Jul 302020
THE OLD TESTAMENT and its witness to the Truth of the Mystery

The reader who is at all acquainted with our publications, especially if he has read many of the criticisms that have been passed on them, will probably look with some bewilderment at the title of this booklet, and wonder whether at long last, we are about to make a recantation and return to the fold of orthodoxy.

We seek to show that a loyal and logical interpretation of Old Testament teaching with an inflexible intention neither to add to, nor take away from, nor to spiritualize one statement of prophecy or promise of these Old Testament revelations, leads unhesitatingly to the conclusion that Acts 28 is a dispensational boundary; that the revelation of Ephesians is unique; and that there can be no possible coexistence between such themes as ‘the New Covenant’ which presupposes the presence of Israel, and ‘the dispensation of the Mystery’ which presupposes the blindness of Israel.

PROPOSITION. That the prophecy of Hosea 1 to 3, reaching its goal as it does at the time of the end, can have no other starting point in inspired history than Acts 28.

PROOF. First we will exhibit overleaf, the structure of Hosea 1 to 3, which the reader is asked to test point by point, to ‘see’ if it be ‘so’. If this structure is true it will decide for us the scope of the passage under review.

Passing by the opening verses of chapter 1, we draw attention to the names given to the three children born to Hosea, namely Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi in Hosea 1:4-9. It will be seen later, in 2:18-23, these names are altered. Let us acquaint ourselves with these three typical names.

Jezreel. First it should be observed that there is in this name a paronomasia between Israel (Ysrael) and Jezreel (Yizreel). Then, it must be remembered that two words similar in sound provide a further prophetic foreshadowing. The Hebrew word ‘to sow’ is zara; the Hebrew word ‘to scatter’ is zarah, so that the expression ‘May God sow’ and ‘May God scatter’ appear very similar to the eye and ear in the original. Israel were to be ‘scattered’ among the nations (Lev. 26:33; Jer. 9:16; 31:10), but eventually they were to be ‘sown’ again in their own land (Jer. 31:27). The prophet Zechariah uses the word ‘sow’ with the meaning equivalent to ‘scatter’ (Zech. 10:9). The scattered tribes of Israel were known as ‘the dispersion’ (Ezek. 12:15; John 7:35), or ‘the twelve tribes scattered abroad’ (Jas. 1:1) where the Greek word for ‘seed’ spora enters into the composition of the word diaspora, ‘the dispersed or scattered’.

Hosea 1 to 3

A 1:2-. ‘Go take a wife of whoredoms’. B 1:-2. Meaning, the departure of the land from the LORD. C 1:3. Hosea takes Gomer. D 1:4-2:23 [Prophetic significance.] e 1:4-9. The three children. a Jezreel ‘I will avenge’. b Lo-ruhamah ‘Not … mercy’. c Lo-ammi ‘Not My people’.

f 1:10,11. Prophetic import of the three names. f 2:22,23. Prophetic fulfillment of the three names.

A 3:1-. ‘Go yet, love … an adulteress’. B 3:-1. Meaning, Israel who look to other gods. C 3:2. Hosea buys her, with the price of a slave. D 3:4,5. [Prophetic significance.] e 3:4-. Many days. f 3:-4. Abide … without a king etc. e 3:5-. Afterward. f 3:-5-. Return … LORD …, and David their king. e 3:-5. Latter days.

In this name of Hosea’s firstborn son, therefore, the whole of Israel’s history is compressed. They shall be scattered, but they shall at last be gathered. The names of the two children that follow are prophetic of the condition of Israel during this scattering, Lo-ruhamah meaning ‘not having obtained mercy’, Lo-ammi meaning ‘not My people’.

The ‘Lo-ammi‘ period of Israel’s scattering is of the utmost importance to the right understanding of the dispensational place of the Mystery and the Church [ecclesia] of the One Body. Israel became ‘lo-ammi’ at Acts 28:28, when for the first time in history it could be said ‘The salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles’, independently of Israel. The verb is literally ‘was sent’ and refers to some particular point in time. This point we believe to be indicated in Acts 26:17, consequent upon the second appearing of Christ to Paul. In God’s good time, a complete reversal will be made of all the conditions that are now associated with Israel’s blindness, which reversal is the subject of Hosea 2:23.

