Monday, August 28, 2006

The Apostles at Jerusalem?

In Acts 8:1 it says "At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles" (NKJV). Why did the apostles stay at Jerusalem, while the rest of the Christians scattered?

Within the book of Acts, Jerusalem seems to remain as the base of operations for the Twelve Apostles (cf. 8:14, 15:2, 15:4, 16:4). Luke doesn't seem to explicitly criticize the apostles for staying in Jerusalem.

With recent discussions about eschatology and millennialism, it got me thinking. I wonder if the Luke's portrayal of the apostles in Jerusalem is meant to be symbolic of the new Israel with its centre in Jerusalem, reminding us of the OT prophecies about the future glory of Jerusalem/Zion (the twelve apostles seeming to be the equivalent representation of the twelve tribes of Israel).

It is a common theme in the OT Prophets that Jerusalem will be restored as part of the Messianic age, after its destruction in judgement. Jerusalem will be the focal point and centre of the new kingdom to come, reigning over all the earth. Consider some of these as samples:
  • "For the LORD will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody... So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away... Awake, awake! Stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of His fury; you have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out... Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean shall no longer come to you. Shake yourself from the dust, arise; sit down, O Jerusalem! Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion!... How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the LORD brings back Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." (from Isaiah 51-52, NKJV; note how it leads into the proclamation of the Suffering Servant who will accomplish these things)
  • "For ZionÂ’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for JerusalemÂ’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God." (Isaiah 62:1-3, NKJV)
  • "Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORDÂ’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem." (Micah 3:12-4:2, NKJV)
  • "“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the LORD. “Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. And the LORD will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!”" (Zechariah 2:10-13, NKJV)
The rebuilding of Jerusalem in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when they returned from the Exile may have been a partial fulfillment of prophecies, but it seems to fall short of the fullness of the prophetic imagery. There is no king, and the 'kingdom' is still a pale reflection of its former days, the remaining legacy of the split between the North and the South. Some might still look forward to a literal restoration of the old Israel (such as the premillenialists and Zionists), perhaps even including the physical temple at Jerusalem, but this would seem like a going backwards, a downgrade, from what has happened already in Christ.

For now, in the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the long-awaited kingdom of God has come and begun, and something greater than the OT Jews could have visualised has been inaugurated, things the prophets and angels desired to know about (1 Peter 1:10-12). Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), and sits at the right hand of the throne of God (Acts 2:30-36; Ephesians 1:19-23; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 3:22), ruling as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 17:14). And the NT emphasis speaks of a new Israel (cf. Hebrews 8:8-13) and a new Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 12:22-24). So in Revelation we see a new Jerusalem replacing the one that is to be destroyed (Revelation 21-22). Certainly we still await the consummation of the kingdom, but it has nonetheless already begun.

So it seems (at least to me!) quite fitting to have the Apostles symbolically based in the earthly Jerusalem, to show that the OT prophecies are being fulfilled in Christ and the Kingdom he has brought into being, with the Apostles being his representatives of that reality.


  1. Hi:
    How do you reconcile the prophetic word that the Messiah will reign for 1000 years in Jerusalem, Israel? Is this to be swallowed up in Christianized allegory, being purely symbolic or is there real substance to the prophetic Word of God? Ezekiel 40 to 48 is his vision of a real end-time temple with the sacrificial system restored under the Levitical priest-hood, specifically Zadokite (Ezekiel 48:11). During the incarnation of our LORD Jesus Christ the High Priest was selected from the Hasmonians, not the Zadokites. So, this prophesy has never been fulfilled. To my limited understanding on the subject, I understand that there were two occasions where the High Priest was indeed Zadokite, but not to the fulfillment of this passage in Ezekiel. The Temple of Ezekiel was never built. Herod's Temple was not the one mentioned in Ezekiel. The one mentioned in Ezekiel is real and the Messiah stands in the Holy place (Ezekiel 43:7). Why do you think it a regression for Christ to restore the Levitical priesthood and restore animal sacrifices? We know that sin is taken away by His eternal sacrifice. We are saved by His death and resurrection, but what threat to our eternal salvation can there possibly be in the substantial fulfillment of Ezekiel's prophesy?

    Stephen Silver

  2. Hi Stephen.

    This is a big issue, and not something which I think can be settled by simple proof-texts. I will try to respond more fully soon.

    In the meantime, I obviously put myself more in the amillenial camp, and if you haven't already looked at them, you might find helpful the links I posted previously to some Vern Poythress articles.