The 490 years promised to Israel in Daniel 9 came to an end a few years after the Cross; at the stoning of Stephen.

Peter preaching at PentecostIn the first few years after Jesus died, under God’s guidance, the gospel was preached only to Jews.  The Christian Jews continued to live like Jews.  Christianity was a sect of Judaism and had its headquarters in Jerusalem.  Two to four years after the Cross commenced the Jewish persecution of the Jewish Christians, beginning with the stoning of Stephen.  This was the end of God’s covenant with Israel, which is also the end of the 490 years promised by Daniel 9.

Sect of Judaism

The first seven chapters of Acts do not mention non-Jews.  In those first few years after Jesus’s death the gospel was preached only to the “circumcised” (Acts 10:45 – i.e. Jews).  Christians continued to live practically like Jews.  Christianity existed as a sect of Judaism and the dramatic acts of the young church were confined to Jerusalem.  This is evidenced by following:

Jerusalem

Jesus explicitly told the apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4).

Pentecost

PentecostThe apostles and other believers received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, when Jews from all every nation were gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:10, 5).  This implies that God chose that place and time to give the apostles the opportunity to preach repentance to the Jews.  Peter preached to the gathered Jews to repent (Acts 2:38) and on that day 3000 were added to the church (Acts 2:41, cf. 5:11).

Healing at the Temple

Peter preaching at the templeIn Acts 3 God gave Peter to heal a lame man at the temple (3:2, 7).  This implies that God chose this place for the healing to give Peter opportunity to preach the gospel at the temple.  All the people gathered around Peter and the apostles, full of amazement (Acts 3:11).  Peter urged them to “repent, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19).  Many believed, and the church grew to 5000 men (Acts 4:4).

Go again to the Temple

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).  They preached every day in the temple (5:42).

Israel forgiven

Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter told the Jews that Jesus had been exalted by God “to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).

Peter’s vision 

Peter dreaming unclean animalsA few years after the cross God gave Peter the vision of unclean animals (Acts 10:19-20) to convince him to accompany “without misgivings” the uncircumcised men which Cornelius sent.  Many people suppose that that vision was about what Christians are allowed to eat, but when Peter arrived at Cornelius, he interpreted his vision himself.  He said, “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (10:28).  Peter also declared “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (v34-35).  This implies that Peter previously thought that God was partial to the Jews.  He previously thought that non-Jews were unholy or unclean.  The fact that God had to give Peter this vision confirms that disciples and other believers did not associate with the “uncircumcised” in the first few years after the cross.

Holy spirit on gentiles

Cornelius receives the Holy SpiritA number of the circumcised Christians went with Peter to Cornelius (10:23, 45).  While Peter was speaking to the uncircumcised gentiles in Cornelius’ house, the Holy Spirit fell on them (10:44, cf. v45) and they spoke in tongues (10:45).  This amazed the “circumcised” that came with Peter (10:45).  The fact that they were amazed again shows that this was the first time that uncircumcised people received the Holy Spirit.

Back in Jerusalem

When “the circumcised” in Judea heard about these things, they took issue with Peter (11:2), asking why he went to uncircumcised men and ate with them (11:3).  After Peter explained what happened, they declared: “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (11:18).  This again confirms that, prior to this point in history, the believers did not associate with the uncircumcised, which means that the gospel was focused exclusively on the circumcised.

A series of articles is available that explains the history of the early church in more detail.  Please see Early Church Table of Contents.

Stoning of Stephen:
Turning point in history

In Acts 6 the gospel still focuses on the circumcised.  “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).  But in Acts 10 God, by giving Peter the vision, redirects the gospel to non-Jews.

Stoning of StephenMost of the intermediate verses describe the persecution of the believers, starting with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 (8:1) and ended with the conversion of Paul (9:31).  This shift in gospel focus was therefore caused by the persecution of God’s Spirit filled people.

The stoning of Stephen was a turning point in the history of the early church:

Prior to that, the church functioned as part of Judaism, Christians lived practically as Jews and the church was confined to Jerusalem.

