Acts 18:18-19:8 by Robert Dean
When did God hit the "pause button" on the role of the Mosaic Law in the lives of believers? Listen to this lesson to learn how the early years after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension were a transitional passage as Church Age doctrine was being circulated. See how the Kingdom of God was still being offered to the Jews during this time span. Find out how the Apostle Paul adapted his observances to be able to reach both Jews and Gentiles with the Gospel message.

Transition: Third Missionary Journey
Acts 18:18-19:8

As we follow these Jewish Christians through the book of Acts we see that they are still going to the temple. It was common in the first century that until the destruction of the temple they still participated in temple worship. They still honored the Mosaic Law, not as a way of justification or as a way of sanctification; but because that was their history, their culture, and because they were in a transition period in history. As the dispensation has shifted there is a transition where things are moving along.   

The transitional nature in Acts

Things like the casting out of demons and miracles was part of the transitional nature of Acts in the apostolic period. There is a transition from the age of Israel (being under the Law) and the church age. That doesn't mean that salvation or some things slowly phased in. Things changed abruptly, precisely, on Pentecost. But word about that transition did not get around very rapidly. There is a change from one thing to another and in some senses there is an overlap in certain features of one dispensation into the following dispensation as it takes time for the new revelation to be revealed and disseminated into the new dispensation.

A dispensational shift is defined by certain characteristics. The first characteristic is that there is new revelation given. I usually identify that as a covenant. Most of the time it is related to a covenant. For example initially there is a creation covenant given by God in His mandates to Adam in the garden. He is there to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field. He is to work and guard the garden. He is not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. And after the woman is created they are to multiply and fill all the earth. All of those commands are expressed in the same way in the fist and second chapters of Genesis, which indicates that God expects them to carry out those mandates, including being fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

Because of sin he didn't get very far. When we look at the curse and each item related in the judgment we see that when Eve listens to the serpent she is not ruling over the animal world, so there is not going to be a curse or judgment in relation to the animal world, and in relation to the serpent specifically and the woman. The serpent would strike the seed of the woman; the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. This is specifically the first prophecy related to the coming of the Messiah, but embedded within that there is going to be antagonism which starts to enter into the relationship between human beings and the animal kingdom. The serpent was cursed more than all of the beasts of the field, which indicates that they came under judgment as well.

Part of the woman's responsibility was to multiply and fill the earth, and now there is going to be pain associated with that in childbearing. The man was to till the garden and guard the garden but now the earth is going to bring forth thorns and thistles. Each of the areas where there were specific responsibilities given in the creation mandate there is a modification due to judgment from sin. So that revelation that God gives in Genesis changes the dispensation. New revelation is given, new responsibility is given in that revelation, and then there will be new failure. Then there will be another shift that occurs at the end of the flood period. Noah lands and then there is the covenant God made with Noah. There is new revelation and, again, modifications related to man's relationship to the animal kingdom, man is still to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. There are modifications to his diet; he is allowed to eat meat. In other words, there is new revelation, which entails new responsibilities. Man fails those responsibilities and then God shifts the dispensation with calling out Abraham in Genesis chapter twelve. It is new revelation.

But how many people were aware of the new revelation in Genesis chapter twelve? There was a large population on the earth at that point but the only person who knew that God was calling out Abram, to take him to a new location, and was starting a new work through Abram and his seed that through them all the nations of the earth would be blessed, was Abram. Nobody else knew it. It is a transition. Everyone else other than Abram was still functioning under the Noahic covenant. But that doesn't mean that the Abrahamic covenant, especially the principle that those who curse you I will curse and those who bless you I will bless isn't in effect. It is just that probably nobody else knows it. There were other believers on the face of the earth. Job lived at approximately the same time. Melchizedek certainly was a believer living in Salem, which was the ancient name for Jerusalem. So there was a transition type period at that point.

There will be other transition periods that take place. The marks that there is new revelation, new responsibility, new failure and new judgment are categories that have been laid out by a number of dispensational theologians over the last couple of centuries—from John Nelson Darby, James Hall Brooks—and most of this was pretty well established in the Scofield Reference Bible, which for many people became the standard for how many dispensations there were and what they were, even though there have been some different people with different modifications.

