March 29, 2022 Joshua Reese

The Apostolic Witness

The Apostolic Witness

Introduction

For a moment, imagine a young Jewish man living near Jerusalem in 33 AD. He’s heard the stories of Jesus of Nazareth; how He taught with authority greater than the scribes and pharisees, how He healed the sick, raised the dead, cleansed lepers, and had a Messianic fervor surround Him, yet was eventually crucified under Pontius Pilate.


But he’s also heard this Jesus was raised from the dead, and there are rumors He’s gone back to doing just what He did before He died; namely, teaching his disciples about the kingdom of God. Then imagine, one day on his way to work, this young man came upon this very scene and discovered Jesus instructing His disciples in the message and the actions they must take to function[1] as His “witnesses (Ac. 1:8).”[2]


From his vantage point behind the tree, what would he have heard?


If the actions and teachings recorded in the New Testament are an accurate picture of what Jesus’ message and instructions were to those disciples for forty days, then we can deduce the young man would have heard a gospel message with the core ideas of creation, covenant, cross, and consummation, all confirmed and attested to by the power of the Spirit (or charisma, to round out our “c’s”.)


Of these things, creation, covenant, cross, and consummation, the apostles repeatedly proclaimed, “We are witnesses (Ac. 2:32, 3:15, 5:32, 10:39).”


It is vital that disciples then and disciples now understand these core ideas, as each one of them is crucial to our witness[3], both in Tonkawa and around the globe. Like a cake, if any of these ideas are left out, or if one is emphasized over the others, the witness is blunted, and the cake is dry. My plan for this Sunday is to work through each of these elements of the apostolic witness, and then ask the Spirit to confirm the message with power to equip us for the task.


Creation

           First, the apostolic witness is rooted in a Jewish understanding of a good creation destroyed (Gen. 6:7). A real God Yahweh created[4] a real heavens and earth (Gen. 1:1) and blessed and tasked real people to steward His good creation (Gen. 1:28-31). But Yahweh’s Image Bearers, joined by the serpent, rebelled against Him, and wrought death[5] into a world that was never meant to die (Gen. 3:1-13)[6].


This understanding of creation is crucial to the apostolic witness because it answers the fundamental questions of “What went wrong? Why is there sadness, suffering, and death?” According to the apostles, “What went wrong?” is that “by a man came death (1 Cor. 15:19-23).”


The apostolic witness assumes a “God who made the world and everything in it (Ac. 17:24)” and that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men (Rom. 5:12-17).”


For the apostles, these are not allegorical, metaphorical, or spiritual tales. In real time and space, God’s good world was destroyed.


 The apostolic witness is not only a downer, however. The gospel the apostles bore witness to is filled with real hope, not of disembodied eternal sing-along in the sky, but of a world[7] newly remade by the power of God’s Spirit.[8] Put simply, the gospel assumes a restored physical creation, not an annihilated or “spiritual” one. The restoration of all things (Ac. 3:21) involves a “new heavens and a new earth (Is. 65:17-19)” where “righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13)” and a “new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1)” where twelve apostles will sit on “twelve thrones (Matt. 19:28)” and reign with the Messiah.


Further, the apostolic witness assumes this restored creation to be inhabited by the resurrected righteous. Romans 8:18-24, a paragraph penned by an apostle “untimely born (1 Cor. 15:8)”, portrays this apostolic understanding beautifully. The real sin from a real man brought real death and suffering into God’s good creation. This present time is then marked by “suffering (Rom. 8:18).” In view of these sufferings, humans and creation groan and wait (Rom. 8:19, 23).


And what are they groaning for? What is the ache within God’s people? According to the “faith handed down (Jud. 1:3)” from the apostles, the aching and groaning is not to “fly away old glory”, but for the “sons of God to be revealed” and adopted (Rom. 8:19, 23), for creation to be set free from its “bondage to decay (Rom. 8:21)”, and for the “redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23).”


