Story of the New Testament - Lesson 7
By Curt Niccum
ACTS: THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL
Background Information for the Teacher
- The student will be able to explain the different ways prophecy is fulfilled in Luke-Acts.
- The student can relate the structure of Acts to Isaiah 56:1-8.
- The student can show how Luke identifies the church as the true Israel, God's restored people.
- Each student will need to have a complete Bible.
Whereas Matthew, Mark, and John wrote ancient biography, Luke, by composing his work in two volumes, creates a work of ancient history. Therefore, it is more about a nation, Israel, than about a particular person. Having established Jesus as the prophesied king in the first volume, he sets out to show that the church is the prophesied kingdom (the Restoration of Israel) in the second volume. This is revealed in a number of different ways, but central to the structure of Acts is the fulfillment of the Restoration of Israel Prophecy found in Isaiah 56:1-8.
Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class
Introduction: (10-15 min)
- Organizational matters (taking roll, etc.)
- Evaluation of previous lesson: Ask the students if they took advantage of opportunities to tell someone about Jesus in the past week. If they answer "no," then discuss what the barriers were to telling. (Since we know about Jesus' death and the empty tomb, Mark wants us to tell. At the same time he is writing to Christians apparently afraid to share the good news, see Mark 4:40-41; 5:15; 6:50; 9:32; 11:18; and 16:8.) If the answer is "yes," have them discuss how others reacted to the message.
- Prayer and/or song: The song "Hear, O Israel" as a reminder that the church is Israel or "For by One Spirit" focusing on the universal gospel would be appropriate to the theme. Prayer topics could include thanksgiving for opening up the kingdom to all peoples and for fulfilling Scripture through Christ and the early church.
- A review of previous discussions about the Restoration of Israel would be useful. Remind the class that although Jews did return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile, in fulfillment of prophecy, few of the prophecies that spoke of the glories of the Temple, the city of Jerusalem, or the centrality of Palestine actually had come true. Instead, Israel remained a puppet government for most of the intervening time; first under the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Egyptians, then the Syrians, and, in Jesus' day, the Romans. While under foreign domination the Jews looked forward to a day that would be different, a day when Israel could truly be restored in terms of those glorious Restoration of Israel prophecies in the Old Testament. So, even though the Jews anxiously awaited the arrival of the Messiah, their focus was not solely on the Anointed One, but especially on the glorious kingdom that the Messiah would bring. The Messiah would lead God's people, a people newly formulated by the Lord that would do His will.
Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)
- As noted two lessons ago, the Book of Acts answers the disciples' question, "Is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" The answer is a resounding "Yes!" The solution, though, is not exactly what the disciples expected. Just as the Messiah surpassed expectations, so did the kingdom.
- It is important that Luke show that both Jesus and the church fulfilled Scripture. If they do not fulfill the prophecies to which everyone looked, then people would look elsewhere for salvation. Therefore, fulfillment of prophecy is a major theme throughout both of Luke's volumes.
- Luke's Gospel opens and closes with that theme. He intends to write about the "things fulfilled" (1:1). By the end of the first volume, he has shown that to be true in the case of Jesus the Messiah (24:27, 32, and 44-46).
- The Book of Acts, as we will see, is structured according to a Restoration prophecy.
- There are three ways in which prophecy is fulfilled in Luke-Acts
- Fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (see Luke 4:21). Here someone or some event explicitly fulfills a prophecy found in scripture. This type can frequently be identified by an introductory phrase like, "Just as it is written…."
- Fulfillment of prophecy within the events narrated in the two volumes (see Luke 3:16 and 24:47-49). Here prophecies by John the Baptist, Jesus, or others find fulfillment within the story. Acts 1:8, for example, gets fulfilled in the rest of Acts.
- Fulfillment of the best of God's people in the past: Jesus speaks and acts in ways that imitate Adam, Elijah, Elishah, David, and Moses. In Acts, the main characters (especially Peter and Paul) then imitate Christ. Jesus specifically acts in ways that imitate the greatest Old Testament figures. Just as Elijah and Elisha served a widow and a military man (Luke 4:24-27), so also does Jesus (Luke 7:1-17).
- Looking at all of these in Acts would be impossible in a survey course like this. Instead, we will trace the fulfillment of one Old Testament prophecy about the Restoration of Israel as it occurs in Acts.
- Read Isaiah 56:1-8 (the text the students were assigned to read in the last lesson). Have the students identify the various elements prophecied by Isaiah: 1) The gentiles, formerly excluded from God's people, will now be included among His people (vs. 3), 2) the eunuchs, formerly excluded from God's people (Deut. 23:2), will now be included among His people (vs. 5), 3) gentiles will be able to enter into the Temple precincts previously reserved for the Jews only and offer sacrifices to God (vs. 7), and 4) God will gather the exiled Jews.
- Note how each of these unfolds in the story of Acts.
- In Acts 2 Luke recounts the return of the exiles. Jews from every nation under heaven had arrived for Pentecost (2:5). Luke lists a number of different geographic regions represented in order to make this clear (2:8-11), and even lists people from two nations that no longer existed in the first century (Medes and Elamites, vs. 9) but were places to which the Jews had been exiled in 587 B.C. Compare this with another Restoration prophecy, Isaiah 11:11-13. God has finally brought His people together as promised, and for an important reason.
- In Acts 8, Philip introduces an Ethiopian eunuch to the restored kingdom. Although returning to Ethiopia from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship, as a eunuch he would have been excluded from the inner precincts of the Temple. The best he could do was stand in the Court of the Gentiles to praise his God. Now, with the restoration of the kingdom, he is fully included in the people of God.
