“But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.”
This Scripture is deserving of our most earnest consideration, and in an effort to find the correct interpretation, we know of no better source of information than the Scriptures themselves. Let us, therefore, search them diligently, in the hope of bringing forth that which is embraced in the text. In I Peter 3:18-20 there is a scripture which is somewhat similar and which we believe has a bearing upon the text. It reads: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometimes were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” We do not understand the non-elect to be under consideration in the text. Christ was the just one who suffered for the sins of his people who are the unjust ones referred to. The purpose for which he suffered was that “he might bring us (the unjust ones) to God,” and the us here embraces every member of his mystical body which was chosen in him before the foundation of the world, among every kindred, tribe and tongue, whether they were manifested in the flesh before or after Christ came into the world. It was for his very own, no more and no less, that he was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.
In the narrative which precedes our text, we find that it was Ananias, the high priest, who descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul. It should be noted that those who were accusing the apostle were both under and representatives of the law and, therefore, the apostle was answering them in kind, or according to the law. When the apostle was permitted to speak for himself he said unto the governor, “Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself: Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor the city: Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me. But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” Having denied the charges made against him of disputing with any man and raising up the people, he freely confesses to being guilty of the charge of worshiping God in a manner which they called heresy, but at the same time he contended that he was worshiping the God of his fathers, who were under the law, and that he “believed all things which are written in the law and in the prophets;” that he had hope toward God, which those who were under the law also allowed, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just (Jesus) and unjust (his people) because Jesus' object in coming into the world was to redeem and deliver his people from under the curse and bondage of the law. Did not the law foreshadow and the prophets testify before hand concerning the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that would follow his resurrection? Therefore putting himself under the law, the apostle spake in the future tense, and being of the same faith of his fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and others, who verily believed the Messiah would come some day to liberate the captive and set the prisoner free, Paul believed these things so firmly and contended for them so earnestly that he was soon to become a martyr for the sake of them. The whole of the legal age, comprising centuries of time, proved unmistakably and conclusively that there was not a single individual among the sons of men who was just or who could keep the law, therefore the term just could in no sense of the word be applied to Israel under the law; they were all unjust and were justly condemned by the law, which was proven by the law on every count, for in its scales that were all weighed and continually found to be wanting, and there was not a single solitary soul who was able to measure up to the requirements of the law until Jesus came. He honored and magnified the justice of it by fulfilling it in every jot and tittle, and by giving his life as a ransom for those who were held in its clutches and bondage, he became their Redeemer, and presented them unto God, his Father, without spot, wrinkle or any such thing.
The apostle Paul had a very unusual ancestry, and he took occasion to remind his Philippian brethren that “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law a Pharisee.” He frequently resorted to his standing under the law. It was the Pharisees who professed to believing in the resurrection of the dead, and the apostle put himself in their class under the law. But not under grace. The Sadducees were likewise given to quoting Moses, when they felt it would serve their purpose, so they said to Jesus: “Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” In declaring that he “believed all things which are written in the law and in the prophets,” Paul was at the same time declaring that he had faith in and believed that which God by his own mouth had spoken concerning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being alive, through Jesus Christ our Lord and, therefore, it was not an incredible thing for him to believe in the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust, for by faith he was enabled to see Jesus as the resurrection and the life of his people. David had spoken concerning Jesus when he said: “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thin Holy One to see corruption.” Peter tells us specifically in the second chapter of Acts of the Apostles that David spake concerning Jesus, whom they had crucified, but who could not be holden of death.
Do we need to call attention to the punctuation of the language of our text? The fourteenth verse ends with a colon, which shows that the things which followed in the fifteenth verse were a part of what had gone before. In other words, those who worshipped under the law, which kept them in bondage and under the sentence of death, had hope toward God that when the Messiah came, they would have life and liberty through the gospel. Unless we are in total ignorance of the true significance of the testimony of all the prophets, in substance, it was to hold out hope and the word of promise until the Lord would rend the heavens, and come down, that the mountains might flow down at his presence. Isaiah went on to say, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, or perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” When the Watchmen were inquired of to tell of the night, they could all unit in saying, “joy cometh in the morning.” Paul was only confirming all of this in his epistle to his son in the ministry, Timothy, when he said: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” 2 Tim. 1:8-11. The prophet Zechariah had said in the day of his coming, “There shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.” It was also this same prophet who had declared, “It shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea.” This bears testimony to the fact that there was but on true offering to be made for sin for all time; only one lamb and that the blessed Lamb of God, whose precious blood alone would suffice or be efficacious in forever putting away sin, not only for those of his people who should follow him in the world but for those who preceded or came into the world before he did. Truly, there is but one Saviour of sinners. There is no discord between this and the two witnesses, the Old and the New Testament Scriptures, one looking forward and the other looking backward, but both testifying to the one fact that Jesus is the only true and genuine substance of all ages of the world for any hope of salvation by his people, regardless of who they are or when they graced the scene of action here in this life.
