WHAT IS THE GOSPEL FOR THE UNSAVED?
 

Should we preach 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 to the unsaved?


If you think so, you might want to consider why 'God's Evangelists'
(Peter, Philip, Stephen, Apollos, and Paul)
never told the unsaved "God loves you" or "Christ died for you"

If that is true, what message did they proclaim,
and
what message should we announce to the unsaved?

 

 

R.L.B.

What is the “gospel”?

 

        Most of us have been to “evangelistic” meetings and have heard “evangelists” preach the “gospel” to an audience.  One of the marks of a believer in Christ is a desire to spread the “gospel” to those without Christ.  That being said, should we not be clear as to what “the gospel” really is that we wish to convey to an unsaved listener?

 

        The word gospel, (Gr. euangelion), occurs approximately 78 times in the New Testament. The idea of “preaching the gospel” occurs another 58 times.  This “gospel” is God’s announcement of His 'good news.'

 

In N.T., good news, and always in a special sense.  As epangelia denotes the promise of salvation, so euangelion denotes the news of the actual fulfillment of the promise of salvation, i.e. the news of salvation. (Ethelbert W. Bullinger, D.D., A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, Lamp Press Ltd.)

 

        There are also many different types of “good news” mentioned in Scripture, such as:

The gospel of the kingdom (the announcement of the prophesied millennial reign of Christ on the earth – Mat. 4:23, etc.)

The gospel of God’s Son (Rom. 1:9)

The gospel of the uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7)

The gospel of the circumcision (Gal. 2:7)

The everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6)

        In this paper we will be considering the terms of the gospel mainly as it applies to the eternal salvation of sinners from the penalty of the sin which infects all descendants of Adam the first human sinner.

 

Modern presentations of the Gospel

 

        The gospel is sometimes described as a message consisting of three simple points:

 

1.      God loves you.

2.      Christ died for you.

3.      Believe and be saved.

(Day of Grace Ministries, Inc.)

 

Another approach describes the gospel in terms of four spiritual laws:

  1. God LOVES you and offers a wonderful PLAN for your life.

  2. Man is SINFUL and SEPARATED from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God's love and plan for his life.

  3. Jesus Christ is God's ONLY provision for man's sin. Through Him you can know and experience God's love and plan for your life.

  4. We must individually RECEIVE Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our lives.

            (Campus Crusade for Christ International)

These “four spiritual laws” have also been explained in the following terms:

  1. God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life

  2. God created us in His own image to have an abundant life. He did not make us as robots to automatically love and obey Him. God gave us a will and a freedom of choice.  We chose to disobey God and go our own way.

  3.  Jesus Christ died on the Cross and rose from the grave. He paid the penalty for our sin and bridged the gap between God and people.

  4. We must trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and receive Him by personal invitation.

    Here is how you can receive Christ:

Many in 'evangelical Christianity' also explain the substitutionary work of our Lord Jesus by stating that because He took the sins of all humanity upon Himself, unbelief in the Lord and in His sacrifice is the only thing which keeps an unbeliever from becoming 'saved.'

Because the Lord Jesus Christ has borne the sins of all, people no longer go to Hell because of their sins, but because they reject Christ, who died for their sins. . . .  This is the reason your [deceased] little one is now in Heaven.  Christ died for it, even as He died for you and me; and it had never become of age either to accept or reject the sacrifice which Christ made on the Cross for it.  Therefore it was covered by that precious shed blood, which Christ, in His love and grace, poured out for all of us.  (J. B. Marchbanks, Your Little One Is In Heaven, Loizeaux Brothers, 1951).

The above reasoning which automatically and universally causes a young child to be saved also finds its place in Mormonism.

The extent of the atonement is universal, applying alike to all descendants of Adam.  Even the unbeliever, the heathen, and the child who dies before reaching the years of discretion, all are redeemed by the Savior's self-sacrifice from the individual consequences of the fall.  (James E. Talmage, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, A Study of the Articles of Faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 85, 1964)

Consider further the prophecy that King Benjamin proclaimed to the Nephite multitude:  Christ's blood "atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned." (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:11, quoted by James E. Talmage, Op cite, p. 90, 1964)

 

In a revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith in this dispensation, the Lord has said: "But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me." (Doctrine and Covenants 29:46 & 47, quoted by James E. Talmage, Op cite, p. 88, 1964)

         In view of the above theories, and contemporary ‘formulae’ for eternal salvation we thought it might be illuminating to examine the content of actual gospel messages preached by Peter, Philip, Stephen, Apollos, and Paul to unbelievers as recorded by Luke the writer of the book of Acts.  It is enlightening to compare the above gospel formulae with the gospel for unsaved people in the book of Acts as presented by Christ’s evangelists.  It is also interesting to compare the content of gospel presentations to unbelievers in the Acts with Paul’s affirmation of the gospel for believers as found in his letter to the Christian ekklesia in Corinth:

 

     “For I delivered to you, in the first place, what also I had received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures;

     “and that he was buried; and that he was raised the third day, according to the scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

 

        To reduce the length of this article we present only highlights of many of these messages, and we strongly encourage readers to read each message in its entirety as recorded by Luke in the book of Acts.

 

        Another innovation in our study; some students of dispensationalism believe the gospel Peter preached was different in substance from the one Paul preached.  So, whereas Peter accused the nation Israel of crucifying the Lord, Paul, on the other hand, is said to present the crucifixion as the basis of our salvation.  We will examine this viewpoint toward the end of the paper.

 

The following study attempts to answer the following basic questions:

1.  What is the actual content of the gospel messages recorded by the Holy Spirit in the Acts?

2.  Do gospel messages preached today follow the content of the gospel messages preached by Christ’s evangelists in the book of Acts?  If not, should they?

3.  Paul defines the gospel for believers in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3.  Is this message to believers the same message we should be preaching to an unsaved public?

4.  Is there is any essential difference in the content of the gospel messages preached by various individuals throughout the Acts?

5.  What differences, if any, mark the gospel of the circumcision versus the gospel of the uncircumcision?

 

        To attempt to answer the above questions we will review the passages of scripture which record the theme of "Gospel Messages" God’s evangelists preached to unsaved audiences.  We encourage readers to refer to the passages indicated.  We are fully aware, however, that Doctor Luke does not always give every detail of the content of some gospel messages, so we must rely on particular passages where such details are given.  The list of gospel messages we will consider is:

 

Peter – Acts 2

Peter – Acts 3

Peter – Acts 4

Peter & the apostles – Acts 5

Stephen – Acts 7

Philip – Acts 8:5-7

Philip – Acts 8:35-38

Saul – Acts 9:20-22

Peter – Acts 10:34-38

Paul at Salamis to Jews – Acts 13:5

Paul at Paphas to Gentile Sergius Paulus –Acts 13:6-12

Paul at Antioch to Jews – Acts 13:14-51

Paul at Iconium – Acts 14:1-6

Paul & Barnabas at Lycaonia to Gentiles – Acts 14:15-17

Peter (rehash) to believers at Jerusalem ekklesia – Acts 15:8-15

Paul to Lydia (a Jewess) – Acts 16:14

Paul & Silas at Philippi to Gentiles – Acts 16:27-34

Paul at Thessalonica to Jews – Acts 17:1-3

Paul at Berea to Jews – Acts 17:12

Paul at Athens to Gentiles – Acts 17:15-32

Paul at Corinth to Jews - Acts 18:5-6

Paul at Ephesus to Jews – Acts 18:19

Apollos at Achaia to Jews – Acts 18:28

Paul at Ephesus (again) to Jews – Acts 19:8-10 ??

Paul at Miletus (rehash) to Ephesian elders – Acts 20:20-23

Paul to the Jewish multitude at Jerusalem 23:6

Paul before Felix, with the accusing Jews present – Acts 24

Paul before Felix and his Jewish wife Drusilla – Acts 24

Paul before Festus – Acts 25

Paul at Melita – Acts 28

Paul’s crucial address to the chiefs of the Jews at Rome – Acts 28

 

Peter’s gospel messages

 

The message at Pentecost (Acts 2)

 

        The first gospel message in the Acts is that of the apostle Peter, standing with the eleven other apostles, speaking only to Jews and Jewish converts (proselytes) assembled at Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of “the feast of weeks” (Ex. 34:22), (i.e., “Pentecost“). This festival is also referred to in Numbers 28:26 as ”first fruits” since it is the time when the earliest fruits of the harvest were gathered, a type of the spiritual harvest to come.  (This is not to be confused with the ‘first fruits’ that were a type of the resurrection of Christ).

