Acts 3:20 – “The Times of Refreshing”

Water and FireIn a previous post I stated that the “times of refreshing” was a Second Temple Period way of describing the eschatological kingdom, or the messianic age. Many of the Jews assembled in the Temple courts would have understood Peter’s words in Acts 3:20 as referring to the “age to come” when God restores creation to its original state. Deliverance of creation was something that at least some Jews expected at the time of the messianic age. This deliverance is described as a restoration of creation to something like Eden, a place of prosperity and peace.

1 Enoch 5:7 says that for the elect, the eschatological age will be “light, joy, and peace, and they shall inherit the earth.” Recall that Jesus said that the “meek will inherit the earth” in Matt 5:5. In 25:6, the elect will be presented the “And the elect will be presented with its fruit for life” and they will “live long lives on the earth.” In 45:5 indicates that God will “transform the earth and make it a blessing ,and cause my Elect One (messiah) to dwell in her.” Alluding to Ps 114, 1 Enoch 51:4 says that “in those days, mountains shall dance like rams; and the hills shall leap like kids satiated with milk. And the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy, because on that day the Elect One has arisen.”

Fourth Ezra, a Jewish apocalypse written after 90 A.D., has a number of references to the coming eschatological age as a refreshment of creation and a time of rest. In 4 Ezra 7:75 “we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation,” and in 11:46 the writer looks forward to the coming judgement “so that the whole earth, freed from your violence, may be refreshed and relieved.” In 13:26-29, the messiah is described as the one “whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation; and he will direct those who are left.”

Perhaps 2 Baruch 73-74 is the most similar to the sorts of things we read in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. In 2 Baruch 73:1, after the messiah “has sat down in eternal peace on the throne of the kingdom” then “joy will be revealed and rest will appear.” Just as Acts has described Jesus as ascending to heaven and sitting on the right hand of the Father, 2 Baruch describes the coming age as a time when a messianic figure provides eternal peace from a heavenly throne.

There are more texts which could supplement this list (Jubilees 23:29; T.Levi 18:4; and T.Jud 24:1), but these serve to indicate that the idea of a messianic kingdom as a “time of refreshing” was well known in the first century.

Two thoughts come to mind from reading this data.  First, is this sort of kingdom what  people thought  that Peter was talking about? I see some evidence in Acts that the first community was looking for an imminent return of the Messiah, but how long did that belief persist?

A related second question concerns the non-arrival of the kingdom.  Why if this is what “times of refreshing” meant to the biblically literate crowds, why was there no renewal of creation or return of the Exiles? Is there a disconnection from Jewish expectations here?

Acts 3 – A Healing at the Beautiful Gate

Peter healing a lame man is significant for several reasons. First, Jesus healed many crippled persons during his ministry, Mark 2:1-12 for example. Second, he was a well-known beggar who was crippled from birth. People knew he was unable to walk, and that had never walked in his life. He was not paralyzed or injured. Third, and most importantly for the point of Peter’s sermon, that the lame would “leap for joy” was a key expectation of the Messianic age (Isa 35:6). This text is similar to Isa 61:1-2, a text Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth and applied to himself (Luke 4). There is continuity between Jesus and his messianic announcement and the apostolic ministry of Peter.

Isaiah 35:4-7 … say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Isaiah looks forward to a coming age when physical infirmities will be reversed and even the desert will be a fertile. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit is “poured out” on the people, here in Acts 3 the Holy Spirit is healing physical infirmity.

Nicolas Poussin (1655)Finally, this is the first time one of the disciples does the same sort of miracle which Jesus did, albeit in the name of Jesus. This sets up a pattern in the book of Acts, as the gospel enters new areas it is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit as witnessed by miracles.

Peter calls for the man’s attention and tells him that he has no money for him, and heals him in the name of Jesus. Why does Peter call for the man’s attention? Perhaps there are a lot of people passing through the gate and the beggar is trying to beg from as many as he can.

The man is instantly healed, his ankles and bones are strengthen and his able to stand. Probably the man had stretched out his hands to take some coins from Peter, but Peter grabs his hands and helps him to stand instead. The fact that he is healed fully and completely is indicated that he walks and jumps, praising God (verse 8). The “leaping” for the formerly lame man evokes the Isaiah 35 passage indicating that this is a sign the messianic age is dawning.

This miracle, therefore, draws attention to the fact the messianic age has to some extent begun with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The coming of the Spirit on God’s people is like water poured out on a dry and thirsty land. Peter and John are representatives of the Messiah and use this healing to call a large Jewish crowd to repentance.

