by Berry Kercheville
In reading Luke’s second letter to Theophilus (Acts), I have often been impressed with how quickly first century Christians adopted a spirit of sharing the gospel message. They never seemed content with their own salvation, but were urgent in their efforts to save others. One of the most notable incidents in Luke’s record is in Acts 8:3-4. Saul was dragging off men and women and committing them to prison and the result was Christians scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. The surprising statement by Luke is, “Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” I might have expected a different reaction. After all, as the Hebrew letter relates, being “publicly exposed to reproach and affliction” and “accepting the plundering of your property” (10:33-34), might rather create a defensive attitude of keeping to oneself instead of continuing to share the word. As I have noted in other articles, my fear is that under similar circumstances we might instead “go everywhere” trying to find a new place to meet.
So how can we explain this zeal among early Jewish Christians, especially in light of the absence of numerous apostolic commands to “go everywhere preaching the word?” One of the advantages they had that we have often missed was a deep awareness of the way the prophets described the messiah’s people. Below are seven prophetic Old Testament descriptions of the disciples of Jesus.
- Genesis 22:16-18, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” In context, this “offspring” is the same collective noun used in verse 17: “I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven.” In Galatians 3, Paul identifies us as the true offspring or family of Abraham since we are in Christ through whom the family is named (3:16). Paul concludes his argument in verse 29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Thus, if we are Abraham’s offspring, and the promise is that the world would be blessed through his offspring, our role as the offspring of Abraham is to bless the world by sharing the good news of King Jesus.
- Exodus 19:5-6, “…you shall be my treasured possession…and shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” As we know, the physical nation failed this calling, but through Christ we have become exactly what God promised. Peter describes us with all these same pictures: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…” However, Peter goes on to explain the purpose of God honoring us with these roles when he says, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). “Priests” are those who stand between God and man and bring men to God. Thus Peter, in writing to brethren who had been transplanted as strangers in northern Bithynia and Galatia, repeatedly emphasized the importance of them making an evangelistic impact.
- Isaiah 55. This chapter is one of the great prophecies of what God would do for those who came to the messiah. After saying he would give them “the sure mercies of David,” God explains, “Behold, I made him [David] a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you” (Verses 4–5). In verse 13, God continues to speak of what he would do for his people: “They shall be a monument to the Lord, a permanent reminder that will remain.” Thus, as David, we proclaim God’s name among the nations and God will cause them to run to us. And we will be monuments to the Lord, a constant reminder of what the Lord has done to save the world.
- Ezekiel 36:37-38. This text is one of my favorites. After God tells Israel how he will use them to glorify his name by giving them a new heart and a new spirit, God gives this final encouragement: “This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people.” I love the part where God tells the new Israel that he will “let them ask him…to increase their people like a flock.” If God is letting us ask him to increase our people, we should give more attention to asking him to do that very thing for us in our prayers.
- Daniel 12:1-3. As Daniel closes his record of visions concerning the “last days,” he reveals the time in which Jerusalem would fall while those who are righteous would be delivered. Concerning the saints he writes, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt [this refers to the spiritually dead coming to life, John 5:25-26]. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
- Zechariah 3:10. Zechariah writes in the context of rebuilding the new temple in the days of the messiah. This temple refers to God’s people in the kingdom. Here again is an evangelistic description of his people: “In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”
- Ezekiel 47:1-12. As in Zechariah, this is a picture of the new temple under Christ. Ezekiel sees a vision of a trickle of water coming from below the threshold of the temple. As Ezekiel follows the flow of water it gets larger and larger until it floods the whole land bringing life everywhere it goes, even turning the sea into fresh water. In NT days, during the feast of tabernacles, the priests would perform a water drawing ceremony and pray that God would pour out this abundance of water. It was during that feast that Jesus delivered these words: “If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom whose who believed in him were to receive…” (John 7:37-39). We have become the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision. As we live faithfully to Jesus, we are given that living water by which we access life for ourselves, but also become a well of water flowing out to others so they also can access life (Cf. John 4:14).
Obviously, there are more scriptures than these that show us the evangelistic nature of the messiah’s people. No wonder first century Christians went everywhere telling the good news of Jesus; it was what they had been reading about every Sabbath.
What about us? Are we looking like the prophetic pictures of the messiah’s people?