Through the persecution, which followed after his death, God dispersed the believers.  This reversed Jesus’s instruction to His followers to stay in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4).  The church was expelled from Judaism and Jerusalem.  The Christian message was taken to the Gentile world.  As was their habit previously, the fleeing believers at first took the message only to Jews (11:19).  But the Holy Spirit steered the gospel towards the non-Jews, particularly through the conversion of Paul; the apostle to the Gentiles.

Dating of the stoning of Stephen

The dating of Stephen’s death is entirely dependent on the date of Paul’s conversion.  Merrill C. Tenney, in his book “New Testament Times” (Inter-Varsity Press, 1967, chapter 7), gives 30 AD at the most probable year for the crucifixion and 32/33 as the most probable date for the stoning of Stephen and the conversion of Paul.  R. Jewett (A Chronology of Paul’s Life (Philadelphia, 1979), pp. 1-2.) dates Paul’s conversion to AD 34.  Since this should at the most months after the stoning of Stephen, the Stoning of Stephen could be as late as 34 AD.  Stephen therefore died about 2 to 4 years after the Cross.

End of the 490 years

As argued in the article Confirm the covenant, the Seventy Weeks (490 years) come to an end when the Messiah no longer maintains His covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27).  Since the gospel went to Jews only during the first few years after the Cross, God’s covenant with the Jews did not come to an end at the Cross.  But since God suddenly redirected the gospel away from the Jews to all people, a few years after the cross, this must be the end of the Seventy Weeks.

It also seems appropriate that Israel would seal the termination of the covenant with the rejection and persecution of the people to whom God gave His Holy Spirit, just as they persecuted Jesus a few years before.

This conclusion also fits the time specifications exactly.  There was 483 years from the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (see Which Decree) to the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry at His baptism, as required by the prophecy.  3½ years later He offered Himself as the Lamb of God, “putting a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (9:27).  Another 3½ years later, at the end of the 490 years, the covenant with Israel came to an end.

490 yearsTherefore, God’s covenant with Israel ended two to four years after the Cross.

Stephen announced the end of the covenant.

In an earlier article (The Covenant in Daniel 9) it was shown that the entire Daniel 9 is based on the covenant God made with Israel.  Stephen’s speech was similarly based on the covenant.  While Daniel confessed the sins of his people and prayed for the mercies of the covenant, Stephen’s speech was a pronouncement of God’s judgment in terms of the covenant.

In contrast to Peter some time earlier (cf. Acts 4:8-12), Stephen made no effort to defend himself.  In contrast to other speeches in Acts, Stephen did not call his hearers to repentance.  Rather, he cites God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people in the past—keeping His side of the covenant.  Then he lists the failures of the Jewish people—explaining that the Jewish people did not keep their side of the covenant.  After his long recital of Israel’s history, he announced his verdict:

You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts 7:51- 53).

Jesus stood in judgment

Stephen then “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (7:55).  The Bible consistently says that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God (Luke 22:69; Heb. 8:1-2; 10:12; cf. Col 3:1; Rom 8:34; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Mar 16:19; 1 Peter 3:22).  But Stephen saw Him standing.  It is therefore proposed that Jesus stood in judgment, and that Stephen was the conduit through which Jesus’ judgment was announced on the Jewish nation.  Stephen brought to the Jewish leaders not only another one of God’s covenant lawsuits, but the final one.

Israel no longer the covenant people

The period of privilege for the Jews did not end at the Cross.  After Christ’s death God offered them a last opportunity.  But they failed (Acts 7:53).  The seventy weeks which God decreed for Israel have come to an end.  They were now no longer the people of the covenant.  The change in Stephen’s speech of the pronoun from “our” (Acts 7:11, 19, 38, 44 and 45) to “your fathers” (v. 51) means more than a simple breakage in Stephen’s solidarity with his audience.  It also implies the definitive end of the covenant God made with Israel.

Jew First

The gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

The covenant which God made with Israel was not synonymous of salvation. The purpose of the covenant was to take God’s salvation to the entire world (cf. Genesis 12:1-3).  God elected Israel for Himself and conferred to them a series of privileges, such as the multiplication of their seed, the gift of the land, and His own presence in blessing and protection, in order to enable them to be the channel for His blessing to all other nations.  Thus the covenant must be understood in terms of mission.