If this is true, then likely there are other indications the kingdom is coming/present in the ministry of Peter and John in Acts 2-5. What else do you see here that might support this idea?

John 2:1-12 – The Wedding at Cana

I have been arguing that the miracles in the Gospels are intended to reveal something about Jesus. In Mark 2:1-12 Jesus reveals that he has the authority to forgive sin, and in Mark 6:30-44 Jesus intentionally evokes the stories about Israel in the wilderness to present himself as a new Moses, the Messiah. Some miracles were only witnessed by the disciples or others very close to Jesus. In the case of the feeding of the 5000, no one knew where the food came form except the disciples. When Jesus turns water to wine in John 2, only a very few witnessed the miracle, even though it announces to the reader the beginning of Jesus’ messianic ministry.

Jesus, his mother Mary, and a few disciples attend a wedding in Cana. This was an occasion of great joy, and Jesus will use this occasion to announce the beginning of his ministry. It is sometimes difficult to understand this wedding in a first-century context. Much of what people think they know about Jewish weddings comes from relatively contemporary sources. People see Fiddler on the Roof and assume that Jewish weddings are more or less happen as we see it in the movie. (Do people watch “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and think that Socrates got married the same way?)

With this warning, we can be confident that a wedding celebration was the social highlight of the year for a small village in Galilee. If the family hosting the wedding was one of the more wealthy families, then the banquet was even more memorable. Weddings were occasions for great feasting and joy for whole communities. Food and wine was provided in abundance, perhaps the best meal that an ordinary villager in Cana would expect to enjoy. Music and dancing would have been common as well. The cost of such an event could be high, and the groom was responsible for paying for the wedding feast. In Matt 22 it is the father the of groom who “makes the feast,” so it is possible to think of this as a responsibility of the groom’s family.

Because weddings were common events in the life of a community, Jesus uses wedding imagery in several parables (Mat 22:1-12, 25:1-14). In both wedding parables in Matthew, Jesus is describing an invitation to enter into the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 22, the Jewish nation has been invited to participate, but the ones invited (the Pharisees, etc.) have refused the kings invitation so the wedding banquet was filled with “the rabble,” likely referring to Jesus’ disciples and other followers. In Matthew 25 those invited to accompany the bridegroom into the wedding banquet were unprepared for his delay and some did not enter as a result.

In other texts Jesus refers to himself as a bridegroom, drawing on the rich tradition of the Hebrew Bible which describes Israel as God’s bride (Mark 2:18-20). Jesus is not the bridegroom in the sign in John 2:1-12, but that the announcement that Jesus will begin his ministry takes place at a wedding is an important hint at who Jesus claims to be.

Understanding the point of the wine in this first sign is critical. Wine was certainly a part of the culture of the first century, especially so at a wedding banquet. Over-drinking was common enough, and usually it was not considered disgraceful. To have a wedding without wine was impossible in this culture.

The over-abundance of wine in this sign is important. The Old Testament prophecies of the messianic age predict an abundance of wine, an image of the celebration expected at the time of the Messiah (Gen 49:10-11, Amos 9:13-14, Isa 25:6-8). The mountains will drip with new wine in the coming messianic age! The reason that wine and abundant food are used as a metaphor for the coming age is that it takes a significant time to cultivate a vineyard and even longer before it can be used to produce an excellent wine. The messianic age is therefore a time when vineyards can be cultivated because it is an age of peace and prosperity.

Abundance of food and drink accompanied by joyous music and dancing at a wedding make the occasion an excellent metaphor for the coming messianic age. The mourning of the exile will be over, revered into the joy of a wedding as God’s marriage to his bride Israel is restored. Jesus therefore intentionally chose to “reveal his glory” to his disciples at this wedding to highlight the messianic nature of his ministry.

John 2:1-12 – The Wedding at Cana

[Audio for this study is available at Sermons.net, as is a PDF copy of the notes.]

It is sometimes difficult to understand this wedding in a first-century context.  Much of what people think they know about Jewish weddings comes from relatively contemporary sources.  People see Fiddler on the Roof and assume that Jewish weddings are more or less happen as we see it in the movie.  (Do people watch “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and thing that Socrates got married the same way?)

