The first forerunner of Jesus Christ, named John the Baptist, was the last Old Testament prophet and the first New Testament prophet. He marks the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant. The law, the prophets, and 400 years without a voice from God preceded him. "Baptist" was not John's surname. This noun is an apposition. The two nouns "John" and "Baptist" are used like "George Washington" and "President" of the United States. John was called Baptist because he was the baptizer.
John, who was filled with the Holy Spirit before his birth, grew and developed in the wilderness (desert) of Judea, a spiritually uncultivated place. Israel's sins had caused its lack of cultivation (Jer. 2:31-37; 25:8,9). This desert was in the Jordan valley, which connects with the Dead Sea; hence, the Jordan valley is associated with death. In her history, Israel had passed dry shod through the Jordan River. Years later, in the presence of John's preaching, they must repent, bring forth fruits fitting of repentance, and be baptized in the Jordan
River to signify their having died to sin. John's twofold message was repentance and the kingdom of the heavens.
There are incorrect views of repentance: (1) Remorse of conscience over sins is a wrong view of repentance. A person may regret the sins he has committed, but the repentance needs to be repented of (II Cor. 7:10). (2) A simple change of mind is an erroneous belief concerning repentance. It is more than a simple change of mind. A person may change his mind but will soon change it again. (3) Doing something which is designed to expiate sin is a false concept of repentance.
The correct view of repentance is as follows: (1) It is a radical soul transformation. (2) This radical soul transformation is the gift of God (Acts 5:31; 11:18; II Tim. 2:25). (3) This radical soul transformation, which is God's gift, is the fruit of regeneration. Every person for whom Christ died will come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9).
Two Greek verbs for repentance are used in the New Testament. The first is the compound word metamelomai, which means regret, be sorry, or change of mind (Matt. 21:30,32; 27:3; II Cor. 7:8; Heb. 7:21). This word signifies a change of mind, but a change of mind can fall short of being a radical soul transformation as taught within the context of II Corinthians 7. The second, which is the stronger Greek word for repentance is metanoeo, which means repent, have a change of heart, turn from one's sin, or change of way caused by an abhorrence of one's sins. It is used 34 times in the New Testament. This repentance is exemplified in the Old Testament by Ezekiel's reference to God's taking away the stony heart and giving a heart of flesh (a new heart) (Ezek. 36:26).
The nature of repentance is described as turning away from evil (Acts 3:26) and turning to God (Acts 20:21; 26:20). God gives time for the elect to repent (Rom. 2:4). A Biblical example of the character of repentance is Paul's statement to the Thessalonian Christians in I Thessalonians 1:9-10. Paul reversed the order to turning to God from evil. There are two kinds of repentance. There is the initial repentance which can also be called a conversion experience. This happens only once. After the initial repentance, there is a continual repentant spirit (Rev. 2:4,5).
Repentance is an action that keeps on acting. As John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ, repentance is the forerunner of faith. Although repentance and faith are inseparable in the Biblical order, repentance always precedes faith (Acts 20:21). As the person with God-given faith not only believes but continues believing, the one to whom God has granted repentance not only repents but continues repenting in preparation for each act of faith. The word faith (pistis) is used three basic ways in Scripture: (1) personal faith that God gives to each person He regenerates, (2) Jesus Christ Himself, and (3) the system of truth. Conclusively, repentance is the forerunner of saving faith (justifying faith before one's consciousness, Christ being the object of this saving faith). It is the forerunner of every act of faith in the Christian life, and a repentant spirit prepares the individual for accepting and embracing the system of truth (Phil. 1:27; Jude 3).