So to state that the Jews are no longer the people of the covenant does not mean that God has rejected them (cf. Romans 11:1–10).  Rather, God has chosen another method to execute His missionary plan.  God’s covenant with Israel was established on a corporate basis—i.e., it involved the entire nation as an entity.  The end of the covenant with Israel does not imply the end of God’s interest in the Jews as individuals.  Because of this, the gospel was still preached to them even after the stoning of Stephen (cf. Acts 28:17-28) (92).  But the privilege of being “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9) was no longer theirs.  The people of the covenant are now not defined by bloodline, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26-29; cf. Romans 11:25-32).

In his last moments Stephen prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60).  These words were much more than a prayer.  They were the genuine expression of God’s will in relation to the Jews. “If they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23).

What if Israel accepted the Messiah?

What would have happened if Israel accepted the message brought by the Holy Spirit?  It would have proclaimed “the excellencies of Him” to the entire world in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the goals for the seventy weeks would have been attained:

Finish the transgression,
Make an end of sin,
Make atonement for iniquity,
Bring in everlasting righteousness,
Seal up vision and prophecy and
Anoint the most holy place.

For more on this controversial subject, please see the series of articles on the return of Christ, concluding with Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?.

NEXT:  The Consistent Symbolical Interpretation
TO:  Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO:  Daniel 9: List of available articles

Early Church Phase III; First Gentiles

Phase III commenced when the First Gentiles were accepted into the church and closed 10 years later with the decision that they do not have to observe the Law of Moses.

OVERVIEW

The first 30 years of the church can be divided into four phases.  The third phase commenced with Acts 10.  This chapter can be divided into two events, both of which were shocks to the early church.

The first was the vision which Peter received in Joppa (10:5, 10).  Through this vision Peter, representing the church, discovered that Gentiles are not unclean (10:15, 28), that God does not show partiality to the Jews (10:34), and that people from all races and nations are welcome to Him, if they fear Him and do what is right (10:35).  This was a shock to the church because it previously thought of Gentiles as unclean and as not welcomed by God, even Gentiles that fear Him and does what is right.  The church previously thought only Jews are welcomes by God and that they (the church) are accepted by God because they are Jews.  The purpose of the vision was to convince Peter to “accompany them (the Gentiles) without misgivings” (10:20, 29), and to prepare him for the second event.

The second event—and shock to the early church—was when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles while they were listening to Paul (10:44-45); “all the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed” (10:45).  The Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Jews received the Holy Spirit in the beginning.  This made such a huge impression on Peter that he mentioned it twice when he reported back to the Christians in Jerusalem (11:15, 17), and once again during the Jerusalem Church Council (Acts 15:8).  The purpose of this event was to show the church that believing Gentiles must be baptized into the church (10:45).  This was the first time that Gentiles were allowed to join the church.  Before this event the church had no idea that the gospel must of may be preached to Gentiles.

However, this is not a completely accurate statement.  Because the believers included circumcised Gentiles, the distinction between Jew and Gentile is not exactly the same as between circumcised and uncircumcised people.  The Old Testament allowed Gentiles to become part of God’s covenant people and to share equally in the duties and benefits of the Law of Moses (Ex. 12:48-49; Deut. 23:8; Isa. 14:1; 56:6-8).  Such Gentiles are called proselytes (Mat. 23:15; Acts 13:43).  They were circumcised, and observed the Law of Moses.  As far as religious matters are concerned, the Jews did not distinguish between Abraham’s physical descendants and Gentiles, but between “circumcised” and uncircumcised men”.  That is why Paul so often referred to the uncircumcised, instead of Gentiles, and to the circumcised, instead of Jews (for instance Eph. 2:11; Gal. 2:7; Col. 2:11, Rom. 2:25-29; 3:1).  Therefore, where-ever this article refers to “Jews” the reader must understand “circumcised believers”, which include proselytes (circumcised Gentiles).  Similarly “Gentiles” must be read to exclude Gentiles that converted to Judaism.

