The following quotations are from eight different writers: "Acts is the story of God giving Israel one more chance to accept the Messiah so that He could return to the earth right then and set up the millennial kingdom."
Of John the Baptist: "the call to the nation to 'Repent!' The call to repentance was made to the whole nation, as such."
"Christ was offered to Israel and was deliberately refused." Acts was "the coming of the Holy Spirit to Israel."
During the Acts period "the end of the age was near and the return of the Lord Jesus was imminent, all, humanly speaking, depended upon the repentance of Israel."
"The repentance and conversion of Israel was entirely possible throughout the Acts period."
"The Apostle certainly called on Israel to repent (Acts 3:19-21)" "Peter had said 'Repent and turn to the Lord,' ... Humanly speaking, the Lord's return was hanging upon Israel's repentance."
Of Acts 2:16: "Had the nation of Israel repented." Of Acts 2:38, 39: "The promise was to Israel."
This unanimity is most impressive; so impressive, indeed, that no one seems to have thought of asking for proof; and not one of the eight ever seems to have deemed it necessary to offer proof. Presumably it was thought too obvious to need any sort of demonstration. No doubt the reader will be amused to learn that one of the eight was myself! (The Differentiator, Vol. 25, P.40).
Yet, is it obvious? Is it even true?
Let us take a look at the passages which are definitely addressed to Israel. The first is Mark 12:29. Here the Lord Jesus quotes Deut. 6:4, 5. The second is Acts 2:36, the third Acts 4:10, the fourth Acts 7:42. This last is a record of a past event, so only the second and third are relevant here.
The second reads: "Let the house of Israel know certainly, then, that God makes Him Lord as well as Christ—this the Jesus whom ye crucify." The third is the Apostle Peter's reply to the chief priest and the elders and scribes in Jerusalem when they demanded to know by what power and in what name he acted and spoke as he did.
As these are all the direct proclamations to Israel, to Israel as a whole, we have our answer at once: the various supposed calls to the whole nation of Israel, listed at the start of this paper, are without foundation in Scripture.
Moreover, we have only to read what the Apostle Peter actually said, as recorded elsewhere in Acts 2, to see this. He first said, "Men! Jews! and all who are dwelling in Jerusalem" (v. 14); "Men! Israelites!" (v. 22); "Men! Brethren!" (v. 29). His appeal was made to individuals, each time, till we reach v. 36, where then comes the bold assertion to the whole house of Israel that Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Yet when these individuals hear all this and ask Peter and the Eleven, "What should we be doing, men, brethren?" Peter no longer declaims to all the house of Israel, but to them, as individuals: "Repent, and be baptized, each of you!"
Yet it is undeniable that he could have quite well said instead: "Repent, and be baptized, all of you, the whole house of Israel!" here, if that had been his intention. And in Acts 3:12 he could, had he wished, have started somewhat like this: "Let all the house of Israel hear! Why are you marvelling at this?" But no! In v. 17 he says: "And now, brethren, I have perceived that according to ignorance you practise it, even as your chiefs also." That alone shows that he was addressing himself to individuals only, not to Israel as a whole. There follows the great demand, "Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins, to the end that, in that case, may be coming seasons of refreshing from the Lord's face, and He may be commissioning the One previously selected for you—Christ Jesus; ..."
Thus, when it is translated as literally as possible, we perceive quite clearly that this is by no means equivalent to saying: "You, the house of Israel, repent! Then seasons of refreshing will come, etc." Peter's call was absolutely genuine; but it would not have been so if it had implied something like, "if this, then that." Instead, it was the opening of a theme which will be repeated in days to come and will encourage faithful men and women of Israel one by one to repent and believe. Then, in due time, the prophecy will be fulfilled which follows; and Israel will look upon Him Whom they pierce, and be saved.
At that time, there never was any possibility of the whole House of Israel repenting, any more than there was during the time of the ministry of the Lord Jesus on earth. God's plans had long ago been made, and were immutable. To suggest that Israel could have thwarted them by the simple expedient of repenting, is not only to postulate an absurdity but to go right outside the whole plan and teaching of Scripture.
This point is reinforced by what Peter and the apostles said to the chief priest in Acts 5:29-32: "One ought to be yielding to God rather than to men. Now the God of our fathers rouses Jesus, on Whom you lay hands, hanging Him on a tree. This Inaugurator and Saviour God exalts to His right hand, to give repentance to Israel and pardon of sins. And we are witnesses of these declarations, and the Spirit, the Holy One, which God gives to those yielding to Him." Here is something which really does concern all Israel, as Acts 2:36 did; and for the same reason: it was something belonging to future as well as to the moment then present. It was no "offer," no demand; but simply assertion of God's purpose for Israel that in due time is to be fully accomplished.
One final point. The Apostle Paul's first great speech (Acts 13:16-41) starts in a similar manner to Peter's recorded speeches: "Men! Israelites! And those fearing God. Hear!" Then, "Men! Brethren! Sons of Abraham's race" (v. 26). "Men! Brethren!" (v. 38). So, once again, the appeal is to individuals. No "offer" is made to the nation as a unit. But nevertheless Paul points out that there had been a national proclamation—that by John the Baptist to everyone of the people of Israel. It was baptism of repentance (Acts 13:24). It was national in the sense that it was directed to every single individual; but we look in vain in the accounts given by the Gospels for any ensuing national repentance or indeed of any large scale individual repentance. The very fact that baptism was in view, an individual act or experience, shows that John addressed all the people of Israel as individuals. This is borne out by Paul himself when, having reiterated John's proclamation, he actually extended it to all mankind, in his speech in the ancient world-centre of civilization, Athens: "God, indeed, then, condoning the times of the ignorance, now is charging to the human race, all, everywhere, to be repenting." (Acts 17:30). From John the Baptist in the wilderness to the very citadel of culture, the call is the same: to be repenting. It began with individual Jews; it reaches out to all, everywhere, transcending all nationality.
R.B.W.Last updated 11.4.2006