  1. ‘I will sow’ Jezreel, the second meaning attaching to the Hebrew name;
  2. ‘I will have mercy’, removing the negative ‘lo‘ from the name Lo-ruhamah; and …
  3. ‘My people’, removing the negative ‘lo‘ from the name Lo-ammi,

Great shall be the day of Jezreel when this blessed reversal takes place (1:11).

The second marriage relationship of Hosea is given in chapter 3. The word translated ‘friend’ in Hosea 3:1 is the Hebrew rea, which differs from the word translated ‘evil’ only in the vowel points, and is naturally written ra. This verse is translated in the LXX ‘Go yet, and love a woman that loves evil things, and an adulteress’, and it is in line with the truth for which this symbol stands that these words should refer to the same woman Gomer, who had acted unfaithfully even as Israel had done. We sincerely hope that by so concluding we have not said evil of an innocent person, and must of course leave the matter to the judgment of ‘that day’. The woman in view had evidently become seriously involved, for the price paid by Hosea was the price demanded for the liberation of a slave. The symbolism of this new marital transaction is then explained:

  • ‘For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim. Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; and shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days’ (3:4,5).

The interval of ‘many days’ is to be characterized by a mutual ‘abiding’ or ‘waiting’. The woman was to ‘abide’ without further unfaithfulness; the man would abide and wait also. This waiting negative attitude is explained by the sixfold negation of verse 4. Israel have had no ‘king’ since the days of their captivity. On the other hand, their very scattering among the nations has made it impossible for any foreign ‘prince’ to rule over them. Since the destruction of Jerusalem of Jerusalem Israel have been deprived of the right to offer sacrifice, but, since the days of their captivity, they have never again fallen under the old spell of idolatry. They have had no priest in the true sense of the word, but neither have they teraphim. The Bible student needs no explanation of these terms, except perhaps the last.

Teraphim. This word is variously explained, but always with a consciousness that much to do with its origin and intention is unknown. Dr. J.E. Shelley contributed a suggestive article to the Bible League Quarterly in 1939 in which he speaks of the ‘Generations’ which compose the bulk of the book of Genesis, and suggests that these ‘ancestral tablets’ were called Teraphim by association with Terah the father of Abraham, and says that ‘certain Jewish legends represent Terah as actually a maker of idols’. The word ‘teraphim’ occurs but six times in the English of the Authorized Version, all the references apart from Hosea 3 being found in Judges 17 and 18. The word occurs, however, fifteen times altogether in the Old Testament being translated ‘image’, ‘idolatry’ and ‘idol’. It was the teraphim that Rachel stole and hid (Gen. 31:19-35). It was the teraphim that Michal placed in the bed vacated by David (1 Sam. 19:13,16). In 1 Sam. 15:23, Ezekiel 21:21 and Zechariah 10:2, it will be seen that the teraphim were consulted and associated with witchcraft and divination.

  • ‘When the temple in Jerusalem was burned in A.D. 70 all the genealogical records of Israel’s tribes were utterly destroyed. There is no man among the Jews today who can prove definitely of what tribe he is, by giving his genealogical records’ (Dr. J.E. Shelly).

Israel had long been without a king when they entered their lo-ammi condition at Acts 28. The last thing to go at the destruction of the Temple would have been the genealogical records. Since that date Israel has ‘waited’, and must wait until a priest stands up with the Urim and Thummim — in order words, until the Lord Himself returns.

