The Difference Is In The Dispensations

How To Make Sense Of The Differences In The Bible

Chapter III

By Timothy S. Morton

Salvation In The New Testament

As mentioned in the last chapter, salvation was only decreed to those saved in the Old Testament because the necessary atonement and redemption to take the sins away had not yet been made (Heb. 10:4). Only the "lamb of God," Jesus Christ, who came in the "fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4) could make an acceptable atonement and provide "eternal redemption" to forever remove the penalty and guilt of sin from any believer. The hundreds of thousands of bloody animal sacrifices offered to God in the Old Testament could not do this, they could only temporarily cover the sins until Christ's expiatory sacrifice took them away. God decreed salvation to people in the Old Testament and remitted their sins solely on the basis of what He knew Christ would later do on the cross (Rom. 3:25).

Christ said Himself He came to die "for (because of) the remission of sins" in the past (Matt. 26:28). Without the cross God's decree of salvation would be of no lasting effect; God had to ultimately purchase eternal redemption. Thus the whole religious system of Judaism as revealed in the Old Testament could eternally save no one. It was for the most part a great object lesson to show man he was a sinner (Rom. 3:20), sin required payment (death) (Lev. 1-15), and a substitute provided by God could die in the sinner's place (Ex. 12). By the time Jesus was born, God had spent 4000 years trying to get these basic and essential doctrines through man's stubborn head, insisting man cannot save himself and only God can provide escape from the everlasting penalty of sin and supply eternal salvation.

Hebrews 10:6-8 says God took no pleasure in the animal sacrifices He required; they could not effectually deal with sin and neither could they satisfy God's justice and holiness. Only another man could pay for man's sin, and for this reason God prepared a body for the Word to become flesh. The eternal Word was "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law..." (Gal. 4:4-5) and came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3) so He could permanently redeem those born of Adam who will receive Him. Not only did God become a man to redeem mankind, He also came to earth as a man (not just in a man's body, but born fully a man) because He wanted to express and reveal Himself to man. This is why Christ is referred to as "the Word" (John 1:1); He is God's means of communicating Himself. God wanted man to know what kind of a person He is.

The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were only a shadow of Christ's redemptive work (Heb. 10:1). And if God took no pleasure in the death of the animal sacrifices, how much less the death of His Son? His Son is infinity more valuable than any man, group of men, or animal, yet He gave His Son anyway. Contrary to today's popular self-esteem-self-worth "theology," man is by no means worth the suffering, agony, and separation from His Father Christ endured to redeem him, but God paid it nonetheless. Why? Simply because His LOVE and GRACE compelled Him to. God by His nature loved rebellious man immensely and motivated by this love devised a redemption plan to rescue him from his sins. Concerning salvation man can take credit for nothing. Individually or collectively man is not worth the price; it is all of God. God loves us not because of who we are, but because of who HE is! The self-esteem nuts who think otherwise are blinded by their bloated egos.

All of God's moral attributes were seen at the cross. His mercy was seen in allowing sinful man to live; His grace was seen which favored man with an opportunity to be redeemed; His justice and holiness were satisfied by Christ's propitiatory death; His righteousness was seen in Christ's righteous life and death; etc., but all of this was motivated by His unequaled love. God could have let man fall into Hell and pay for his sins himself throughout eternity and all of His attributes would have been satisfied, except for Mercy, Grace and Love. With the cross they ALL are satisfied. What a great God is our God! A God who gave Himself to redeem His enemies (Rom. 5:10)! Praise His name!

Every person ever saved in any dispensation is redeemed by Christ's death and shed blood. Though people in the various dispensations are saved differently concerning what is required of them to receive salvation, the basis of all salvation regardless of time or place is the blood of Christ. Without the blood no matter what one believed or did to be saved he would remain "without hope and without God" and be left to pay for his sins himself. In this chapter we will not emphasize the salvation doctrines of this present Church Age because they should be well know to the reader if he has been a Christian long (see the author's book on the Eight Major Doctrines of Salvation entitled More Than Forgiven for a concise study of these doctrines). Rather we are mainly going to examine the transition from "Law" to "Grace" and from "Grace" to the future dispensations, making every effort to rightly divide the Scriptures along the way.

The Old Testament In The New

One of the most common mistakes people make in studying the Bible is assuming all the books called the New Testament doctrinally refer to the Dispensation of Grace. In fact, nearly all the events recorded in the four gospels occurred under the Law, not under Grace. The New Testament was not established until the crucifixion (Matt. 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19) so everything that happened before then was doctrinally under the Law. Remember how Christ was made under the law so He could redeem them that were under the law (Gal. 4)? Christ was born, lived, and died under the dominion of the Law of Moses. He said Himself He came "not to destroy the law but fulfill" (Matt. 5:17), indicating His subjection to it. Realizing this should help one understand many passages found in the gospels (and also in Hebrews and Revelation) that indicate someone can lose his salvation or standing before God. Many today who don't understand these passages use them to teach a born again Christian can lose his salvation. Usually a person will only be saved a short while before one of these "Endurers" (one who believes a person must "endure to the end" to be saved) pulls out a verse to "prove" he can "lose it." Interestingly enough these people do not have to use a source other than the Bible to promote this doctrine because the Bible can be their greatest ally. Their error is not that they don't believe the Bible, it is that they fail to rightly divide it.