The following are signs of repentance: (1) True inward sorrow for sins is a sign of repentance (II Cor. 7:10). Every person who has had a true conversion experience can relate with this. (2) Hatred of one's sins evidences repentance (Ezek. 36:31). (3) The prompting of grace to turn from sins denotes repentance (Ezek. 18:30). (4) Turning to God and asking for forgiveness is a sign of repentance (Hos. 5:15). (5) The change must be genuine, and it must be demonstrated in order to depict repentance (Matt. 3:7,8). (6) Initial repentance is manifested in obedience to baptism, which is an answer of a good conscience toward God (I Pet. 3:21). (7) The subsequent spirit of repentance to the initial repentance is expressed by the crucifixion of the flesh (Gal. 2:20). An apostate cannot repent.
John's message to the masses in general and his message to the Pharisees and Sadducees differed. His announcement in the desert of Judea to the masses in general was "you repent for the kingdom of the heavens has approached" (Matt. 3:2—translation). In contrast, when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Offspring of snakes, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" (Matt. 3:7—translation). God's strongest language is against religionists. The Pharisees were hypocrites. Like the liberals and modernists who misinterpret the Scriptures, these Pharisees misinterpreted the law of God. The Sadducees denied the resurrection and the angels; hence, they denied the supernatural (Acts 23:6). At the beginning of his ministry, John was popular, and the people came to him as his fame spread abroad. His popularity among the Jews who knew the Old Testament Scriptures is understandable. They knew Isaiah had prophesied a forerunner of the Lord, and they also realized their spiritual drouth in being without a prophet for 400 years.
Of the three major views held by religionists pertaining to the subject of repentance, the first for consideration is baptismal regeneration. This view maintains that repentance and confession are worthless unless they are accompanied with baptism. Contrary to this teaching, baptism is not for the purpose of repentance. Those who hold this view say baptism is for the purpose of remission of sins: "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). However, the preposition "for" comes from the Greek preposition eis, the accusa tive of cause, which means "because of" the remission of sins. The correct interpretation of Greek prepositions can be determined only by the context in which they are used. Paul spoke of Jews who had already been delivered by blood who "were all baptized unto [eis, accusative of reference] Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (I Cor. 10:2). Those Jews were baptized with reference to their relation to Moses. We are baptized with reference to our relation to Christ: "For as many of you as have been baptized into [eis, accusative of reference] Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). It does not signify that we are baptized in order to be saved. John the Baptist demanded that those he baptized first produce fruits worthy of repentance (Matt. 3:8). They must prove by their works that they had repented before he would baptize them.
The second of the major views held by religionists on the subject of repentance is that of covenant theology. Those who hold this view maintain that there is a class of Scriptures which makes baptism and salvation look identical (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:16), and there is another class that makes them look separate (Matt. 3:7,8; Luke 3:12-14; Acts 10:4448; 11:15). They affirm that the Scriptural teaching is that baptism is the outward part of repentance showing submission to Christ in the name of Christ (Acts 2:38) on the ground of authority (Matt. 18:5,20). This assumption is that baptism for the remission of sins is the result of submission because Jesus Christ commanded it. The covenant theologians believe in infant baptism. To substantiate that belief, they say the Jews were baptized on dry ground, and fathers, mothers, and children passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. They believe the children being in covenant relationship with the parents are saved unless after they are grown they forsake, and then their names can be taken out of the book of life.
The third view is that there is no repentance or baptism for the assembly of Christ today. This view is held by some dispensational premillennialists. Their opinion is that sign gifts, including water baptism, were associated with Israel; and when Israel was temporarily laid aside, these ended (I Cor. 1:22; 13:8; Eph. 4:5). They contend that "church truth" was given only by Paul in the Pauline Epistles. Their observation is that the Bible teaches Christ's body had its historical beginning at Acts 13:9-13. They give the following reasons for their conviction: (1) Saul was separated to the work to which God called him. (2) Saul, his Hebrew name, was changed to Paul, his Gentile name. (3) Prior to this time, Saul's name was associated with Barnabas, but now Paul is associated with his company. Paul is now in command. (4) Prior to this time, Saul had preached only to Jews, and that is his confirmation; but now, the good news is given by Paul to the Gentiles. (5) Sergius Paulus was saved by faith alone. He did not repent nor was he water baptized, as required under the kingdom gospel. (6) Prior to this time the only means of salvation was through the nation of Israel; but now, a Gentile was saved in spite of the Jews. (7) This age is a part of that hidden mystery, mystery of the gospel, given to us by God through Paul, the apostle of this age. Apollos knew only the baptism of John until he sat under the teaching of two tentmakers and was instructed more perfectly in the way of the Lord. After 1900 years, believers still know only the baptism of John and are unwilling to submit to the tentmaker, Paul.