The words of Hosea 6:1,2 suggest that the period covered by this ‘abiding’ will be ‘two days’, which in the symbolical use of the term may cover the two thousand years that may intervene before their complete restoration. As we have no certain knowledge as to when this period actually started, it is useless to attempt to compute the actual date of Israel’s restoration. The return of Israel, with the confession that they will make, constitutes the closing chapters of this prophecy. All is graciously reversed. Instead of being lo-ammi and lo-ruhamah, the fatherless find mercy (14:3). Their backsliding is healed, and this restored people grow as the lily, have the beauty of the olive, the odour of Lebanon, with their fruit derived alone from the Lord.

Let us face squarely and without fear, the implications of chapter 3. There have been other periods in Israel’s chequered history when they have been temporarily subjected to heathen dominion, and so temporarily become lo-ammi, and again and again mercy has intervened and a backsliding and disobedient Israel has been restored. Psalm 136 with its twenty-six times repeated ‘For His mercy endureth for ever’, is a sample of this most wondrous trait in the Divine dealings with Israel.

Hosea chapter 3, however, while it reveals that Israel will yet once more be graciously restored, makes it most clear that this restoration cannot take place until the ‘last days’ or ‘latter days’. The Authorized Version of Hosea 3:5 translated the Hebrew acharith ‘latter days’, but translates the same term ‘the last days’ in Isaiah 2:2 and Micha 4:1. No student of prophecy will need a lengthy diversion to prove that ‘the last days’ refer to the closing days of the age, when the Second Coming of Christ, the gathering and conversion of Israel, and the setting up of the Kingdom of God on earth shall at length take place. Hosea says ‘Afterward shall the children of Israel return’, and Hosea 14 opens with the call to Israel to return and find ‘mercy’, with the promise that their backsliding shall be healed and that they shall grow as the lily and revive as the corn.

At the time of writing, Israel claims to be a kingdom, with a precarious hold on part of the land of promise, but with no sovereign rights in Jerusalem [ … but recapture on 7th June 1967]. They have yet to go through unprecedented tribulation [Ezekiel 38-39; Zechariah 12-14], they must yet look upon Him Whom they pierced, the nation has yet to be ‘born in a day’ [ …14th May 1948 / Isaiah 66:8]. Hosea 3:5 says that Israel will at last ‘return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; and shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days’. Earlier in the chapter they are said to ‘abide’, and God Himself pledges that He too will ‘abide’ for them. The word translated ‘abide’ is the Hebrew yashab, and this word occurs eight times in Hosea. It will wise to assemble these reference:

  • ‘Thou shalt abide for Me’ (3:3).
  • ‘For the children of Israel shall abide many days’ (3:4).
  • ‘The LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land’ (4:1).
  • ‘Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish’ (4:3).
  • ‘They shall not dwell in the LORD’s land’ (9:3).
  • ‘I will place them in their houses’ (11:11).
  • ‘I . . . will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles’ (12:9).
  • They that dwell under His shadow shall return’ (14:7).

Four of these references, namely Hosea 3:3,4; 12:9 and 14:7, speak of Israel’s sequestration and final reinstating, and four, namely Hosea 4:1,3; 9:3; and 11:11, speak of Israel’s languishing and not dwelling in the land. The opening and closing occurrences are in correspondence, thus:

A Hos. 3:3. ‘Thou shalt abide for Me’. B Hos. 3:4. ‘Shall abide many days’. {Present interim.}

A Hos. 12:9. ‘Make thee to dwell in tabernacles’. B ‘They that dwell under His shadow shall return’. {Future restoration}

Hosea 3:3 speaks of the sequestration of a woman, pending the husband’s judgment, a somewhat parallel case with Deuteronomy 21:13. It should be observed that the husband in Hosea 3:3 pledges that he too will keep himself, ‘Thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee’. In Hosea 1:9 where the name Lo-ammi is recorded, the consequences are twofold:

  • ‘Call his name Lo-ammi; (1) for ye are not My people, and (2) I will not be your God’,

here is a twofold isolation. Not only was a day coming when Israel should cease to be ‘My people’, but God Himself would withdraw and cease to be ‘their God’. This latter clause is far reaching, and has been given scant attention by expositors and critics alike. This condition, so graphically delineated in Hosea 3:4, was to last ‘many days’, and there would be no let up or partial restoration. But this condition was to last until the day of Israel’s final restoration both to the Lord their God and to David their king, and this should take place ‘in the latter days’ and is still future. It is an obligation we cannot shirk to seek to discover when this complete and lengthy sequestration, this marking of time, began, and when this awful time when God Himself would not be the God of Israel came into operation, with all its dispensational changes. Seeing that it covers a period which ends at the time of the Second Coming, it must be in operation now.

