Seventy weeks have been decreed: WHEN did the 490 years begin and when did the first 483 years end?

DispensationalismThis second article in the series compares the time indications for the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9 to the Dispensational interpretation.  Dispensationalism takes the second decree of Artaxerxes (445/4 BC) as the one that restored Jerusalem.  But since this decree does not fit the time of Christ, Dispensationalism reduces the 483 years by about 7 years by interpreting these as 360-day years.  This brings us to Christ’s  triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the appearance of the Messiah in 9:25.  Dispensationalism assumes that God suspended His covenant with Israel at the Cross.

Decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem

9:25 reads:

from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem …” (NASB).

Seventy WeeksThe Seventy Weeks began with this decree.  As stated in the previous article, restore, in the original text, does not mean the same as rebuild.  Restore means to give the city back to its previous owner.

In the article Which decree four decrees by three different Persian kings over a period of about 90 years, are considered.

Cyrus:

King CyrusThe decree by Cyrus in 538/7 BC allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem and therefore to rebuild Jerusalem, but it did not restore Jerusalem to the nation to serve as their national capital.

Darius:

The decree by Darius I 520 BC simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict.    

Artaxerxes in 457 BC (Ezra 7:1-26):

As discussed in the article Which Decree, this decree, for the first time, granted autonomy of Judah.  It restored Jerusalem as judicial and executive capital to the nation.  In this decree the king said, “Whoever does not obey the law of your God … must surely be punished by death …” The Persian king thereby made the Mosaic Law part of his own law, and granted authority to the Jews to govern themselves on the basis of the law of God.  It provides for a measure of judicial and civil autonomy unknown since the Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem and Judea about 130 years earlier.

A further indication that this is the decree intended by 9:25 is the fact that, if we add Seventy Weeks (490 years) to 457 BC, we come to the time of Christ.

Artaxerxes in 445/4 BC (Neh. 1-2):

Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes IDispensationalism takes this as the decree that restored Jerusalem.  This decree, however, did not “restore” Jerusalem.  This decree only dealt with the physical construction of the city walls.  When Nehemiah asked for this decree, he did not even ask to rebuild the city.  He only asked for permission to go to Jerusalem (2:5) and for wood for the walls (2:8).  This decree was also too late to fit the time of Christ.

Dispensationalism claims that the second decree of Artaxerxes I for the first time authorized the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but that is also not true.  All four decrees above, by allowing the Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Is. 45:1), implicitly allowed the Jews to rebuild their cities.  Please see the article Which decree for a fuller discussion.

Seventy Weeks – Prophetic Years

9:25 continues:

 “until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (9:25 NASB)

Dispensationalism prophetic yearsDispensationalism proposes that the Messiah Prince is Jesus Christ and that He would appear 7+62=69×7= 483 years after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (9:25), but 483 years from 445/4 BC brings us to about AD 40; far beyond the Cross.  Dispensationalism therefore proposes that the 483 years are “prophetic years” of 360 days each; not 365 days.  This gives a total of 173,880 days (483 x 360), which is equal to 476 solar years plus some days.  In this way the 483 years are shortened by 7 years to fit the actual historical time from Artaxerxes’ second decree to the crucifixion, assuming the crucifixion was in AD 33 or AD 32.

However, as discussed in The Covenant in Daniel 9, the covenant pattern forms the framework for the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9.  Since the covenant is based on Israel’s seven-year cycle, and since the Seventy Weeks are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, these must be literal years.  To explain:

Sabbath Years

In Leviticus 25 God commanded Israel to allow the land to rest every seventh year (v2), similar to the weekly Sabbath day of rest.  Israel had to work the land for six years (v3), but in the seventh year the land had to rest (v4).  In this way the years on the Jewish calendar were divided into sevens, where each seventh year is a Sabbath.

Warning of exile

Leviticus 26, which contains the covenant promises and warnings, warned Israel that it would be in exile for every Sabbath year not observed.  While they are in exile, the land will enjoy its rest.  The Sabbath years were therefore made part of the covenant threat of exile.

