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The Kingdom: Reoffered in Acts 3?

Posted by Matt Postiff May 14, 2012 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Dispensationalism 

The question is basically this: does Acts 3-4 constitute a second offer of the kingdom, after Jesus' first offer during His public ministry? Alva McClain in his excellent work The Greatness of the Kingdom promotes the reoffer view (pages 403-406).

I am not convinced that Acts 3-4 constitute a second offer of the kingdom. I will state my objections to the re-offer view, then address some supporting arguments for the re-offer view. Before doing that, however, I will note that this is a tertiary if not a quaternary theological issue. For this debate to even make sense, you first have to be a Christian, and a dispensationalist as well. We should not be fighting over this issue :-)

First, my objections.

1. It is does not seem clear when reading the text of Acts 3 and 4 that an offer of the kingdom is being given. In other words, the audience hearing Peter preach would probably not connect what he is saying with an immediate coming of the kingdom. I grant that the audience and disciples believed a kingdom would be coming in the future (Acts 1:6) but Jesus had quelled at least the disciples' high hopes (1:7) and focused them on the Great Commission (1:8). Instead of the Israelite conversion meaning immediacy of the kingdom, I would argue that the Israelite conversion was necessary to the kingdom. This necessity must be added to the necessity of at least some of the other people groups (1:8) being converted as well.

Now, I do grant that "repent and be converted so that times of refreshing may come" sounds a lot like "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." So, I can be sympathetic to the re-offer view. There is at least one major difference--the king is absent.

2. The recipients of the offer are not the "right" recipients in Acts 3, where the main support for the re-offer view is drawn. They are the hoi polloi (OK, the ho laos). Apparently the national leaders have to be involved in accepting the offer, and they are not involved until Acts 4. McClain counters that "men of Israel" means "the nation." It seems to me to be a general address that means "men who belong to Israel" not "listen up you whole nation of Israel."

3. We are agreed that Jesus did offer the kingdom to the nation in his first advent. They rejected it. There were several points of rejection along the way, with Matthew 12 being a major one and John 19:15 being another. The national religious leaders were intransigent (unwilling to change their views). This stubbornness was key in Jesus' declaration about the unpardonable sin. Technically that sin had to do with their attribution of Jesus' miraculous power to the Devil, but in reality it constituted a rejection of the king entirely. They were confirmed in a pattern of rejection. It could be that God gives them another offer of the kingdom...but given that they were (in the main) in this stubborn state, it seems more likely that the whole idea of offering the kingdom was dropped at this point. The kingdom will have to be imposed rather than willingly accepted (the Tribulation prompts their acceptance of it). We could get into the whole idea of God "giving over" the leaders to their sinfulness and whether they had a "second chance." I am a generous "second chancer" as long as the person is alive and breathing...but the fact is that they had rejected the offer before, and we see clearly that they continued in that same rejection through the book of Acts and geographically throughout the Roman empire in the synagogues.

4. Jesus declared that the kingdom would be taken from the present nation and it would be given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (Matthew 21:43). That second 'nation' is not another Gentile country, but rather a later rendition of the Jewish nation. The people in Acts 3-4 were the very same nation that crucified Christ (just a couple of months previously). It doesn't seem that a re-offer to the same people is in order after that promise from the Lord.

5. The phrase "so that times of refreshing may come" does not require an fulfillment that follows /immediately/ on the heels of their repentance. It certainly could, but it is not required.

6. The audience in Acts 3 is quite positively responsive. We could not say that everyone responded, but by Acts 4:4, the number of men who had responded positively was 5,000. With women and young people this number may have topped 15,000 people. That is a pretty good response, yet that apparently was not good enough for the kingdom to come.

7. The re-offer view does not give proper place to the church, which was predicted by Christ in Matthew 16 and 18. What I am thinking here is that with a re-offer just days after the ascension, that leaves very little time for the church age and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It also does not do justice to the parable of Luke 19:11-27 where the nobleman goes on a long journey to a far country. The implication is that there is some time lapse between the first and second advents.

Some additional thoughts, not as well formed:

8. The re-offer view seems to suggest a continuance of the offer throughout the book of Acts. While the kingdom was waning and the church was waxing, the offer was dying off too. Were there three, four, five, ... offers of the kingdom? Was the offer valid until Acts 28? Can we call the "re-offer" view the "continuing offers" view?

9. With an offer in Acts 3, I wonder about the applicability of that passage to the modern era. Can I preach Acts 3 like I did on Sunday evening, or shall I explain that some of it does not apply today?

10. Finally, for now, another issue is John 3. Jesus opened the door to the kingdom for those who were born again. We have that same hope today...just not /immediately/ upon receipt of the initial gifts that come with salvation.

Now I address some of the arguments for the re-offer view.

1. Theological argument. I appreciate the construction of theological cases for or against certain propositions, but this one is not convincing to me vis-a-vis the Biblical text. For instance, the assertion that "miracles are always associated with the kingdom" has a measure of truth to it, but I just cannot find a proposition in special revelation that supports it that strongly.

2. Waning of miracles. The gradual phasing out of miracles supposedly relates to the decline of the kingdom in Acts, since miracles and the kingdom are closely connected. It just seems to me that the kingdom was put on hold at the crucifixion, the Great Commission was active, the canon was being established, and the waning of miracles corresponded to the establishment of the canon rather than the decline of the kingdom. This has to do with the authenticating function of the miracles for the messengers of God (cf. Hebrews 2:4 and surrounding context). The fact that Paul could not heal Trophimus or Epaphroditus, or even himself, shows us nothing about the re-offer of the kingdom. It simply says that God was not pleased to extend the miracle of healing to every case of sickness. In fact, we know God had good reasons for not healing Paul; and He possibly healed Epaphroditus through normal means rather than miraculous ones.

3. Some of McClain's arguments are pretty persuasive, I admit. However, I do not think that the regal character of the Abrahamic covenant is very clear (p. 405 bottom). Neither is the prediction of the reoffer of the kingdom in Matthew 22:1-7 (p. 406 middle). The latter seems pretty remote. Neither is his argument about waning miracles in Acts (see above, and p. 409). Finally, I am not convinced by his statement that the gospel miracles would be sufficient proof for all time (p. 410 bottom), for the very reason that the apostles could plausibly use some further divine authentication now that Jesus was absent, to authenticate the new and different nature of their ministry. His argument fails to account for the miracles done around the Mediterranean by Paul.

As I complete my thinking on the subject for the moment, I caution myself that any single unifying theme has its limitations. Whether it is covenant, or kingdom, the interpreter can fall into danger if he or she interprets everything in light of that one theme, and may end up finding things that are not really there.

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