If it is in operation now, we must go back in history until we find Israel still a people before God, and when they cease so to be, we shall know with absolute certainty when Hosea 3:3,4 and 1:9 began to be fulfilled. Traveling back through the years, we come to A.D. 70 when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, and when the days of Israel’s sequestration, dispersal, began. [At no moment in history since A.D. 70 has Israel been ‘a nation’ or ‘a people’]. Biblical chronology does not reach as far as A.D. 70, but ends with the last chapter of the Acts, a few years earlier. The hope of Israel with its accompanying miraculous signs reaches Acts 28:1-9, 20. There, Isaiah 6:9,10 is quoted for the last time (Acts 28:26,27). There, three things foreshadowed in Acts 13 were fulfilled.

The Foreshadowing

  1. The blinding of a typical Jew who withstood the preaching of the gospel to a Gentile.
  2. The consequent salvation of a typical (Gentile Acts 22:28) Jew, named ‘Paulus’.
  3. The warning ‘Beware lest that come upon you’ (Acts 13:8-10,12,40).

The Fulfillment

  1. Lest they should see with their eyes (the blinding). None forbidding.
  2. The salvation of God sent unto the Gentiles.
  3. The warning of Acts 13 fulfilled (Acts 28:23-31).

The words ‘no man forbidding him’ (Acts 28:31) refer to Israel. The Greek word akolutos has Israel’s antagonism in mind, koluo the verb without the negative is used in Acts 10:47; 11:17 and 1 Thessalonians 2:16 for this ‘forbidding’ by Israel. Here is added evidence that Israel is passing off the scene. Peter’s self confession, ‘Can any man forbid water?, ‘What was I that I could withstand God?’, and Paul’s testimony, ‘Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved’, illustrate the attitude of mind that characterized Israel. The all-day witness of Acts 28:23 was confined to the chief of the Jews, no Gentile was present. This exclusiveness is in contrast to the receiving of all that came in unto him of Acts 28:30. The Jewish conference was an exposition ‘concerning Jesus’ and the Old Testament Scriptures. The later witness was concerning ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ without any stated emphasis on the Old Testament.

Chronology, and its bearing on the subject

Commentators differ as to the exact chronology of the Book of the Acts; The Companion Bible (Appendix 180) gives A.D. 62 for Acts 28:30 – [ zie voor de Companion Bible ] http://www.levendwater.org

We would earnestly ask the reader to consider that our insistence upon Acts 28:28 as being the Dispensational Frontier, does not depend on chronology. The date does not matter. If seven or eight years elapse between the pronouncement of Act 28:28 and the destruction of Jerusalem, those intervening years would be occupied both in the revealing to Paul, and the making known by him, the high calling which is enshrined in the epistle to the Ephesians. Most frontiers have a neutral strip, dividing the adjacent territories. Should any reader still entertain doubts as to the place that Acts 28 occupies, let him ponder the following disposition of the subject:

Prophetic Times

Acts 28 / Israel blinded and Lo-ammi. / A.D. 70 Jerusalem and Temple destroyed.

The present Parenthesis

Hosea 3:4 / Israel abide without King, Prince, Sacrifice, Image, Ephod, Teraphim.


Resumption of Prophetic Times

Hosea 3:5 / Israel’s restoration at the Second coming in the latter days. [Romans 11:25-27].