When Jesus and the apostles spoke of “eternal life (Jud. 21)”, this is what they meant. This is not to disregard the joys of the intermediate state “with the Lord (2. Cor. 5:8)” before the resurrection, but it is to understand the joys of heaven as but a footnote in the apostles’ gospel when set next to the glory of the resurrection. Consider: “this life” (Lk. 21:34; 1 Cor. 6:3; 15:19), “the present life” (1 Tim. 4:8), “this body” (Rom. 7:24; 2 Peter 1:13), “our lowly body” (Phil. 3:21), and “this perishable…mortal body” (1 Cor. 15:53) contrasted with with eternal life and the resurrected body given on the day of the Lord.[1]


This emphasis on resurrection[10] leads to the last component of the apostolic witness as it regards creation: the Day of the Lord. If the restoration of the heavens and the earth and the resurrection of the body dominate the apostolic message, what it the mechanism for those events?


What is the mentos dropped in the coke bottle that sets these things off?


The catalyst for the restoration of all things is described in our bibles as “the day of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:10).” While lower-case “d” days of the Lord are peppered through the scriptures as a whole, they are projected into a future and upper-case “D” Day of the Lord where divine judgement (Rom. 2:5) also brings with it divine restoration (Is. 24:21-23)[11]. In this way, on the Day when the “blessed hope” appears (Tit. 2:11-13), the “old order of things” will pass away, and everything will be made “new (Rev. 21:1-5).”


At the Day of the Lord, Yahweh will “again Genesis (Matt. 19:28)”[12] all things, showing that his original intent in creation is his final intent in recreation.[13] Sin made the world and those who dwell on it broken, yet the apostles declared that God loved the world and is deeply committed to fixing it once and for all.[14] In other words, “…now is not always. God’s ultimate triumph, and with it the comforting of those who have grieved over evil, is sure.”[15]


Covenant

 These hopes and this message did not appear out of thin air and Jesus’ teaching regarding these things was not the first time the apostles heard them. Rather, these realities of a good creation gone bad and a glorious reversal of the old order at the Day of the Lord were well attested to these Jewish men in the covenants Yahweh had made with the forefathers (Rom. 9:4-5). In other words, the apostolic gospel is predicated upon real words God has spoken to real people.


First, God’s covenants with Israel fuel Messianic expectation.[16] Drawing once again upon the creation narrative, the Messianic offspring promised in Genesis 3:14-19 finds a home in the seed of Abraham, who will “possess the gates of his enemies” and bless the nations of the earth (Gen. 22:17-18) as a king with a scepter and a “ruler’s staff (Gen. 49:10).”


This promise of a kingly Messiah is then further clarified in the Lord’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:12-14, Ps. 89:3) as he is promised he will have a son who will forever inherit the nations and rule from Zion, Yahweh’s “holy hill (Ps. 2:2-9).” It is for this reason and understanding of the covenants that that Matthew begins His gospel (Matt 1:1-16) by naming Jesus as a descendant of Abraham and shouting, “David!”[17]


Jesus is the “King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2)” and the “King of Israel (Matt. 27:42)” according to the covenants. But how Jewish is his kingdom?[18]


Were the disciples dead wrong in their assumptions when they asked if the now risen Jesus would “restore the kingdom to Israel (Act. 1:6)”?


In His death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit, did Jesus reinterpret, reimagine, rehabilitate[19], or subvert what early Jews believed and hoped in for the Kingdom of God?


Should the events of 66- 70AD be interpreted as the end of the Jewish people’s priestly role among the nations[20] and as God’s divorce of ethnic Israel?[21]


Certainly not.[22] The consequences of believing that Yahweh has in anyway abrogated his clear promises to His first-born family has terrifying implications Jew and gentile alike.[23]


Rather, the hopes of the Jewish people; hopes for Jerusalem to be a joy (Is. 65:17-19), for the Lord to reign on and “build up (Ps. 102:16)” Mount Zion in “Jerusalem (Is. 24:23)”, for the nations come up to “to the House of Jacob” to learn God’s ways (Is. 2:2-4) were not subverted by the Messiah’s death, resurrection, and forty days of teaching, as if the simple understanding of the Kingdom was reimagined to now be present in the heart of believers or in the church.[24] Instead, they were confirmed! This much is clear based on the disciples only recorded question after these events, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel (Ac. 1:3-8)?”


After Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles still very much looked forward to eating and drinking with their Lord in His Kingdom (Lk. 22:15-30) and interpreted His individual resurrection as heralding the one to come (1 Cor. 15:20), confirming for them that the Kingdom, and with it the resurrection of the dead, was near[25]. In Jesus’ victory the promises to the patriarchs (Rom. 9:4-5) and the promise of the salvation of Israel (Rom. 11:11-29), are still on track.


Similarly, while the apostles held to an unchanged vision of the Kingdom of God according to the covenants, they also held to and proclaimed and an unchanged vision of the administration of that kingdom. According to the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), the firstborn Son of David (Ps. 89:27) will superintend His Kingdom the firstborn family (Ex. 4:22, Jer. 31:9). This simply follows the basic pattern of Yahweh’s dealings with Israel the nations.[26]


The gospel is to the Jew first (Rom. 1:16). Wrath, tribulation, and fury at the Day of the Lord is for rejecting that gospel is to the Jew first (Rom. 2:9). And glory, honor, and peace at the Day of the Lord is to the Jew first (Rom. 2:10). This understanding of the administration of blessing to the nations through the first born[27] is undoubtedly what Jesus had in mind Matthew 19:28 when he assured His disciples they would sit on twelve thrones around his glorious throne, superintending the renewal of all things.[28]


This overtly ethnic portrayal of the Kingdom of God is often confusing to gentiles as they can feel slighted or feel as if the Lord’s administration of the Kingdom through Israel means God loves them less. This feeling of rejection or of the need to redefine Israel as the church,[29]however, is not necessary, for the apostles make clear that in the Messiah, God loves both Jew and Gentile alike (Gal. 3:28) and that both will inherit eternal life according to the grace of God (Ac. 15:11). The role of Israel in the administration of the blessings of the Kingdom is not according to love, but according to their responsibility as the firstborn.


For example, when a father dies, the oldest son, according to birthright, is charged with meting out the inheritance. This birthright is a responsibility, a privilege, and the mechanism by which the entire family is blessed with what the father has in store for them. Thus, gentiles should not see God’s faithfulness to His covenant and his choosing of Israel to administer those covenant blessings as off putting. Rather they should rejoice that God’s Kingdom plan for Jews and Gentiles is one of mutual blessing[30] and that indeed the glory of Isaiah 25 will come to pass.


In the City of the Great King (Ps. 48:1) gentiles will, as sons of Abraham (Gen. 17:4) and as happily engrafted olive branches[31] enjoy a rich meal with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matt. 8:11-12) as they celebrate God’s fidelity to Jewish flesh[32] and the swallowing up of death forever. This is the apostolic hope according to the covenants, both of Jews who believed Jesus to be the Messiah and those who did not (Ac. 24:15).


Cross

Which brings us to the main contention of the New Testament: the cross.[33] For those expecting the Messiah’s kingdom to appear “immediately (Lk. 19:11)”, the death of the one they believed to fill that role was earth shattering.[34] Though John the Baptist seemed to have an inkling (Jn. 1:29), and though Jesus warned them (Matt. 16:21), the sentiment of the apostles was that “this shall never happen (Matt. 16:22)” as the common expectation around Jesus’ life and ministry was “that He was the one to redeem Israel (Lk. 24:21).”


Due to this confusion, we can surmise that this understanding of the necessity of the Messiah’s suffering before eschatological glory was the dominant topic of Jesus post-resurrection teaching (Lk. 24:13-27) and what that young man behind the tree was eavesdropping on. Consider, had Jesus not explained what was happening in His death, how would they know? It was necessary that the Messiah suffer, and it was necessary that He explain what His suffering meant.


To teach the early disciples, Jesus explained the cross via the Levitical system and the direct prophecies of messianic suffering (Is. 53:4-11) found in the Tanakh. As Jews, the disciples understood worshipers in the Levitical system were saved and forgiven by faith through the judgement that falls on the sacrifice (Lev. 17:10-11, 16:20-22).[35]


In this same way, the substitutionary death of Jesus[36], whereby He is both the victim and the priest who offers it,[37] functions to save and forgive those who trust in the sacrifice offered.