490 years of disobedience

Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would be in exile for 70 years.  Each of Jeremiah’s 70 years of exile therefore was a Sabbath year.  This is confirmed by 2 Chronicles 36:21. Each of the 70 years therefore represent 7 years of disobedience.  Consequently, the 70 years represent the equivalent of Seventy Weeks (490 years) of disobedience, prior to the exile.

Seventy Weeks renewed covenant

The prophecy of Daniel 9 therefore extended God’s covenant with Israel for a new cycle of Seventy Weeks, in which every seventh year will be a Sabbath year.  The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9 refer to these weeks of years, and therefore are literal solar years.

This confirms that the second decree of Artaxerxes does not fit the time of Christ.

Difference in dates

The second decree of Artaxerxes I is dated by most dispensationalists to 445 BC, but by some to 444 BC:

Interpreters that use March 14, 445 BC as the date of the decree (e.g. Sir Robert Anderson) count 173880 days to end on 6th April, AD 32 as the date for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Interpreters that use March 5, 444 BC as the date of the decree (e.g. Hoehner) count 173880 days to March 30, AD 33 as the date for the triumphal entry, and the crucifixion six days later on April 5, AD 33.

Dispensationalism sometimes claims that its calculations fit the historical events precisely, but the difference in the dates places doubt over such claims.

Triumphal entry

Daniel 9:25 reads:

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

In other words, the Messiah would appear 483 years after the decree.

In Dispensationalism the “Messiah the Prince” (the anointed in the KJV) is Jesus Christ and 9:25 refers to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; 5 days before His crucifixion.  However, 9:25 refers to the appearance of the Messiah; not His disappearance.  It seems to say that the Messiah will commence His ministry at the end of the 69 weeks; not end His ministry.

Jesus baptizedJesus did not begin His ministry at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  He began His work as Messiah about three years earlier at His baptism, where He was “anointed” and introduced to Israel:

John the baptist said, “so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water” (John 1:31).

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38).

God proclaimed this Anointed One to be His Son or King (Mark 1:9-11; cf. Ps. 2:6, 7) on the day of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.

Covenant suspended at the Cross

As stated, in Dispensationalism the first 483 years came to an end at Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (a few days before His death), with the last seven years postponed to the end of the age.

However, Seventy Weeks (490 years) are promised by God as years of Jewish preference (“for your people and your holy city”), and the preference which Jews enjoyed continued after the Cross.

Early Church History

During the first few years after the Cross the Holy Spirit only came on Jews and the gospel was preached only to Jews.  The church consisted only of the “circumcised” (cf. 10:45; i.e. Jews) and they did not associate with the uncircumcised (Acts 10:34-35).  See Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church.

About three or four years after the Cross the Jews persecuted these Jewish Christians, commencing with the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7; 8:1). See Judea and Samaria Phase of the Early Church.

Immediately following this persecution (Acts 10) Peter received his dream of the unclean beasts (Acts 10:19-20).  Up to that point in time these Christian Jews kept their distance from Gentiles, as all Jews did.  But through this vision God told him, and the church, to preach the gospel also to Gentiles (v34-35).  Simultaneously the Holy Spirit suddenly and powerfully led the Christians to take the gospel to the uncircumcised (non-Jews).  At that time the period of Jewish preference came to an end.

End of the Seventy Weeks

The prophecy does not mention any specific event for the end of the Seventy Weeks, but it is more or less obvious that the end of the Seventy Weeks is also the end of God’s covenant with Israel.  In other words, we should be able to identify some event in history that indicates the end of God’s covenant with Israel.  It is proposed here that the Seventy Weeks came to an end when the Holy Spirit led the Christians to take the gospel to non-Jews.

Stoning of StephenThis conclusion is supported by Stephen’s speech.  Both Daniel’s prayer and Stephen’s speech are based on God’s covenant with Israel.  While Daniel confessed the sins of his people and prayed for the mercy promised in the covenant, Stephen’s speech was an announcement of God’s judgment in terms of the covenant.  In other words, Stephen announced the end of the Seventy Weeks.

These three or four years after the Cross were therefore part of the 490 years.  Please see the article, Stoning of Stephen, for more detail.

