As we study the commission that our Lord gave to His apostles before He left to take His place at the right hand of the Father, we come to instructions at the conclusion of The Gospel According to Luke that further shed light on carrying out their divinely appointed task:
And He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:44–49)
I would like to point out first the exact contents of what the Lord told His apostles to preach: That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. This “repentance and remission of sins” is a constant theme throughout Luke’s gospel account, the “Gospels” in general (especially the “synoptics”), and into the book of Acts. Let us trace this through Luke and Acts in a few passages:
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto His people1 by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76–79)
And [John the Baptist] came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins… (Luke 3:3)
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32)
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)
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)
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. (Acts 3:19–21)
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, Whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, Whom God hath given to them that obey Him. (Acts 5:30–32)
Notice that the change between verses 3:3 and 24:47 in Luke’s Gospel is simply one of authority: now that the Lord Jesus has risen from the dead, the repentance required would be preached “in His Name”. When Peter preached at Pentecost, the message did not change—“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins”. Do you think that Peter understood what he was supposed to preach?
Now to go back to the beginning of this passage, the Lord speaks to the eleven gathered, and He opened to them the scriptures. This was when they came to understand that His death was indeed not a catastrophe, nor a “bump in the road”. The two on the road to Emmaus heard the same thing, as the Lord called them “fools”, and “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). He spoke of His coming crucifixion several times while He ministered:
And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God. But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, He said unto his disciples, Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask Him of that saying. (Luke 9:43–45)
But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! (Luke 12:50)
But first must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. (Luke 17:25)
Then He took unto Him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. (Luke 18:31–34)
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee. (Matthew 16:21–22)
While they also were indeed “slow of heart to believe” what He had told them about His impending death, the Lord now opened their understanding as well. They could now be witnesses of these things. Peter could declare during his sermon on the Day of Pentecost that 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: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it (Acts 2:22–24). What was the purpose of their witness? Repentance and remission of sins! Dare I say that in addition to all the sins that resulted in the captivity of God’s chosen people to the Gentiles, the need for repentance was infinitely greater now that they crucified God’s Anointed!
Early in December of 2016, I attended a sermon where the pastor had been going through a sermon series on Acts. He spoke about the theme of Acts being “the Gospel on Trial”. On that particular Sunday, he was preaching from Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, and though his title indicated that the Gospel was in the position of the defendant, everything that he said was very consistent with the truth in Acts that Stephen was bringing charges AGAINST ISRAEL of rejecting God and His messengers at every time in their history. These witnesses were not witnesses for the defense! They were witnesses for the prosecution! The nation was on trial, and they were to repent! That is why “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations BEGINNING AT JERUSALEM”! Remember the Lord’s lament for Jerusalem:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! (Luke 13:34)
Now speaking of their witness, as an aside, look at what will be preached for a witness before the end comes:
And this gospel of the kingdom2 shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)
They were to wait for the promise of the Father in Jerusalem. Recall that in Luke 12:12, the Lord told them that the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say. The power from on high would be the gift of the Holy Ghost, so that they would be speaking the very word of God as a witness against Israel. They would be witnesses to call the Nation and its leaders to repentance. While they were indeed to go into all the world (Mark 16:15), and teach all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19), they were to begin at Jerusalem. The “holy Nation” that was to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6) was to be brought into subjection to the King of kings and Lord of lords first.
The “Acts record” shows that the chosen Nation’s reaction to this message to them was still one of rejection. Even the dispersed children of Israel for the most part rejected this message to them. See Acts 5:33, 7:54–58, 9:23, 9:29, 13:44–46, 17:5, 18:12–13, 22:17–24, 28:19–29. If not for the grace of God, nothing was left for the nation, or the world, but judgment. Instead, the grace of God called the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) with the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), the “preaching of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18), and the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), and for 2000 years judgment has been delayed. As for the chosen nation: as a nation, they have fallen (Romans 11:12, Hebrews 6:6), but as John declared at the beginning of his Gospel:
But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13)
The believing Israelites would now be saved in the same way that gentile believers are saved. Peter made this statement at the “Jerusalem council”, and while sometimes we may pass over this without a second thought, consider this: the prophets witness gentiles as being saved through Israel’s acceptance of God’s Christ. The nation of Israel by and large sent the message after the King saying “we will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Look at the change of things:
But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. (Acts 15:11)
The “we” in this verse is best understood as “we Jews”, and “they” would be the Gentiles. The context on this is very clear. Gentiles are saved by grace through believing the Gospel that Paul preached (1 Corinthians 15:1–4). Jews are saved in the exact same way.
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:12–13)
In the next installment in this series, we will look at the commission in Acts as a follow-up to Luke’s record. Now while judgment is delayed and grace is being proclaimed:
…receive not the grace of God in vain… behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16:31)
The term “His people” in this verse, as well as in most occurrences in the gospels should be understood as “His people Israel”. If a search made in a concordance or an internet Bible website such as www.blueletterbible.org for terms such as “my people” or “his people”, it becomes very clear that allowing for very few exceptions, the meaning is the Covenant people, the Nation of Israel. In Matthew’s gospel, where it is said “for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), the obvious sense is Israel. The same is true in Isaiah 53, concerning the words “our”, “we”, and in verse 8 where the prophet says “for the transgression of my people was He stricken”. Whether it is the prophet calling them “my people”, or the LORD calling them “My people”, does not change the fact that this should be understood as Israel. Understanding the terms “His people” and “My people” in most of these places will help to clear up and do away with the idea of “limited atonement”. This is also true for the terms in the Old Testament, “My Chosen”, and “My Elect”. They are usually referring to the Nation of Israel, or to Israel’s Messiah. None of this takes away from the fact that Christ died for all, or that Gentiles now receive salvation through Christ apart from covenants and promises. It does, however, do away with many “proof verses” for limited atonement.
See this short excerpt from Dr. Paul Nyquist, president of Moody Bible Institute, on the Gospel of the Kingdom.