Thus, after being taught these things, the apostles declared that everyone who believes in Jesus’ cross as a sacrifice for sins will receive forgiveness of sins at the Day of the Lord and inherit eternal life in the Kingdom of God (Ac. 10:42-43).


For the apostles, the sacrificial cross functions as the mechanism for reconciliation[38], whereby those former enemies in Adam who now trust in the sacrifice are at peace with God (Col. 1:19-22) in Christ.  


The cross also functions for propitiation (Rom. 3:21-15) to appease God’s right wrath on sin and serves the means by which God justifies and those with trust righteous on the Day of the Lord (Rom. 5:1-9). In the cross and in the blood shed there, those with trust are also redeemed (Eph. 1:4-8) by the ransom Christ paid (Mk. 10:45). Finally, the cross is the means by which both Jew and gentile may inherit the “promised inheritance (Heb. 9:13-15).”[39]


Charisma

With these simple realities in view: a restored creation and Jewish kingdom inaugurated at the Day of the Lord and the cross as the means by which Jew and Gentile alike may inherit eternal life, the Lord gave the gift of the holy for three primary purposes.


First, the Lord gave the Spirit as deposit of the resurrection and the age to come (Eph. 1:11-4, 2 Cor. 5:15). The gift of The Spirit is not then perceived by the disciples as the entire bag of skittles, but one skittle, likely a green one, that fills them with hope of God’s appointed end to this age and the birth of the new one.


Second, the apostles understood the gift of the Spirit before the Day of the Lord as the means by which they are to bear witness to Jesus[40], especially among a hostile crowd (Ac. 1:4-8, 4:29-31).[41]

Time and time again, the apostles are “filled with” the Spirit to proclaim that the gospel is true.


And finally, the gift of the Spirit is understood as divine approval and confirmation of the message[42] of the cross and the Day of the Lord as Peter, by the Spirit, speaks that the one hung on a cross is in fact the Messiah (Acts 2:36-40) and that Lord has appointed Him to mete out judgement on the Day (Ac. 10:42-44).


By the Spirit he also proclaims that the gentiles who received the same Holy Spirit will seek the Lord when He returns to rebuild David’s fallen tent (Ac 15:21-21). Because these things are happening now by the Spirit’s power, they will assuredly happen then by the Spirit’s power.


Bearing Witness in Word & Lifestyle

The apostolic gospel is not hard to understand: “Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all…rose from the dead…He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Ac. 10:36–43).”


Therefore, churches must give themselves to declaring this simple message so that people might hear, believe, and be saved from the wrath to come (Rom 10:10-13), and, like Paul, open eyes that people might turn from darkness and receive the forgiveness of sins (Ac.26:16-18). For this reason (1 Tim. 2:7), we have been recipients of this message and the empowering Spirit that we might serve in the gospel of the son (Romans 1:9) and speak with boldness (Ac. 4:29), preparing the world for the coming Kingdom.[43]


However, like the apostles, we are not sent only with a message of the coming Kingdom, we are also charged to live a life that matches characteristics and qualities of that coming kingdom. Or to say it another way: Those who proclaim the hope of the age to come must live for the age to come,[44] walking in such a manner (Eph. 4:1) that commends our gospel (Phil. 1:27) and is pleasing to the Lord (Col. 1:10). This way of living befits those who are called into the Kingdom (1 Thess. 2:2).


In the same way, if we are to preach the apostolic message of the cross, we must live out the cross.[45] If preach the cross without taking up our cross (Lk. 9:23), then the message of the cross is “emptied of its power (1 Cor. 1:17).” This simple call to all disciples and all churches (Matt. 16:24) is not optional (Lk 14:27) if our hope is to inherit eternal life (Jn. 12:25-26).


Though it is unlikely opportunities that would garner true martyrdom will reach Tonkawa’s borders anytime soon, this radical posture of laying down our lives to show mercy in little things and to forgive our enemies even in the face of death (Lk. 23:34) must be a defining feature in our community.[46]


Conclusion

The young man behind the tree behind the tree heard a message that changed, is changing, and will change the world.