Summary

Decree The 490 years began with “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”.  Restore, in the original text, does not mean to rebuild.  Restore means to give the city back to its previous owner.  The decree of Artaxerxes in 457 BC restored Jerusalem as judicial and executive capital to Israel.  This decree also fit the time of Christ.  Dispensationalism takes the second of Artaxerxes (445/4 BC) as the decree that restored Jerusalem.  But this decree only dealt with the physical construction of the city walls.  This decree also does not fit the time of Christ.

Prophetic Years The second decree of Artaxerxes does not fit the time of Christ.  Dispensationalism therefore reduces the first 483 years by about 7 years by interpreting these as “prophetic years” of 360 days each; rather than literal years of 365 days each.  However, the covenant pattern forms the framework for Daniel 9.  Since the covenant is based on Israel’s seven-year cycle, and since the 490 years are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, these are literal years.

Difference in datesDifferent Dispensational interpretations use different years for Artaxerxes’s decree and for the Cross.  This raises some doubt over to the calculations.

Triumphal entryMessiah the Prince” will appear after 69 weeks (9:25).  In Dispensationalism this is His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; 5 days prior to His crucifixion.  But that was not His appearance; it was His disappearance.  Jesus began His work as Messiah about three years earlier at His baptism, where He was anointed and introduced to Israel.

Covenant suspended at the CrossDispensationalism assumes that God suspended His covenant with Israel at the Cross, but for three or four years after the Cross, when the Holy Spirit came with power on the disciples, the gospel was preached only to Jews.  This period of Jewish preference only came to an and when Stephen announced God’s judgment in terms of the covenant.  These three or four years after the Cross were therefore part of the 490 years.

NEXT:  Whose covenant is confirmed in Daniel 9:27; God’s covenant with Israel or the devil’s?  The 490 years are a renewal of God’s covenant with Israel.  The last seven therefore are also God’s covenant with Israel.

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

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
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Early Church Chronology

Approximate dates for certain key events in the Early Church

To estimate exact dates for the key events in the first 30 years of the church is very difficult.  A fixed date is the death of Herod Agrippa in AD 44, mentioned in Acts 12:23.  A less certain date is the prophecy of Agabus that refers to the reign of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:27-28), who became Emperor in AD 41.  Two dates are generally proposed for the Cross, namely AD 30 and 33.  To determine dates for other events chronographers mostly analyze the text, trying to estimate the time between events.  Below is a table of estimated dates for significant events in the history of the early church, according to various internet sources:

  Christian history Christian Apologetics & Research Anno Mundi Christian History Institute Bible Hub Amazing Bible Timeline Bible CA Genera-tion Word
Jesus Born 10 TO 3 BC 4 BC 3 BC     4 BC 4-6 BC
Tiberius reigns             AD 14  
Jesus’ ministry   AD 29            
Pentecost (Acts 2) AD 30 OR 33 AD 33 AD 30   AD 30 AD 33 AD 30 AD 30
Stephen (Acts 7)     30 – 32 AD 35 AD 31     AD 34
Persecution (Acts 8)         AD 31      
Paul (Acts 9)   AD 35 AD 32 AD 35 AD 34     AD 35
Gentiles (Acts 10)         AD 37 AD 40 AD 40 39/40
Herod dies (Acts 12) AD  44       AD 44 AD 44 AD 45 AD 44
First journey (Acts 13)   AD 48       AD 45 AD 45  
Council (Acts 15)   AD 41 49/50   AD48 AD 50 AD 50 AD 48
Gallio (Acts 18) 51 or 52              
Jerusalem (Acts 18)   AD 52          
Jerusalem (Acts 21)       AD 59     AD 57
Paul executed 64-67     AD 65        
Jerusalem destroyed AD 70              

Other internet sources with respect to the year in which Stephen was stoned include:

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 Stephen’s death and the conversion of Paul.

