In my first message, we examined the question “What Is a Dispensation?” We concluded that a dispensation is a method of dealing, specifically having to do with the working out of a government. “Management” would be the closest word in common use today. In our second message on “Dispensations in Scripture,” we discovered that there are four dispensations of God mentioned in the Bible: the dispensation of the grace of God, the dispensation of the mystery, the dispensation of the fullness of times, and the Godly dispensation which is in faith. These are all universal dispensations in which God deals with all men on the earth under one unifying principle. There have been many different dispensations in the past, although none of them are named as such in the Bible. However, it is good to note that many of them were not universal dispensations as this one is. Some of them have ended, and some still continue today.

In the third message on dispensationalism, we discussed the two great turning points in the New Testament, and the fact that the second one took place when the commission of Mark 16:15 was fulfilled. In our fourth message, we examined the different proposed beginnings for the current dispensation of grace when that turning point took place. We used the criteria that, if God is currently acting in a world-wide dispensation of grace, then even one recorded act of judgment on God’s part would indicate that a time period in the past was not yet a part of God’s universal dispensation of grace. This is important to understand, because God has always been dealing with men in grace since the creation of Adam, and there would be nothing special about the current dispensation of grace if God could act in judgment today. We also used the criteria that God’s current dispensation is in secret, and so if at any point in Scripture He was working openly and manifestly, then that must have been before the start of this current dispensation. From this examination, we concluded that none of the proposed beginnings for the dispensation of grace fit the bill except Acts 28:28.

In our fifth message on dispensationalism, we examined the question “What is so important about dispensationalism? Is it really something that is very important?” We concluded that dispensationalism tells us first of all how God is dealing with us today, and tells us second of all how we are to act before God as believers living in the dispensation of grace. If we believe God is still trying to fulfill the Great Commission, then we will expect to be able to speak in tongues and perform all the wonders God promised to the people who were to fulfill that commission. If God is trying to build up churches and get people to join the Christian religion, then we will bind ourselves to a church and commit to all the rituals and traditions and laws that they bind upon us. But if we understand that this is a dispensation when God is dealing with individual believers in a dispensation of grace, then we will understand that miracles have no part in our work today. Neither will we strive to please God through joining ourselves to a religion and doing religious acts. Rather, we will deal with others in grace as God has dealt with us in grace. We will tell others of the wonderful love of God toward us, and show them His love through our lives. We will seek to please the One Who forgave all our sins by no longer sinning. And we will no longer trust in religion, but will count our salvation as having been made complete in Christ. Moreover, we will separate ourselves from dead religion and ritual and seek to please God only through lives that are conformed to His Son.

But one important question remains to be dealt with. That is, why was Acts 28 proposed as a dispensational boundary line? If it changed a dispensation of laws and miracles and government to a dispensation of total grace, then what indication is there in the verse and the context around it which would indicate that this is indeed the pivotal point? Why here and nowhere else, when the words “grace,” “secret,” and “dispensation” do not even appear in the verse?

Now, there are two ways to establish when the dividing line of the dispensations occurred. One would be to find when the dispensation of grace and God’s secret dispensation began. I showed in my fourth message when it could not have yet begun. However, obviously we have no direct statement in Scripture that “the dispensation of grace is now beginning,” so we cannot establish the beginning of that dispensation by that means, except to say that it must have begun before Paul wrote about it in Ephesians. The second way to establish its beginning, however, would be to see what God’s purpose was and what He was doing before the dispensation of grace began. Then, if we could find when this purpose was completed or brought to a close, then we could be sure that that was the moment when the new work of God, the dispensation of grace, began.

As I have already established, the book of Acts is not dealing with the dispensation of grace, but rather with the work God was doing before that dispensation began. Let us then examine this work of God as it continues throughout the book. This book starts off with Christ still on the earth. It is introduced by an important question that the disciples asked the Lord, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Christ answers them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His Own authority.

Now most people here insist that the disciples didn’t know what they were talking about. Christ had never planned on His kingdom being an earthly kingdom. He always meant it instead to be a spiritual kingdom. But his disciples wanted a physical, earthly kingdom to deliver them from Rome so badly that they just couldn’t grasp the concept. But is this really a logical argument? Remember, these men were Christ’s disciples. They sat at His feet and heard Him teach for three years! During that time, one of His primary topics was the kingdom of God. And He no doubt told these men more things than could possibly have been recorded in Scripture concerning that Kingdom. Can you imagine living with someone for three years and during all that time hearing that person teach on a certain subject, and yet at the end of those three years you still did not know what that person was talking about when he mentioned that subject? If, after all this time and all this teaching of Christ, His disciples still did not understand what He meant when He was talking about the kingdom of God…well, we have two possibilities:

1). The disciples were among the stupidest men to ever live.
2). Christ was one of the worst teachers to ever live.

