What They Heard
HEBREWS 1:1-2 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son...
Here is a most remarkable statement of scripture filled with incredible truth for us today. First we learn that in times past GOD did in fact speak. And further, that HE spoke at various times and in many ways, and that this speaking was unto the fathers "by the prophets". But alas, not so then, “in these last days” (the days just prior to the writing of HEBREWS), for in those days GOD had been speaking by HIS Son.
JOHN 7:16; 12:49 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me…for I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.
During Yeshua's (Jesus') ministry, GOD spoke unto man through HIS Son, but originally, in GENESIS, GOD spoke with and dealt directly with man:
With Adam see GENESIS 2:16
With Eve see GENESIS 3:13
With Noah see HEBREWS 6:13
Later, with the formation of the nation of Israel, HE chose a spokesman, a prophet, and dealt with the nation through that individual:
With Moses see EXODUS 7:12 and then 3:10-17
With Samuel see 1 SAMUEL 3:21 and then 7:3-6, 15
With Jeremiah see JEREMIAH 1:1-2 then 2:1-2,4
With John the Baptist see JOHN 1:6-7 and then MATTHEW 3:1-2,5
But when Yeshua came as the Word of GOD in the flesh (JOHN 1:24; 6:33, 38, 41; 14:6-7), mankind began to know GOD “by HIS Son”. Then following Yeshua's ministry on earth and ascension towards Heaven (ACTS 1:10), His apostles began to speak according to what they had "heard from Him".
ACTS 1:4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
Yeshua had taught them, so that they could go and teach others also. This they did, as recorded in the various epistles of the day.
1 JOHN 1:3 That which we [the apostles] have seen and heard declare we unto you.
This same declaration is reiterated in the second chapter of HEBREWS. What had been revealed to us in the opening verses of HEBREWS chapter one, was how GOD had “spoke in time past….by the prophets". But in chapter two of HEBREWS GOD reveals that HE then began to speak unto Israel by Yeshua. However, now, at the time of the writing of HEBREWS, HE was speaking unto the nation “by them that heard" HIS Son.
HEBREWS 2:3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
“Them that heard Him” were of course the ones Yeshua had taught. From the Sermon on the Mountain to the road to Emmaus Yeshua had taught His disciples “all the scriptures . . . concerning Himself”. He had a phenomenal ability to teach others the word of GOD. He also had months and months to teach His disciples, so that they could go and teach others after His death, resurrection and ascension. If truth does in fact make men free, what great freedom was about to knock on the world’s door!
"GOD bore them witness"
In hindsight we know that Yeshua didn’t carry this truth more than 100 miles from Nazareth, nor more than two or three years before the cross. But His followers would carry it for decades throughout the world. As they called on Israel to repent, GOD gave them "both signs and wonders" as their witness.
HEBREWS 2:4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
Those whom Yeshua had taught were going out and teaching unto others the word “they had heard” and GOD was bearing them witness. This is precisely what we see beginning to happen in ACTS.
ACTS 2:16-21 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath: blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass; that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
In the opening four chapters of ACTS, the writings of the Hebrew Bible are boldly held forth no less than a dozen times. Yet Yeshua's followers were not generally regarded as being educated in the Scriptures. Where did these “unlearned and ignorant” men (ACTS 4.13) get this knowledge? That is exactly what the rulers and elders of Israel demanded.
ACTS 4:19-20 But Peter and John answered and said unto them . . . we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
It's astounding that, unlike in the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels, all through ACTS we never find GOD speaking to anyone; rather HE “bore witness” with signs miracles and wonders to those who did speak what they had heard from HIS Son during the Gospel period. They spoke the things which they had seen and heard from Yeshua. Because most of Christendom consider ACTS as the Rise and Expansion of today's Church, they vainly attempt to mimic the "signs, wonders and miracles" which the believers performed during those years.
During Yeshua's ministry He was continually calling Israel to repent (MATTHEW 4:17). Had the Twelve Apostles heard this preaching to repent? Had Peter heard it? Most definitely! It burned within him. And after Yeshua's resurrection and ascension, when thousands of Judeans were gathered together on the day of Pentecost, when GOD opened the door by giving the sign, the cloven tongues of fire, Peter opened his mouth;
ACTS 2:22-23 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.
GOD did miracles, wonders and signs by Yeshua. This is how GOD "bare witness" that Yeshua was approved of HIM.
ACTS 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
“What shall we do?” was their cry, “What shall we do?” was their plea.
ACTS 2:38 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.
Almost since the birth of the nation of Israel, their sin had required their repentance (LEVITICUS 26:40-44). The prophets of the Hebrew Bible had called for them to repent, Yeshua had called for them to repent, and now, during ACTS, for the last and final time, the apostles were calling for their repentance.
ACTS 3:19-21, 24 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord: and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began….yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.
“These days!” These days were not our days, some two thousand years later. No! These days were those days, the days of ACTS, the days which the prophets of the Hebrew Bible had prophesied of. Yeshua was in heaven, awaiting the “times of restitution”. This is why the burden of the Twelve Apostle's ministry was calling Israel to repentance. While reading ACTS you will find repeated attempts by the believers to get Israel to repent. You don't see much of an effort by them to Missionize the world. It was primarily all about calling Israel back to GOD.