In our opening study on Matthew we saw that the new message was what? Obey the Law? No. But that is not thrown out. How many people knew that the Messiah was on the earth outside those living in the area of Judea and Galilee? If you were a Jew living in Pontus, Libya or Spain you had no idea something was changing. But it had. So there was a transition there. But there was new revelation, a new message, and the new message was, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The message now is don't believe in a future coming of a Messiah, the message is that the Messiah is here; accept Him now. So there is clearly a new message, a new revelation and a new responsibility that is given, and there is a specific failure associated with Israel because of that which inevitably results in the 5th cycle of discipline coming upon Israel in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

A case can be made, and has been made by others, that there is a distinct dispensation there related to Jesus. And it needs to be delineated, as James Hall Brooks did, as the age of the Messiah because that relates what His message was. It was a hinge dispensation because He is fulfilling the Law, looking to the past, and He is the fulfilment of messianic prophecies and is proclaiming the presence of the messianic kingdom. Then when it is rejected the message shifts to a postponement of the messianic kingdom and the inevitability of judgment on that generation. Once the crucifixion, burial and ascension occurs there is then another offer of the kingdom. Not one that would abrogate the inevitability of the AD 70 judgment, but God is still extending His grace to Israel to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and if they had Jerusalem still would have been destroyed but we probably would have had a truncated church age. But that was a real offer and if they had accepted it things would have been a little different. This helps us understand something of the nature of transitions.       

So in this transition it means that in some sense there is an overlap in some features of a previous dispensation into the subsequent dispensation. It takes time for this new revelation and new responsibilities to be revealed and disseminated in the new dispensation.

This does not mean that there is not an absolute break. There is an absolute break between the two dispensations. Once God announced to Abraham that He was going to bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him, that was the standard operating procedure for the new dispensation, whether anybody else knew it or not. It was the new absolute rule. And it was the same with the church age. Christ had come and fulfilled the Law. His death was the end of the Law. Salvation was from that moment on based upon belief in Christ as the savior. It is very clear that the church age makes this decisive break. The church age begins in Acts chapter two on Pentecost in AD 33. But some things took some time.

For example, there are the fifty days between Christ's death on the cross and the coming of the Holy Spirit. During that fifty-day period faith is in Christ alone in His death on the cross but they didn't have the Holy Spirit yet. Is that fifty-day period part of the age of Israel or part of the age of the church. It is a transitional period. It is probably part of the age of Israel until the cross but it is not part of the age of the Law because the Law has ended. The age of the Law is the last dispensation in the age of Israel. The age of Israel begins with the age of the patriarchs and then the dispensation of the Law, but then there is this fifty-day transition period that comes at the end.   

Jewish Christians—Peter, James, John, Paul and all the leaders in the Jerusalem church—don't begin to figure out the role of the Mosaic Law, that it has really been abrogated and is not the rule of life anymore, until; the Jerusalem Council in AD 49. That was the whole point of the Jerusalem Council: What role does the Mosaic Law have and shall we impose this on Gentile believers? So they are growing in their understanding of the new revelation that is coming. Paul doesn't write Galatians until approximately that same time. The epistle of James was written maybe two or three years earlier. Matthew was probably written between 45 and 50. These are the three earliest writings in the New Testament, so there is not much dissemination of what little has been written of the New Testament yet. This is why there are still the revelatory gifts of knowledge and prophecy. This is why we have in 1 Corinthians 13, "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes the partial will be made complete." In other words, these revelatory gifts were still necessary in this transition period because there wasn't a completed canon; there wasn't sufficient revelation yet. But once the canon was completed and there was sufficient revelation these gifts would cease.  

What was the purpose of tongues? In 1 Corinthians 14, citing Isaiah 14, Paul says that the purpose of tongues is as a sign of judgment to Israel. If on the day of Pentecost God's plan for Israel stopped, if He completely hit the pause button, why was there still a sign gift that was a sign of judgment to Israel until AD 70. It is still a transition period where there is still a message that is being given to Israel, the extension of grace and certain Jewish rituals are still operational and it is not wrong to follow them as long as the motivation isn't to get saved—to get justified or sanctified.