Those who project the preceding arguments believe there were kingdom apostles, those called by Jesus Christ during His public ministry, and there were church apostles. They assume that the apostles commissioned to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel in Matthew 10 were kingdom apostles, but apostles subsequent to them, including Paul, were church apostles.
Does Acts 13:9-13 record the beginning of the assembly of
Jesus Christ? Some Greek scholars, who are prejudiced in their interpretation, think the body of Christ had its historical beginning in this portion of Scripture at the time Saul was called Paul. However, there is nothing in this portion of Scripture to indicate that this is the beginning of the assembly of Jesus Christ. The beginning of Paul's first missionary tour is recorded in Acts 13. As certain prophets and teachers in the assembly at Antioch ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2). Thus, Saul was sent on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-15:39). The prophets are distinguished from the teachers by the enclitic particle (kai), used as a coordinating conjunction. The three prophets were Barnabas, Simeon, and Lucius. The two teachers were Manaen and Saul, whose name was called Paul.
The following things should be observed in answer to the arguments given by those who claim that there is no repentance or baptism for the assembly of Jesus Christ today.
FIRST—When did the apostles become members of the assembly? Did they become members at Pentecost? Did they become members when Jesus Christ called them to Himself? According to Ephesians 2:20, written by Paul by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were the foundation of the assembly of Jesus Christ. Paul had just stated to the Ephesian saints that through Jesus Christ both saved Jews and saved Gentiles have access by one Spirit to the Father (Eph. 2:18). They were fellow citizens with the saints and were members of the family of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19,20). A foundation is a very important part of the house itself. Since the apostles called together by Christ constituted the foundation of the assembly, the assembly did not begin on the day of Pentecost. Neither did it begin in Acts 13:9-13 when Saul's name was called Paul. The assembly (ekklesia) which Jesus Christ is building was begun with the apostles in Matthew 16. This is the universal aspect of the assembly. The universal aspect of the assembly is demonstrated in local assemblies where two or three are gathered together in Christ's name agreeing (Matt. 18). Both universal and local aspects of the assembly (ek-klesia) are given in Matthew's Gospel, not in Acts or the Epistles. The apostles were the first to be set in the assembly (I Cor. 12:28).
SECOND—Is there a distinction between "kingdom apostles" and "church apostles"? There is no distinction between them. Paul was not one of the twelve apostles. He was one born out of due season (I Cor. 15:8,9). There are only a few other apostles named in the Scriptures.
THIRD—What is the significance of Saul's name being called Paul? The statement "Then Saul (who also is called Paul)" does not indicate that this name was given him for the first time. As a Jew, his name was Saul, and as a Roman citizen, his name was Paul. He undoubtedly had both names. He was no longer called by his Hebrew name, which means "requested," but he would now be called Paul, which means "little." Paul was a Hebrew by birth; he was a Roman by citizenship; he was a Greek by culture. God chose this man to be His minister to the Gentiles. He would come in contact with the Jews. When he first began his ministry, he spoke many times to the Jews. However, his primary ministry was to the Gentiles; therefore, he was called by his Gentile name. The record of two names being given to an individual is not uncommon in Scripture—John Mark (Acts 12:12), Simeon Niger (Acts 13:1), Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7), Barsabas Justus (Acts 1:23), etc. Sometimes a new name is equivalent to a new dignity. For instance, when Peter was called by the Lord, his name was Cephas, which means a stone; but it was changed to Peter to signify dignity.