 

        First, Peter announces that Jesus was approved and certified by God by means of the signs and wonders He had performed during His earthly ministry.  (Thus the witness of Christ’s message from the Father and the witness of the signs and wonders from the Holy Spirit were the “testimony of two witnesses” required by the Jews).  Many of the Jews had rejected this witness of the Lord Jesus during His earthly kingdom ministry because rejecting the witness of the signs and miracles of the Holy Spirit was in essence rejecting the Holy Spirit Himself (i.e., the ‘unpardonable sin.’  See Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10).  Now for Peter’s “gospel message.”:

 

     “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man borne witness to by God to you by works of power and wonders and signs, which God wrought by him in your midst, as yourselves know  (Acts 2:22)

 

First, Peter brings in the witness of the Holy Spirit (the works of power, etc.) thereby putting Israel on notice that rejecting these wonders and signs could lead to the ‘unpardonable sin.’

 

Second, Peter assigns guilt to these “men of Israel” because they had demanded Christ’s crucifixion, and had assumed responsibility for it (see Mat. 27:25):

 

     “him, given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye, by the hand of lawless men, have crucified and slain.  (Acts 2:23)

 

Third, Peter announces Christ’s resurrection with great detail and proofs:

 

     “Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death, inasmuch as it was not possible that he should be held by its power;

     “for David says as to him, I foresaw the Lord continually before me, because he is at my right hand that I may not be moved.

     “Therefore has my heart rejoiced and my tongue exulted; yea more, my flesh also shall dwell in hope,

     “for you will not leave my soul in hades, nor will you give your gracious one to see corruption.

     “You have made known to me the paths of life, you will fill me with joy with your countenance.

     “Brethren, let it be allowed to speak with freedom to you concerning the patriarch David, that he has both died and been buried, and his monument is amongst us unto this day.

     “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn to him with an oath, of the fruit of his loins to set upon his throne;

     “he, seeing it before, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that neither has he been left in hades nor his flesh seen corruption.

     “This Jesus has God raised up, whereof all we are witnesses.  (Acts 2:22-32)

 

Fourth, he announces Christ’s ascension to God’s right hand, and the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Son, a gift Christ then poured out on the apostles and other believers:

 

     “Having therefore been exalted by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you behold and hear.

     “For David has not ascended into the heavens, but he says himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand

     “until I have put your enemies to be the footstool of your feet.”  (Acts 2:33-35)

 

Finally he announces to Israel that this Jesus is their Lord and their Christ (Messiah):

 

     “Let the whole house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him, this Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  (Acts 2:36)

 

Many of the assembled Israelites realized they had sinned against God:

 

     “And having heard it they were pricked in heart, and said to Peter and the other apostles, What shall we do, brethren?” (Acts 2:37)

 

Peter then announces the terms of their forgiveness:

 

     “And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

     “For to you [Israelites] is the promise and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God may call.”

     “And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, Be saved from this perverse generation.

     “Those then who had accepted his word were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.”  (Acts 2:38-41)

 

Summary of Peter’s message:

 

  1. Jesus was approved by God, witnessed by the signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit
  2. He was crucified
  3. He was resurrected
  4. He ascended
  5. He is the Christ (the long awaited Messiah)

 

God's terms of acceptance for those who recognized that Jesus was God’s Anointed One (vs. 22, 36), who believed in Christ’s resurrection (vs. 24-32), and whose hearts were pricked because of the terrible part they had in crucifying the Lord (vs. 37), are:

 

  1. Repentance.  The Israelites must renounce in their hearts the fact that they were associated partners in crucifying their Messiah (vs. 38).
  2. Ceremonial cleansing with water (baptism) which morally separated and purged them from their defiling association with the unbelieving elements of Judaism that had committed the horrendous sin of crucifying the Lord of glory (vs. 38).  Note the words “Be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).  This water cleansing was by no means a “testimony” of their faith.  Neither did it vicariously cleanse them from actual sins (only the substitutionary death of the Savior could do that).  It was an act of getting rid of that partnership with evil, and washing away their conscience (1 Pet. 3:21) from the spiritual connection they had with the unbelieving part of Israel.
  3. Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized (i.e., washed), and added to the company of believers (vs. 41).

 

Noteworthy by its absence:

 

 

Granted that “with many other words he testified and exhorted them,” but these additional words of exhortation were presumably directed to the new believers, and had to do with making sure they saved themselves “from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).

 

But notice that Peter does present the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ as an integral part of his gospel message, a vital feature of truth sadly absent from all too many modern gospel presentations

 

Peter’s second gospel message (Acts 3):

 

        In Acts 3 we have the healing of the lame man, an event that brilliantly portrays the millennial outpourings of God upon a future remnant of Israel (Isaiah 35) where “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing.”  To the crowd who were amazed at this miraculous healing of the lame man, Peter and John again preached the ‘gospel.’

 

As in Acts 2, Peter presents Jesus as the emissary of Israel’s God.

 

     “And Peter, seeing it, answered the people, Men of Israel, why are you astonished at this? or why do you gaze on us as if we had by our own power or piety made him to walk?

     “The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. . .” (Acts 3:12-13)

 

Peter charges them with the sin of instigating the crucifixion of the Lord:

 

     “. . . whom you delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he had judged that he should be let go.

     “But you denied the holy and righteous one, and asked that a man that was a murderer should be granted to you;

     “but the originator of life you slew” (Acts 3:13-15)

 

He once again declares the resurrection of the Lord:

 

     “. . . whom God raised from among the dead, whereof we are witnesses. (Acts 3:15)

 

He attributes the healing of the lame man to his faith in the name of the Lord Jesus, a faith which was actually given to him by the Lord Himself.  (Note that this man's original expectation was to receive alms (Acts 3:3-4), not the faith to be healed):

 

     “And, by faith in his name, His name has made this man strong whom you behold and know; and the faith which he has given has made this man sound and strong again, as you can all see.” (Acts 3:16)

 

Peter then calls upon his Jewish brethren to repent:

 

     “And now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as also your rulers;

     “but God has thus fulfilled what he had announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer.

     “Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins” (Acts 3:17-19)

 

Next, Peter promised that if national Israel repented and turned from wickedness to the Messiah they would see the physical return of the King of Kings to establish His millennial kingdom on earth:

 

     “. . . so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

     “and he may send Jesus Christ, who was foreordained for you,

     “whom heaven indeed must receive till the times of the restoring of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since time began.” (Acts 3:19-21)

 

A stern warning was then issued for those who failed to believe:

 

     “Moses indeed said, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you out of your brethren like me: him shall you hear in everything whatsoever he shall say to you.

     “And it shall be that whatsoever soul shall not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people.

     “And indeed all the prophets from Samuel and those in succession after him, as many as have spoken, have announced also these days.

     “You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God appointed to our fathers, saying to Abraham, And in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

     “To you first God, having raised up his servant, has sent him, blessing you in turning each one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:22-26)

 

Again, there is no mention of several items commonly presented to mixed crowds at modern evangelistic crusades:

 

 

        Years ago when I first read these sermons I had the feeling that Peter did not preach a very strong or complete “gospel” message, and that he actually did not really preach "the gospel" at all.  Yet, the result of his message in Acts 2 was that 3000 individuals became believers, and 2000 more (plus women and children) were added to the company of believers following his sermon in Acts 3. Obviously my understanding of ‘what is the gospel to the unsaved’ was quite inaccurate.

 

Peter’s third message to unbelievers (religious officials):

 

        Next we look at Acts 4, where the religious clergy at Jerusalem called Peter and John to stop preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a doctrine the religious officials condemned as ‘apostate.’

 

     “And it came to pass on the morrow that their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together at Jerusalem,

     “and Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the high priestly family;

     “and having placed them in the midst they inquired, In what power or in what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:5-7)

 

Peter then declares that the healing of the lame man took place in the name of Jesus the Messiah (Christ).

 

     “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders of Israel,

     “if we this day are called upon to answer as to the good deed done to the infirm man, how he has been healed,

     “be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazaraean . . . by him this man stands here before you sound in body ” (Acts 4:8-10)

 

He then charges these rulers with the sin of crucifying the Lord

 

      “. . . whom you have crucified. . .” (vs. 10)

 

He affirms Christ’s resurrection:

 

     “. . . whom God has raised from among the dead, by him this man stands here before you sound in body.” (vs. 10)

 

He continues to charge them with rejecting their Messiah:

 

     “He is the stone which has been set at nought by you the builders, which is become the corner stone.” (vs. 11)

 

And he makes the vital statement that salvation is found only in Christ the Messiah.

 

     “And salvation is in none other, for neither is there another name under heaven which is given among men by which we must be saved.” (vs. 12)

 

Note that the rulers showed no sorrow for their actions.  Therefore Peter offered no “invitation” to believe on the Lord Jesus.  (Those who consider themselves “well”, wrongly believe they have no need of a physician – see Mat. 9:12).