In this process the Jewish Christians are still trying to figure out the role of the Law. This is why Paul had to straighten Peter out in Galatians chapter two, because Peter was getting confused over all this.

Paul doesn't write about or start explaining the mystery doctrine per se. What is meant by "mystery doctrine"? In Matthew 13 where Jesus is teaching by parables about the mysteries of the kingdom there are those who have unwittingly changed that to talk about the mystery form of the kingdom. There is no mystery form of the kingdom in the Greek; it is the mysteries of the kingdom. In Greek the concept of mystery refers to an unrevealed or previously unknown teaching or doctrine. So there was information about the church had not been revealed. There is no hint in the Old Testament that there was going to be a lengthy period of time between the first advent and the Second Advent. That is why it looked like the cross and the crown were right on top of each other and why many Jews thought that the crown would come before the cross. That is why they were looking for the crown instead of the cross. The reason for that is because that meant that Israel didn't have a hint of what was going to happen.

That gave them full freedom to accept or reject the Messiah. If they accepted the Messiah plan A would have gone into effect; if they rejected the Messiah then plan B would go into effect. Plan B entailed a new people of God—not replacing Israel but coming alongside of Israel as a distinct people of God with distinct responsibilities, a distinct spiritual life, and distinct privileges. So this explanation of the role of the church was really left to the apostle Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles.

There is a little bit of this teaching in terms of the body of Christ teaching in 1 Corinthians chapter 12-14. And 1 Corinthian s was written during the third missionary journey when he is in Ephesus. So it is about 53-54 AD before there was any development related to the mystery doctrine of the church age. He talks about spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12 and in Romans 12. There is no mention of spiritual gifts per se in anything prior to that, so that is not really known. Then after the third missionary journey when he is sent to Rome he writes the four prison epistles—Ephesians, Philemon, Colossians and Philippians. It is in those prison epistles that Paul really starts explaining the distinctions of the church age and God's plan for the church. So up until that particular time, close to approximately 60, most church age Christians weren't fully clued in yet on the transition into the church age.

Part of what Matthew was doing in his Gospel was writing to encourage these Jewish believers in Judea in terms of how God's plan for Israel had shifted now that Israel had rejected Jesus as Messiah. That is one of the sub-themes in the Gospel of Matthew.

During most of this time Jewish believers in Israel are still consistently practicing their customs from the Torah, though not for salvation or sanctification. But this is where they would go and meet. And they would have evangelism at the temple. There was still a close relationship between the Christian and Jewish communities in Jerusalem until the latter stages of the Jewish revolt in about 69 AD. What happened was in the initial part of the siege of Jerusalem when Vespasian was bringing his troops to surround the city Nero died. Vespasian had to leave and go to Rome his son Titus retires the troops back to Caesarea and they regrouped, leaving a light army surrounding Jerusalem. At that time the Christians who understood Luke 21 and Jesus warning that when they saw these things happen they were to leave Jerusalem. In other words, the Christians left and they did not stand and fight in the Jewish revolt against the Romans. This created a division between the Jews and the Christians because the Christians were viewed as being traitors to the Jews because they wouldn't fight against the Romans. But they were following Jesus' command to leave.    

The same thing happened again during the Bar Kokhba revolt at the beginning of the second century. The Christians would not participate with the Jews and that drove a further wedge between the Jewish and Christian communities. But for the first forty or fifty years of Christianity in Israel Christianity was viewed as another sect of Judaism. Many of the Christians continued to go to the synagogue and continued to observe all of the customs of the Torah. But it was not to get grace, not in a legalistic sense, and not to be justified.