The real surprise in Acts 10 (to the early church) was not that Gentiles received the Holy Spirit because Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit before (6:5).  The real surprise and real lesson in Acts 10, to the Jewish mind of the early church, was that uncircumcised” Gentiles, who do not observe the Law of Moses, received the Holy Spirit.  Before these events the apostles preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to circumcised people only.  The purpose of the events in Acts 10 was to show that the gospel must be preached to uncircumcised people as well, and that Gentiles must be accepted into the church without conversion to Judaism.

The events of Acts 10 provide further evidence that, up to the time that Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10, all Christians observed the Law of Moses:

Peter said, “I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (10:14).

The believers that came with Peter are described as “circumcised”, which implies that they observed the Law of Moses.  They were “amazed“ when “Gentiles” also received the Holy Spirit (10:45).  Gentiles therefore are mentioned as the opposite of “circumcised”.  This means that uncircumcised people (Gentiles)—namely people that do not observe the Law of Moses—have never before received the Holy Spirit.

This was the first time that “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (11:18) and that Gentiles were baptized (10:47), which means that only Jews previously accepted Jesus as Christ (Messiah) and were baptized.

The church, until the time of the events in Acts 10, not only consisted of Jews only; they also strictly observed all Jewish laws and traditions, but obviously, as taught and applied by Christ.  But since all other church members observed the Law of Moses, the question afterwards arose whether the Gentiles that have accepted Jesus must not still be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses.  Since his vision informed Peter that Gentiles must be accepted as clean, and since the Holy Spirit was poured out on uncircumcised Gentiles, just like on the Jews at Pentecost, Acts 10 seems to indicate that these Gentile Christians do not have to convert to Judaism through circumcision.  The third phase concluded when the church made a formal decision that Gentiles do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  This is recorded in Acts 15.

Gentiles received the Holy Spirit for the first time (Acts 10) more or less 7 to 10 year after Pentecost.  There were a further about ten years between the events in Acts 10 and Acts 15.  In other words, only about 20 years after Pentecost did the church formally agree that Gentiles may join the church without circumcision and without the need to observe the Law of Moses.

ACTS 10 SUMMARIZED

A Gentile at Caesarea named Cornelius (10:1), a devout man who feared God and prayed to God continually (10:2, 22), saw a vision of an angel who said to him to send for Peter (10:3-6, 30-32), for “he will speak words to you by which you will be saved” (11:14). Cornelius sent two servants and a devout soldier to Peter (10:7-8).

As they were nearing the place where Peter was, Peter also had a vision (10:9-10; 11:5).  He saw the sky opened up, and a great sheet coming down, filled with all kinds animals and crawling creatures and birds (10:11-12).  He heard a voice saying, “Peter, kill and eat!” (10:13; 11:7).  But Peter answered, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (10:14; 11:8).  Then the voice said to him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (10:15; 11:9).  This happened three times (10:16; 11:10).

Peter was greatly perplexed about the vision.  While he was still thinking about it, the men from Cornelius appeared at the gate (10:17), asking for Peter (10:18). The Spirit said to Peter, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Go down and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself” (10:19-20; 11:12).  Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; why have you come?” (10:21-22)  They said, “Cornelius was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you” (10:22).  Peter invited them in and gave them lodging (10:23).

The next day Peter and some of the brethren went with Cornelius’ men to Caesarea (10:23).  Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends (10:24-27).  Peter said to them:

You know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for.” (10:28-29).

After Cornelius explained the vision he had seen (10:30-33), Peter continued:

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (10:34-35).

Peter then explained to them what Jesus Christ did in the land of the Jews, that He was crucified, but resurrected and appeared to chosen witnesses, and that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins (10:36-43).  While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening, just as He fell on the Jews at the beginning, and they spoke with tongues and exalted God (10:44-46; 11:15).  This amazed the circumcised believers who came with Peter (10:45).  Then Peter said “Surely no one can refuse to baptize a person who has received the Holy Spirit, can he?” (10:47)  Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (10:48).

