Acts 3:19-21

The Differentiator
Vol. 32 New Series April, 1970 No. 2

Many have asserted that this is a key passage in discussing the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17. At first, I was inclined to accept that view; but on mature consideration it now appears to me to be a serious mistake. The Apostle Peter's exhortation here is to: "Men! Israelites!" It is made at Solomon's Portico. It is part of his appeal to them to repent for the erasure of their sins and, in particular, those detailed in vv. 13-16 against the Lord Jesus. The important section for our present discussion reads:

"Repent, then, and turn about towards the erasure ofthese sins of yours: so that seasons of refreshing shouldbe coming from the Lord's face and He may be commis-sioning the One before-selected for you—Christ Jesus—Whom it is binding on heaven indeed to receive until timesof restoration of all which God talks through mouth ofthe holy ones from the eon—His prophets."This should have called to mind Acts 1:7: "It is not for for you to know times or seasons which the Father placed in His own jurisdiction"; but apparently the very plain hint has been largely ignored. We know, and the people of Israel soon came to know, that such complete repentance and turning about was not taking place and was not to take place at the time. It has not yet taken place, and we have now realized that the whole of the events prophesied for the Seventy Heptads of years will have to occur in full before the One commissioned for them, Christ, can fulfil this particular task. Before that commissioning happens there will be the promised seasons of refreshing, but the times of restoration must await that commissioning. At once this opens up the scheme for Israel's future, so that we can contemplate it in better perspective. The whole process is scheduled to occupy a period of long duration covered by the indefinite periods: the times and the seasons spoken of by the Lord Jesus in Acts 1:7. Meanwhile we have learnt here that the "times" and the "seasons" need not be simultaneous or synonymous.

Moreover, and this point is of the greatest importance, they were times associated with Israel and seasons associated with Israel. The intrusion of any sort of Gentile company into either context is wholly inadmissible, and is a sure indication of serious error somewhere.

The next point to notice is the word aposteilE, put-from, here rendered "He may be commissioning." The C.V. and the C.L.N.T. have, instead, "He may despatch," Rotherham, "He may send forth," and the A.V. uses "send" also. The C.V. Concordance defines "Put" as "to move into some special position or relation." This is in line with the usual definitions. The word means a change of position but, apart from that, not the impartation of motion. If you put a plate from the cupboard on to the table, you have moved the plate, but not caused it to go on moving. The verb apostellO, from-put, means therefore change of position or situation or even status; but where causing motion is involved, that is only in a secondary and incidental sense. The word despatch is therefore generally unsuitable as a rendering of this verb, meaning as it does sending messengers, envoys or orders, often with implied haste. An apostle was sent from God to fulfil a commission given by Him, which might involve a certain amount of movement—with Paul a great deal—but possibly very little. That is not the essence of the matter, which is his commission itself, not the amount of motion involved in it.

Consequently, we should render this verb by commission whenever that word is suitable; and where we have to use send we should keep in mind that the sending is for some special purpose and not simply putting into motion. The "apostles" were men commissioned, put out, from God, or sent for His special purpose.

The very first occurrence is rather remarkable, for Matt. 2:16 does not specify whom Herod commissioned to massacre the baby boys. He seems simply to have given orders that this should be done. In Matt. 10:5, 16, 40 the Lord Jesus commissions the Twelve. There is no. need to be discordant, as is the C.L.N.T. in v. 16, or, indeed, in Matt. 11:10, where "I am commissioning" is quite a good rendering. The same applies to 13:41, but in 14:35 the idea is sending out the good news, and "send" seems the best rendering, as in many other places. Meanwhile, we have seen enough to appreciate that the word apostellO is in no way associated with the actual coming of the Lord Jesus at some particular point of time. The only "coming" is that of "seasons of refreshing."

However, the crucial issue is in Peter's next words, namely, what he meant by "it is binding on heaven indeed to receive." Here the verb is dechomai, the C.V. definition of which is "admit into presence, recognition or favor." The primary meaning given by Dr. Bullinger is "accept, admit." Perusal of the occurrences listed in Wigram's Concordance shows that the Greek usage is much the same as the English. Rotherham here paraphrases with "must needs welcome," which is what "receive" means or should mean, in contrast with the way the Lord Jesus was rejected on earth.

A foothold for error is found is the New World version: "whom heaven, indeed, must contain within itself." This is quite inadmissible, as a glance at Wigram's Concordance will show, All too plainly, the unconscious intention is to fit in with the idea that the Lord Jesus is confined to heaven until "the Second Coming." If this had been the idea Peter wished to convey, he could have used some such word as katechO, retain, or even krateO, hold. The fact is that he did not. He said "receive" in the sense of "welcome," and in so doing took good care to avoid giving any idea of precisely when or how the Lord Jesus would leave heaven. The sober truth is that there is nothing whatever in this passage to state or even imply that the Lord Jesus is so fixed in heaven that He cannot escape, even momentarily, to step down from heaven to cause the dead in Christ to rise to Him and those who are surviving to be snatched away with them. Thus, to use Peter's words so as to postpone the Lord's descent into air for us until He descends to the earth at the Mount of Olives for Israel is to do great violence to them, as well as to Paul. It ignores Peter's very careful avoidance of any such idea in Acts 3:21, or indeed anywhere else.