Since the Reformation there has only been two groups of Christians that have consistently believed a born again Christian could not lose his salvation-the Baptists and the Presbyterians. Every other denomination (Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, etc.) believe a Christian can do something to forfeit his salvation. This includes the newer denominations (Pentecostal, Church of Christ, etc.) and the cults. These "Arminian" groups will disagree among each other on many things, but they all agree that a regenerated, justified, redeemed Christian can fall from his salvation and go to Hell. The fascinating thing about this is they all quote the Bible to "prove" it, and there are many verses in the Scriptures that appear to support them. How can this be? Is the Bible not clear on the matter? Definitely, but, again, the error of many of the "Endurers" is not that they don't believe the verses, only that they misapply them. Remember, the Bible must be rightly divided to determine sound doctrine for a particular dispensation and this is where these groups fail. Otherwise, how could they "biblically" teach their doctrine? They don't imagine the verses, they are really there, and they do apply to somebody.

Though the Presbyterians and Baptists have always believed in the eternal security of a Christian, they both distort the matter. The former believe it for the wrong reasons and the latter force it to apply to every saved person in every dispensation. The Presbyterians believe one is secure because the believer was "predestinated" in eternity past to "persevere" (endure) in Christ until the end. They got this doctrine from their primary founder, John Calvin. It is the last point of their "five points of Calvinism" called "the perseverance of the saints." Many Baptists (though not all) realize all five points are nonsense and correctly believe a Christian is secure because he is "preserved" in Christ by God (Jude 1:1), not because he is "predestinated to persevere." Who when reading the Bible ever heard of such a thing as "perseverance of the saints"? God keeps the believer secure by sealing and preserving him in Christ (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thes. 5:23); it is not that the saint must endure because of predestination. Most Baptists believe in eternal security for the right reasons, but their tendency to force this preservation into every dispensation is just as serious an error as the Hyper-Calvinists.

When one begins to read the New Testament it is imperative he remember that the Bible is a Jewish book. The four gospels (especially Matthew) give account of a Jewish Messiah (Matt. 1), prophesied by Jewish prophets (Isa. 53), who preaches repentance to Jews, so they could enter a Jewish kingdom (Matt. 4:17). Gentiles, as Gentiles, were out. Christ said Himself, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24), and also, "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). His ministry was exclusively for Israel, thus, much of the first three gospels say little doctrinally to Gentiles. Of course, everything found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is of benefit to Gentiles of today, but doctrinally much of the books are Jewish. The gospel of John has a much more doctrinal application to Gentiles because it was written well into the Church Age (@ 90 A.D), long after the doctrines of this dispensation were established. Matthew, on the other hand, is the most "Jewish" of the four. It was undoubtedly placed first in order in the New Testament because it is more like the Old Testament than any of the other three; more able to give the Bible a fluid transition from the Old Testament to the New. God knew what He was doing when He allowed the books to be placed in the order we have them in the King James Version. The order helps us understand God's entire program.

When studying the Bible every person must follow three essential guidelines for study to rightly divide the Scriptures. He must keep in mind WHO the passage was written to, who it APPLIES to, and does it doctrinally apply TODAY. If he just haphazardly gets his doctrine from here, there, and everywhere, he will at the least be confused and at the most teach deadly heresy. The author has found there are four books in the Bible that are the most abused by people who fail to properly divide the Scriptures. These books, thus abused, supply the "Bible" used by them to form most of the false doctrines floating around today. Matthew, Acts, Hebrews, and Revelation are the favorite books of every heretic in America; they are the biblical "ammunition" for his heresies. They don't realize all four of these books are transitional and deal with changing doctrines from one dispensation or testament to another.

In Matthew the transition is from the Old Testament books to the New; Acts details the gradual transition from Law to Grace; Hebrews is written to Hebrews concerning the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant with some application in the Tribulation; and Revelation shows the transition from Grace to the Tribulation, Tribulation to the Millennium, and finally from the Millennium to the New Heaven and Earth. What a group of books for one to get his doctrine from! These are four of the most difficult books in the Bible to unravel yet they are the favorites of those who today don't believe in eternal security or teach salvation by works. Failing to understand the transitional nature of these books and ignoring the plain, clear teaching of the epistles concerning the doctrines valid today, these people are a snare to themselves and to every one who hears them.