At no time since A.D. 70 could Israel become Lo-ammi; they have been so for the last nineteen hundred years or more. While many other items could well be developed, our space is not unlimited, and we must bring this section of our study to a close. Our book From Pentecost to Prison traverses the whole record, and the last chapter devoted to the closing chapter of the Acts. The completeness and interrelated character of the theme of Acts 28:23-31 is exhibited by its literary structure, with which we conclude this part of our examination.

Acts 28:23-31

The dispensation Landmark

A a 28:23. Chief of the Jews come to Paul’s lodging. The day. b 28:23. Paul ‘expounded’ the Kingdom of God. c 28:23. Persuading concerning Jesus. d 28:23. Out of the law and prophets. e 28:23. From morning till evening. B f 28:24,25. They agreed not among themselves. g 28:24,25. They departed. C h 28:25. The word of the Holy Ghost. i 28:26. GO unto this people. j 28:26 Hear … not understand.

D Acts 28:27. k1 / l1 Hearts waxed gross. m Ears dull. n Eyes closed. / k2 n Eyes see. Isa. 6:10. m Ears heard. l1 Hearts understand. k3 / l2 Be converted. k4 / l3 I should heal them.

C h 28:28. The salvation of God i 28:28. SENT unto the Gentiles. j 28:28. They will hear it. B g 28:29. The Jews departed. f 28:29. Great reasoning among themselves. A a 28:30. All come to Paul’s hired house. The two years. b 28:31. Paul ‘preaches’ the kingdom of God. c 28:31. ‘Teaches’ concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. d 28:31. With all confidence. No reference to O.T. e 28:31. Unhindered.


  1. Hosea 3 must be fulfilled sometime.
  2. Hosea 3 terminates at the time of the Second Coming.
  3. There is no other point in history later than Acts 28 or A.D. 70 when this Lo-ammi period could commence.

Seeing that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, the study of Hosea for its own sake must be followed by blessing. If, in addition, that study illuminates our own special calling, it will be doubly blessed. We therefore call attention to the following features that will take us a stage further.

  1. Since the call of Abraham, his seed, the great nation Israel, have been set apart as the Divinely appointed channel of blessing to all the families of the earth.
  2. There is no record in the whole of the Word of God, of any Gentile being blessed or saved, since the call of Abraham, up to Acts 28:28, independently of Israel.
  3. Coming to New Testament times, such passages prove this to be so, as John 4:22, ‘Salvation is of the Jews’; Acts 3:25,26 ‘Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities’. This passage from Acts 3 should be carefully examined. The sending of Christ after His resurrection to Israel ‘first’, with the blessing of all the kindreds of the earth in view, brings Israel’s position as the Divinely appointed channel of blessing into the Acts and after Pentecost.

Not to multiply examples, the illustration of the olive tree, with the Gentile believer (a) likened to a wild olive, grafted contrary to nature; and (b) intended to provoke Israel to jealousy and emulation, carries us well through the Acts of the Apostles, while Romans 15:8-13 emphasizes and amplifies the precedence of Israel and its hope, right up to the close of Paul’s first ministry. The first occasion when we read that the salvation of God was sent to the Gentiles, in the ABSENCE of Israel, is at Acts 28:28, were Paul becomes ‘The Prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles’ (Eph. 3:1). Here, were Israel become Lo-ammi, and God ceases temporarily to be Israel’s God, a new dispensation with new terms must of necessity be brought in. However carefully we search Ephesians, Philippians or Colossians, we shall find no relationship with Abraham, and the covenants made with the fathers is not even mooted, but instead, we shall find a newly revealed dispensation of the Mystery, and its relation with a unique period ‘Before the foundation of the world’.

We must now turn our attention to the character and place of the New Covenant, for until this is seen in its Scriptural setting, we are likely to confuse two very distinct callings. The Greek word for covenant is diatheke, and is used once in the New Testament to refer to a ‘man’s testament’, namely in Galatians 3:15; everywhere else it refers to the covenants made by God with Abraham, with the Fathers, or with the people of Israel. There is no such thing as a ‘testament’ in the Old Testament. Imagine a man calling at an office in the city, and manifesting a very personal interest in a private covenant entered into by a neighbour. What would the reaction of those in authority be, if he sought to justify his interest by saying ‘Well, I live next door’! Yet many Gentile Christians claim an interest in the New Covenant with as slender justification. However, ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word . . .’ (Isa. 8:20).