The promised "coming" is of "seasons of refreshing" nothing else. What is "binding on heaven" is to "receive" the Lord Jesus; that until certain "times" which are to be "times of restoration." The word restoration is found here only; but the verb restore occurs in Matt. 12:13; 17:11; Mark 3:5; 8:25 ; Luke 6:10; Heb. 13:19. In the face of this, to attempt to confine the prophecy to anyone point of time, even the moment of the return to the Mount of Olives by the Lord Jesus, is really very foolish. "Times of restoration" plainly will cover an extensive sequence of events. At some point within that sequence, and thereafter, receivmg and welcoming the Lord Jesus will no longer be the exclusive privilege of heaven. It will be an earthly joy as well.

Actually, it is not too much to claim that our citizenship, which exists all along in the heavens (Phil. 3:20), is right outside the scope of all this. We, being of heaven, already receive and welcome the Lord Jesus independently of earth. The descent of the Lord from heaven with a shout (1. Thess. 4:13-17) for us will have nothing directly to do with the affairs of earth: it will simply be the confirmation and completion of our citizenship. That simultaneously it will remove the only bar we know of to the start of the "times of restoration" is nothing to do with Acts 3:19-21, and never ought to have been introduced into its context. Peter's words would have been just as timely and just as true had Paul's Evangel never existed. The coming of the "seasons of refreshing" and the "times of restoration" would still have had to await the moment planned by God. That the arrival of this moment must somehow follow on at or after the completion and snatching away of the Church which is Christ's body, is wholly outside the scope of Peter's words and an idea which would have made nonsense to his hearers.

Acts 2:34 has been associated with this passage in an attempt to prove that Psalm 11O:1 precludes the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 until it is itself fulfilled. The Lord's session is claimed to be "until I shall set Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet," with the corollary that it must continue until the Lord comes openly in power and glory to Israel.

The crux of all this is in the words eOs an thO. The first means until, the second indefiniteness of time (C.V. Sublinear, ever). This, with the third, the subjunctive form of the verb tithEmi, place, has the force of "I should be placing." Rotherham has "till whensoever I may put."

coming of the Lord Jesus at some particular point of time. The only "coming" is that of "seasons of refreshing." The only occurrences of this form in the Greek Scriptures are in the same quotation; but we get the first person plural (instead of the singular) in Mark 4:30, where the Lord Jesus asks: "How should we be likening the Kingdom of God? Or in what parable may we be placing it?" Again, Rotherham has "may put."

The point in all this is that there is no past or completed sense in these. We may not read as if they were "shall have set," "shall have placed," "shall have put." This being so, we have to take the quotation of Psalm 110:1 as meaning that the session is to last until the placing of the enemies under foot lias started and is in progress.

There is no need at all to force 1. Thess. 4:13-17 into these things, which are essentially Israel's business. We are God's first conquest in the Universe after the victory of the Lord Jesus over death. Let us leave the further conquests to those whom they will concern when the times arrive.

Another important point: we must be particularly careful to avoid assuming that we have knowledge which we do not in fact possess. That is the besetting sin of most expositors, and causes immense damage. We do not know when God will start the operations which are to eventuate in placing His enemies under foot. In a sense they were started by the Incarnation; possibly the actual start was even in Genesis. 1. Thess. 4:13-17 is no bar to this start: what it does bar is the start of the operations of God foretold for Israel, the start of His dealings with them foretold in Hebrew prophecy. What Psalm 110:1 does reveal, and no doubt that is why it is quoted so many as five times in the Greek Scriptures, is that the Lord Jesus will rest, will sit at God's right hand, until the dealings feretold in Hebrew Prophecy are taking place. Surely we can rest content with this! The restoration times of Acts 3:21 with their culminating point in Matt. 26:29, will yet arrive. We must not assume that other prophecies will not meanwhile be fulfilled.
To think that the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 marks the start of the times of restoration is another error of which I have occasionally been guilty. These times will start when God has set the stage for them, and only then. He has not chosen to reveal how these will link up with other operations. That these operations, so far as they concern Israel, will therefore necessitate the fulfilment of I. Thess. 4:13-17 at some point in their progress, is wholly irrelevant to the operations themselves, whatever their importance in another context to God and to ourselves. Let us do what Scripture does&mdashkeep them apart.

R.B. Withers

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