The apostles and the Christians in Judea heard what happened (11:1). So when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (11:2-3).  Peter then explained to them what happened 11:4-16) and concluded:

If God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (11:17)

The Christians in Jerusalem then concluded:

Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (11:18).

GENTILES UNCLEAN

Most of Acts 10 describes that happened, interspersed with conclusions expressed by Peter and others (10:28-29, 34-35, 47; 11:17-18).  These conclusions are important.  We should not develop our own interpretations of these incidents.

Peter’s first conclusion in Acts 10 is his interpretation of the vision.  He said when he arrived at Caesarea:

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (10:28). “That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for” (10:29).

This has a number of implications:

Firstly, Peter thought of himself primarily as a Jew; a loyal member of Judaism, and only secondarily as a Christian.  He thought of Christianity as a subset of Judaism, namely as the Jews that believes in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

Secondly, the Jews in general, including the Christians—since all Christians at this point in time were Jews—considered Gentiles to be “unholy and unclean”, which made it unlawful for Christians to associate with Gentiles or to visit them.  For that reason, as stated in verse 29, Peter would not have been willing to go with Cornelius’ met to Cornelius’ house if he did not receive the vision.

This is confirmed by what happened when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, when his fellow church members: “took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (11:2, 3).  In other words, the church strongly disapproved of eating with “uncircumcised men”.

We also see in Galatians, written much later, that some Christian Jews still then considered eating with Gentiles to be a grievous sin (Gal. 2:12). This was the attitude in the Jewish culture of which the church was part.  The Jews despised Gentiles.

We see an illustration of this in Acts 21, where Paul addresses the non-Christian Jews.  They listened quite attentively, but the moment he mentioned God saying to him “I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (22:21), the Jews were in uproar (22:22).

Another striking example of the Jews’ hatred of Gentiles is found in Luke 4.  In verse 22 “all were speaking well of Him (Jesus)”, but when He mentioned two examples from the Old Testament where Gentiles were chosen above Israelites (4:25-27), “all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage” (4:28) and “drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill  … in order to throw Him down the cliff” (4:29).

NOT A MESSAGE ABOUT FOOD

Many people think that the purpose of the vision of the sheet containing “all kinds of four-footed creatures” was to allow Christians to eat “unclean” animals, but Peter’s vision must be interpreted as Peter himself interpreted it, namely that “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (10:28).  The purpose of the vision was not to say something about food, but to convince Peter to accompany the uncircumcised men, which Cornelius sent, “without misgivings” (10:20).  To interpret the vision as saying anything about what Christians may eat, is taking it out of its context.  One should not separate Peter’s vision from the entire incident,

JEWS CHOSEN

Peter’s next conclusion, made at the beginning of his speech in Cornelius’ house, was:

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (10:34-35).

This means that he (and the church in general) previously understood that God does show partiality, namely to Jews, and that other people are NOT welcome to God; even people who fears Him and does what is right.  Israel though of itself as the Chosen People.

OBSERVE THE LAW OF MOSES

It has been shown above, in the discussion of the Judea & Samaria phase, that all Christians in that phase observed the Law of Moses. This would then be true up to the point in time when Gentiles received the Holy Spirit for the first time in Acts 10.  This is confirmed by the events of Acts 10 and 11:

Peter’s response, “I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (10:14), indicates that the church, up to that point in history, did not eat anything unholy and unclean.  This implies that the church, at the time, still observed the Jewish laws.

The believers that came with Peter are described as “circumcised”, which, in this context, means that they observed the Law of Moses.  They were “amazed“ when “Gentiles” also received the Holy Spirit (10:45).  Gentiles therefore are the opposite of “circumcised” people.  Gentiles are “uncircumcised” (11:3).  Since Peter’s “circumcised” companions were amazed that “uncircumcised men” (11:3) received the Holy Spirit, we can conclude that this never happened before, which means that all Christians previously observed the Law of Moses.

Peter, after he saw that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, said: “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he? “ (10:47)  This therefore was the first time that Gentiles were baptized.  Peter—and therefore the church in general—previously thought that, because the Jews were God’s chosen people, only Jews may be baptized.