FOURTH—What is the meaning of "Paul's gospel"? Was Paul's gospel different from other names of the gospel? Many compound names are used in the Old Testament to describe Jehovah. The numerous compound names are necessary because no one name can describe the infinite God. There are also many names ascribed to Jesus Christ throughout the Scriptures. The same thing can be said concerning the gospel. The gospel, like God Himself, can never be adequately described by names.
There are not different gospels. The one message of the unmerited favor of God is given the following designations:
1. "The gospel of God" signifies its source. The message was settled in heaven before the foundation of the world (Rom. 1:1).
2. "The gospel of Christ" denotes its subject (II Cor. 10:14).
3. "The gospel of the grace of God" directs attention to its unmerited favor (Acts 20:24).
4. "The gospel of your salvation" specifies its purpose (Eph. 1:13).
5. "The gospel of peace" evidences its inner protection and assurance in warfare (Eph. 6:15).
6. "This gospel of the kingdom" points to its hope and prospect (Matt. 4:23; Acts 20:25).
7. "The everlasting gospel" directs attention to its unchan-geableness (Rev. 14:6).
8. "My [Paul's] gospel" identifies its human channel (Rom. 2:16; 16:25; II Tim. 2:8). It was Paul's by inspiration and revelation plus commitment (Gal. 1:12; II Tim. 3:16).
9. "The gospel which was preached of me [Paul]" names the message he preached (Gal. 1:11; 2:2).
10. "Our gospel" shows its commitment to the recipients of grace, because it has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (II Cor. 4:3; I Thess. 1:5; II Thess. 2:14). Paul included himself with the assemblies when he called the message "our gospel." We could not understand the gospel if it were not revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. The message has come to us in the sense that all truth is made known by God (Matt. 16:17; II Cor. 4:3,6; Eph. 1:17-23; I John 2:20,27).
11. "The mystery of the gospel" signifies that what was set forth in types and shadows in the Old Testament has been made plain since the advent of Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:19).
The gospel is the message of the unmerited favor of God, whether it is preached in the Old Testament, the New Testament, presently, or during the tribulation period when God will save the nation of Israel. The one message is that of the infinite indescribable God. It was good news in the Old Testament through types and shadows of Him who would come and what He would do when He came.
The nature of the good news is the same in every age. The gospel was not one thing in one age and something else in a different age. That would be like saying election is one thing in one age and something else in another age. God has one purpose. It had been kept silent for long ages, from eternity to Christ's first advent: "Now to the one who is able to strengthen you on the basis of my gospel, and the proclamation of Jesus Christ; on the basis of the revelation of the mystery that has been kept silent in times eternal, But now has been made plain, through prophetic writings, according to the mandate of the eternal God having been made to all nations for obedience to the faith" (Rom. 16:25,26—translation). Since the advent of Jesus Christ, the God-Man Mediator, it has been made plain. That which was set forth in types and shadows in the Old Testament has been made plain in the New Testament. Although it has been made plain, there are many things about the gospel we do not comprehend any more than we can comprehend the Person of Jesus Christ and the hypostatic union, both of which are mysteries. Furthermore, salvation is a mystery. Although we are recipients of God's work of grace, there are many things about it that are inexplicable. It has been made plain to a point, but we do not fully comprehend its aspects. It will take all eternity to understand the Godhead, the Person of Christ, the mystery of the gospel, and the mystery of Israel who shall be saved. But it has been made plain in the sense that we are no longer living under the shadows, because the substance has appeared. He gave Himself an offering for us, and we understand that. This is the good tidings we are commissioned to make known to the whole world (Matt. 28:19,20).
The gospel, called by many names, was committed to Paul. He said he committed it to Timothy to commit to faithful men that they might commit it to the assemblies of Christ, which are universities of God for the edification of the elect that we might make known the wisdom of God to evil and good forces in the heavenlies. Paul discussed the awesome responsibility of the assembly in Ephesians 3:1-21.