- In Acts 10 (recounted again in chapters 11 and 15), Gentiles are allowed into the people of God. A centurion named Cornelius, set apart by his devotion to God shown in his prayer life and care for the poor, is called to become a member of God's kingdom. Despite initial opposition by Jewish Christians (remember God had to hit Peter over the head with a blanket full of animals three times before he even remotely understood what God was doing), a meeting in Jerusalem makes it clear to all that God has acted in a mighty way to include gentiles. James, one of the leaders of the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem quotes a Restoration Prophecy (Acts 15:15-17, citing Amos 9) and concludes that gentiles who believe are among "the people" of God (Acts 15:14).
- All that remains for Isaiah 56 to be fulfilled, then, is for gentiles to worship God in the Temple. Remember that we have read scripture so much, that the initial surprise of reading the texts has worn off. The very first readers of Acts would have expected the book to end in chapter 21.
- Luke has given the reader clues to expect the story to end in Acts 21. First, the three other elements of the prophecy have been fulfilled. Paul heads to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, and there are a number of gentiles traveling with him (20:4 and 16). A reader knowing Isaiah 56 would naturally expect Paul and his companions to go into the Temple to fulfill the prophecy.
- Second, up to this point the Book of Acts has followed the geographical pattern found in Luke. The story begins in Jerusalem, expands to Judea, Galilee and gentile regions, and now returns to Jerusalem.
- Third, Paul's journey to Jerusalem parallels Jesus' journey. Both resolutely determine to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 and Acts 19:21). Both are aware in advance that suffering awaits when they arrive.
- Things go awry in Jerusalem. At the mere rumor that Paul has brought a gentile into the temple in fulfillment of Isaiah 56, the Jews riot, rush outside the temple precincts to kill Paul, and slam the gates of the Temple on God's will. The question then arises: How will God finally fulfill Isaiah 56? How will the Gentiles worship in the Temple if the unbelieving Jews reject Jesus and God's will?
- When Paul has the opportunity to address the riotous crowds, instead of clearing up the misunderstanding he basically argues that he should have brought a gentile into the Temple, for the Lord sent him "to the Gentiles" (22:21). A vision from the Lord changes the direction of the story by announcing that Paul must be a witness in Rome. This points the reader to Acts 28, the real end of the book.
- Fortunately Luke does not leave the reader shocked at the refusal of the Jewish leadership to accept the fulfillment of Isaiah 56. In several ways Luke has prepared his audience for the fact that the amazing architectural structure in Jerusalem is not the true Temple. (The points below for section 5 should be touched on briefly, or perhaps even omitted. They are not crucial to the main theme of the lesson. They merely serve as supporting points for the redefinition of the church as God's Temple.)
- In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus contrasted the Jerusalem Temple as "your house" with the true Temple he called "my house."
- In Luke 13:35 Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple proclaiming, "Your house is left to you desolate." In the parable of the banquet in the following chapter, the story builds to the king's pronouncement, "…so that my house might be filled" (14:23).
- When cleansing the Temple, Jesus shouts, "My house shall be called a house of prayer!" (quoting Isaiah 56).
- Stephen makes it clear that the tabernacle, and by implication the Jerusalem Temple, ended up being places of idolatry, not the dwelling place of God (7:41-48). Although most English Bibles at 7:46 have David seeking to find a dwelling place for "the God of Jacob," the best attested reading in the Greek is "the house of Jacob." Here, too, a contrast is made between the physical Temple which belongs to the obstinate Jews (or "Jacob") and the true Temple of God which is the universe (7:48-50).
- In the Book of Acts, both Stephen and Paul declare that God does not live in temples made from human hands.
- One of the charges against Stephen is that he speaks against the Temple. Instead, Stephen brings those charges against the religious leaders. Stephen understands what the true Temple is and proves it by quoting scripture (Acts 7:49-50, citing Isaiah 66). An obsession with the physical building in Jerusalem is tantamount to idolatry.
- In Athens, Paul makes it even clearer that limiting God to a particular building is idolatry (17:24).
- In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus contrasted the Jerusalem Temple as "your house" with the true Temple he called "my house."
- The true Temple, then, extends to "the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 and 13:47). The true Temple is not a building, but the universal church - the community of those who "listen." Peter makes it clear that one's relationship with God depends on "listening" to the Prophet like Moses (3:22-23). Stephen says the same in 7:37. The conclusion of the book, then, is not surprising. "Let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the gentiles, and they will listen" (28:28). This point is very important and will be driven home further in the Applications section below.
Applications: (about 10 minutes)
- Both Paul and Peter also note that the church is God's true Temple. Look at the following passages and discuss the significance of each. How do the messages of Paul and Peter match the message of Acts?
- Ephesians 2:11-22. (Note that the "dividing wall" refers to a small embankment that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of Women. Plaques placed along the wall warned that gentile trespassers would be killed. This is why the Jews planned to kill Paul when they thought he had brought a gentile into the inner precincts.)
- 1 Peter 2:4-10.
- Discuss the consequences of being the Temple of God. Topics for examination could include ethics, bias (racial, gender, or economic), and/or evangelism (i.e., people go to temples to contact deity, now people approach God through the church. How does that reinforce the need to tell people the good news? How should the church look to outsiders?).
Assignment: (about 1 minute)
Have the students memorize Romans 6:23.
Have the students memorize the four items prophesied in Isaiah 56 and where they are fulfilled in Acts.
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