 

 

Peter to the Jewish rulers again

 

        In Acts 5, after their imprisonment by the Jewish rulers, and their miraculous release by the angel of the Lord (Acts 5:17-19), the rulers again encounter Peter and the apostles (Acts 5:25-26).  Then follows another short defense of the Savior’s credentials, but again with no invitation to the unbelieving, unrepentant, rulers:

 

     “And they bring them and set them in the council. And the high priest asked them,

     “saying, We strictly enjoined you not to teach in this name: and lo, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and purpose to bring upon us the blood of this man.

     “But Peter answering, and the apostles, said, God must be obeyed rather than men.

     “The God of our fathers has raised up Jesus, whom you have slain, hanging him on a tree.

     “Him has God exalted by his right hand as leader and savior, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins.

     “And we are his witnesses of these things, and the Holy Spirit also, which God has given to those that obey him.

     “But they, when they heard these things, were cut to the heart, and took counsel to kill them.”  (Acts 5:27-33)

 

 

While they mention that Christ’s purpose was to give repentance and remission of sins to Israel (vs. 31), His death as a vicarious sacrifice or as a substitute for any person's sins is not mentioned.  This and other blessed features of truth were apparently withheld from these unbelievers.

 

This withholding of spiritual information from unbelievers appears to be consistent with the Lord’s methods when speaking to mixed or unbelieving crowds in parables, but revealing the meaning of those parables only to those who believed.  (See Mk. 4:11).

 

Stephen’s first (and only) gospel message to unbelieving Jewish leaders:

 

        Stephen gives a detailed history of Israel from Abraham to Solomon, emphasizing the numerous times the people departed from the will of God.  Stephen then summarizes this unpleasant history of rampant unbelief:

 

     “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you.

     “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers:

     “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”  (Acts 7:51-53)

 

The result of this cutting sermon was predictable:

 

     “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54)

 

     “And [Stephen] said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

     “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

     “And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. (7:56-58)

 

To this crowd of angry Jewish leaders who were resisting the Holy Spirit (vs. 51), Stephen withholds every element of the gospel we, as believers, rejoice in.  This was a message of judgment toward Israel, not a gospel invitation.  Note how Stephen saw “the Son of man” (his millennial title) standing(the posture of the Judge).   The Lord Jesus had rightly said:

 

     “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine, lest haply they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you.” (Mat. 7:6)

 

Philip’s first gospel message was to the Samaritans:

 

     “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

     “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

     “For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.” (Acts 8:5-7)

 

The actual content of Philip’s first message is not recorded in detail so we know little of its content:

 

    “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12)

 

The Samaritans were a mixed race of Jew and non-Jew.  They had their own temple and did not acknowledge that Yahweh’s center of worship was Jerusalem.

 

When Assyria conquered the northern kingdom in 721 B.C. many of the Israelites were deported and foreigners were brought in.  Intermarriage occurred and the result was a half-breed race and religion.  In the fourth century B.C. they built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim and rejected all of the Hebrew Scriptures except the Pentateuch.”  (Donald L. Norbie, Acts the Pattern Church, p. 405)

 

The Lord had told the Samaritan woman at the well,

 

     “You worship you know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22)

 

When the Samaritans believed Philip’s message about the earthly “kingdom of God,” and they were baptized, they did not receive the Holy Spirit as did the Jewish converts.  In order for the Spirit to come upon these non-Israelites it was necessary for Peter to exercise the keys of the kingdom (Mat. 16:18-19), by laying his hands upon them.  By opening the door of spiritual access to the Samaritans the Holy Spirit demonstrated to them that God’s purpose would be fulfilled through Jerusalem, not Mount Gerizim.  This special act by the apostle Peter bound the Samaritan believers to the Jewish believers, emphasizing that there is only one pathway to God and to eternal blessing.  There was not to be a Jewish gathering and a Samaritan gathering.

 

Again, we have no details of Philip’s gospel message so we must presume it was basically similar to other proclamations of the Kingdom of God.

.

Philip’s second gospel message:

 

        The next recorded gospel message of Philip was to the Ethiopian eunuch.  Because this man’s body had been surgically mutilated, the law of Moses stated he could not be a full-fledged convert to Judaism (Deut. 23:1).  Nevertheless, Isaiah acknowledged God’s merciful provision even for a eunuch:

 

     “For thus saith Jehovah unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;

     “Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” (Isa. 56:4-5)

 

This believer in the true God of Israel knew that Jerusalem was the center of true worship.  He had traveled to Jerusalem to render annual worship to the One God, Yahweh.  As this man traveled homeward Philip was specially called by the Holy Spirit to witness to this man.  This eunuch was reading the prophet Isaiah in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible:

 

     “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:

     “In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33)

 

All we are told of Philip’s witness is:

 

     “And Philip, opening his mouth and beginning from that scripture, announced the glad tidings of Jesus to him.

     “And as they went along the way, they came upon a certain water, and the eunuch says, Behold water; what hinders my being baptized?

     “And he commanded the chariot to stop. And they went down both to the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:35-38)

 

There are no details given of Philip’s actual gospel message, although, like the believing Israelites at Pentecost (Acts 2:38), it resulted in the believing eunuch being ceremonially washed (baptized) by Philip, and “he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).

 

Peter’s miracles – Acts 9:32-42

 

        Peter healed Aeneas, a paralyzed man, with the result that “All who inhabited Lydda and the Saron saw him, who turned to the Lord.”  No details are given of any gospel sermons.  He also brought to life Dorcus, a miracle that “became known throughout the whole of Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.”  Again, no details of Peter’s message are given.  The many miracles that led to belief, however, confirm that the great kingdom commission of Matthew 28:20-20 with its signs and wonders promised in Mark 16:15-18 were still in force.  Not until Acts 28:28 would such wonders and signs vanish from God’s gospel program.

 

Peter’s message to Cornelius the Gentile – Acts 10

 

        Just as the Ethiopian Eunich went to Jerusalem to worship, the Hebrew prophets proclaim the fact that in the latter days Gentiles would come to Jerusalem, the Divine center of worship.  That spiritual blessing of Gentiles, however, was meant to be accomplished through the spiritual agency of a believing national Israel.  Israel would be God’s missionaries to bring the Gentiles to God.  During the first nine chapters of the Acts, however, it had become abundantly clear that while individual Jews had believed the gospel, national Israel at Jerusalem were decisively rejecting the precious message of the person and work of the Son of God.  So while God’s prophetic purpose was to save Gentiles through a faithful Israel, he was about to begin a new, non-prophesied program, namely to save Gentiles in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness.  This is something completely new, a purpose not made known in prophecy.  Paul describes it as a “mystery” in Romans 11, that God would now bless the hated Gentiles without national Israel’s missionary endeavor previously set forth in the Lord’s great kingdom commission (Mat. 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; etc.) 

 

        The tremendous importance of the Conversion of the first true Gentile is emphasized by the fact that it occupies most of Acts chapters 10 and 11, is mentioned in Act 14:27, and is key to an important assembly decision (Acts 15:7-11) .  The proclamation of the gospel to Gentiles marks an extraordinary break in God’s prophetic program, and it requires an apostle with the keys of the kingdom to accomplish it.  The result of Peter’s preaching cleared the way for, and provided the authority for, the apostle Paul to preach the gospel to Gentiles, and to proclaim the truth of God to the nations (Gentiles).  But, finally at Rome, when the Jews of the Diaspora joined their fellow Jews at Jerusalem in totally rejecting the Son of God, it allowed Paul to pronounce a final judgment of blindness upon national Judaism at Acts 28:28.

 

But as interesting as these dispensational truths are, we must return to the purpose of this paper which is the consideration of the terms of the actual gospel as presented in the gospel messages preached by the evangelists in the Acts.  When Peter opened this new dispensation in the Acts by preaching to Cornelius and to his household we are told:

 

     “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:

     “But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him." (Acts 10:34)

 

Until Peter received his vision of the sheet (Acts 10) Gentiles were not "accepted with him."  In Deuteronomy 23:1-3 a eunuch, an illegitimate person, an Ammonite or a Moabite were not allowed to come into the congregation of Israel.  The Gentile centurion knew a Jew would become unclean by entering into his house (Mat. 8:8).  The Lord commanded the twelve disciples, "Go not off into the way of the Gentiles, and into a city of Samaritans enter ye not;
but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel
" (Mat. 10:6).  To the Canaanitish woman the Lord said, "I have not been sent except to the lost sheep of Israel's house" (Mat. 15:24).  But Peter's vision had informed him that God had made an important dispensational change in who was and who was not considered ritually unclean.  Thus, Cornelius the Gentile was "accepted with him."  "Accepted" did not mean Cornelius was already saved, because fearing God and performing works of righteousness would not contribute to eternal life for anyone, Gentile or Jew.  But by being "accepted with him" it means the gospel could be proclaimed to him.   Peter's message to Cornelius continues:

 

     “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)

     “That word, I say, you know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;

     “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.