We are not yet through supplying proof of what we have been trying to present, which while it may seem conclusive to us there may still remain a question in the mind of some one or more of our readers. We will ask that they kindly accompany us over to the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts. Here we find that Paul's case had apparently been appealed from the governor's jurisdiction to that of the king, which seems to attest its great importance. When the apostle was permitted to speak for himself, with dignity and eloquence, he said: “I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.” Acts 26:2-7. He as undoubtedly a great master of language, and to our mind he shows clearly that he was putting himself in the same class with the fathers, who were under the law and who hopefully looked forward toward a brighter and better day, and having this hope in him, is it any wonder that he should have asked, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” When one has unfeigned faith in God he staggers at nothing, but believes that all things are possible with him with whom we have to do. Paul followed up his testimony before the king by giving a reason of the hope that was within him and told of his wonderful conversion as he went on his mad journey to Damascus, planning to imprison the saints, but shall we let him tell it: “At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” Beneath the power of such reasoning is it any wonder that king Agrippa should have said to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian?” Paul had summed up his case and presented the causes for which the Jews caught him in the temple, and went about to kill him, but he was not yet through, for he was destined to continue fighting the good fight of faith, which he did by saying, “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” If he was not endeavoring here to show clearly and unmistakably that he stood with the fathers and that we was an eye witness to the things which Moses and the prophets had declared would come to pass, we have to confess we have no understanding of what he was talking about. If our readers will indulge us further, we will try to show more conclusively than ever, if possible, the correctness of our interpretation, and we shall call upon the great apostle himself, than whom there could be no more authoritative witness as to what he actually meant, to substantiate what we have here presented. In I Cor. 9:19-22, the following are purported to be his own words: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself a servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” If anything could be more definite or plainer we do not know how it could be expressed in words.
With reference to what Paul said in Acts 26:23, we do not understand him to mean that Christ was the first to rise literally from the dead. The record shows that Jesus himself raised Jarius' daughter (Mat. 9:18; Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41); also that he raised Lazarus, who had been dead for four days and buried with a stone over the sepulcher. All scripture having been inspired by the Spirit of God, there is complete harmony and accord and, therefore, no contradiction, when rightly understood. Paul was quoting Moses and the prophets and what he undoubtedly meant, in our humble opinion, was that Jesus was the first to rise from under the death of the law, that he was the first to be able to keep or fulfill the demands of the law, after which the law could have no further demand upon him. The balance of the verse we believe bears this out for it says, “and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” It was only after he had fulfilled the law in every jot and tittle that the Scriptures were truly illuminated. Not until after his death and resurrection could the Jews understand fully what the prophets had written about, or the Gentiles were brought in and made fellow-citizens with the household of faith. The burden of Paul's epistle to the Hebrews was to get them to turn from the things of the law, under which God had spoken unto the fathers by the prophets, at sundry times and in divers manners, to the new and living way which was brought forth when God spake by his Son, whom he had appointed heir of all things, and by whom also he made the worlds.
What we have written here we verily believe to have been revealed to us by the God of heaven, and feeling that we are accountable to him, we desire to rightly divide the word of truth, earnestly desiring to present it in love, being firmly convinced that if God gives us something for the flock, the sheep of his pasture will feed upon it. We intend no offense whatever to any of our readers, but neither have we any apology for what we have written. We believe it to be the truth, and if there be any who cannot accept our point of view, we are sorry and if they can we are glad. We cannot remain faithful to the God we love and try to please men. We must speak the truth whether they hear or forbear. We are persuaded that if we present that which God bids us, it will be as seed sown in good ground and in due time it will bring forth fruit to the honor of his name, for the word which proceeds forth our of his mouth does not return unto him void, but accomplishes that which he pleases and it prospers in the thing whereto he sends it. Our main purpose in this life, if we know or own heart, is to glorify God and to exalt name of his blessed Son, Jesus.
Elder R. Lester Dodson
Signs of the Times
Volume 113, No. 4