The gospel preaching to the Jew first and also to the Greek extends through the entire book of Acts. Paul consistently on all three of his missionary journeys went to the synagogues first before going to the Gentiles, and he always puts the emphasis on that. The end of Acts is at approximately the same time as the Jewish revolt—around 66 or 67 AD. In Acts 19:8 we see that Paul's modus operandi is to go into the synagogue. There was a large Jewish community in Ephesus and they had a substantive synagogue there. Paul went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months. He taught in the synagogue in a way that Luke expresses as "reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God." This message about the kingdom of God is still at the center of their message. What he would be teaching would be in relation to the offer of the kingdom and the postponement of the kingdom, but that if Israel would respond to Jesus as the Messiah the kingdom would come. That was the offer that Peter made when he talked about "Repent and let each of you be baptized" in Acts 2:38.

That term "repent" is a reflection of the Hebrew word shub—Deuteronomy 30:1-3 NASB "So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call {them} to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you." So this message is still a message to Israel to turn to God and accept the Messiah, and then these blessings would come. In Acts 3:19 NASB "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." The "times of refreshing" is one in relation to the millennial kingdom, the millennial promises. Of course, they are set against accepting Jesus as the Messiah and so this rejection of the offer continues to solidify their approaching judgment. But Paul is still presenting this case to them as he goes into the synagogues.

The words "spoke boldly" in Acts 19:8 is the Greek word parrhesiazomai and it is an imperfect tense verb. That is important because it means that that it is continuous action. Not continuous in the sense of uninterrupted action, but in the sense of practicing the piano for 30 minutes every morning. That was not uninterrupted practice; it was just a regular practice each and every morning. It is an action that occurs periodically but continuously for a period of time. Paul does this consistently for three months and it emphasizes a confident, bold speaking. It was a type of teaching that was unheard of in the synagogues. It emphasized, "This is what the text says." He does this towards the end of convincing them to make a decision to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. He is trying to get them to change their thinking, what they believed.

Notice that what he is reasoning and persuading about is the kingdom of God. He is helping them understand who Jesus was as the Messiah, the offer of the kingdom—by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the disciples—the rejection of the King and the kingdom by the Pharisees, why the King died on the cross, and why the kingdom has been postponed. All of this is would entail what he would have communicated. Paul is still teaching these same things as his priority when he goes to the synagogue and teaches a Jewish audience. The kingdom of God had significance and value to Jews because they understood this prophecy from the Old Testament. That wasn't the focus when he talked to Gentiles because the Gentiles didn't understand those messianic prophesies; they didn't have that as part of their frame of reference.

The next time we see something like this mentioned is in Acts 28:23 NASB "When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening." The word "explaining" is the Greek word ektithemi, which means to explain, expose, make clear. It is an explanation of things, exposing truth, and making clear what the Scriptures mean. He is talking about the kingdom of God still. These are primarily Jews coming to him in Rome. He is going back to the Torah and the prophets and tracing this theme of the kingdom of God. So this emphasis on the kingdom of God goes all the way through Paul's ministry.

Acts 28:31 NASB "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered." This is the transition period. There is still that option for Israel to turn. The temple is still there, the fifth cycle of discipline hasn't happened yet, and hypothetically they could have responded and accepted Jesus as the Messiah at that point. Jerusalem would still have had to be destroyed in judgment but this would have somehow played into a different scenario going into Daniel's seventieth week. The church age would have been very truncated. That isn't what happened but that was the option; it was still presented as late as Acts 28 because they hadn't gone into that final stage yet.

This is like Jonah going to the Assyrians. God had already announced to the Assyrians that He was going to judge them and destroy Nineveh. Jonah was sent there to announce God's judgment but when he did God said that since they had turned to Him He was going to postpone judgment for 200 years. So in God's plan there are still these options, these variables, because of human volition. So people could respond and other things would have happened.

In terms of transition we also see this emphasized in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 9:20, 21 NASB "To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law." Paul would follow their customs. He made sure that Timothy was circumcised even though it had nothing to do with justification or sanctification. Even though the legalists were saying you had to be circumcised for that reason he said well you are foolish and nobody should be circumcised because of your teaching. He turned right around and had Timothy circumcised so that it wouldn't be an issue when he tried to minister to the Jewish community. It was a cultural thing; it had nothing at all to do with justification or sanctification. Paul understood that you just have to be sensitive to your audience, and to understand that when you are in some situations and circumstances with some people you don't engage in certain practices you might think are perfectly legitimate for a Christians. And when you are in other situations and circumstances then you do that.