     “And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:

     “Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly;

     “Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.

     “And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he who was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.

     “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins.

     “While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.

     “And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.

     “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,

     “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

     “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.” (Acts 10:34-48)

 

        In the above passage Peter charges that the Jews were guilty of crucifying Jesus of Nazareth (vs. 39), he proclaims the all important resurrection (vs. 40-41), and the judgment to come of both the living and of the dead (vs. 43).  He then announces that it is through Christ’s name those who believe in Him shall receive remission of sins.

 

What is not included in the above?

 

        Cornelius is not told that God loves him and his household.  He is simply told that those who fear God and work righteousness are accepted by Him.  Being “accepted by Him” means the disciples are now ‘authorized’ to present the Gospel of the kingdom to Gentiles also.  As a result of the sign gift of tongues miraculously falling on the entire household of Cornelius the Jewish disciples now knew that Gentiles for the first time are being given the opportunity to repent and become part of God's "gathering."  “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

 

        Peter does not tell Cornelius and his household that Christ died as a one-on-one substitute for their sins.  He leaves it open, meaning, that those who believe will receive remission of their sins.  To the Corinthians who had believed Paul could say, “Christ died for our sins....” (1 Cor 15:3), but this truth is never revealed to unbelievers as we have seen thus far in our study.  Nor will we see this glorious truth revealed in any message preached to unbelievers by God’s evangelists throughout the Acts.

 

        Peter does not tell Cornelius to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins” (as in Acts 2:38).  Rather, Peter and the Jewish believers who had accompanied him were astonished by the fact that God “poured out” the gift of tongues from the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles even before they were baptized.  We are not told that Cornelius had made a “public profession of faith,” nor was a course of instruction given to Cornelius prior to baptism, a frequent requirement today in connection with the practice known as “believer’s baptism.”

 

        However, once the Lord Jesus poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon these Gentiles, neither Peter nor his Jewish brothers could deny that they now belonged to the Lord.  Thereupon Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48).  Whereas the baptism of the Jews at Pentecost seemed to signify their ceremonial cleansing from the fallen first creation, and in particular their cleansing from the generation that crucified the Lord, we are not told what this Gentile baptism signified.  While some brethren hold to so-called “household baptism” it is noteworthy that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were hearing the word” (Acts 10:44).  Did small children “hear the word”?  If so, the Spirit fell on them.  Did infants “hear the word”?  We doubt it, and it would be a stretch to say the Spirit fell on small infants as well.  Be that as it may, that is a subject for another time.  Also, hearing the words is not the same as hearing the message in their hearts.  "He that has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mat. 11:15)

 

The gospel preached by Paul

 

        Soon after his miraculous conversion, Saul began preaching the gospel.  We know little of the content of his early messages except that he was bold and straightforward in his preaching, and directed his hearers to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ..

 

     “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20)

\

     “But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.” (Acts 9:20-22)

 

     “And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecian Jews: but they went about to slay him.” (Acts 9:29)

 

Barnabas and Saul – Acts 13

 

        In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit sends forth Barnabas and Saul (Paul), along with Mark as their minister (13:5).  At Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews:  At Paphos they preached to a Gentile deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, who believed because he had witnessed a miracle performed by Paul.  The record does not reveal any of the details of the message which may have been preached to this Gentile, but again, the wonders and signs of the great kingdom commission were still in force, and these signs sometimes directly led to the spiritual conversion of those who witnessed these events.

 

        But when they came to Perga in Pamphylia Paul preached the gospel to the Jews assembled in their synagogue.  After relating the history of the Jewish people from the time of their sojourn in Egypt to David the king, Paul’s message continues:

 

     “And when he had removed him [King Saul], he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.

     “Of this man's seed has God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Savior, Jesus:

     “When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.

     “And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think you that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there comes one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.

     “Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you fears God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.” (Acts 13:22-26)

 

Paul then accuses the Jews at Jerusalem of having the Lord Jesus slain.

 

     “For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

     “And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.

     “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb.” (Acts 13:27-29)

 

He then is careful to include in his gospel an expanded exposition of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, showing that the Messiah that Paul announced is a living Person.

 

     “But God raised him from the dead:

     “And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people.

     “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers,

     “God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he has raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, You are my Son, this day have I begotten you.

     “And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.

     “Wherefore he says also in another psalm, You shall not suffer your Holy One to see corruption.

     “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption:

     “But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.” (Acts 13:30-37)

 

Finally, to these Jews he emphasizes the importance of the person and work of the Son of God.

 

     “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:

     “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

 

Paul’s message consisted of:

Paul’s message does not state that God loved them or that Christ specifically took the penalty for their sins on Himself.

 

Paul & Barnabas – Acts 14

 

At Lycaonia (Acts 14) Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel.  They performed a miracle of healing on a crippled man which caused the Gentiles to mistakenly identify Paul and Barnabas as pagan gods.   Paul’s gospel message was intended to rectify this misunderstanding. 

 

     “But the apostles Barnabas and Paul, having heard it, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,

     “And saying, Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

     “Who in times past suffered all Gentiles to walk in their own ways.

     “Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:14-17)

 

To these pagans the message of Paul and Barnabas was:

        Due to this extremely sensitive situation the Scriptures summarize the encounter as simply: “And saying these things, they with difficulty kept the crowds from sacrificing to them.” (Acts 14:18)

 

The church counsel at Jerusalem Acts 15

 

     “Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, you know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

     “And God, who knows the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;

     “And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

     “Now therefore why tempt you God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

     “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:7-11)

 

        This speech at the church counsel is certainly not intended to be an example of a gospel message, but is quoted to show that the apostle Peter fully recognized that God had purified the hearts in the Gentile house of Cornelius by faith, and that both “we” and “they” will be saved the same way, “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

        There is a curious verse in Acts 16:6-7 which shows that the Sovereignty of God played a significant part in directing Paul and Silas to preach the word to those whom God specifically wished to reach with the gospel concerning His Son.

 

     “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

     “After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” (Acts 16:6-7)

 

        Why would God prohibit these ministers of the Gospel from preaching to anyone?  Does the passage in Acts 13:48 give us a clue?  “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).  Or Acts 18:10?  “for I have much people in this city.”  Or John 6:44?  “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”  It would seem God wanted His evangelists to preach the gospel to those who don’t yet believe, but have nonetheless been chosen by God to be given the faith to believe in His Son.  Since we do not know who God’s chosen ones are, it is incumbent on us to seek God’s guidance as to where and to whom we present the Gospel.  Thus we have the example of Lydia:  “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened “ (Acts 16:14).

 

Paul & Silas at Philippi – Acts 16

 

        Paul and Silas were in prison praying and singing praises to God when a great earthquake awakened the jailor.

 

     “And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had fled.

     “But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do yourself no harm: for we are all here.

     “Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

     “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

     “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, and your house.

     “And they spoke unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

     “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

     “And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” (Acts 16:27-34)

 

        As with the case of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7), there was a Divine miracle.  At Philippi the miracle was an earthquake, followed by the conversion of the prison keeper.  His question “What must I do to be saved?” seems to have been the result of the miracle itself, not any message delivered by Paul or Silas.  That message came later (vs. 32) “they spoke unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.”

 

        Did the jailor understand the meaning of the term “to be saved?”  The word “saved” has become common terminology in evangelical circles to indicate that a “saved” person is someone who has eternal life in Christ.  However, the word often refers to “temporal salvation.”  The Israelites who crossed the Red Sea were “saved” from the Egyptians, but all were not necessarily “eternally saved” (they were a mixed multitude).  The repentant Jews at Pentecost were told by Peter “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” (Acts 2:40).  The Lord’s ‘great kingdom commission’ included the words “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” which some wrongly interpret to mean one must partake of a ceremonial ‘washing’ ceremony in order to be eternally saved, (and others wrongly turn it around so it says ‘he that is saved ought to be baptized’).  And “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us” (1 Pet 3:21), which some take to mean eternal salvation, rather than the ritual washing and purification to absolve one’s conscience from ceremonial uncleanness as described in Leviticus 15, etc , a ceremony adapted by John the Baptist, submitted to by the newly converted Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:16), and still practiced by Jews today when they immerse themselves in their mikveh to rid their conscience from ceremonial uncleanness acquired by contact with a body, a bone, secretion of bodily fluids, etc.

 

Paul at Thessalonica – Acts 17

.

        Paul continued his ministry “to the Jew first.”.  His message was:

 

     “And having journeyed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was the synagogue of the Jews.