Since most of the events recorded in the four gospels took place under the Law, many details found in them won't match doctrines valid in the present Church Age as revealed in the epistles of Paul. For instance, one cannot find any "Christians" in any of the gospels because Christians are not mentioned until Acts 11:26. Before Acts 11 people were saved, but they were not Christians. We use the terms "Christian" and "saved" as synonymous today, but in the Bible saved people are not always Christians. Only those who have been regener ated and are in Christ are true Christians. Along with this no one in the gospels is said to be regenerated, in Christ, a part of the body of Christ, etc. until after the cross. Why? Because these blessings would not be available until after Christ's atonement, and they would not be fully revealed until years later.

Examining Matthew

Doctrines peculiar to the Jews and the Old Testament are common in Jesus' speech in the gospels. He preached, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17) to Israel because they were the only people promised such a kingdom and only to them was He sent. He went on to declare in the "Sermon on the Mount" the principles of this Jewish kingdom and the precepts that will be valid when it arrives. Let's look at some of these precepts and see how they compare to those given to the body of Christ.

The famous "beatitudes" declare certain blessings to those who are "poor in spirit," "meek," "merciful," "pure in heart," who "mourn," etc., without mentioning the gospel of the grace of God at all (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Where is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Beatitudes? Where is one told to have faith in, believe on, or receive Christ for salvation? "Faith" is only found once in the "sermon" (Matt. 6:30), and it deals with having faith in God to provide ones physical needs, not eternal salvation. It should be obvious to the most casual reader that the "Sermon on the Mount" does not have any gospel in it that is valid today. It contains a lot of good practical information, but it is NOT the gospel for today. The "sermon" deals exclusively with the gospel of the kingdom (Millennium).

Another example of the difference between these two gospels is Christ said in the "sermon" that if a person called another a fool he was in danger of "hell fire" (Matt. 5:22), yet Paul in the Church Age called the Galatians "foolish" (Gal. 3:1), is Paul in hell? Christ later even called people fools Himself, is He in danger? The Lord went on to say if a person in the kingdom cut off an offending member (eye, hand, etc.) it may help keep him out of hell (5:29-30). Will that help keep one out of hell today? Does not one today have to receive Jesus Christ to escape hell instead of mutilating himself? The "sermon" is filled with other works one must do during the kingdom to get or retain his salvation (5:41, 42, 46; 6:15, 20; 7:13, 24, 26; etc.), but what do they have to do with salvation today? Nothing.

Even though the "Sermon on the Mount" applies doctrinally in another dispensation, there are several passages in it that suit the Arminian's doctrine, and they constantly appeal to them for "proof." We have already mentioned one (Matt. 5:22), others are 5:44-45 where one has to do works to become and remain "children of your father" and 6:15 where one must forgive others before he can be forgiven. The implication, so the security deniers claim, is if one fails to forgive someone, God will not forgive him and the person will forfeit his salvation. Can a born again Christians lose his salvation if he fails to forgive someone? Nonsense, though somebody in another dispensation may not be forgiven for failing to forgive another, it is not a regenerated Christian. The difference is in the dispensations.

Further along in Matthew, in 8:11-12, one finds "children of the kingdom" being cast into "outer darkness." Does this have anything to do with someone in the body of Christ being cast into hell? Not in the least. The children cast out are the children of the kingdom of heaven (Mill.), not the kingdom of God. Here we must make a distinction between the "kingdom of heaven" and the "kingdom of God."

The kingdom of heaven is the visible, physical, earthly, external, Jewish kingdom promised to the descendants of Abraham through Jacob. The kingdom of God is the invisible, immaterial, spiritual, internal kingdom one is placed into when he is regenerated (Rom. 14:17). The kingdom of heaven is the physical side of God's promised kingdom, and the kingdom of God is the spiritual. Of course, Christ is the King of both, and both will be manifested when He returns. At the present time there can be lost people in the kingdom of heaven (tares, etc. Matt. 13), but none in the kingdom of God. Furthermore, people can be cast out of the kingdom of heaven but none can be cast out of the kingdom of God. The two kingdoms have little in common except Christ is the king of both. At the second advent the two kingdoms appear to, at least partially, merge together; but until then, one must keep them separate.

In Matthew chapter 12 the famous "unpardonable sin" is found; more fodder for the "Endurers." Does this passage say some today cannot be saved or that born again Christians can lose their salvation if they "blaspheme the Holy Ghost"? Not in the least. As with much of the rest of Matthew, this passage has doctrinal application to the Jews Christ said it to and will have further application to other Jews in the future. There are no Gentiles even hinted at in the passage, neither are any Christians mentioned (remember Acts 11:26?); the passage is purely Jewish. Moreover, Mark said the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit was saying that Christ had an unclean spirit while He was on earth (Mark 3:30). Christ is not physically on earth performing miracles and healings now, so how can one today blaspheme the Holy Spirit in the manner He was speaking of then? Many of the Pharisees may have at that time committed this sin by saying Christ "hath" an unclean spirit, but no one today has or can. Today one may resist the Holy Ghost and refuse to get saved, but this is not what Christ was referring to in Matthew chapter 12.