There are two major divisions in Ephesians 3; each begins with the expression "for this cause [reason]" (Eph. 3:1,14). The first refers back to Paul's statements in regard to the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles having been broken down (Eph. 2:11-22). Paul, who was a prisoner on behalf of the Gentiles, was writing for the spiritual benefit of the Ephesians (Eph. 3:1). They had heard of the administra tion of the grace of God which had been given to Paul for them (Eph. 3:2). The revelation that made known the mystery in Ephesians 3:3 and the explanation of the mystery is recorded in Galatians 1:10-16. Paul explained the mystery which in other generations was not made known to men. A Biblical mystery is not something incomprehensible, but it is a secret that God alone can make known to the elect. It is a secret that unless one has the grace of God he cannot understand (Eph. 3:5). God revealed this mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God, by the Spirit to His apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:9).
The mystery is that the assembly is constituted of both saved Jews and saved Gentiles, since the middle wall of partition has been broken down (Eph. 2:14). The former inexplicability of how the saved Gentiles could come along and receive the same blessings on the promises that the saved Jews were experiencing was now made known. The assembly age itself was not mysterious to the prophets of old. David saw three periods of time (Ps. 110). The present is the period of time when Jesus Christ is seated at the Father's right hand making intercession for His own, saving to the uttermost, and preserving all who come to Him. The truth that the Gentiles would be fellow heirs and fellow body members in the same body—the assembly, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel was not formerly known (Eph. 3:6).
God made Paul a minister of God according to the gift of God having been given to him by the activity of God's power. Men are not made ministers by schools but by God. Being made a minister by God to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ produced humility in Paul. He declared that he was the very least of all saints (Eph. 3:8). Who can place a value on God's riches? The purpose for bringing to light the administration of the mystery which from the beginning of the ages had been hidden in God was in order that the diversified wisdom of God shall be made known now through the assembly to the rulers and to the authorities in the heavenlies. Most assembly members do not realize the value of the assembly.
Let us get a glimpse of the impact of the assembly making known the diversified wisdom of God to rulers and authorities in the heavenlies. We are told to "...be strong Put on the complete armor of God, for you to be able to stand against stratagems of the Devil, because our conflict is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenlies" (Eph. 6:10-12—translation). This is our conflict against evil forces in the heavenlies. We make known the varied wisdom of God not only to evil but also to good powers in the heavenlies. There are good (elect) and bad (nonelect) angels. The angelic host of good angels are presently desiring (present active indicative of epithumeo) to look into (aorist active infinitive of parakupto, which means look into, stoop, or bend over) our salvation (I Pet. 1:12). We can see this typified in the cherubim who were bending over the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies in the tabernacle. The cherubim were fashioned as though they were looking down into the ark of the covenant searching diligently. This salvation was not revealed to the angels but to us.
God is making His diversified wisdom known to elect and nonelect angels through the assembly of Jesus Christ. The gospel has been committed to people who have been born of the Spirit of God and initiated by Him into the family of God. The assembly becomes an institute for the edification of God's people in time, and the institute to teach evil and good forces what is truth. Good angels desire to find out more about our redemption, because there is no redemption for them. We have something and know something that the angels do not fully comprehend. The reason is obvious. Salvation must be experienced in order to comprehend it.
The second division of Ephesians 3 begins with "for this cause [reason]" (Eph. 3:14). This looks back to the recognition that the assembly to whom the gospel has been revealed is the university of God. This cognizance produces humility in God's people. We are more concerned about that part of ourselves that is spiritual rather than the part that is flesh. We desire to be rooted, having been fully established, in order that we may be fully able to comprehend "with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:18,19). God is able to do far beyond all that we are asking or thinking, according to the power operating in us. Therefore, all glory in the assembly of Jesus Christ to all generations of the ages of ages belongs to Him (Eph. 3:20,21).
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