     “And according to Paul's custom he went in among them, and on three sabbaths reasoned with them from the scriptures,

     “opening and laying down that the Christ must have suffered and risen up from among the dead, and that this is the Christ, Jesus whom I announce to you.” (Acts 17:1-3)

 

His message was:

 

This particular Scriptures makes no mention of the substitutionary payment for the sins of the general (mixed) audience. 

 

Paul at Berea – Acts 17

 

At Berea Paul announced “the word of God” to the Jewish synagogue.  No details of his message are given, but the result was:

 

     “And these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, receiving the word with all readiness of mind, daily searching the scriptures if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

 

Paul at Athens – Acts 17

 

        At Athens, even though "his spirit was provoked within him” (Acts 17:16), seeing that the Gentiles in the city were “given up to idolatry” he continued on his mission of going to the Jew first, preaching first to the Jews in the synagogue, then to Gentiles in the Agora (market place).

 

     “And some said, What would this chatterer say? and some, He seems to be an announcer of foreign demons, because he announced the glad tidings of Jesus and the resurrection to them.” (Acts 17:18)

 

When confronted by the Gentiles Paul preached the following Gospel message to them:

 

     “Athenians, in every way I see you given up to demon worship;

     “for, passing through and beholding your shrines, I found also an altar on which was inscribed, To the unknown God. Whom therefore you reverence, not knowing him, him I announce to you.

     “The God who has made the world and all things which are in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands,

     “nor is served by men's hands as needing something, himself giving to all life and breath and all things;

     “and has made of one blood every nation of men to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, having determined ordained times and the boundaries of their dwelling,

     “that they may seek God; if indeed they might feel after him and find him, although he is not far from each one of us:

     “for in him we live and move and exist; as also some of the poets amongst you have said, For we are also his offspring.

     “Being therefore the offspring of God, we ought not to think that which is divine to be like gold or silver or stone, the graven form of man's art and imagination.

     “God therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent,

     “because he has set a day in which he is going to judge the habitable earth in righteousness by the man whom he has appointed, giving the proof of it to all in having raised him from among the dead.

     “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, and some said, We will hear thee again also concerning this.”  (Acts 17:22-32)

 

Many today would probably not consider Paul’s discourse to these idolaters to be “the Gospel.”  Look closely at what he preached, and what he did not preach.

Note that in this detailed discourse Paul did not reveal:

 Paul at Corinth – Acts 18

 

            Here Paul has a series of gospel presentations.

 

     “And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks….  testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.  But as they opposed and spoke injuriously, he shook his clothes, and said to them, Your blood be upon your own head: I am pure; from henceforth I will go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:4-6)

 

     “and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8)

 

            God told Paul in a vision “I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:10),  Those “much people” were as yet unsaved, but in the councils of God those who were chosen in Christ would be sovereignly drawn to Christ by the Father:

 

     “No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him” (John 6:44)

 

Paul “remained there a year and six months, teaching among them the word of God.” (Acts 18:11).  While in his Gospel messages to unbelievers Paul never said “God loves you and Christ paid the legal penalty for your sins.”  Paul’s Gospel (good news) to believers did in fact include those items of “good news” and more.

 

Paul at Ephesus – Acts 18

 

The only information we have of his visit to this city was his faithfulness in witnessing “to the Jew first.”

 

     “and he arrived at Ephesus, and left them there. But entering himself into the synagogue he reasoned with the Jews.” (Acts 18:19)

 

Paul at Achaia – Acts 18

 

Paul’s Gospel message here was simply to describe who Christ really was:

 

     “For he with great force convinced the Jews publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:28)

 

Paul at Ephesus (again) – Acts 18 & 19

 

            At Ephesus Aquila and Priscilla had taken aside the believing Jew Apollos and “unfolded to him the way of God more exactly” (Acts 18:26).  Here also Paul instructed twelve disciples of John the Baptist who knew only the ceremonial washing (baptism) of John and knew nothing of the truth of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7)These disciples of John are examples to us that all believers must learn to receive fresh light as it is revealed to us through the word of God.

 

Paul then continued his “to the Jew first” ministry at Ephesus:

 

     “And entering into the synagogue, he spoke boldly during three months, reasoning and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.

     “But when some were hardened and disbelieved, speaking evil of the way before the multitude, he left them and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.

     “And this took place for two years, so that all that inhabited Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:8-10)

 

        When the seven non-believing sons of Sceva, the Jewish high priest, improperly used the Name of the Lord Jesus to perform exorcisms they were overcome by demons.

 

     “And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who inhabited Ephesus, and fear fell upon all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

     “And many of those that believed came confessing and declaring their deeds.

     “And many of those that practiced curious arts brought their books of charms and burnt them before all. And they reckoned up the prices of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.” (Acts 19:17-19)

 

Again no details were given as to the content of Paul’s Gospel, except that “God wrought no ordinary miracles by the hands of Paul.” (Acts 19:11)

 

        During the Biblical period when God was actively wooing his covenant people Israel, and actively offering the millennial kingdom to the Nation, (Acts 2 through 28), miracles and wonders accompanied the preaching of the Gospel as signs TO NATIONAL ISRAEL.  These signs were part of the Gospel of the circumcision preached by Peter and the twelve, and they were equally part of the Gospel of the uncircumcision preached by Paul and his associates.  These miracles occurred among Gentiles because the particular “mystery” of Romans 10 – 11 allowed Gentiles to share the blessings that belonged specifically to Israel, but which the chiefs of Israel were rejecting.  It was God’s plan that this particular “mystery” would cause the Jews to become jealous, and either believe in or totally reject the Lord Jesus Christ.  Finally, at Acts 28:28 God’s longsuffering toward unbelieving National Israel reached His limit.  His offer to Israel of the millennial kingdom was temporarily withdrawn, and the word of God was no longer for the Jew FIRST, but “Be it known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; and they will hear it.” (Acts 28:28)

 

Paul at Miletus – Acts 20

 

        Here Paul summoned the elders of the assembly in nearby Ephesus.  (This was, therefore, a message to believers, not to unbelievers.  Paul’s noteworthy statement regarding the contents of his gospel messages preached during his three missionary journeys is:

 

     “I held back nothing of what is profitable, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and in every house, 

     “testifying to both Jews and Greeks repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21)

 

Thus, even though Paul is never recorded as saying to unbelievers ‘Christ died for your sins’ he affirmed that he was “clean [innocent] from the blood of all.” (Acts 20:26).  This statement indicated that he, and his ‘gospel messages,’ to his non-believing audiences had contained the full gospel.  Nothing had been left out.

 

Paul to the Jewish multitude at Jerusalem (Acts 22)

 

        After being arrested by the chiliarch following the outcry by the Jews and his beating by them, Paul requested permission to address the Jewish crowd.

 

        Paul began his address in the Hebrew tongue by giving an account of his Jewish learning at the feet of Gamalial, his shameful history of arresting Christians, and his heavenly vision of Christ, Paul related how the Lord revealed to him the Divine commission:

 

     “And he said to me, Go, for I will send you to the Gentiles afar off.” (Acts 22:21)

 

No “gospel” message was given at this time.  The Jews “heard him until Paul uttered the word GENTILES”.  That was all they needed to hear from Paul.  At the word "Gentiles", they “lifted up their voice, saying, Away with such a one as that from the earth, for it was not fit he should live” (Acts 22:22).  Thus did God provoke the Jews to “jealousy” as Paul had accurately written in his letter to the Romans.

 

     “But I say, Has not Israel known? First, Moses says, I will provoke you to jealousy through them that are not a nation: through a nation without understanding I will anger you.” (Rom. 10:19)

 

     “I say then, Have they stumbled in order that they might fall? Far be the thought: but by their fall there is salvation to the Gentiles to provoke them to jealousy.” (Rom. 11:11)

 

     “For I speak to you, the Gentiles, inasmuch as I am apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry;  if by any means I shall provoke to jealousy them which are my flesh, and shall save some from among them.” (Rom 11:13-14)

 

        Although Paul’s defense was interrupted by the Jews, the chiliarch arranged to have Paul address the following day a limited audience of Jews consisting of “the chief priests and all the council” (Acts 22:30).  The high priest, however, was in no mood to hear Paul’s defense and ordered him to be smitten.  Seeing there would be nothing gained by making a full presentation of the gospel, Paul simply presented the most important feature of it, namely the truth of the resurrection.

 

     “But Paul, knowing that the one part of them were of the Sadducees and the other of the Pharisees, cried out in the council, Brethren, I am a Pharisee, son of Pharisees: I am judged concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead.

     “And when he had spoken this, there was a tumult of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the multitude was divided.

     “For Sadducees say there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but Pharisees confess both of them.