So that is understanding transition. It is moving from one dispensation to another, and there were some things that were still in effect because the temple was still there in Jerusalem, the ritual services were still going on. So Paul and other Jews still had vows. They made sacrifices in the temple, they went to Jerusalem in the high holy days, etc. Christians can observe that in a historical and a respectful manner so as not to offend anyone.     

Acts 18:19 NASB "They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews." He goes to the Jew first. There is a reason for that. It is because it is this transition period. [20] "When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent…" Notice there is a sense of positive volition there. The reason he did not consent is that he wanted to make it to Jerusalem in terms of winter weather, things of that nature. He had an itinerary and needed to get there by a certain date and therefore he did not want to spend too much time in Ephesus. [21] "but taking leave of them and saying, 'I will return to you again if God wills,' he set sail from Ephesus."

The word "reasoned" in verse 19 is dialegomai again. This is where he is going in and offering a disputation, giving a thesis statement that Jesus Christ is the Son of Man, the promised Messiah, and He fits all of the Old Testament promises and prophesies.  

Acts 18:22 NASB "When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch." Caesarea was built by Herod the Great. It was one of his tremendous architectural accomplishments. [23] "And having spent some time {there,} he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples."

Acts 18:24 NASB "Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. [25] This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John." He had been instructed in the way of the Lord but he doesn't know that Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead yet. In Acts 19 we will run into these apostles of John the Baptist who didn't know about Jesus. But before them we have Apollos who knew about the beginning of the Lord's ministry but not about the end of the Lord's ministry. He is instructed in the way of the Lord, and this is a perfect passive participle, he was instructed. It is a periphrastic participle so it is just talking about the fact that he had in the past (completed action) been instructed in the way of the Lord. Being fervent is spirit means that he was passionate about his message, "speaking and teaching accurately." This is the word didasko, which means to teach, to instruct, and in rabbinic Judaism it has the idea of communicating the will of God to His people.

So this is the emphasis. We see these words, "reasoning, persuading, teaching, instructing"; this is what a pastor is supposed to do. These are the primary terms that are used. 

He knew only the baptism of John. He has to be instructed about the baptism of Jesus. It teaches about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He doesn't know that yet. He has a truncated gospel message and he hasn't heard the whole story yet. The baptism was a baptism for Israel to repent because the kingdom of God is at hand. That is what Apollos is still preaching. 

Acts 18:26 NASB "and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." To speak boldly is that word ektithemi, which means literally to place something outside as you would expose someone to the elements. So it came to mean exposing someone to the truth, to an argument, to set forth or declare something. He began to expose the Scriptures in the synagogue. He is teaching and instructing from the prophets.

Priscilla and Aquila had come with Paul and he had left them there is Ephesus, he has been gone for a while. When it comes to the issue of whether women should teach men that comes up in 1 Timothy 2, somebody always wants to go to this passage and say here is Priscilla explaining the gospel to Apollos. This is sitting round the coffee table; this is an informal backroom setting, not the formal instruction and teaching within the church. They are having a conversation. The Bible doesn't say women shouldn't have conversations about the Scripture with men. It says they shouldn't be teaching men as any kind of formal position within the church. Aquila and Priscilla fill Apollos in with the rest of Jesus' life, and His death, burial and resurrection, and what is going on in terms of the kingdom of God.   

Acts 18:27 NASB "And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace." So he has the gift of pastor-teacher and he is going to Corinth and be their pastor for a while, while Paul is back in Ephesus. [28] "for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ." He did it publicly. Part of the job of a pastor is to protect the flock from error and to refute error. Here he is vigorously refuting Jewish teaching, a works salvation, and showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. He is refuting them by going verse by verse through the Scriptures the prophesies relating to Jesus.

Acts 19:1 NASB "It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. [2] He said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' And they {said} to him, 'No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.'"