Jewish listeners:

That “for you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (3:26);

That Jesus is ”the Christ (Savior) appointed for you” (3:20) and;

That “God exalted (Jesus) to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel” (5:31);

Paul often used the phrase “Jew first” (E.g. Rom. 1:16; 2:9, 10).  God, after the death of Christ, not only sent the gospel to the Jews first, but they will always have the first right to salvation.  “From the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. 11:28).

JEWISH SERMONS

Peter’s sermons were entirely Jewish.  In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost he addressed his audience as “Men of Israel“ (2:22) and “the house of Israel” (2:36), and quoted both Joel (2:17-21) and David (2:25-28).  These references would have meant nothing to any Gentile standing around. The 3000 people who were saved that day would all have been Jewish.  His second sermon, in the temple, after the lame man was healed, was also entirely Jewish.  Several times he referred to the prophets (3:18, 21, 24-25), explicitly mentioning Samuel (3:24), Moses (3:22) and Abraham (3:25).

Stephen’s defense before the High Priest and the council was also thoroughly Jewish, summarizing Israel’s history (Acts 7).

IN THE TEMPLE

After Pentecost the 3000 believers were “day by day continuing with one mind in the temple” (2:46), where Gentiles were not allowed (Acts 2:46). The nearest the Gentiles could get was the Court of the Gentiles that surrounded the Temple.  “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer” (3:1).  “They were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico”, which was a specific part of the temple (compare 3:8 and 3:11).

God gave Peter to heal a lame man “at the gate of the temple” (3:2, 7).  This man “they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple” (3:2).  All the people knew him (3:10).  Since God had removed his deformity, the man was probably now, for the first time in his whole life, allowed to enter the temple.  He “entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (3:8).  With the man still “clinging to Peter and John” (3:11), and with all the people gathering around them, full of amazement (3:11), the miracle gave Peter the opportunity of testify in the temple, where only Jews were allowed.  God chose this location, which confirms that God’s efforts were still focused on the Jewish nation.  Peter urged them to “repent, so that your sins may be wiped away” (3:19).  Many believed, and the church grew to 5000 men (4:4).

After the apostles were jailed (5:18), an angel released them and told them to go and speak to the people in the temple (5:20), which they did (5:25).  The authorities arrested them again (5:26), “flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus” (5:40), but they just kept on preaching in the templeJesus as the Christ” (5:42).  Their worship still centered around the temple.  In their view they were the true Jews.

CONCLUSION

For a number years after Jesus’s death and resurrection God limited the efforts of His Holy Spirit to Jews.  During this first phase of massive growth the church consisted only of Jews, continuing to live like Jews.  Christianity at this time was a part of Judaism, and the dramatic actions of the young church were still confined to Jerusalem.  The later three phases provide additional evidence for this conclusion.

Key Phrases: Early Church, Holy Spirit, Acts 2, Pentecost, Jesus the Nazarene, Jewish origin of the church, Proselytes, Jews first, Jew first, First Church

NEXT: Judea and Samaria Phase

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