Now, although I’ll admit the disciples for the most part were not educated or super-intelligent men, we have no reason to suspect them of total idiocy. They were normal, average men, but I have no reason to credit them with amazing stupidity. Moreover, far from viewing Christ as a bad teacher, I view Him as the best Teacher to ever walk the earth! This was God Himself, after all, and no one could best Him at anything. Therefore, my conclusion has to be that it is not the disciples who had a wrong idea of the kingdom of God, but rather modern Bible scholars who have one. The kingdom was always meant to be physical. However, there was a certain measure of doubt given as to whether or not the kingdom would come at this time.

Notice, though, that Christ does not say that the possibility of the kingdom coming hinges on whether or not the Jewish leaders will accept or reject the message about Him. This is what most dispensationalists believe to be the case. No, Christ claims that the time and season of the kingdom is in His Father’s power. God already knew that the kingdom was not going to come at that time. His decision had already been made, and had nothing to do with what the Jews did or did not do with the message they were about to be given. And yet, what that decision was would not be revealed until later.

Now, as we continue on through the book of Acts after Christ’s ascension, we see first of all the replacement of Judas. This decision was made by God’s Jewish leaders on the earth at that time. Many dispensationalists claim that the Jews were rejected by God because “their leaders rejected Christ.” But God had chosen His Own Jewish leaders, and these disciples were the ones He had chosen. The men who had control over the unbelieving Jews had achieved that position on their own. These men, however, were God’s Own representatives to His people. As such, they were the true leaders of Israel in His sight. And we certainly cannot say that they rejected Him.

After this meeting is made, we have the record in chapter 2 of the baptism in holy spirit which occurred at the feast of Pentecost. Peter gives a message here demanding that the people of Israel submit. Many respond, and already we have thousands of Jews who believe, all gathered together in a great unity. Persecution arises, but the apostles stand firm. Then, with the death of Stephen, they are scattered in a great scattering. Is this anything unexpected? No, it is just the working out of the Great Commission. Now they are moving from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, following the criteria Christ gave them in Acts 1:8:  “and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And as they go out they preach to Jews only (Acts 11:19.) Were they wrong in doing this? Or were they following the commission of God as the disciples understood it? (Who, remember, had been taught by Christ and therefore knew far more about what they were doing than we do!)

After the scattering from Jerusalem we get the preaching by Philip to the Samaritans. These were half-Jews, their “long-lost” kindred, if you will, so the believers may still be considered all Jews. Then we have the Ethiopian eunuch. Although he was a Gentile, he was apparently a proselyte, as he had gone up to Jerusalem to worship. The proselytes were always considered as being able to share in Israel’s blessings and be identified with them, so we cannot label him as merely a “Gentile who believed.”

Then we have the conversion of Paul. If this is the change, then has the Great Commission already been fulfilled? Surely not! The gifts are not taken away, and proclaiming exclusively to Jews continues.

Now we come to Peter’s experience with Cornelius. He is given permission to go to this one man and his household. He goes there, and they believe, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and are water baptized. But is this then the end of the previous dispensation? Has the Great Commission been cast aside? Are Jews and Gentiles now considered equal in God’s sight even as they are today? No, because when Paul comes before the apostles in Acts 15 to argue against the new believers having to be circumcised after the manner of Moses to be saved, Peter goes back to his experience with Cornelius to bring precedent. Although eight years have passed, apparently no event of Gentiles accepting Christ has come before the council of apostles since Cornelius! Remember, Acts 11:19 speaks of them preaching to Jews only, and Cornelius was in chapter 10. Peter’s ministry was unique. It was preparing things for Paul, but it did not open the floodgates to the Gentiles so that they could rush to Christ. Christ had always been promised to the Jews, and now that He was finally being preached, the Jews were not expected to give up their hope to the Gentiles.

But I am getting ahead of myself. After Cornelius we have Peter’s imprisonment and escape and the death of Herod by God’s judgment. Then we have the calling of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13. Now we are approaching a pivotal point. Paul and Barnabas go out and preach in various cities, before arriving in Antioch in Pisidia. There, they preach Christ, but some of the Jewish leaders reject Him and stir up trouble. Paul therefore makes the pronouncement in 13:46, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” Had God then turned from His people to the Gentiles? Was this the end of His work under the Great Commission and the beginning of His new work, the dispensation of grace? No, it most certainly was not, for in the very next city Paul goes right back to preaching in the synagogues again (14:1)! If Israel was rejected, why did he go back to them again? What is there universal in Paul’s statement to the Jews in 13:46? Could this be a censure against all Jews? No, for many of the Jews still had not heard the message. And how could they be blamed for the rejection of certain Jews in a certain city? Moreover, we know that not all of the Jews rejected Christ, but many accepted Him. Could those who believed be blamed for the rejection of others? It was against those others that Paul’s pronouncement was made, not against those who responded and believed!

