In examining the truths of dispensationalism, many issues must be considered. The first we have examined is the question “What is a dispensation?” which must be the first and most basic question that we answer when we seek to approach dispensations from a Biblical standpoint. Once we had established this, we moved on to the question “What is this current dispensation of God,” answering this by examining all the passages where the word “dispensation” occurs in Scripture. Then, we examined the reality that there are two great turning points in Scripture, one at the death and resurrection of Christ, and the other when the commission of Mark 16:15 was fulfilled. Then, we asked the question, “When did the current dispensation of the grace of God, God’s secret dispensation, begin?” This we answered in our fourth study, determining that the present dispensation of grace began at Acts 28:28.

Having come this far in our dispensational study, we paused for a moment to ask ourselves, “What is the importance of all this anyway?” And we determined that it is important, greatly important, both to our walk with God and to our understanding of Him.

Having then established the importance of dispensationalism, we proceeded to ask the question, “Why was Acts 28 proposed as a dispensational boundary line?” And we saw that this verse changed things greatly as far as the preaching of the gospel was concerned. Whereas up to that time no one had been able to preach the gospel without a commission, now that very gospel itself was commissioned to the nations, so that anyone who believed could now preach it, and anyone in the world could hear it preached. This was not the way it was during the Acts period.

But now another question arises which must be answered. What of the Gentiles who were saved in the Acts period? How can we say that the commissioning of the gospel to them was so important at Acts 28:28 when we know that many of them were saved during the Acts period? This is the question which has led many away from Acts 28 dispensationalism, if not to the popular Acts 2 position, then at least to the mid-Acts interpretation of Scripture, which makes our present dispensation to begin with Paul: either at his conversion, his commissioning, or his speech to the Jews at Pisidian Antioch. This is the question that I will now attempt to answer.

Yes, there were Gentiles saved in the Acts period. We first find them mentioned in relation to the house of Cornelius, which was saved under Peter. We do not find mention of them again until after the commissioning of Paul. Here we see him preaching to them, first of all at Pisidian Antioch. But is this the major change that many make it out to be? What was Paul’s purpose in preaching to the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch, and in all the other places in which he preached to them? What would have to be your qualifications, as a Gentile living in the Acts period, for hearing the gospel of Christ?

Well, first of all, you would have to hear it from someone who was commissioned to give it to you. As I pointed out in my last message, the Scripture says in Romans 10:15 that no one can preach unless he is sent. This was true for all preaching in the Acts period, and so for any Gentile to believe in the Acts period, he would have to have someone sent to preach to him first. This was certainly true in both the cases of Cornelius, and of the Gentiles to whom Paul preached.

But Paul makes a statement in Romans that should give us pause. It is found in Romans 11:13, where Paul claims that he is THE (not an) apostle to the Gentiles. This was not true of the twelve. They agreed with Paul that he should go to the uncircumcision, while they ministered to the circumcised Jews (Galatians 2:9). Peter did have a commission to a Gentile, but this was a one-time deal, and his commission to them was fulfilled and ended years before Paul ever came on the scene, not to mention before the time of the writing of Romans. So when Paul wrote this book, he was the only one who could preach to a Gentile. This then is the second criteria for a Gentile to hear the gospel in the Acts period…he either had to be of the house of Cornelius and hear it from Peter, or else he had to hear it from Paul. Let us focus then on the time after the call of Paul, so that the only way any Gentile could hear at this time was through the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. But were these the only two criteria?

No, there was a third criterion. Paul himself shows us this criterion in stating his reason for preaching to the Gentiles. He says that the reason for preaching to the Gentiles was to provoke the Jews who had not yet believed to jealousy, so that they might give up their stubbornness and believe as well. This is stated in Romans 10:19.

19. But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says:
“I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation,
I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.”

Paul suggests that the salvation that was going out to the Gentiles was for the purpose of provoking Israel to jealousy. He says the same thing in Romans 11:13-14.

13. For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14. if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.

Paul’s eager expectation for his position as an apostle to the Gentiles was that he would provoke to jealousy those who were his flesh and save some of them. Is this the basis for Gentile salvation today? Are Jews beside themselves with jealousy when we believe? As I stated in my last message, the Jews I know generally do not care all that much whether I believe or not!

Romans 11:31. Even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy.

Again, the mercy shown the Gentiles was all for the purpose of bringing the Jews to the place where mercy could be shown to them as well! Did this ever work? For some might suggest that, though this might not happen today, neither do we have a record of the salvation of Gentiles provoking Jews to jealousy in the Acts period. But this is simply not the case. We do have such a record. Consider the record of Paul in Corinth as we read it in Acts 18:5-8.

5. When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. 6. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7. And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

Notice the order of events here. First Paul testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. Then, they opposed him and blasphemed. Next, Paul shook his garments, and said, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” After this, he left the synagogue and entered into the house of a certain man named Justus, which was next door to the synagogue. This marks a turning to the Gentiles. Yet notice what is stated next! “Then” it says, “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household.” After Paul had turned his back on the synagogue, after he had gone to the Gentiles, the synagogue ruler Crispus believed! Why did he believe? Romans 10-11 tell us why. He believed because he was provoked to jealousy. Paul’s method set forth in Romans 10:19 and 11:13-14 and 31 worked. This Jew and all his household were provoked to jealousy and were saved because of it.

But the story does not end here. In verse 17, we read after Paul’s trial in the same city, that “Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.” So when Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord, it seems that the Jews who still rejected the truth removed him from his position as ruler of the synagogue and set Sosthenes up instead. But when Paul later took up his pen by divine inspiration to write a letter to these same Corinthians, notice who his co-author was in verse 1.