DATE FOR PAUL’S CONVERSION

Paul mentioned that he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:16-18).  Then he continued, “fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also” (Gal. 2:1).  It is assumed that he is counting 14 years after his conversion, not 14 years after his previous visit, since his conversion was the key event in his life.  It is furthermore assumed that this second visit to Jerusalem does not refer to the Jerusalem Council of AD 49/50, because after the visit in Gal. 2:1 Peter was still vacillating over the question of circumcision of the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7-14), while at the Jerusalem Council everybody—Including Peter—agreed that circumcision of the Gentiles was unnecessary (Acts 15:7-11).  The Jerusalem visit in Gal. 2:1 therefore occurred before the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council.  It could have been the earlier visit in AD 46, when he went with relief for those stricken by the famine. Subtracting 14 years from AD 46 we get AD 32 as the date for Paul’s conversion. This is a very early date, only two years after the first possible date for Pentecost, when church was founded.

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Early Church; Christians flee to Judea and Samaria

When Israel persecuted the Spirit-filled believers, it forfeited its final opportunity to repent, and Stephen pronounced God’s judgment on them.  Christians flee to Judea and Samaria.

SUMMARY

The first 30 years of the church can be divided into four phases.  The second phase commenced with the stoning of Stephen and the persecution of the church in Jerusalem, which scattered the believers throughout Judea and Samaria (7:58-8:1) and ended when Gentiles received the Holy Spirit for the first time (Acts 10).

According to internet sources, the events of Acts 10 occurred about 7 to 10 years after the Cross.  The duration of this second phase could therefore have been about 4 to 8 years.  Both Bible Hub and Generation Word estimate the duration to about 6 years.

During the Jerusalem phase the church grew exponentially, but there was constant resistance from the Jewish authorities.  Twice the apostles were jailed and once they were flogged.  Eventually the Jewish Council became intent on killing the apostles (5:33), but God protected them.

Stephen, “full of grace and power, … performing great wonders and signs among the people”, particularly attracted the attention of the Jews.  They brought him before the Council (6:12), where Stephen delivered his well-known speech.  He did not call Israel to repentance, like Peter previously did, but pronounced of God’s judgment on Israel.

After slaying Stephen, the religious leaders launched the first great persecution against the church in Jerusalem.  This scattered the disciples through the “regions of Judea and Samaria” (8:2), but where-ever they went they preached the word.

God allowed the Jews to persecute the church in Jerusalem to allow the message to be spread throughout Judea and Samaria, but He did not allow the Jews to persecute the church in Judea and Samaria.  When Paul tried to expand the persecution outside Jerusalem (9:2), the Lord struck him blind on the Damascus Road.  This allowed the church a period of rest, free from persecution, and multiplied in Judea, Galilee and Samaria. (Acts 9:31).

In Acts 8 Philip preach in Samaria.  The Samaritans listened to him attentively and saw the miracles which God performed through him.  Unclean spirits came out of people, and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.  Philip also shared the good news with an important Ethiopian official, and in many other towns (8:40).  Peter traveled “through all those regions” (9:32), healing the sick (9:33) and bringing a dead woman to life (9:40).

In conclusion:

God did not reject Israel for killing His Son, but sent the apostles, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to the Jewish capital, apparently as a final opportunity for Israel to repent corporately.  Who knows what the outcome would have been, had Israel repented.  But when the Jews again rejected God by rejecting the manifestation of His Spirit, the Holy Spirit announced Christ’s verdict through Stephen.  There-after the message went to Judea, but now to Israelites as individuals, and also to Samaria, Jacob’s despised half-breed child.

In this second phase the church still observed the Law of Moses.  The good news was shared with “Jews alone” (11:19).  The Samaritans accepted the five books of Moses, and did therefore observe the Law of Moses.  The Ethiopian official “was reading the prophet Isaiah” when Philip met him (8:28), and therefore probably was a Jew or a Jewish proselyte.

STONING OF STEPHEN AND FIRST GREAT PERSECUTION

After Pentecost the church existed as a part of Judaism, grew exponentially in Jerusalem and found “favor with all the people” in Jerusalem (2:47, 5:13).  However, there also was constant resistance from the Jewish religious authorities, motivated by jealousy (5:17).  Twice the apostles were jailed (4:1-4; 5:18) and once they were flogged (5:40).  But eventually the Jewish Council became intent on killing the apostles (5:33).  God protected the apostles through Gamaliel (5:33-40), but then conflict erupted among the Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem.  “Stephen (himself Greek-speaking), full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). He argued with the Jews in the Greek-speaking synagogues.  “They were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (6:10).  So they had recourse to the usual devices of lying witnesses and violence (6:11-14).  They brought him before the Council (6:12), where “all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel” (6:15).