But now Paul continues his ministry in various cities. He ministers to the nations, and this gets back to those in Jerusalem. Some there are disturbed by the fact that these new believers are not keeping the law, and some come down to the cities in which Paul has been preaching claiming to be from James who demand that in order to believe in Christ, one must be circumcised after the manner of Moses. Paul and Barnabas object to this, and they travel to Jerusalem to speak to the leaders about this argument. A decision is made which only binds four things on the new, non-law-keeping believers. This releases them from having to keep the whole law. However, the Jerusalem believers and the law-keeping Jews go right on keeping the law!

Paul’s ministry continues, and he keeps on speaking to the nations. However, his method is always to preach to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles afterwards. Why is that?

We can answer this question easily, for Paul himself deals with the subject in the book of Romans. He claims that his work with the Gentiles was for the purpose of provoking the Israelites to jealousy. Notice his words in Romans 11:11: “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.” Do you think that your believing in Christ or my believing in Christ has anything to do with provoking a Jew to jealousy? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many Jews, and those whom I do know seem to not care one way or the other whether or not I’m a believer. If the main reason for God saving me was to provoke a Jew to jealousy and emulation, then I would have to say that God has totally failed in His purpose for bringing me to Himself. No, this is not the reason that God is saving Gentiles today. Jews and Gentiles are now on equal footing before God as far as salvation is concerned. No longer is it “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) And thank God that this is so! But the preaching to the Gentiles was already in God’s plan even before this dispensation began, and he stated that it must continue “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Is God waiting for the fullness of Gentiles to enter into blessing with Israel today? Or is He blessing all men of all nations the same without regard to nationality?

Now Paul continues his ministry throughout the book of Acts, and the miracles in no way reduce all during this time. After Acts 13, we find Paul such a powerful healer that he is able to just send a handkerchief or apron from one city to another, and anyone who touches that handkerchief or that apron is healed (Acts 19:12). Even in Acts 28 Paul arrives on the island of Malta, and when the natives come to him for healing he heals them all without exception.

But finally the time comes for Paul to go up to Jerusalem to keep a feast. And what happens when he gets there? Are all the apostles rejoicing about how the faith has spread like wildfire to the Gentiles? No, Paul is the only one who can even speak of having converted Gentiles! He, after all, is the apostle to the Gentiles, according to Romans 11:13. But the other apostles speak proudly of the “myriads (that is Greek for tens of thousands) of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law.” So had Israel rejected Christ? Not at all! Tens of thousands of Jews could hardly have been short of half the Jews in all of Jerusalem! This message was not rejected by the Jews. At least half of them in Jerusalem were now believers. Tell me, how does this compare with men today? Are we so much better at accepting Christ than they were?

Now we come at last to Acts 28:28. In order to examine the passage fully, let us examine exactly what is said. Starting with Acts 28:17 (NKJV):

And it came to pass after three days that Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: “Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, wanted to let me go, because there was no cause for putting me to death. But when the Jews spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation. For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”

Then they said to him, “We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you. But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”

“So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things spoken, and some disbelieved. So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say: ‘Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

Paul has finally arrived in Rome, and the Jewish leaders come to him to hear his message. They have not heard up until this time, except that everywhere men have spoken against this sect. Notice that they consider Christianity not to be a new religion of Jews and Gentiles together, but merely another sect of the Jews. Paul’s limited preaching to a number of Gentiles in certain cities in order to provoke the Israelites to jealousy has in no way changed the fact that the message of Christ is mainly to the Jews, so much so that the believers are still viewed as a Jewish sect.

Now Paul gives them his message, speaking to them all day about the truth. Once he has said his piece, the results are about the same that they seem to have been in other cities. That is, some believed, some did not. The way this is constructed in Greek indicates that there was no vast majority of one or of the other. In other words, the split was close to 50/50. And now Paul speaks to those who had rejected the message.

Now is this the same thing he had said to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia in Acts 13? Is this the same policy he has been following of going to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles to provoke the Jews to jealousy? No, this is a far different matter. Now it is not Paul who is going to the Gentiles, it is the message that is going to them! “Therefore let it be known to you, that the salvation…”  But this word “salvation” is an adjective in the Greek. We might best bring it to English as “salvation-bringing,” although perhaps “saving” would sound more normal. We have a figure called “ellipsis” here, where the noun is left out and must be added in mentally by the reader. The word which I believe is most logical here (and anyone is free to disagree with me) is the word “message.” After all, this is what truly brings salvation.  So:

“The salvation (salvation-bringing, saving) message of God has been sent…” Here the word “sent” is actually the verb which goes with the noun “apostle.” That is, “apostled.” That does not mean anything in English, of course. We have to go back to what the noun “apostle” means. It is basically speaking of someone who has been given a commission…that is, someone who is commissioned to do something. If we are talking about an inanimate object, though, we cannot speak of commissioning. We would be speaking more of something having been authorized for a certain use. So this salvation message is authorized for a certain use. What is that? “The saving message of God has been authorized to the Gentiles…” But that is the word for nations (ethnos,) not necessarily just Gentiles. So we have, “The salvation-bringing message of God has been authorized to the nations, and they will hear it!”