More Jewish kingdom of heaven doctrines can be found in Matthew chapter 13, and these can have some spiritual application today, but the chapters that supply most of the ammunition for the "Endurers" is chapters 24 and 25. In 24:13 Christ said "he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved," but who is "he" and what or where is "the end"? Again, the "he" is not a Christian or even a Gentile, it is a Jew. Christ is speaking to Jews (notice how they are still keeping the Jewish sabbath vs. 20), His disciples are Jews, His nation is Jewish, and the kingdom He is proclaiming is Jewish. Born again Christians are foreigners in chapter 24. As for "the end," is it the end of a person's life as the endurers claim? For the answer look at vs. 14. The gospel of the kingdom of heaven (not the gospel of the grace of God) will be preached (by Jews) throughout the world, "then shall the end come." The "end" is not the end of a person's life, it is the end of a period of time; the Tribulation.

The entire discourse of Christ found in chapters 24 and 25 is in response to the questions asked by His disciples in 24:3; "when shall these thing be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world." The whole passage applies after the (then unknown) Church Age, beginning with the Tribulation. If the Jews alive during the Tribulation endure to the end of it without taking the mark of the beast or being killed, and are also faithful to Christ and the proper works, they will be saved to enter into the Millennium. As with chapter 12, there are no Christians in the passage, neither are there any Gentiles; everything is Jewish.

Later in chapter 24 (vs. 48-51) one of Christ's servants is "cut asunder" and sentenced to weep and wail with the hypocrites in hell. Is this servant a Christian? Not on your life. He is an unregenerated, rebellious Jew meeting his Lord at the second advent. He did not "endure to the end" with clean hands or the right works and is consequently cast into hell.

Matthew 25:1-13 is a classic passage used by the "Endurers" and others to teach works are required for a Christian to keep his salvation. Here are some "virgins" who did not have enough oil to get into the wedding of their master and were barred entrance. They were cast out from the wedding. What does this have to do with a person getting saved today, though? Nothing. First of all the virgins were not the bride (Church) who marries the bridegroom (Christ), they were only there to meet Him. Second, Christ said to them "I know you not" (vs. 17); He couldn't say that to any Christian for He knows them all (John 10:27-28). Third, the virgins were to buy the oil (possibly the Holy Spirit) to enter into the supper. See how these kingdom of heaven parables are doctrinally inconsistent with the Church Age and the body of Christ? None of these Jewish virgins were regenerated, in Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit, etc., they are Jews trying to get into the marriage supper of the Lamb as "friends" or "guests" at the end of the Tribulation. The difference is in the dispensations.

Later in chapter 25 another unprofitable servant is cast into "outer darkness" (vs. 29). Again, this is a kingdom of heaven parable and does not apply to believers who are in the kingdom of God. The unprofitable servant in Luke chapter 19 is in the kingdom of God and he does not go into outer darkness. He can't because everyone in the kingdom of God is regenerated and sealed by the Holy Spirit. In the last section of Matthew chapter 25, the judgment of the nations is described (vs 31-46), and it also is based entirely upon works. No faith, trust, or belief in anything is associated with this judgment; works are all that is considered. Those who have the right works are permitted into the kingdom (Millennium), and those who have the wrong works are cast out. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are not mentioned, and neither are the "sheep" said to be in Christ. Again, this passage has nothing to do with born again Christians. Though the "sheep" nations are Gentile nations, the passage has little to do with Gentiles nations today, and nothing to do with individual Gentiles being saved today. Have you had enough? We have only looked at some of the Jewish passages in Matthew, let alone the other gospels, and they don't match Gentile Church Age doctrines at all. Why the difference? The difference is in the dispensations.

The New Birth

We have been saying repeatedly all along that the new birth did not exist in the Old Testament and not even in the New until after the cross, and the reader may be wondering why. Another valid question that needs to be considered concerns when Christ told Nicodemus "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). Surely Christ would not tell Nicodemus he needed something that was not yet available, would He? The answer is in John 3:6 and 7:39. In 3:6 Jesus said the new birth was a birth by the Holy Spirit, and in 7:39 the Holy Spirit clearly tells us through John, "for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified." The Holy Spirit was not given to anyone in the regeneration sense until Christ was risen from death glorified (John 14:16-17). Until the cross (really Pentecost) the Holy Spirit come upon and in people to empower them to do what God wanted them to do (Ex. 35:31), but He did not regenerate anyone. Christ's blood had to be shed to take the believer's sins away before the Holy Spirit would come in permanently to regenerate and seal him. His sins had to be redeemed and dealt with permanently (not just covered) before God would regenerate and indwell him permanently.