The New Covenant

The New Covenant is spoken of by Jeremiah in the following terms:

  • ‘Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah’ (Jer. 31:31).

These words are quoted in Hebrew 8:8. Here the contracting parties in this covenant are named:

  1. The LORD, on the one hand,
  2. The house of Israel and the house of Judah on the other hand, and there are no others. To make this association with Israel and with Israel alone, doubly sure, Jeremiah continued:
  • ‘Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake’ (Jer. 31:32).

There can be no doubt as to the identity of the people, or the relationship of the Old Covenant with the New. Jeremiah continues, and shows that this New Covenant has two main features:

  1. The forgiveness of Israel’s sins.
  2. The re-establishing of Israel in their land for ever (Jer. 31:34, 38-40).

Now the establishing of Israel in their land was not merely for their own sakes, but in order that they may function as a Kingdom of Priests, and that salvation, light and truth may radiate from Jerusalem, until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. The first phase of the New Covenant began to operate immediately after the death of Christ, and Acts 3:25,26 we have already seen, was concerned not with the establishing of Israel in their land, but ‘in turning away, every one of you from his iniquities’.

During the Acts period while Israel still remained a people before God, this first phase of the New Covenant could be implemented, and in 2 Corinthians 3, we find the apostle calling himself a minister of the new covenant, for up to this time, the Gentile believer had no independent calling or relationship with God. He could only be blessed with Israel. We must remember also, as 1 Corinthians 10 to 12 makes clear, that the Jewish and the Gentile members of that church (ecclesia) could be at times addressed as independent units by the apostle. It is evident that 1 Corinthians 10:1,2 could be addressed to none but ‘Jews only’. My ‘fathers’ never went through the Red Sea with Moses, my ‘fathers’ never ate the manna, nor drank the water from the rock; only the fathers of Israel had that experience.

In Romans 9, it is categorically stated that ‘the fathers’ and ‘the covenants’ pertain to Israel, and to Israel ‘according to the FLESH’ (Rom. 9:3-5); a ‘Spiritual Israel’ that really means ‘Gentiles’ is a fiction. 1 Corinthians 10 is addressed to those members of the church (ecclesia) at Corinth who were believing Jews. Israel os contrasted with the Gentiles in verses 18-20, and the argument of those verses is a link between ‘The cup of blessing’ (verse 16), ‘The cup of the Lord’, and ‘The Lord’s table’ (verse 21). Fuller reference to the Lord’s table is deferred until chapter 11, where it is spoken of in detail (1 Cor. 11:23,24).

With the opening of the next chapter, chapter 12, Gentile believers are addressed, ‘Ye know that ye were Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 12:2), and the ‘one body’ of Corinthians 10:17 is carried through into the chapter devoted to the distribution and exercise of ‘spiritual gifts’ (1 Cor. 12:1,12,13). It is in the reference to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:25 that the New Covenant is introduced. It is a pity that the Authorized Version has used the two words ‘covenant’ and ‘testament’ as synonymous, for the connotations of the word ‘testament’ are misleading. We have in Hebrews 7:22 and 8:6 the two renderings of that one Greek word diatheke:

  • ‘By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament‘.
  • ‘By how much also He is the Mediator of a better covenant’.

Diatheke is the word employed by the LXX to translate the Hebrew word berith, which always means a covenant league or confederacy, but never a testament. The apostle claimed direct revelation for his knowledge of what took place at that last supper, ‘For I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you’. Alford comments here:

  • ‘I may remark, that the similarity between this account of the Institution and that in Luke’s Gospel, is only what might be expected on the supposition of a special revelation made to Paul, of which the Evangelist, being Paul’s companion, in certain parts of his history availed himself’.

