Christ put His Church here so that through His Spirit we can bring about the restoration promised in the Holy Prophets. This means we must preach the Gospel so that more men will be saved, but it also means we must teach those men how to live like Christians and obey everything Jesus says (Matthew 28:18-20). And when we do that and begin discipling the peoples and nations, His restoration program will noticeably come.
How Big Will It Be?
When we contemplate the size of Jesus’ Kingdom, and by that, I mean His Kingdom here on earth, the Church, what are the expectations that come to mind? Will that Kingdom remain in the minority, ever and always in remnant status, never able to gain ascendancy among the competing worldviews and world religions that continually jockey for power in a fallen cosmos?
Or will His Kingdom grow? And by growth, to what degree are we speaking? Will the visible Church on earth grow to become ten percent of the world’s population? Will it grow to over twenty? How about fifty? Or if you are very optimistic, will it become the majority in some way or fashion? And if it is the majority, does that mean fifty-one percent? Or are we talking about something much grander?
These are the questions I would like us to consider today as we re-enter the book of Acts and examine the eschatological underpinnings of the early Church. But, to do that, we have to understand some essential concepts that Luke springles along the way.
The Briefest of Backgrounds
If you have not been with us over the last eight weeks, in week 1, I sketched out the need for an eschatological series in the book of Acts. In week 2, we saw how Jesus’ end-time Kingdom was inaugurated in heaven at His ascension. In week 3, we watched as significant eschatological passages from the Old Testament were fulfilled at Pentecost, bringing that heavenly Kingdom down to earth. Then, in weeks 4, 5, 6, and 7, we examined Peter’s deeply eschatological sermon in Jerusalem, which explained the glorious Kingdom that believers were entering and foreshadowed the awful doom all those who reject Christ in Judah would soon endure.
After Peter’s sermon, about 3000 souls were added to Jesus’ Kingdom at Pentecost with each receiving the covenant sign of membership in Jesus’ Church (Acts 2:41). Early on, Christ began weaving His people together around apostolic teaching of the Word, fellowship and communion, and also prayer (Acts 2:42). The community was also overwhelmed by the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, which was being manifest through the working of miracles (Acts 2:43). Just as Elisha was given a double miraculous portion from Elijah and did exactly twice the miracles as the former, so the Apostles were given a double portion by Christ, who empowered them to do more miracles in the first century that He did, as a part of their ministry to harken all Judah to repentance (John 14:12-14). And many did repent. But many others didn’t.
Along with the preaching of the Word, prayer, miracles, fellowship, and the administration of sacraments, many of the earliest Christians were selling their property and pooling their resources together to address the needs of the Church. This is not, as some foolish moderns would ascribe, an appeal to Christian socialism. This, instead, is the most unmistakable evidence that the early Church understood the warnings of Jesus and the sermon of Peter. Think about it: Jesus warned Peter and the Apostles that Jerusalem was going to be surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20), set on fire (Matthew 22:7), and the stench of their carcasses placed in heaping piles would attract the ravenous swarms of hungry vultures (Matthew 24:28). If you owned property in Jerusalem and this is what your resurrected Lord predicted was going to happen in that city, wouldn’t you sell too? And, if you loved your countrymen as the first-century Jewish Christians did, wouldn’t you want to pool your resources within the Church and use that money as a missions fund to reach them? By selling your home, you could live within the city with enough resources to be on mission for many years, and when all of the worst aspects of Jesus’ prophecy began happening, you could flee the city and escape its awful downfall without fear of losing your home. In fact, this is precisely what the first-century Christians did (Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical History” (Book III, Chapter 5).
For a time, the apostles were still going to the temple complex, preaching the Gospel there, teaching, and performing various miracles as a sign of Jesus’ Kingdom and Lordship. On one such occasion, Peter and John healed a man born lame just outside the temple at its gate (Acts 3:2-8). As Luke records it, the man began leaping and skipping for joy, entering the temple for the first time in His life Because the Son of righteousness had just healed Him through His anointed apostles (Acts 3:8). This is a clear fulfillment of both Isaiah and Malachi’s great prophecy, which says:
“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.”—Malachi 4:2
Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah.—Isaiah 35:6
Our Text Today
This brings us to our passage for today, where Peter begins his second eschatological sermon. Luke records:
“Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him.14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. 18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.—Acts 3:12-18
Much could be discussed in the first part of this sermon. For instance, Peter does not attribute the power to heal this man to his personal piety or power but to the power and authority of the ascended and glorified Lord. He specifically points out His ascension unto glory because it was from that heavenly enthronement ceremony, that Christ sat down to rule, with His first act as King being to send His Spirit at Pentecost. By doing this, Christ made His power and His Kingdom available and accessible to the people of God on earth, which Peter is alluding to. This was an eschatological event.
Peter also refers to Jesus as the “Prince,” which is an apparent reference to the anointed Messiah of Daniel 9:25. In one of Daniel’s most Christocentric prophecies, Messiah (The Prince) would come and finish the transgressions of Jerusalem by destroying it, He would make an end to His people’s sin by atoning for their iniquity, and He would usher in His earthly Kingdom of everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24). By Peter calling Jesus the “Prince,” he is reminding us that Daniel 9 was being fulfilled in his day and hour.
In addition to the specific reference to Daniel 9 (especially of the Messiah being cut off in verse 26), Peter tells us that numerous other eschatological passages in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the suffering of Jesus. You may think of passages like Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Zechariah 12 as clear examples.