The Lord told Nicodemus "ye must be born again" because regeneration was required before anyone could enter "the kingdom of God." Even though the new birth was not yet available, Nicodemus should have known a spiritual rebirth was needed because every person's first birth from Adam was in sin. A "master of Israel" should realize man eventually needed a new nature before he could be in the kingdom of God and have the type of full relationship and fellowship with God, God desires. Even a saved person who has only his Adamic, fallen nature (like Abraham, Moses, David, etc.) is not equipped for the spiritual kingdom of God. This is the main reason none of the Old Testament saints went to heaven when they died. They were technically still in their sins; saved only by decree.

Only those who have had their spirit reborn unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 14:17), and their sins taken away are prepared to enter the spiritual kingdom of God. Christ wasn't telling Nicodemus he could be born again at that time, only that it was a prerequisite to entering the kingdom of God. After Christ's death, resurrection, and glorification, the Holy Spirit was free to regenerate, and believers were then born again. In John 20:22 the risen Lord told His disciples "receive ye the Holy Ghost," implying they would have Him in a different and fuller manner than before. Before the cross the disciples performed many miracles, healings, and exorcisms with the power of the Holy Spirit, but they could not receive him in the sense of regeneration until after the resurrection. From the resurrection to the rapture, every person who is saved is also born again and receives Christ's nature.

Even though many of the words found in the gospels were spoken to Jews under the Law and doctrinally only apply to them, that doesn't mean they are less important to believers in the Church Age. Every word of God is precious and necessary for life (Matt. 4:4), and the passages that don't apply doctrinally today are still essential for the proper understanding of what God is doing. Likewise Paul said the things "written aforetime were written for our learning" (Rom. 14:4) and also for are "admonition" (1 Cor. 10:11). One must study the whole Bible, rightly dividing it, to have every truth God wants him to have. Whatever one finds in it that applies to him doctrinally, believe it, receive it, and act upon it. Whatever does not apply to him doctrinally, he should use it as an example, admonition, instruction, or warning to teach him more about God and His ways.

From Law To Grace

After the Jews rejected their Messiah's offer of the Kingdoms of Heaven and God and His terms for entering them, they with wicked hands delivered Him up as a criminal to death. The offers Jesus made concerning the kingdoms were legitimate, and if they would have received Him as a nation history would be much different. He would have set up His kingdom of heaven as promised (Matt. 3:17) and reigned as their King. His sacrificial death, of course, would still have to occur to permanently redeem believers, but it would have been under different circumstances. There is no use in speculating as to what would have happened if Israel had received Christ; they made their choice and did not receive Him (not then, anyway, Rom. 11). Nevertheless, Christ came to be their Messiah and would have began to fulfill all the promises God made to them then, but He was not the kind of king they expected or wanted, so they crucified Him.

Even though Israel as a nation refused Christ, around 500 individual Jews did believe on Him (1 Cor. 15:6) and soon became members of a new organism called the Church. The local church, which is simply a local assembly of believers, was first founded when Christ called out His disciples in Matthew chapter 10. The Church organism called the Body of Christ, however, did not began until the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to regenerate, indwell, and seal believers. There is a obviously a distinct difference between the local church and the Church known as the "Body of Christ." Lost people (like Judas) can be members of a local church, but they cannot be part of the Body of Christ; it is only made up of regenerated Christians.

On the day of Pentecost around 120 disciples were gathered together when the Holy Ghost came to give them power (Acts 1:15, 2:1), but did the disciples know what all was happening to them? Not quite. They knew they were to receive power to evangelize the world (Acts 1:8) and also that the Holy Spirit was to be a "comforter," but they by no means had a perfect understanding of what else was happening to them. The Bible student must remember that in Acts chapter 1 all that had been revealed to the disciples was the Old Testament embellished with the events of the past three and one-half years with Christ. They didn't yet have specific knowledge of the doctrines peculiar to the yet to be revealed Church. The first 15 chapters of Acts detail the transition from the well established doctrines of the Law to yet largely unknown doctrines of Grace.

Since the doctrines unique to Grace are so much different than the doctrines the Jews were used to, God gradually made the changeover over several years. That many Church Age doctrines were not yet revealed to the apostles on Pentecost doesn't mean they were not in effect at that time, though. The new birth, salvation for Gentiles, the Body of Christ, etc., were valid from Pentecost onward, the disciples just didn't have complete knowledge of them. In the next section we will examine the major places in the book of Acts where the old doctrines were replaced by the new ones.

Unraveling Acts

Acts chapter 2 is one of the most abused chapters in the Bible. No less than four false belief systems are "founded" in this chapter. The modern proponents of speaking in tongues, baptismal regeneration, Calvinistic predestination, and Hyper-dispensationalism use this chapter to "prove" their doctrines. A chapter that gets this much attention is worthy of extra careful study. Relating to this the author has heard preachers (most of them Fundamentalists) speak of how Peter's sermon in chapter 2 is one of the greatest gospel sermons in history. Fine, but what gospel? Examine Acts 2 carefully and see if you find the gospel of the grace of God as revealed to Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-4) anywhere in it. Yes, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are mentioned, but what conclusions does Peter draw from these truths?