Now what would be the significance of the salvation message being authorized to the nations? Well, remember what we learned from Romans. The salvation of Gentiles was only to provoke the Jews to jealousy during the Acts period. There had been a certain number of Gentiles which God had chosen to bless with His people Israel, and time was waiting for the full number of them to be brought in.

But there is another important fact in regards to this. Paul makes a most emphatic statement in Romans 10:14&15. Let us examine what he says carefully. We read, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Paul here lists four impossibilities. He sets forth four things that are impossible if something else isn’t true. They are:

1.) It is impossible to call on someone in whom you have not believed.
2.) It is impossible to believe in someone when you haven’t heard of him.
3.) It is impossible to hear of someone without someone to tell you of him.
4.) It is impossible for anyone to tell you of him unless he was sent to do so.

The first three seem plain enough, and make sense even today. But what of the fourth? Wait a minute, one might exclaim! So one cannot preach unless he is sent? Yes, that is what the passage says. That word “sent” is the same word as we studied before, that is apostello, which comes from the noun “apostle.” Paul is telling us (through the Spirit of God) that no one can preach the message of Christ unless God has commissioned that person to do so. This was why so few Gentiles could be reached in the Acts period, why only Peter in one instance and Paul in very specific instances (i.e., when the Jews had rejected the message) were able to preach to Gentiles. It was because no one could preach unless they were sent (apostello). And although the disciples had been sent to preach to the Jews, and various other Jews were sent to preach to other Jews, no one had been sent to preach to Gentiles except Peter in this one case and Paul when he had fulfilled the necessary requirements. This was the way it was done, this is the way God had set things up at that time, and there is just no getting around that.

But when Paul announced through the word of God that the saving (or salvation-bringing) message of God was authorized to the Gentiles (that is, the nations,) he was announcing a new truth, the beginning of a new purpose. What had been a work in which God had been reaching out to Jews mainly with the purpose of reaching them with the message of Christ was now changed. Whereas before only a set number of Gentiles could come in for the purpose of provoking the Jews to follow them, now all Gentiles had the message of salvation authorized to them. In other words, the words of Paul in Romans 10:14&15 could no longer be true. If the message itself is sent to all nations, then the messenger does not himself have to be sent. So now anyone can preach to anyone else with God’s blessing, because the salvation message is for all. But this was not the case in the Acts period!

This is another thing that marks the end of God’s work at that time and shows most positively that He was now beginning a new work. We know from other passages that this work was the dispensation of grace, God’s secret dispensation. That is not stated in Acts 28:28. However, what we do see in that verse is the most positive ending of the way things were in the Acts period, the cancellation (or the completion, if you will,) of His efforts at that time. This, then, has to be the point at which all things changed. This is the dividing line of the dispensations.

So what exactly happened as Paul spoke those words in Acts 28:28? For one thing, the miraculous gifts were taken away. The entire book of Philippians was written to encourage Jewish believers who were mourning over the loss of their miraculous powers and the postponement of their hope for an immediate appearance of God’s Kingdom.

The message was now sent to all nations. We read in Ephesians 3:6 that all nations are now considered equal in the sight of God, and there is no difference between Jew and Gentile in the reception of it, as there most certainly was in the Acts period.

And God at last revealed that His kingdom was not to come at that time, but would once again be relegated to a time far in the future. That kingdom has still not come today, although I suspect it may be soon. But God ceased all His work on the kingdom and began a new work, the work of showing forth the true graciousness that is inherent in His character by working exclusively through grace in His dealings with mankind. This is the work that He is still working on today, a truth that we should keep firmly in mind.

So this is why Acts 28 is the dividing line of the dispensations. No other one will fit. The important change made in this verse shows most positively that the work God had been doing in the Acts period ended at that point. And since we have no record of any other work of God between that time and this, we must conclude that this was the beginning of God’s current work that He is performing today.

But what is the importance of this in our lives today? Much, as I pointed out in my last message. And now that we know when exactly this change took place, we can not only live in accordance with God’s work of grace and His secret activity in our lives, but can also pattern our study and interpretation and understanding of the Bible from it. Once we see the difference between the Acts period and today, we can so much better understand the work that God was doing at that time, and why and how it differs from what He is doing right now. This can save us from much confusion, and will, in the knowledge it gives us of Him, bring us that much closer to our God.

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