The conclusion of the Christians in Jerusalem, after Peter reported back to them, was, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (11:18).  This confirms that this was the first time that Gentiles accepted Jesus as Christ (Messiah).

The church, up to that point in history, not only consisted only of Jews; they also observed strictly all Jewish laws and traditions, but obviously, as taught and applied by Christ.

CIRCUMCISION

The distinction between Jew and Gentile requires further explanation.

Acts 10:45-11:3 describes the believers as “circumcised” and Gentiles as uncircumcised men”.  This is the first time that the Book of Acts refers to people in such a way”.  It says, “those who were circumcised took issue with him (Peter), saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (11:2-3).  Why does Acts now suddenly refer to circumcised and uncircumcised men, instead of Jews and Gentiles?

Furthermore, Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit before, for instance “Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch” (6:5). Why then were the “circumcised believers” “amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles” (10:45)?

The answer is that, as far as religious matters are concerned, the Jews did not distinguish between Abraham’s physical descendants and Gentiles, but between “circumcised” and uncircumcised men”.  The Old Testament allowed Gentiles to become part of God’s covenant people:

Deut. 23:8 speaks of “one who enters into the assembly of Jacob“.

Isa. 14:1 mentions converts as “strangers” who shall “cleave to the house of Jacob“.

Joshua led the people of God across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Thanks to a Gentile woman, named Rahab, the city of Jericho is taken. Rahab not only protects the Hebrew spies from her own people, but also confessed the Lord with her mouth, saying, “I know that the Lord has given this land to you … the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:9, 11). Rahab joined the people of Israel, and she was included in the genealogy of the Messiah Himself (Matthew 1:5).

Naomi was an Israelite whose husband and sons died in the foreign land of Moab. Both her sons had married Moabite women.  While one of their wives stayed in Moab, the other – Ruth – followed Naomi back to the land of Judah, where she married the kinsman redeemer Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).  A whole book in the Bible is devoted to her, and she also became an ancestor of Christ (Matthew 1:5).

A Gentile that put his or her faith in YHWH, is called a “proselyte”:

Jesus said to the Jews, “For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte” (Mat. 23:15).  (See also Acts 13:43)

The duties and benefits which the Old Testament bestowed on Jews apply equally to proselytes.  They were also circumcised and they also observed the Law of Moses:

Ex. 12:48 provides for the proselyte’s partaking of the paschal lamb.

The same law shall be to him that is born in the land, and to the proselyte that sojourneth with you” (Ex. 12:49).

Foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD … and who hold fast to my covenant-these I will … give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:6-8).

Jews would not “associate with a foreigner or to visit him” (Acts 10:28) or eat with them (11:3) because they were thought to be “unclean”.  But once a Gentile has been circumcised and “observe the Law of Moses” (15:5) and the Jewish customs, they were no longer viewed as unclean.

The real distinction was therefore not between Abraham’s physical descendants and Gentiles, but between circumcised and uncircumcised.  That is also why Paul so often referred to the uncircumcised, instead of Gentiles, and circumcised, instead of Jews:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision” (Eph. 2:11)

But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter” (Gal. 2:7 KJV; See also Col. 2:11, Rom. 2:25-29; 3:1).

Therefore, where-ever this article refers to “Jews” the reader must understand “circumcised believers”, which include proselytes (circumcised Gentiles).

It therefore did not surprise the Jews when a Gentile proselyte received the Holy Spirit.  The surprise, in Acts 10, was that uncircumcised Gentiles, that do not observe the Law of Moses, have received the Holy Spirit.  Before these events the apostles preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to circumcised people only.  The purpose of the events in Acts 10 was to show that the gospel must be preached to uncircumcised people as well, and that Gentiles must be accepted into the church without conversion to Judaism.

UNITY

In Acts 2 the apostles received the Holy Spirit without the intervention of other people, but in Acts 10-11 the apostle Peter went to the Gentiles for them to receive the Holy Spirit.  Similar to the Samaritans, who received the Holy Spirit only after the apostles went to Samaria and laid hands on them, the authority of the apostles and therefore the unity of the church was preserved.

NEXT: Separation Phase

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