He heard Jesus reaffirm God’s commitment to His creation, to His covenants, and to His Messiah.[47]


He heard Jesus teach that this promised kingdom and inheritance may be entered into by faith in His cross.


And lastly, he heard that this message of the cross before the day of the Lord would be confirmed by the giving and witness of the Holy Spirit. We too have heard this same message.


May God grant us grace and the Spirit’s power[48] to now bear witness to these things in word and deed.  Amen.


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[1] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 972.

[2] Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version, (ESV) (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).

 

[3] John Harrigan, The Gospel of Christ Crucified: A Theology of Suffering before Glory (Fayetteville: Paroikos) Kindle, Loc. 5812.

 

[4] Paula Eisenmbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 171.


[5] James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 78.

[6] Erickson, Christian Theology, 734.

[7] N.T Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (Sydney: HarperCollins), 41.

 

[8] Erickson, Christian Theology, 790.

[9] Harrigan, The Gospel of Christ, loc.1733

[10] Erickson, Christian Theology, 1099.


[11] Eisenmbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian, 171.

[12] Harrigan, The Gospel of Christ, loc. 1397.

 

[13] Sandra Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), 129.

 

[14] Timothy Miller, Poised for Harvest, Braced for Backlash: Birthing New Testament Movements When Jesus Disrupts the Systems (Irving: Xulon Press, 2009), 67.

 

[15] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: IVP, 1992), 97–98.

[16] Walter Kaiser Jr, The Messiah in the Old Testament, Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 42.

[17] Hamilton Jr, God’s Glory, 363.

 

[18] Joel Richardson, When a Jew Rules the World: What the Bible Really Says about Israel in the Plan of God (Winepress, 2018), 86-101.

 

[19] N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (London: SPCK, 1996), 446, 47.

 

[20] Mark Kinzer and Russell Resnik, Besorah: The Resurrection of Jerusalem and the Healing of a Fractured Gospel (Eugene: Cascade, 2021), Kindle. Loc. 315.

 

[21] Brock Hollet, Debunking Preterism: How Over-Realized Eschatology Misses the “Not Yet” of Bible Prophecy (Kearney: Morris, 2018), 206.

 

[22] Michael Brown, Our Hands are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People, Revised & Expanded Edition (Shippensburg: Destiny, 2019), 166.

 

[23] Hamilton, God’s Glory, 102.

[24] Erickson, Christian Theology, 702.


[25] Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (New York: Vintage, 1999), 262.

 

[26] Eisenmbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian, 207.


[27] Carmen Imes, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters (Downers Grove: IVP, 2019), 169.

 

[28] Barry Horner, Eternal Israel: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Studies that Uphold the Eternal, Distinctive Destiny of Israel (Nashville: B&H, 2018), 17-33.

 

[29] Erickson, Christian Theology, 965.

[30] Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 132.


[31] Barry Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged, NAC Studies (Nashville: B&H, 2007), 252.

 

[32] Soulen, The God of Israel, 133.

 

[33] Erickson, Christian Theology, 740-744.

[34] Fredriksen, Jesus, 265.

 

[35] Hamilton, God’s Glory, 111.

           

[36] John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: IVP), 1986, 161.


[37] Erickson, Christian Theology, 741.

 

[38] Erickson, Christian Theology, 743.

 

[39] Harrigan, The Gospel of Christ, Loc. 4923.

 

[40] Craig Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit Speaks Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 109.


[41] Jack Deere, Why I am still Surprised by the Power of the Spirit: Discovering How God Speaks & Heals Today (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 168-177.

 

[42] Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? A Study for the Church in the Four Provinces (Abbotsford: Aneko Press, 2017), 33.

 

[43] Benedict Viviano, The Kingdom of God in History (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1988), 22.

 

[44] Harrigan, Gospel of Christ, Loc. 5990.

 

[45] Dalton Thomas, Unto Death: Martyrdom, Missions, and Maturity of the Church (Tauranga: Maskilim, 2012), 119.

 

[46] Craig Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 223.

 

[47] Mark Kinzer, Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen: The Resurrected Messiah, the Jewish People, and the Land of Promise (Wipf & Stock, 2018), 8.

 

[48] Erickson, Christian Theology, 803.