Wednesday, July 06, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 28: “We Are Witnesses” Acts 1-5

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 28: “We Are Witnesses”
Acts 1-5

Book of Acts

The Book of Acts is said to be written by the disciple Luke, who also wrote the gospel. This book follows Jesus’ life with stories of the apostles. Luke notes at the beginning of his epistle to Theophilus that there were many who witnessed the resurrected Messiah.

They were not yet to go out and minister, but wait until the Lord prepared them by sending them the first Comforter promised them. This will be seen in the second chapter.

The Ascension
Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1

After the resurrected Savior’s forty day ministry amongst his disciples, he was ready to move on to other responsibilities in the heavens. In front of 500 witnesses, he ascended into the clouds. Those watching were amazed and incredulous. Two angels described as “men in white apparel” appeared and told them that Jesus would come again, but this time in the manner he has just ascended. For the Lord’s Second Coming, he would descend in glory and power. He would be a resurrected and glorified being, even as his apostles witnessed as they touched and felt his body that he was not just a spirit/ghost, but was actually resurrected - a spirit clothed in a glorious body of flesh (Luke 24).

Restoring the Twelve: a Pattern

Returning to their homes to await further instructions of the Lord, the eleven apostles began restructuring the leadership. It was apparent that there had to be twelve apostles to be a full quorum, and so they discussed the matter. Their discussion led them to two righteous men, who had both seen the resurrected Jesus. It was necessary that they not call just any person, but “must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Reducing their choices to two, the apostles then prayed that the Lord would select the appropriate person. They then used the ancient Israelite method of choosing by lots.

According to the Septuagint Bible, the ancient Israelite high priest used the stones on the Urim and Thummim on his breastplate to deliver an answer from God. Other groups, which would include the apostles in this occasion, would throw sticks or dice and allow the Lord to affect the randomness of the event. This prevented politics or bribes to affect the outcome.

In this instance, the Lord chose Matthias, and he was then numbered with them as one of the apostles.

Day of Pentecost - conversion vs testimony
Acts 2

The Day of Pentecost was part of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, celebrating Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. Traditionally, it occurred 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, and ten days after his ascension into heaven.

Many were gathered to Jerusalem and the surrounding area for the celebration. The apostles had gathered to join in the celebration. Their original goal was not to preach, but to observe the feast. However, the Holy Spirit fell down upon them and the apostles began to speak in tongues, being understood by those Jews who had come from foreign lands to celebrate the events at hand. It is traditionally believed that they gathered in the same upper room where the Last Supper was held. Many people of the Jewish faith who traveled from elsewhere would have rented a seat at the Pentecostal feast. Seeing the Galilean fishermen speaking in many tongues at the same time would have been astonishing.

Peter had previously received a testimony of Jesus Christ from God: “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16-17). Though he had a testimony, it was not the same as being truly converted. At Jesus’ trial, his faith and testimony temporarily failed Peter, and he denied knowing Jesus. Just before that event, Savior would tell Peter in the same upper room during the Last Supper, “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

Peter was not yet converted. Not until this moment at Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost provided more than just a testimony. The converted Peter became a lion for Christ. Standing up before the others at the table, he explained that the apostles were not drunk, but filled with the Spirit of God. He noted the prophecy of Joel, wherein people would have visions and dreams from God as support that it was partially fulfilled in that moment.

Not only were the apostles moved, but the listeners were “pricked in their hearts” and moved upon to also believe. “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

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.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

They believed. Now they had to repent, receive the necessary ordinance of baptism in order to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15, John 3:5), and then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost had previously witnessed to Peter of Christ’s divinity. Now, he received the entire Gift, which was turning on the floodlights of spiritual power to this once lowly fisherman.

From this point on, “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” as they found the true power that comes through conversion.

Restoration of All Things
Acts 3

Peter has the opportunity to preach to others, including Jewish leaders. His approach to them was very different than to those in the upper room at Pentecost. He did not call them to faith, repentance or to be baptized by water and the Holy Ghost.

Instead, he noted:
14 But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you;
15 And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.

Because they knowingly murdered Jesus Christ and rejected him as their Savior, they would not be called to baptism and faith at this time. They would have to await a future time, just before the Second Coming of Christ. Peter was telling the Jews at Jerusalem who had a part in slaying Jesus two things. First, their rescue from the trials of this world would only come in the last days before Jesus’ glorious return, and Second, that their own salvation could come later.

Peter wished they had been ignorant of their choice in slaying Jesus. But the Jewish leaders had studied the prophets of old: Moses, Samuel and all the other prophets had foreseen Jesus’ coming. The Jewish leaders would not be eligible for baptism at that time:

19 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;
20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
21 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.

We see that there would be a “times of refreshing” and the “restitution of all things”. This epoch would not occur until just before Christ would be prepared to come down in glory for his Second Coming. Not only had the prophets foreseen the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ, but also his Second Coming. And they foresaw the “times of refreshing” when all things would be restored, preparatory for Jesus’ return.

Peter foresaw the restoration of the Lord’s gospel and order upon the earth occurring prior to the 2nd Coming. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes and teaches that this restoration is now occurring, as God has called modern apostles and prophets as living witnesses of the resurrected Jesus Christ. These holy men receive revelation from God, even as Joel prophesied would happen. Joel foresaw the complete fulfillment of his prophesy would occur in a day when the sun would be darkened and the moon would turn into blood on “that great and notable day.” These modern prophets and apostles prepare the world for the Lord’s triumphant return and the end of this world.

One of the things restored in this day through modern prophets is the concept of vicarious baptism for the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This is one way in which those of old who would have to await the “day of refreshing” could not only repent, but receive the saving ordinances of the gospel. This is what Peter taught to the Jews that day long ago.

Today, the Church proclaims as did Peter did on Pentecost:
38 ...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.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Jesus’ call of salvation is still sent to all the world through apostles of God.


Casting Lots:


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