     “And there was a great clamor, and the scribes of the Pharisees' part rising up contended, saying, We find nothing evil in this man; and if a spirit has spoken to him, or an angel ......” (Acts 23:6-9)

 

Paul before Felix, with the accusing Jews present – Acts 24

 

     “But this I avow to you, that in the way which they call sect, so I serve my fathers' God, believing all things which are written throughout the law, and in the prophets;

     “having hope towards God, which they themselves also receive, that there is to be a resurrection both of just and unjust.” (Acts 24:14-15)

 

      “other than concerning this one voice which I cried standing amongst them: I am judged this day by you touching the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 24:21)

 

        Thus, Paul emphasizes the resurrection of the just and unjust dead, which is a vital part of the gospel, to convict men of sin, but the scriptural record provides little additional specifics as to his message to them.

 

Paul before Felix and his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess – Acts 24

 

     “Felix having arrived with Drusilla his wife, who was a Jewess, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

     “And as he reasoned concerning righteousness, and temperance, and the judgment about to come, Felix, being filled with fear, answered, Go for the present, and when I get an opportunity I will send for you.” (Acts 24:24-25)

 

        To Felix and Drusilla Paul does present one aspect of the gospel, the fact that men and women are sinners in the sight of God and need to fear for their own future resurrection.

 

     “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the ways of death.” (Prov. 14:12)

 

Paul before Festus – Acts 25

 

     “Paul answering for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar, have I offended in anything.”  (Acts 25:8)

 

The conclusion of Festus shows that Paul had testified as to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

 

     “concerning whom the accusers, standing up, brought no such accusation of guilt as I supposed;

     “but had against him certain questions of their own system of worship, and concerning a certain Jesus who is dead, whom Paul affirmed to be living.” (Acts 25:18-19)

 

Paul before Agrippa the king and Bernice – Acts 26

 

     “Why should it be judged a thing incredible in your sight if God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8)

 

     “taking you out from among the people, and the Gentiles, to whom I send you,

     “to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in me.

     “Whereupon, king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision;

     “but have, first to those both in Damascus and Jerusalem, and to all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, announced that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance.” (Acts 26:17-20)

 

     “On account of these things the Jews, having seized me in the temple, attempted to lay hands on and destroy me.

     “Having therefore met with the help which is from God, I have stood firm unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying nothing else than those things which both the prophets and Moses have said should happen,

     “how that the Christ must suffer, and how that he first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:21-23)

 

Paul at Melita – Acts 28

 

        At Melita Paul performed many healings and demonstrated his immunity to the viper’s poison in accordance with the miracles associated with the great kingdom commission of Mark 16:15-18.

 

     “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieves shall be condemned.

     “And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues;

     “they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:16-18)

 

However, there is no record of any specific evangelistic messages given at Melita.

 

        As Paul’s Acts ministry nears its final day before the Jewish clergy at Rome we are reminded of his heart’s desire as expressed in his letter to the Roman believers:

 

     “For I speak to you, the Gentiles, inasmuch as I am apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry;

     “if by any means I shall provoke to jealousy them which are my flesh, and shall save some from among them.” (Rom. 11:13-14)

 

This now is the crucial moment for the gospel to the Jews of the dispersion, (God’s covenant people Israel living at Rome).

 

Paul’s crucial address to the chief of the Jews at Rome – Acts 28

 

        Because of its importance as a dispensational boundary line that separates God’s offer to Israel of the Messianic rule of Christ on Earth, versus the non-Israel-centered message found in Paul’s prison epistles, we quote the passage in its entirety.  The principle ‘gospel’ content in Paul’s address is his sincere defense of the authenticity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true “hope of Israel.”

 

     “And it came to pass after three days, that he called together those who were the chief of the Jews; and when they had come together he said to them, Brethren, I having done nothing against the people or the customs of our forefathers, have been delivered a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans,

     “who having examined me were minded to let me go, because there was nothing worthy of death in me.

     “But the Jews speaking against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not as having anything to accuse my nation of.

     “For this cause therefore I have called you to me to see and to speak to you; for on account of the hope of Israel I have this chain about me.

     “And they said to him, For our part, we have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor has any one of the brethren who has arrived reported or said anything evil concerning you.

     “But we beg to hear of you what you think, for as concerning this sect it is known to us that it is everywhere spoken against.

     “And having appointed him a day many came to him to the lodging, to whom he expounded, testifying of the kingdom of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and the prophets, from early morning to evening.

     “And some were persuaded of the things which were said, but some disbelieved.

     “And being disagreed among themselves they left; Paul having spoken one word, Well spoke the Holy Spirit through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers,

     “saying, Go to this people, and say, Hearing you shall hear and not understand, and seeing you shall see and not perceive.

     “For the heart of this people has become fat, and they hear heavily with their ears, and they have closed their eyes; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

     “Be it known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they also will hear it.

     “And he having said this, the Jews went away, having great reasoning among themselves.

     “And he remained two whole years in his own hired lodging, and received all who came to him,

     “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all freedom unhinderedly.” (Acts 28:17-31)

 

        Paul’s defense lasted “from early morning to evening.”  It was directed to “the chief of the Jews.”  It was probably the most serious, and most significant, presentation about the Lord Jesus Christ Paul had ever made to the official representatives of national Israel, because it decided whether national Israel would at the present time receive God’s offer of the millennial kingdom and its King, the Messiah Jesus, or whether they would say:

 

     “We will not have this man to reign over us.” (Luke 19:14)

 

        Acts 28 is, to borrow a modern expression, the Holy Spirit’s ‘Red line in the sand.’  Paul concludes his defense by quoting Isaiah 6:9-10.  He is careful to point out that this quotation from the prophet Isaiah was directly from “the Holy Spirit,” thus confirming the Lord Jesus’ pronouncement that this sin against the Holy Spirit is the “unforgivable” sin.

 

     “whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age nor in the coming one.” (Mat. 12:32)

 

It is when the enmity [of man] has arrived at its height, that He says, "Make the heart of this people fat" (Isaiah 6:10):  but it is not until nearly eight hundred years after (Acts 28:27), that we find the accomplishment of this judgment pronounced so long before by the prophet.  It was when the people had rejected everything, that God hardened them, to make them a monument of His ways.  What patience on the part of God!  (J. N. Darby, The Hopes of the Church of God, In Connection With the Destiny of the Jews and the Nations as Revealed in Prophecy, Lecture 9, The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 2, p. 362 [1840] )

 

Summary of Gospel Message Contents

 

        We now condense what we have gleaned from the actual messages preached by God’s various evangelists in the history recorded in the book of Acts.  We are aware that there must have been additional facts presented in the actual addresses that were not recorded by Luke.  Nevertheless, we believe what is given is instructive to Christians who are burdened for the lost and desire to see the eternal destinies of unbelievers changed from the wages of sin (death), to the gift of God, (eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord). (Rom. 6:23)

 

        In the following compilation we have endeavored to cite only one reference per gospel fact presented in any one gospel address.  Thus, 5 times Peter announces the Lord's ressurrection, 3 times he requires repentance, etc.

 

Peter’s Gospel Messages (36 citations of gospel facts)

 

 

Stephen’s Defense (3 citations)

 

 

Phillip’s Gospel Messages (5 citations)

 

 

Apollos’ Message (1 citation)

 

 

Paul’s Gospel Messages (43 citations)

 

 

     Combining all the gospel messages and defenses in the Acts there are approximately 74 reference to particular topics in these gospel messages.  These are as follows:

 

Number of mentions

Topic

 19

The Lord Jesus was the Christ, Messiah, Lord, Savior, Stone, etc., sent by and approved by God

4

He was crucified, slain

11

He was resurrected

2

He ascended, exalted, glorified

8

Jews blamed for the crucifixion

7

Must repent for remission of sins

2

Must be baptized to wash away or remit sins

4

Baptized after belief (no reason given)

3

Must believe or call upon the Lord, saved by grace,

7

Mention of Divine judgment

7

Signs and wonders accompany the message

0

God loves you

0

Christ died for ‘your’ sins

 

Discussion:

 

        Conspicuously absent from all of the above gospel messages by Peter, Phillip, Stephen, Apollos, and Paul is any mention that “God loves you,’ or that ‘Christ died for your sins.’  Again, we freely acknowledge that there were undoubtedly a number of details of the gospel messages in the Acts that were not recorded by Luke, but if those two topics were a part of the message God’s Evangelists were supposed to preach in the Acts, they would have appeared somewhere, at least once.

 

What about the word “repent”?

 

        Unlike God’s evangelists in the book of Acts, some present day evangelists are reluctant to use the word “repent” in their gospel messages.  Some feel that the act of believing automatically involves the thought of repentance.  Whether or not this is accurate, the fact remains that the word “repent” is used several times in the Acts record of gospel messages preached by both Peter and Paul.  In other words, God's Evangelists were not afraid to use the word.