Does Peter mention "ye must be born again?" Does he mention that Christ died for anyone's sins (Paul said, Christ died four OUR sins)? Does he mention that individuals can personally receive Christ as their salvation? Does he even mention that people other than Jews can be saved at all? Furthermore, what did Peter tell the people to do after they said "what shall we do"? Does "repent and be baptized..." (2:38) match "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus..." (Rom. 10:9-10)? Not at all. Peter was telling the Jews as a group what to do in light of the fact they just crucified their Messiah, not how to be born again. As we said at that time there were several things Peter did not yet know about New Testament salvation. The message he preached was perfect for his time and audience, but it is by no means the standard for doctrine many make it today. In fact, Peter never preached Acts 2:38 again. He tried once, but the Holy Spirit wouldn't let him finish (ch.10)!

In Acts 2 Peter was simply trying to convince the Jews that the one they crucified was actually their God sent Messiah, hoping they would repent of their sin and receive Him. He began by quoting the prophet Joel (vs. 16) concerning the "day of the Lord" and the coming Tribulation (vs. 20) and stated "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord" will be saved from this terrible time. The coming of the Holy Spirit and the events that have just occurred (2:1-13) are not the fulfillment of the statements in vs. 17-21; this passage is a reference to the events immediately preceding Christ's return. Throughout the sermon Peter does not speak in terms of personal salvation, regeneration, justification, sanctification, etc. because these truths were still for the most part unknown. Salvation in the context is being saved from the negative effects of the "Day of the Lord."

Peter continues in chapter 2 by showing how Christ was "approved of God" being proven by the "miracles and wonders and signs" he performed (vs. 22), and also by His resurrection from the dead after they wickedly crucified Him (vs. 23-24). He goes on to quote David as proof that the Messiah could not remain dead but must be resurrected to reign on David's throne (vs. 31-32). Peter drives his point home by insisting the man they crucified has been declared by God as "both Lord and Christ" (vs. 36). This soul-piercing statement convicts the hearts of about 3000 of the "house of Israel" to the point that they ask "what shall we do?" Notice how the whole passage is unmistakingly Jewish. There is not a Gentile or uncircumcised person in sight. Peter's message is by a Jew, to Jews, about a rejected Jewish Messiah who came to set up a Jewish kingdom. It is eight chapters later before Peter is convinced that Gentiles can even be saved.

What Peter told the Israelites to do after they were pricked in their heart with guilt also shows Pentecost was a unique situation. Contrary to what many claim today, Acts 2:38 is not the gospel or the means of salvation today. It is simply what Peter told the them to do after realizing they crucified their Messiah. Again, no personal guilt is mentioned; no regeneration, justification, sanctification, or eternal redemption is mentioned; no personal indwelling Savior is mentioned, he just tells them to "repent and be baptized..." (because God had already forgiven them [Luke 23:34]) so they could receive the Holy Ghost. Does this sound like John 1:12-13, 3:16, 5:24; Romans 4:5, 10:9-10; etc?

The Jews in Acts 2 had to be baptized before they could receive the Holy Spirit according to Peter. Do we have to be baptized in water to receive Him today? That these events occur in the same dispensation we are in today doesn't change things. Peter couldn't tell the people what he didn't know. God had forgiven Israel for crucifying their Messiah and gave them another chance to receive Him as such, and those who were willing to had to be baptized in Jesus' name to show their repentance. As a result God would give them the promised Holy Spirit. Only 3000 accepted the offer, though; Israel as a nation did not repent.

See the difference between salvation as found in Acts chapter 2 and how it is described in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and even later in Acts? Acts 2 details a transitional period from Law to Grace and the salvation doctrines found in it (that one must be baptized to receive the Holy Spirit [vs. 38], etc.) do not apply to anybody today. As we said they didn't even apply to anybody after Pentecost. Again, salvation as described in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. was valid in Acts 2, however, nobody but God knew it. He revealed it in His own good time. Salvation as we know it now did not become finalized in Acts until chapter 15, so anyone who uses chapter 2 as the foundation of their doctrine is appealing to a transitory situation that has long since passed away.

In Acts 3:12-26 Peter preached another sermon to Israel with much the same tone as the former. He again declares how they crucified the "Prince of Life" (vs. 15) and proves He is yet alive by the healing of the lame man (vs. 16). Peter admits they crucified Christ in ignorance, but still insists they must repent to be converted back to God. If they will repent as a nation and accept Christ, Peter tells them, God will quickly send Christ back to be their King and bring with Him their promised kingdom. But, again, Israel refused. See how the first few chapters of Acts deal only with Jewish matters and not with Church doctrines that were revealed later? The difference this time is not in the dispensations, but in how the dispensations are perceived. Peter is behaving as though he is still under the Law. A new dispensation has arrived, but by no fault of his own he just doesn't know much about it. Likewise, those who received Peter's messages in chapters 2 and 3 were regenerated and justified exactly like believers today, they just didn't know much about the specifics of salvation either.