With this warning, we can be confident that a wedding celebration was the social highlight of the year for a small village in Galilee.  If the family hosting the wedding was one of the more wealthy families, then the banquet was even more memorable.  Weddings were occasions for great feasting and joy for whole communities.  Food and wine was provided in abundance, perhaps the best meal that an ordinary  villager in Cana would expect to enjoy.  Music and dancing would have been common as well.  The cost of such an event could be high, and the groom was responsible for paying for the wedding feast.  In Matt 22 it is the father the of groom who “makes the feast,” so it is possible to think of this as a responsibility of the groom’s family.

Because weddings were common events in the life of a community, Jesus uses wedding imagery in several parables (Mat 22:1-12, 25:1-14).   In both wedding parables in Matthew, Jesus is describing an invitation to enter into the Kingdom of God.   In Matthew 22, the Jewish nation has been invited to participate, but the ones invited (the Pharisees, etc.) have refused the kings invitation so the wedding banquet was filled with “the rabble,” likely referring to Jesus’ disciples and other followers.  In Matthew 25 those invited to accompany the bridegroom into the wedding banquet were unprepared for his delay and some did not enter as a result.

In other texts Jesus refers to himself as a bridegroom, drawing on the rich tradition of the Hebrew Bible which describes Israel as God’s bride (Mark 2:18-20).  Jesus is not the bridegroom in the sign in John 2:1-12, but that the announcement that Jesus will begin his ministry takes place at a wedding is an important hint at who Jesus claims to be.

Understanding the point of the wine in this first sign is critical. Wine was certainly a part of the culture of the first century, especially so at a wedding banquet.  Over-drinking was common enough, and usually it was not considered disgraceful.

The over-abundance of wine in this sign is important.  The Old Testament prophecies of the messianic age predict an abundance of wine, an image of the celebration expected at the time of the Messiah (Gen 49:10-11, Amos 9:13-14, Isa 25:6-8).   The mountains will drip with new wine in the coming messianic age!  The reason that wine and abundant food are used as a metaphor for the coming age is that it takes a significant time to cultivate a vineyard and even longer before it can be used to produce an excellent wine.  The messianic age is therefore a time when vineyards can be cultivated because it is an age of peace and prosperity.

Abundance of food and drink accompanied by joyous music and dancing at a wedding make the occasion an excellent metaphor for the coming messianic age.  The mourning of the exile will be over, revered into the joy of a wedding as God’s marriage to his bride Israel is restored.

Jesus therefore intentionally chose to “reveal his glory” to his disciples at this wedding to highlight the messianic nature of his ministry.

“All The Prophets Foretold These Days”

There are a number of important points in chapter three, I want to highlight only one of theme here.  In the RCBC Evening Service we saw that Peter used the healing of the lame man to explain to the crowd that Jesus was the Messiah and that they were responsible for killing him.  This is a bold suggestion, but it is more bold yet when Peter claims that the repentance of the nation will lead to the establishment of the kingdom of God.

Even though the people acted in ignorance, the they must still repent (3:19-21).  Why are they to repent? Typically we think of repentance of personal sins, but in this context it appears that Peter has the sin of rejecting Jesus in mind.   This is the sin which appears in the immediate context.  The crowd was responsible for handing Jesus over to Pilate, they were the ones who refused to release him instead of Barabbas.  Certainly personal sin needs to be confessed and repentance ought to occur, but that idea does not come from Acts 3, and perhaps not even in Acts 2.  If these two chapters are parallel, then the “repent and be baptized” of 2:38 may very well refer to the sin of rejecting the Messiah as well.

The first result of this repentance is that their sins may be wiped out. The word here is “to blot out,” as in the wiping of tears in Rev 7:17, 21:4, or the blotting out of names from the book of life in Ps 68:29. The word was used for cleaning ink from a papyri sheet so that it could be used again, which in turn became a metaphor for obliterating something and leaving no trace. There are a number of Second Temple period texts which indicate that when the nation repents, God will forgive them and establish this kingdom.  (T.Dan 6:4, T.Sim 6:2-7, T.Mos 10:1-10, 4 Ezra 4:39).   In addition, there were at least some elements of Judaism in the first century which thought that the nation ought to repent and be baptized in order to see God’s messiah come and re-establish a kingdom for Israel.  The Qumran community sounds many of these same themes.