Yeshua’s short personal ministry recorded in the Gospels was too limited to reach every Judean scattered throughout the entire world. His ministry was not intended to give every Jew an opportunity to hear and repent. But, give His Twelve Apostles forty years, and that goal could be realized. To give all Israel a just opportunity to hear and choose whether to repent or not, that was the primary ministry of the book of ACTS.
If the Church today did not begin on the day of Pentecost, than we are as much in error in trying to live like the first century believers as we would be if we moved about in tents as the Patriarchs did in the days of Enoch (GENESIS 4:20). Their lifestyles were characteristic of the times and calling of GOD, just as were the Twelve Apostle's lifestyles during the ACTS period. But it is wrong to assume either should be our lifestyle.
We must look again at certain scriptures which misread, have caused many to think that the present day Church has its roots in ACTS. Let’s begin with the Lord’s charge to the Twelve Apostles just moments before His ascension:
ACTS 1:8 …ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Some have thought that the “uttermost part of the earth” might mean that the apostles should include the entire world in their ministry, something they had been strictly forbidden by Yeshua to do:
MATTHEW 10:5-6 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Even though Samaria was later included in the Apostles’ ministry, it is presumptuous to expect that the apostles should also include the Gentiles (the pagan nations) now in their ministry. That is unless Yeshua had instructed them that the rest of the world should be included; but we don’t have the record of it. That being the case it is not reasonable for us to assume they were thus instructed, unless of course we can see them practice this unorthodox mission. But we can’t! And that is just the problem so many have created for themselves. They think that perhaps some prejudice or weakness kept the apostles from missionizing the Gentiles. But no such missionizing occurred because the will of GOD was not yet so.
Also, the “uttermost part of the earth” is not a people but a place. It’s the place that Israel had been scattered to. In Peter’s Pentecostal message he even alludes to this.
ACTS 2:39 For the promise is unto you [all the house of Israel, verse 36], and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Many teach that “all that are afar off” means the Gentiles, but that is not at all what Peter could have meant. He was referring only to Israel, which had been scattered throughout the world, precisely as Daniel had written about in the Hebrew Bible when Israel were scattered by their enemy.
DANIEL 9:7 …to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee.
If Peter, by saying, "to all that are afar off", had meant the Gentiles, then why is he not preaching to the Gentiles? Why isn’t John or the other apostles regularly preaching to the Gentiles? Preaching to an unconverted Gentile would have been so foreign to their thinking that they could not have even imagined doing such a thing.
They didn't preach to pagan Gentiles because they had been sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” calling for them to repent. Sure, just as Yeshua healed a Gentile in an isolated case (MATTHEW 15:22ff) so did some of the other apostles, but the thrust of their ministry was still calling Israel to repent. The Gentiles always took a back seat so to speak, when it came to the nation of priests.
It was many years later when Peter was shown by the Lord that he could go and minister salvation to a Gentile (ACTS 10). And even though the apostles glorified GOD on account of that Gentile’s salvation, (only after they heard a detailed account by Peter of the event) they still did not turn from the house of Israel as their primary focus throughout ACTS.
Even Paul, who later wrote that the “gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto him” (GALATIANS 2:7), focused his efforts throughout ACTS on the Judeans. His manner was to go into the synagogue of the Judeans (ACTS 17:1-2) and on occasion, if they would not believe, he would then preach unto the Gentiles (ACTS 13:46). However upon entering the next city, back to the synagogue of the Judeans he would go.
In prophecy from the Hebrew Bible (ISAIAH 49:6) and practice (JAMES 2:25) the Gentiles were to be blessed. That was no new mystery or secret but simply the fulfillment of a promise made to Abraham. Rather, these Gentile believers of the ACTS period are the ones referred to by Paul in his earlier epistle to the Romans.
ROMANS 9:24-25 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
These Gentiles who believed during the ACTS period, are the Gentiles that were grafted into the olive tree (ROMANS 11:13-23). The believers today were not grafted into any such tree, for that tree no longer exists. The initial understanding of scripture must be in the light with which it was written. What the Holy Spirit moved men to write must be interpreted for the time in which it was written.
"The Final Rejection"
The final rejection of unrepentant Israel was by the hand of Paul at the close of the book of ACTS (ACTS 28:25-27). This was followed closely by the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem (MATTHEW 24:1-2) around 70 A.D. The nation of Israel was rejected because the majority of them rejected the savior and refused to repent as a nation. Is not this the true understanding of Yeshua’s parable of the fruitless fig tree?
LUKE 13:5-9 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
The fig tree was given three seasons to produce fruit, and finally a fourth. Of course Israel was often likened unto a fig tree. Is it not likely that the ministries of John the Baptist, Yeshua and the Apostle Peter were the three seasons? And who else but the Apostle Paul would be the fourth and final? “Then after that thou shalt cut in down!”
ACTS 28:25-28 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
The ax had been struck against the trunk and the tree tumbled to the ground! There is no more grafting into it! For the stiffnecked and un-repentful nation of Israel, time had finally run out. What lie ahead for them was desolation and destruction.
MATTHEW 23:37-39 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.