God gave Israel and Jerusalem one more chance to repent and receive their Messiah with the message Stephen delivered in Acts 7, but they again refused and this time killed the messenger. After this violent rejection God quit dealing exclusively with the Jews and began to openly offer salvation to others. In Acts chapter 8 there are two interesting, but different, salvation situations. In the first part of the chapter, Philip went down to Samaria and preached Christ to them, performing miracles to back up his words, and the Samaratians listened to him (vs. 5-8). As a result some of them believed his words about Christ and agreed to be baptized (vs. 12). Were they saved? According to vs. 16 the Holy Spirit had not come on any of them. Can one be saved and not be indwelt with the Holy Spirit (John 3:6)? In chapter 2 the believing Jews received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, these Samaratians, however, did not.

From the New Testament perspective these people were not saved until they received the Holy Spirit (vs. 17), but in the Old Testament sense they could have been saved in vs. 12. See the transition? The half-breed Gentiles baptized in vs. 12 were not truly saved because they are in the Dispensation of Grace where one must be born again by the Holy Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. Hypothetically, if they would have believed on Christ before the cross under the Dispensation of the Law, they very well may have been saved! Saved only on a "trial basis" "on credit," though (see chapter 2). God is showing the apostles, disciples, Samaratians, and us today his further transition into Church Age doctrines. After Israel's vehement rejection of Him in chapter 8, God began leading His servants to preach to other groups, beginning with the half-breed Samaratians.

Later in chapter 8 Philip is instructed to go south, and when he did he found an Ethiopian eunuch reading from Isaiah 53. God had prepared this eunuch's heart, and when Philip got to him he was ripe for the picking. All Philip had to do was explain to him the suffering person in Isaiah was Jesus Christ suffering as a substitute for others, The Ethiopian received his words gladly. Here, the gospel of the grace of God is beginning to take its present form. This is the first account in the Bible of an individual personally receiving Jesus Christ for his salvation with no works or baptism involved. Verse 37 (not found in most of the corrupt "new Bibles") is clear that the eunuch based his salvation on belief in Christ. Philip wanted to be sure of the sincerity of his profession before he baptized him. Salvation is looking more like Romans with every chapter we progress in Acts, and in chapter 9 God saves the man who wrote Romans. Instead of Christianity being a "Jewish sect," it is becoming more and more Gentile the farther we go. In chapter 2 only Jews were saved; in chapter 8 some "half-breed" Jews were saved and a Gentile proselyte to Judaism. Only full blooded non proselyte Gentiles are left to be saved, and God does this in Chapter 10.


At first glance one may think the Gentile, Cornelius, was a saved man. He was devout, feared God, gave much alms to people, was a man of constant prayer, and received visions from God. But the Holy Spirit tells us during all this he was dead lost (Acts 11:14). God even said his prayers and alms came up before Him as a memorial (so much for those who insist God doesn't hear the prayers of lost people) while he was still dead in trespasses and sins! Cornelius is a perfect picture of the man described in Romans 2:6-16 who follows his conscience towards God and His truth. Cornelius knew there was a God and that he himself was a sinner, and he knew he needed to make peace somehow with this God before he would be accepted by Him. Therefore, Cornelius lived right, prayed, gave alms, and instructed his house to do likewise; this is all he knew to do. God, however, is ready to reveal to Him (and Peter) some new truths that can release Cornelius and all other Gentiles from their sins.

The Lord told Cornelius to send men to Joppa to get a certain man (vs. 5), and he will tell him what more he needs to do (vs. 6). Though they were ready to receive and hear the man who spoke for God, Peter wasn't quite ready to oblige them. He still thought Gentiles were unclean and unacceptable for salvation. This is one of the strongest proofs that Acts is a transitional book and the early chapters are not fixed doctrine for the Church Age. Regardless of how some may "interpret" Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; and Acts 2:39, Peter and the rest of the apostles thought salvation was only available to Jews. God had to put Peter in a trance and show him a vision three times to convince him Gentiles have been "cleansed" (vs. 15) and the wall between them and salvation had been broken down. They could now be saved without becoming Jews (proselytes). By the time the men from Cornelius arrive, Peter is fully convinced of this and goes back with them entering Cornelius' house with a clear conscience.