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

This could have been another man, another Sosthenes, from the same city, who had now become a leader along with Paul. But I think there is a good chance that this was the same man. Could it be that two synagogue leaders in Corinth had been provoked to believe in the Lord eventually when Paul turned to the Gentiles? If so, let no one say that this policy of provoking Israelites to emulation by offering the truth to Gentiles to believe did not work. It did work, at least in Corinth, and led some of them to salvation.

So the purpose of offering salvation to the Gentiles was two-fold: to call out a number of them for His name, and to provoke Israel to jealousy. Both of these were equally important, and no Gentile could be preached to who did not have a possibility of achieving both purposes. Therefore, the gospel always had to be preached to Jews first, and then, when some of them did not believe, Paul could preach it to Gentiles. But without unbelieving Jews, there could be no possibility of provoking them to jealousy, and Paul therefore had no commission to preach to them! As Paul himself said, the gospel must be to the Jew FIRST, and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

Although there are many examples of these principles in action in the book of Acts, I think that there is no better one than that which I might call the Malta omission. This omission took place upon Paul’s journey to Malta recorded in Acts 28, a mere few months before his climatic pronouncement of Acts 28:28. Paul and his traveling companions land upon the island of Malta, and we read, in Acts 28:1-10 (NKJV):

Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold. But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

In that region there was an estate of the leading citizen of the island, whose name was Publius, who received us and entertained us courteously for three days. And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him. So when this was done, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed. They also honored us in many ways; and when we departed, they provided such things as were necessary.

This is the entire record of Paul’s stay on the island of Malta. In some ways this is similar to other visits to cities that Paul made in the book of Acts. We read of him coming to the city, performing great miracles, and healing the sick. But the similarity stops there. For here in Malta there is a serious omission. We do not, anywhere in this passage, read of Paul preaching the gospel to the Maltians! As far as we can tell, not one word of the gospel passed his lips. If we are to go by the record here, there was not one believer on the island of Malta when Paul left there, just as there had been no believers when he arrived. And why should this be? Could it be that Luke just failed to mention this? No, surely this cannot be! Anyone who has read the book of Acts must surely be familiar with Luke’s many references to the preaching of Paul, his proclaiming of the gospel, and multitudes of people believing. First we see it right after Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:20.

20. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.

Then, we see it in Acts 13:5 at the very beginning of Paul and Barnabas’ ministry.

5. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.

In acts 13:38, Paul preached the word at Pisidian Antioch.

38. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins;

In Acts 14:21, they preached at Derbe.

21. And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch,

They likewise preached in Perga in Acts 14:25.

25. Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

They preached back in Antioch in Syria in Acts 15:35.

35. Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

The word “preached” is not used at Philippi, but clearly that is what Paul did, for we read in Acts 16:14,

14. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

Paul certainly preached in Thessalonica, as we read in Acts 17:3.

3. explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”

Paul also preached the word at Berea in Acts 17:13.

13. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

Paul preached Christ at Athens in Acts 17:18.

18. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

Paul certainly preached the word in Asia minor, as we read in Acts 19:10.

10. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Moreover, even as Paul visited Malta, we know his earnest desire was to preach the word of God in Rome, as he said in Romans 1:15.

15. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.

So we find this same thing repeated over and over again. Luke details Paul’s ministry to proclaim the word of the Lord, the gospel. Surely to Luke and his fellow servants of Christ, the preaching of the gospel must have been the most important detail. Why then would Luke have left this most important detail out in the record of Paul at Malta if it had indeed occurred and Paul had preached the gospel?

But why would it not have occurred? Why would Paul, after setting these people up by performing miracles and healing the sick, have neglected to preach the gospel of Christ to them? Could he have lost his nerve this late in his ministry? Could he have lost his fervor for the gospel? Could he have been afraid to preach Christ with the Romans in attendance?

Any of us who have read the record of Paul and know of his character can say “No!” to these questions with absolute certainty. But why, then, did Paul not preach to these Maltans? The answer, I believe, is staring us in the face if we will choose to accept it. The fact is that there were no Jews among the inhabitants of Malta! However far the Jews had been scattered and however many cities they had inhabited, yet none had come to dwell upon the shores of Malta. This is why Paul could not preach to them! This is why he could not tell them of Christ! Oh, he was still an empowered “super-apostle,” and he could still work mighty miracles and heal the sick. But without the fulfillment of his commission to speak to the Gentiles only after some of the Jews had refused to believe, Paul’s mouth was sealed. No matter how ready these people were to receive the gospel or how eagerly they would have accepted it, Paul could not preach a word of it to them without his commission. In fact, we do not even read of him negating their false idea of him being a god in verse 6! Compare that to in Acts 14:14-15, when the people of Lystra tried to sacrifice to him and Barnabas.

14. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15. and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,

Paul did nothing like this here, though certainly the Maltians did not try to sacrifice to him. But we do not read of him taking this opportunity to preach the truth God and Christ in Malta. This is the binding fact of Paul’s commission to the Gentiles in the Acts period. If there were not Jews who refused to believe in a city, then he could not turn to the Gentiles to offer salvation to them. Since there were no Jews on Malta, there could be no preaching to the Gentile inhabitants. This is the significance of the Malta omission.

So now what will you do with the Malta omission? This is a question you must ask yourself. With such evidence as this, can you still go on believing that the book of Acts is just part of the history of the church and is chronicling the way we as believers should act today? I do not think that an honest look at the book of Acts can possibly lead you to such a conclusion. The only way you will ever find yourself properly aligned with Scripture is if you admit that at Acts 28:28 and there only, in the words of Paul, “The salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles.

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