 

Peter called upon his Jewish hearers to “repent” of the sin of slaying the Lord.

 

     “Repent, and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins” (2:38)

 

     “Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins” (3:19)

 

     “to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins” (5:31)

 

Upon hearing Peter's account of the conversion of Cornelius the Gentile, the Jewish believers in Judea rejoiced with the words:

 

     “Then indeed God has to the Gentiles also granted repentance to life.” (11:18)

 

Paul also used the word “repent” when addressing Gentiles.

 

     “God therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent.” (17:30)

 

And regarding non-believing Jews and Gentiles Paul said:

 

     “how I held back nothing of what is profitable, so as not to announce it to you, and to teach you publicly and in every house,

     “testifying to both Jews and Greeks repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.” (20:21)

 

     “I announced to those [Jews] both in Damascus and Jerusalem, and to all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance.” (26:20)

 

Did Peter preach a different message about the crucifixion than Paul?

 

        At the onset of this paper we mentioned that some who are part of the ‘grace movement’, believe the gospel Peter preached was different in substance from the gospel Paul preached.  By this they mean the cross of our Savior was presented differently by the two apostles in their respective ‘gospel’ addresses.  Thus, while Peter accused the nation Israel of crucifying the Lord, Paul preached to the lost that the crucifixion is the basis of our salvation. 

 

Both Peter and Paul referred to the crucifixion in their preaching, but whereas Peter charged his hearers with the crucifixion of Christ and called upon them to repent of this evil deed, Paul proclaimed the glad news that Christ’s death was our death, the complete payment for our sins, sins that would have banished us forever from the presence of God. – (C. R. Stam, Our Great Commission Still in Force, The Berean Searchlight, November 2007, p. 14.

 

It is quite true that the apostle Peter assigned blame to the Jews for their part in crucifying the Lord of Glory.

 

     “this Jesus whom you have crucified”  (2:36)

 

     “but the originator of life you slew” (3:14-15).

 

     “whom you have crucified” (4:10)

 

     "Jesus, whom you have slain, having hanged on a cross.” (5:30)

 

     “whom they also slew, having hanged him on a cross.”  (10:39)

 

But Paul also accused the Jews of causing the Christ to be “slain.”

 

     ”Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you fears God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.

     ”For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

      “And though they found no cause of death in him, they urged Pilate to have Him put to death.” (13:26-28)

 

But when we come to the epistles of both Peter and Paul we find that both apostles present the sacrificial death of our Lord as the only viable atonement for sins.  See the following references where Peter clearly presents this message – 1 Pet. 1:2, 19, 23-25; 2:24; 3:18.

 

        When Paul addressed the Gentiles he, of course, did not accuse them of causing the crucifixion, because it was the Jews who were responsible for orchestrating the crucifixion. Thus, it is not that Peter and Paul had differing ‘gospels,’ or that Peter treated the crucifixion one way while Paul treated it another way.  It boils down to who the audience was, Jew or Gentile.  And today, when we present the gospel, we ought to know our audience.  Is the audience crystal clear that they are sinners, and that the wages of sin is death? (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  Also, don’t present gospel truth addressed to believers (Eg. “Christ died for our sins”), to an audience of nonbelievers (until they take the step of faith).  That is a precious truth for believers.  But the statement, ‘Christ died for your sins’ is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

 

Also, while Peter blamed the Jews for their sad part in the crucifixion, did Paul instead proclaim “the glad news that Christ’s death was our death, the complete payment for our sins”?  Paul certainly presented that precious truth to believers, but the closest Paul’s gospel messages come to explaining the substitutionary work of Christ to unbelievers, whether Gentiles or Jews, is:

 

     “Be it known unto you, therefore, brethren, that through this man remission of sins is preached to you, and from all things from which you could not be justified in the law of Moses, in him every one that believes is justified.” (13:38-39)

 

     “that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in me” (26:18)

 

        Finally, in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he speaks of the gospel of Christ (the definite article precedes the word ‘gospel’), a single gospel given to both Jews and Greeks during the Acts period.  While Dispensationally the Jew was still ‘first’ during the Acts era, it was the same ‘glad tidings’ to both classes of people.

 

     “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

     “For therein is revealed God’s righteousness from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16-17)

 

        It is wonderfully true that to an audience consisting of nonbelievers Paul announced that through Christ remission of sins is preached.  But when someone in that audience became fully convinced that they were a sinner, repented of their sins, and believed in the God-ordained Son of God who was crucified and who was resurrected from the dead, Paul could explain the underlying facts of the gospel to these new believers.  He could tell them that when Christ died on the tree each and every one of our sins were transferred to Him, and He suffered the legal penalty of death for them, and took them to the grave with Him.  He was our substitute.  He died in our place.  Christ died for our sins.’  Amen!

 

Paul’s gospel theme is very much like what Peter told Cornelius:

 

     “To him all the prophets bear witness that every one that believes on him will receive through his name remission of sins” (10:43)

 

What about water baptism?

 

        In Acts 2:38 Peter preached water baptism to Jews as part of the requirement “for the remission of sins.

     "And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 22 Paul recalls the time when he was still an unconverted Jew who had persecuted the ‘Way,’ and also acknowledged the connection between water baptism and his own sins.  Notice the words of Ananias, whom God had selected to mentor Saul:

 

     “And now why do you linger? Arise and get baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.” (22:16)

 

        During the Acts era water baptism appears to have taken place immediately after a person understood and believed in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, not after a prolonged period of observation and instruction.  It seems to have signified a permanent step taken away from a former manner of life.  It ceremonially cleansed a person from past associations as an intregal part of repentance.  The baptized individual seemed to be getting rid of an outward defilement due to his past associations or manner of life.  This ceremony is not presented in scripture as a joyous expression of new life, or a ‘testimony’ of belief, but as a sinful past life that the individual willingly was separating himself from.

 

        But the subject of water baptism is a very lengthy topic in itself.  Was it baptismal regeneration?  A ceremony to cleanse from outward defilement?  A requirement for fellowship in the local ekklesia (church)?  An adaptation of Jewish water washings, (known today as ‘Mikveh’)?  Was it believers’ baptism?  Household baptism?  Is there a difference in the way scripture differentiates water baptism for the Jew versus the Gentile?  Was it a kingdom ordinance for those awaiting the millennium?  What is its place, if any, for those blessed in the heavenlies in Christ?  The reader can appreciate why we must defer any examination of water baptism to another time.

 

Note the similarity between the “gospels” preached by both Peter and Paul

 

Peter preaching to Gentiles

Paul preaching to Jews

“To him all the prophets bear witness that every one that believes on him will receive through his name remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43)

“Through this man remission of sins is preached...  In him every one that believes is justified.” (Acts 13:38-39).

 

        Both Peter and Paul state that Christ is the Divinely appointed Person who can forgive sins, and that those who believe will receive remission of sins.  This is very different from saying Christ has actually borne the sins of every child of Adam.  He bore the sins of “many,” not everyone (see Mat. 20:28; 26:28; Mk. 10:45; 14:24; Acts 13:48; Heb. 9:28). This blessed truth is only for the elect, those God specifically chose to receive eternal salvation.

 

     “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:46-48) 

 

        Once someone acknowledges his sins and his lost condition and believes in the Lord Jesus as Savior and Lord, then the new believer begins to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Him, and begins to learn the basis for his salvation.

 

     “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 3:18)

 

To believers both Paul and Peter could say:

 

     “Christ died for our sins....” (1 Cor. 15:3)

 

     “God commends his love to us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ has died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

 

     “knowing that you have been redeemed, not by corruptible things, as silver or gold, from your vain conversation handed down from your fathers, but by precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19)

 

     “for Christ indeed has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in flesh, but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18)

 

     “Christ, then, having suffered for us in the flesh, do you also arm yourselves with the same mind; for he that has suffered in the flesh has done with sin” (1 Pet. 4:1)

 

Conclusions

 

It appears from a reading of the partial transcripts of ‘gospel’ messages spoken by God’s evangelists in the book of Acts:

 

  1. Both Peter and Paul recognized that Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, is the Savior of sinners.
  2. There is a difference between the gospel preached to unbelievers and the basis of the gospel announced to believers.  The fact that Christ died for “our” sins is a wonderful truth for believers, but neither Paul nor Peter preached that feature of truth to unbelievers.  But both taught it to believers.  (1 Cor. 15:3, etc. & 1 Pet. 1:2; 18-19)
  3. Peter blamed the Jew for their part in the Lord’s crucifixion.  Paul also accused his fellow Jews with causing Christ to be slain. 
  4. Both Peter and Paul knew their audiences. Paul chided the Gentiles at Athens for their idolatry and pointed them to the true God.  Peter could not accuse the Jew of idolatry, and Paul could not accuse the Gentiles at Athens for engineering the crucifixion. What we might see as a lack of ‘gospel details’ in Paul’s message to the Athenians and others simply reinforces the fact that both Peter and Paul were sensitive to the spiritual awareness level of their audiences’ at the time their sermons were delivered.  (Evangelists today also need to take account of the level of spiritual understanding of their audience and tailor the message to suite the situation). There is, therefore, no dispensational issue in this, even though to some it may still remain a primary dispensational issue.