After hearing what God told Cornelius to do, Peter begins his message. He again states he is now persuaded "God is no respecter of persons" and any person in any nation who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted for the opportunity of salvation (vs. 35). "Accepted with Him" is not salvation itself, but one being accepted in the sense that he is given the opportunity to be saved. Peter learned a great lesson that day. Doctrinally, Gentiles could have been saved ever since Pentecost, but no one knew it until God revealed it to Peter. After explaining this Peter continues his message and begins to preach "Jesus." He states (similar as he did in chapter 2) how Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Ghost (vs. 38), how He healed people, and how He was slain and hanged on a tree by His own people as a criminal (vs. 38). Peter then boldly proclaims how God raised Christ from the dead and showed Him openly to witnesses, him being one (vs. 40-41), and further testifies that Jesus is ordained of God to be the Judge of all men, living and dead (vs. 42). Peter doesn't confront these Gentiles for the act of crucifying their Messiah as he did the Jews, he simply tells them "Jesus of Nazareth" is the Judge of all mankind and will judge every man according to His righteousness. After this Peter tells them in vs. 43 that through this once dead but now living Judge's name "whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." This statement was what Cornelius and his house was waiting to hear. When they learned salvation was in Jesus Christ, they immediately believed on Him and were saved (vs. 44-45).

The quick salvation of the Gentiles came as a surprise to Peter because he had not finished his message or given any type of invitation. He was likely going to finish as he did in chapter 2 with "Repent and be baptized..." or something similar, but God prevented his plans and saved them; giving them the Holy Spirit, through their faith alone. After Peter sees the Holy Ghost come upon them and hears them speak with other tongues as the Jews did at Pentecost, he instructs them to be baptized in water. This is believer's baptism: baptism after one is saved. In chapter 2 the Jews had to be baptized to get the Holy Spirit, but not any more. The method of salvation has changed. God has now revealed He will save believers through faith apart from any works, including baptism, and their salvation is just as valid as that of the Jews (vs. 47). Now salvation is no longer exclusively Jewish. Gentiles have now been accepted as they are for salvation, and they will multiply rapidly.

Though Peter's message was similar to the one in chapter 2, it was also tailored for his Gentile audience. Along with not calling Jesus their Messiah (Christ is the Messiah only to Israel), he tells them they must believe in Him before they receive remission of sins. He told Israel they must repent and be baptized "for" (because of) the past remission of sins. Also in chapter 2 Peter addressed Israel collectively as a nation concerning national repentance, here his message is to individuals and deals with personal faith. Since the Jews have rejected Christ over and over, God is moving to the Gentiles, and they are receiving Him. Since salvation has become "Gentile," the doctrines of salvation as they are today are quickly becoming established.

In chapter 13 Paul preaches Peter's Gentile faith gospel to some Jews (Paul learned this gospel directly from God, not through Peter, Gal. 1:12) and ended by saying, "And by Him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified from the law of Moses" (vs. 39). Salvation is now clearly based upon faith in Jesus Christ's finished work on the cross. This faith will avail a person, Jew or Gentile, of the justification he could not receive regardless of the amount of works he performed under the Law of Moses. Faith alone; purely by faith; "By grace are ye saved, through faith."

The Disciples Meet

Even though Peter, Paul, and a few others understood salvation was now only through faith apart from works, many other Jews were not yet convinced and a meeting was held in Jerusalem to settle the issue. Acts chapter 15 give the details of this meeting and is therefore the most important chapter in Acts dealing with salvation. Not chapter 2, chapter 8, or even chapter 10, but chapter 15. This chapter is so important because it finalizes and settles the matter of how salvation is obtained by every believer everywhere until the rapture. Those who teach salvation by works or baptismal regeneration have to ignore this chapter because it supersedes the "Bible" they use to teach their heresies.

There were two questions under consideration at this meeting. One was a person must do something (be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses) to BE saved (vs. 1); the other was one must do something (good works, etc.) to STAY saved (vs.4). The old Jewish ways die hard. The apostles gathered together to discuss these issues, and after much disputing Peter stood up among them and settled the questions. He did so by reminding them of how God used him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and how God, by considering their hearts, not their works, gave them the Holy Spirit when they believed. By doing this God put no difference between Jews and Gentiles, purifying the hearts of both by faith (vs. 8-9). Peter goes on to rebuke his Jewish brethren for attempting to burden the believing Gentiles with the yoke of the Law, which they themselves could not bear (vs. 10). He concludes his words by saying Jews will NOW be saved as Gentiles are saved (vs. 11)! Amazing! Salvation is no longer by the Jewish method of Acts 2:38 but by the Gentile methods revealed in chapter 10 and later! For the first time since the days of Abraham, salvation is Gentile instead of exclusively Jewish. Peter spells it out when he says "we (Jews) shall be saved even as they" (Gentiles) indicating the change (vs. 11).

Again, God has through 15 chapters of transition finalized and established His method of salvation during this dispensation and it has a definite Gentile ring to it. Jews can, of course, still be saved, but they must be saved just like Gentiles are by trusting Christ as their sole redemption. Gentiles are the wild olive branch grafted into the root of God's salvation tree until the natural branches, the Jews, are grafted back in after the fullness of the Gentiles comes in (Rom. 11:17-27).