There Stephen delivered his well-known speech.  His speech was of a different category.  In contrast to Peter some time earlier (cf. Acts 4:8-12), Stephen made no effort to defend himself or to refute the charges against him.

Unlike Peter’s previous speeches, Stephen’s speech did not call Israel to repentance.

Like Daniel’s prayer recorded in Daniel chapter 9, Stephen’s speech is based on God’s covenant with Israel.  But 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.  He cites God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people in the past—showing that He kept His side of the covenant.  Stephen also listed the failures of the Jewish people—showing that the Jewish people did not keep their side of the covenant.  He made it very plain that the Jewish rulers of his day were but repeating the resistance of their forefathers to the work of the Lord.  Joseph had been refused by his brethren, Moses was at first rejected. Now they had murdered the Just One whom is to become their Judge.  After his long recital of Israel’s history, he switched from using the pronoun “our” to “your”, and announced the 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).

After this verdict, Stephen “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; Hebr. 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 through Stephen’s lips the Holy Spirit announced Christ’s judgment against the Jewish nation.

God did not reject Israel for killing His Son, but by sending the apostles with the power of the Holy Spirit to the Jewish capital, He gave Israel a final opportunity to repent corporately.  Who knows what the outcome would have been, had Israel repented.  But when the Jews again rejected God by rejecting the manifestation of His Spirit, the Holy Spirit announced Christ’s verdict through Stephen.  There-after the message went to Judea, but now to Israelites as individuals, and also to Samaria, Jacob’s despised half-breed child.

In his last moment 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 those people:

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).

COVENANT

It must be noted that the covenant which God had with Israel was not synonymous of salvation.  Rather, the purpose of the covenant was to take God’s salvation to the entire world (cf. Genesis 12:1-3).  For this purpose God elected Israel 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.  He gave this 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 they will not be saved, as sometimes has been suggested, but only that 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.  It is not a covenant with specific individuals.  The end of the covenant with Israel, therefore, 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 Stephen’s death (cf. Acts 28:17-28).  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 now were no longer defined by bloodline, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26-29; cf. Romans 11:25-32).

FIRST GREAT PERSECUTION

Not content with slaying Stephen, the religious leaders launched the first great persecution against the church in Jerusalem.

Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (8:3).

This persecution scattered the disciples through the “regions of Judea and Samaria” (8:2), but where-ever they went they preached the word.

God allowed the Jews to persecute the church in Jerusalem to allow the message to spread throughout Judea and Samaria, but He did not allow the Jews to persecute the church outside Jerusalem.  When Paul tried to expand the persecution outside Jerusalem (9:2), the Lord struck him blind on the Damascus Road, and he only regained his sight when he met Ananias (Acts 9:1-18).  This allowed the church a period of rest:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (9:31).

In Acts 8 Philip preach in Samaria.  The Samaritans listened to him attentively and saw the miracles which God performed through him.  Unclean spirits came out of people, and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.

Philip also shared the good news with an important Ethiopian official, and in many other towns (8:40).  Peter traveled “through all those regions” (9:32), healing the sick (9:33) and bringing a dead woman to life (9:40).

SEVEN DEACONS

Seven were chosen after complaints from Greek-speaking Jews that they were being neglected, “to serve tables” (6:2).  The names of these deacons indicated that they were all Greek-speaking Jews (6:5).  One of them was a proselyte (6:5), which infers that he was a Gentile that was converted to Judaism.

In the Jerusalem phase the apostles did the teaching, but they remained in Jerusalem (8:1) during the Judea & Samaria phase.  Although the seven deacons were chosen “to serve tables”, it was “the wisdom and the Spirit with which” one of them (Stephen) was speaking (6:10) that ignited the persecution against the church, and after the dispersion of the church into Judea and Samaria another one of the seven (Philip) is particularly mentioned is preaching the gospel:

Acts 8:6 The crowds (in Samaria) with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was much rejoicing in that city.