The second result is that the “Times of Refreshing” will come. The phrase is unusual, only appearing here in the New Testament, and while the words appear elsewhere in the LXX, there is not exact equivalent phrase. The phrase has the idea of “messianic refreshment, the definitive age of salvation.” There are, however, a number of similar phrases in the literature of the Second Temple period which indicate that the language would have been well understood by the biblically minded Jews in Solomon’s Portico that day.  See 4 Ezra 7:75, 91. 95; 11:46, 13:26-29, 2 Baruch 73-74; 1 Enoch 45:5, 51:4, 96:3.  Referring to the coming kingdom as “times and seasons” is also common, especially using the Greek kaivro”.  This word for time has the idea of the right time, the appointed time.  Jesus used it in Acts one, telling the twelve it was not for them to know the “times and the seasons.”

A third result is that God will send the Christ, Jesus who will fulfill the words of the prophets. Peter claims here that if the nation repents, then the messiah will return and establish the kingdom promised in the prophets.  What is more, the ones who repent will participate fully in that kingdom, since a major aspect of the Messiah’s return (in virtually every view of the messiah) was a separation of “real” Israel from “false” Israel.  Just as Jesus described the beginning of his kingdom as a separation (wheat from weeds, clean fish from unclean, even sheep from goats.)  When Christ returns, he will restore all things (verse 21), a term which is also unique in the New Testament, yet a theologically packed term.  The word does not appear in the New Testament or the LXX, but seems to have the sense of restoring creation to its original state.  This too is a major expectation of the Hebrew Bible as well as the Second Temple period, the kingdom would be a restoration of the world to Eden-like conditions.

So, which way will the nation go in the following chapters?  Will they respond to the preaching of Peter and repent of the sin of killing the Messiah, or will they continue in their rejection of him and therefore be “cut off”?

The Ascension and The Kingdom of God

To download the audio of the whole sermon, visit Rush Creek on Sermon.net. A PDF file of the handout for this sermon as well on Sermon.net

There are a number of important things in this chapter, so I will highlight just one of them from our Sunday evening Bible Study.  Towards the end of the session I was asked about the nature of the Kingdom predicted by Jesus in this text, is this a spiritual kingdom (i.e., the Church) or is this a literal kingdom?  I believe that the disciples who asked the question were thinking of a literal kingdom and Jesus’ response does not correct that understanding.  Perhaps that kingdom is not exactly what the disciples expected, but whatever it is, it is the restoration of the kingdom to Israel as predicted in the prophets.

While in Jerusalem, it appears that Jesus and the disciples gathered in their usual location on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:6-8).  Some disciples asked if Jesus was going to “restore the kingdom to Israel” at this time.  This question is reminiscent of the Olivet Discourse in Luke 21:5-37 (cf., Mt 24-25).

In Luke 21 Jesus has offered a stinging critique of the Temple and its leadership and walked out of the Temple through the east gate to the Mount of Olives.  While walking through the beautiful buildings and gate, Jesus predicts they will be destroyed.  At least some of the disciples ask at that time about the timing of this event – is Jesus about to restore the kingdom, perhaps judge the current corrupt priesthood and replace it with a pure priesthood?  This is the same sort of question someone at Qumran might have asked, since they too thought the priesthood in Jerusalem was corrupt and would be replaced by a more pure priesthood (i.e., their sect!)

After the resurrection, it was only natural to think that Jesus would now enter the Temple in the power and glory of the resurrection and begin to reform the religion of Israel and begin the process of evangelizing the nations.  Again, this was a clear expectation of the Messiah’s activity.  Beginning with the people of God themselves, Messiah would either convert the enemies of Israel or destroy them (depending on their response or the attitude of the writer describing Messiah’s activities!)  Very often these enemies were within the nation itself.  Individual groups identified the primary enemy of a pure Jewish faith as corrupt priests, people who did not fully keep the law, etc.   The hope of Israel was that the kingdom would be restored to them as the prophets had predicted: Jeremiah 16:15, 23:8, 31:27-34, Isaiah 2:2-4, 49:6, Amos 9:11-15, as well as Tobit 13-14, 1 Enoch 24-25, PsSol 17-18, The Eighteen Benedictions 14.   Luke even began his first book with the hope of the coming Messiah in the Song of Zechariah (1:69-74) as well as the words of Simeon in the Temple (2:24-32).

Jesus reminds them it is not for them to known when the kingdom will be restored, but they are to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the earth. To some extent, the kingdom is about to begin in the Temple in a manner which is not unlike what many expected.  The Holy Spirit will fall upon people and they will speak the Word of God in power in the Temple itself. On the other hand, that the kingdom would be given to a group of Galileans rather than a faction within Judaism (Pharisees, Essenes, etc.) was not expected at all.  These men are quite literally the most unlikely group of people to be commissioned with the task of announcing the Messiah to Israel and then the rest of the world!