 

        Conspicuously absent from all of the gospel messages by Peter, Phillip, Stephen, Apollos, and Paul is any mention that “God loves you,’ or that ‘Christ died for your sins.’  Again, we freely acknowledge the obvious fact that there were a number of details in the gospel messages in the Acts that were not recorded by Luke, but we believe the evangelists in the Acts purposely avoided preaching either of these statements to their "mixed" audiences.

 

        There are at least two possible reasons why none of the evangelists in the Acts mention the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus to nonbelievers in their audiences.  The first reason is doctrinal, and the second has to do with what the Holy Spirit wanted His evangelists to get across to the unsaved.

 

Reason #1:  It is bad doctrine

 

        At the beginning of this paper we quoted a statement that is typically believed by many evangelicals.

Because the Lord Jesus Christ has borne the sins of all, people no longer go to Hell because of their sins, but because they reject Christ, who died for their sins. . . .  This is the reason your [deceased] little one is now in Heaven.  Christ died for it, even as He died for you and me; and it had never become of age either to accept or reject the sacrifice which Christ made on the Cross for it.  Therefore it was covered by that precious shed blood, which Christ, in His love and grace, poured out for all of us.  (J. B. Marchbanks, Your Little One Is In Heaven, Loizeaux Brothers, 1951).

As to whether "people no longer go to Hell because of their sins," hear the word of the Lord:

   "Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins. , , ,   I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." (John 8:21, 24)

 

   ". . . for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."  (Rom. 14:23)

 

        So, can you "die in your sins" if those sins were borne by the Savior?  Also, if we say that "rejecting Christ", not "sins", is what prevents a person from becoming saved, we would need to consider why rejecting Christ would not be considered a "sin"?  Our Savior clearly indicated that not believing of Him is truly a sin.

   "But I say the truth to you, It is profitable for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.
   "And having come, he will bring demonstration to the world, of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
   "of sin, because they do not believe on me;
   "of righteousness, because I go away to my Father, and ye behold me no longer;
   "of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged." (John 16:7-11)

        If, as some contend, "the Lord Jesus Christ has borne the sins of all" (i.e., "all" without exception) then He must have also borne every person's sin of unbelief, leaving no reason why anyone would "perish."  Or, did the Lord on the tree only take some of our sins, leaving us to pay the penalty for the remaining sin of unbelief that Christ did not die for?

 

       Think about it.  Was our blessed Lord Jesus Christ the one-on-one substitute for “most” of our sins, but not for our sin of unbelief?  Or did He pay the judicial penalty for “all” of “our” (believer’s) sins?  The Bible is crystal clear that there is nothing lacking in either the completeness of the atonement for believers, or as to the total efficacy of His death for us. 

 

        The late John Nelson Darby (1800 – 1882) warned about making the truth of Christ’s substitution a false and non-efficacious unreality.  Following are some of his thoughts on this important subject.

 

Substitution is one taking really the place of another. . . .  Were then everybody’s sins transferred to Christ?  If so, all are saved, or His having borne the wrath due to them is ineffectual and reversible. (J. N. Darby, Dr. Bonar on Christ’s Work, Collected Writings, Vol. 23, p.237, Believers Bookshelf)

 

Substitution is for people whom the substitute represents; it is one man or person substituted for another, and taking actually the consequences of the conduct or position of him whom he represents. . . .  The propitiation refers to the holy righteous nature and glory of God; substitution, to those whose place Christ has taken.  He was substituted for them and took the consequence in sovereign grace; and they are saved.  He cannot charge as a judge the sins which He has Himself borne and expiated on those for whom He Himself has already borne them.  (Op. cite. p. 241-242)

 

        But some might say Christ bore the sins of all mankind without exception, but the effectiveness of the atonement is conditional upon whether particular individuals believe on Him.  It is only ‘available’ to them if they believe.  Note Darby’s reply to this theory:

 

If it be said, yes; but the substitution is not efficacious unless it be accepted; then there was no real transference of guilt [to Christ].  If [sin] is transferred and gone and if He has suffered, it is irreversible.  The truth is, it is a denial of real substitution, and substitution is confounded with propitiation.  The whole teaching is confusion and darkness.” (Op. cite p. 242)

 

To clarify the confusion between ‘propitiation’ and ‘substitution’ he wrote:

 

There is a double aspect of His sacrifice, Godward, and bearing our sins.   He is the propitiation for the whole world.  All has been done that is needed.  His blood is available for the vilest whoever he may be.  Hence the gospel to the world says, “Whosoever will, let him come.”  In this aspect we may say Christ died for all, gave Himself a ransom for all, an adequate and available sacrifice for sin, for whoever would come---tasted death for every man.  But when I come to bearing sins the language is uniformly different.  He bore our sins, He bore the sins of many.  “All” is carefully abstained from. . . .  It will never be found in Scripture that Christ bore the sins of all.  Had He done so they never could be mentioned again, nor men judged according to their works.  That Christ died for all is, as we have seen, clearly said.  Hence I go to the world with His death as their ground and only ground of approach, with the love shewn in it.  When a man believes, I can say, Now I have more to tell you, Christ has borne every one of your sins, they never can be mentioned again.  (J. N. Darby, Propitiation and Substitution, Collected Writings, p. 318-319, Believer’s Bookshelf)

 

I say now to the sinner, Christ has died, and the blood is on the mercy-seat, and you will be received if you come.  If he accepts the invitation, I can tell him more.  Not only has the Lord Jesus put away sin, but He has borne all your sins, and confessed them as if they were His own; and they are all gone.  It is never said Christ died for the sins of the world. (J. N. Darby, How Are We Saved?, Collected Writings, p. 198-199, Believers Bookshelf)

 

“And these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, receiving the word with all readiness of mind, daily searching the scriptures if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

 

Reason #2, It is the wrong emphasis at the wrong time

 

        Valuable lessons can be learned from God’s evangelists, Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul.  The ‘gospel’ they preached to the unsaved, adjusted for some dispensational changes, is ‘the gospel’ for the nonbeliever.  The nonbeliever must realize the sobering fact that he or she is a sinner, and that the wages of sin is death.  He must repent of his sins and fully commit to the only Person God has commissioned to save him from his sins.

 

In dealing with an enquirer, a counselor may ask him if he “believes” that Christ died for him, and that He rose again from the dead.  On receiving an affirmative answer, the counselor may then “assure” the one with whom he is dealing that, seeing he “believes” these facts, he is now saved!  But if there has been no actual turning to God from sin on the part of the person concerned, and no personal commitment to the living Lord Jesus Christ, . . . [the person] is given a false “assurance” of having been saved!  (Albert E. Horton, Some Evangelical Misapprehensions, Christian Missions in Many Lands, p. 1)

 

        The gospel for the unsaved does not include precious features of truth that a new believer later acquires as a newborn baby in the truth.  Instead, it introduces the sinner to a glorious Person.  It points the individual directly and emphatically to the God-approved, crucified, risen, and gloriously ascended Savior, the Son of God, the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 

The object of saving faith is the Person of the living Lord Jesus Himself.  Saving faith is toward Him personally, not merely about Him intellectually.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and it is to Him that we are called to yield allegiance.  To bring our hearers to that decision should be the aim of all gospel preaching and personal work.  The Lord Jesus is not simply incidental to our salvation; He is our salvation.  The person who has Him has everything in Him.   The converse is also true; he who does not have Him has nothing at all! (Op cite, p. 7)

 

        While the works of the Lord (sacrifice for sin, etc.) are the vital legal basis for our salvation, an unbeliever might memorize and say yes to the details of the atonement, without that person actually having personally come to the Living Lord Himself.   This is the second reason why God’s evangelists directed those convicted of their sinful condition to that Living and Glorious Person, the Savior of sinners, never to the legal basis for remission of sins.  May we never preach a truer gospel than was preached by God’s evangelists.

 

     “He that believes on the Son has eternal life; but he that obeys not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)

 

     “I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and go out, and shall find pasture..” (John 10:7)

 

     “Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

 

     “To him all the prophets bear witness that every one that believes on him will receive through his name remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43)

 

     “Be it known unto you, therefore, brethren, that through this man remission of sins is preached to you.” (Acts 13:38)