Jesus never worked in Gentiles communities, but He did once preached the gospel of peace to the Samaritans (John 4:6-26).  For these reasons, even though the Jews had no dealings with Samaritans (John 4:9), Philip had the liberty of taking the gospel to them.  The power of God was with Philip, and wonderful blessing followed.  When Jesus visited the Samaritans, many asked “this is not the Christ, is it?” (John 4:29)  When Philip came to them, ” proclaiming Christ” (Acts 8:5), they were convinced that this is indeed the Christ.  There was great joy in that city (8:8).

CHURCH UNITY

The remarkable thing about Philip’s work in Samaria was that, although so many believed the Gospel and were baptized, none received the gift of the Holy Ghost (8:15-16).  God so ordered this, we believe, for a special reason.  There had always been religious rivalry between Jerusalem and Samaria, as John 4 witnesses.  Both groups accepted the five books of Moses as the basis for their faith, both groups counted Abraham as their father (John 4:12) and both practiced circumcision, but the Samaritans used a different temple (John 4:20) and a different priesthood.  Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know … salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).  If Samaria received the Holy Spirit independent from the church in Jerusalem, this might have strengthened that rivalry and might have resulted in a Samaritan church independent of, if not in rivalry to, a Jerusalem church.  But God ordained things so that they only received the Spirit when Peter and John had come down and laid hands on them (Acts 8:14-17), thus establishing the authority of the Apostles and the church in Jerusalem. The atonement (oneness) of the church was preserved.

THREE PHASES

In Acts 1:8 Jesus said to the apostles that they would be His witnesses

  • both in Jerusalem, and
  • in all Judea and Samaria, and
  • even to the remotest part of the earth

These are the three main phases of the early church.  In the first phase the church was limited to Jerusalem, but the persecution of the church in Jerusalem, after the stoning of Stephen, scattered the believers throughout Judea and Samaria (7:58-8:1).  This commenced the second phase, which ended when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit for the first time (Acts 10).

OBSERVED THE LAW OF MOSES

In the first phase the church was limited to Jerusalem.  In this second phase the church was scattered through Judea and Samaria.  However, the church still observed the Law of Moses:

As argued in the discussion of phase one, the Jews that were scattered from Jerusalem were thoroughly Jewish.

They went about in Judea and Samaria, preaching the Word, but “to Jews alone” (11:19).

The “Hellenistic Jews” (6:1) spoke Greek, while the “native Hebrews” (6:1) were Jews that spoke Aramaic; but all were Jews.  Greek was the common language in New Testament times, as evidenced by the fact that the New Testament was written in that language.

The Samaritans also counted Jacob as their spiritual father (John 4:5, 12) and expected the Messiah (Christ) (John 4:25, 29) as “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).  They worshiped the God of the Bible, but not in Jerusalem; their temple was on Mount Gerizim. They accepted the five books of Moses, and did therefore observe the Law of Moses.  They did not accept the rest of the Old Testament and had their own priests, as opposed to the line of priests in Jerusalem.  Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners, Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” and were generally despised by the Jews (John 4:9; 8:48).  See the atheist encyclopedia Livius and Gotquestions for more information.

Philip’s steps were also guided to intercept an important Ethiopian official who had taken a toilsome journey to Jerusalem.  It is not explicitly stated whether the Ethiopian in Acts 8 was a Jew or not, but since “he had come to Jerusalem to worship” (8:27) and “was reading the prophet Isaiah” when Philip met him (8:28), he probably was one of the Jews or Jewish proselytes that were citizens of other countries (2:5-12).  He probably came to Jerusalem to worship on one of the three annual pilgrimage festivals, such a Pentecost.  He therefore also observed the Law of Moses.

But the best proof that the church still lived according to the Law of Moses will come from the later phases of the church that are discussed below.  In Acts 10 Gentiles received the Holy Spirit for the first time, to the amazement of the Jews (10:45). In Acts 15 the church council decided, about 20 years after Pentecost, that Gentiles do not have to submit to the Law of Moses, but this decision only applied to Gentile Christians (15:19).  The Jewish Christians continued to live according to the Law of Moses; at least until about 30 years after Pentecost (21:20). There should therefore be no doubt about the fact that the church, during this second phased, still consisting only of Jews and Samaritans, and lived according to the Law of Moses.

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