The New Covenant was sealed by the blood of Christ, and the Lord’s Supper was instituted to be a memorial of that blessed fact. Diatheke (covenant) is distributed in the New Testament as follows:

  1. The Gospels. Four occurrences in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. No occurrence in the Gospel of John, who makes no reference either to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the New Covenant being suspended by the time he came to write his Gospel, the covenant people being at the time in a state of Lo-ammi. Matthew is concerned with the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’.
  2. Acts. Two references.
  3. Paul’s early epistles, (except Hebrews), eight occurrences.
  4. Hebrews, contains seventeen references.
  5. Paul’s later epistles, one reference.
  6. Revelation, one reference. t

If we analyse these references we find three out of the four found in the Gospels, refer to the Lord’s Supper; the one other being Luke 1:72 where the covenant is linked with mercy promised to the ‘fathers’ and the oath sworn to ‘Abraham’. The two references in the Acts, namely chapter 3:25 and 7:8, cannot by any possible interpretation refer to the Gentile. Romans contains two references:

(a) ‘Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants . . .’ (Rom. 9:4). … … … to be continued!!

(b) ‘. . . There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is My covenant unto them . . .’ (Rom. 11:26,27).

No Gentile can obtrude himself here. No Gentile can be called ‘Jacob’. No Gentile can be an Israelite in the flesh. 1 Corinthians contains but one reference, again connected with the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:25). 2 Corinthians 3:6,14,15 refer to Israel; the wearing of the talith (prayer cloth) or veil, when ‘Moses is read’ is a feature purely Jewish. While a remnant of Israel formed part of the existing church (ecclesia), the phase of the New Covenant that provided for the forgiveness of sins could be implemented, the wild olive partaking of the root and fatness of the olive tree while the graft lasted. But when the olive tree was temporarily cut down, all, both natural and unnatural branches went with it.

Galatians is the only epistle that ‘speaks’ after the manner of men’ and deals with a ‘man’s covenant’ (Gal. 3:15), the two other references (Gal. 3:17 and 4:24) speaking of the covenant made with Abraham before the law, and the new covenant made with Israel after the law.

The only references that Paul makes in his Prison Epistles, is negative:

  • ‘Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh . . . were . . . strangers from the covenants of promise’ (Eph. 2:11,12).

This leaves the epistle to the Hebrews with more references to the covenant than all the rest of the New Testament put together. This new covenant of which Christ is the glorious High Priest, belongs intrinsically to the HEBREWS, for it is a matter of fact, not lightly to be turned aside, that while the apostle uses the word ‘Priest’ (Gk. hiereus) fourteen times in this epistle to the Hebrews, and ‘High Priest (Gk. arcihiereus), seventeen times in that same epistle, he never once, in any epistle written either before or after his imprisonment, uses the word again!! Paul, when giving his testimony to the Hebrews, could not do so, without speaking of the Priesthood thirty-two times.

Paul, when giving that monument of doctrinal truth, namely the epistle to the Romans, never refers to the Priesthood once! With the Priesthood of Christ, goes the covenant. Where there is no Priest there can be no covenant, and this is such a solemn issue, that we must immediately face it and its consequences.

  1. The covenanting parties, according to Jeremiah 31, are: (a) The LORD, on the one hand. (b) Israel on the other.
  2. At Acts 28 or at latest A.D. 70, Israel became Lo-ammi, ‘Not My people’, the Lord declaring that He will not be for a time, Israel’s God. This renders the New Covenant unworkable.
  3. It therefore becomes an impossibility for any believing Gentile, who comes to a knowledge of salvation after Acts 28, to be blessed under the new covenant, for he has no Priest to confirm it, he has no place himself in it, and the people who could have merited some of its blessing (as they will, praise God, in the future), were blinded and dismissed.
  4. If therefore Jew and Gentile were not to be abandoned completely by God throughout the centuries of Israel’s blindness, some new REVELATION was necessitated. This revelation is announced and expounded in those epistles which, for the sake of clearness, we denominate ‘The Prison Epistles’.
  5. What we hope to establish is that: (a) What the High Priest and the New Covenant is to the ‘Hebrews’, so the Head and the Dispensation of the Mystery is to the ‘Ephesians’. (b) While the New Covenant is in force, Israel must be dominant and the Gentile subservient, but while the Mystery is in force, the New Covenant is in suspension, and Israel’s supremacy gone.

First, however, we must justify the expression ‘The Prison Epistles’, for this has recently been set aside. The words of Ephesians 3:1, ‘For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles’, being rendered ‘I therefore the bound one of Jesus Christ’ with the explanatory comment ‘Just as you or I, by reason of redeeming love, can be called the bound one of Jesus Christ, so the apostle refers to himself’. With the sentiment involved we are in full agreement, but with the deduction we cannot be. The word translated ‘prisoner’ is the Greek word desmios. This word occurs fifteen times: ‘in bonds’ twice, and ‘prisoner’ thirteen times.

  • Desmos – is translated ‘bond’ three times, ‘bound’ fifteen times, ‘chain’ once, and ‘string’ once.
  • Desmeo, – ‘bind’ once.
  • Desmeuo, – ‘bind’ twice.
  • Desmophulax, – ‘jailor’ once, ‘keeper of the prison’ twice.
  • Desmoterion, – ‘prison’ four times.
  • Desmotes, – ‘prisoner’ twice.

Here we have overwhelming evidence of the usage of this word, every occurrence of desmos without exception referring to imprisonment. We can only say, in the face of this uncompromising evidence of meaning, that anyone who is ‘the bound one of Jesus Christ’ will also feel morally ‘bound’ to believe that Paul was ‘the Prisoner’ of Jesus Christ, that he referred to this ministry in Acts 20:23 saying that the Holy Ghost witnessed in every city that ‘bonds’, desmos awaited him, with in Acts 21:10,11 is seth fort in dumb-show by a prophet named Agabus, who took Paul’s girdle, bound his own hands and feet, saying, ‘ So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’. Before chapter 21 is concluded, we find Paul ‘bound with two chains’, and in subsequent chapters a prisoner at Caesarea and finally Rome. To teach otherwise, but never to bring all this evidence forward, makes any teacher so doing suspect.

Another attempt to evacuate (to divest) the truth concerning Paul the Prisoner is to draw a distinction between a ‘lodging’ (Acts 28:23) and Paul’s ‘own hired house’ (Acts 28:30), the most extraordinary example of ‘inspired hair-splitting’ (we borrow the expression) that we have come across. Paul was not a criminal at his first imprisonment; he could have had his freedom had he so chose, for Agrippa said to Festus:

  • ‘This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar’ (Acts 26:32).

On the journey by ship to Rome, the centurion Julius, ‘courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself’ (Acts 27:3), and Paul was not reprimanded or checked when he dared to ‘admonish’ the captain and the crew (Acts 29:9-11). He was not under sentence when he arrived at Rome, but was kept in custody awaiting the judgment of Nero. In perfect harmony with all this, Paul as a Roman and a freeman, was permitted to hire a lodging, or a house, and to receive as many as cared to visit him. He was necessarily ‘bound with a chain’ to the wrist of his guard, but even so that irrepressible spirit could say ‘For which I am an ambassador in bonds (a chain)’ (Eph. 6:20), even as he was beyond all else not the prisoner of Jewish spite or Roman maladministration, but the Prisoner of Jesus Christ with a mission to fulfill.

When he spoke of his bonds in Philippians 1:7,13 they were bonds for Christ and the gospel that could be made manifest in Caesar’s court, literally the Praetorium. However true it may have been that Paul was spiritually ‘the bound one’ of Jesus Christ, he was literally and physically a ‘prisoner’. Prison was no new experience for the apostle, as Acts 16 and 2 Corinthians 11:23 testify. But this last Roman imprisonment was intimately connected with the passing of Israel, the reception of a new revelation with was particularly directed to Gentile salvation while the New Covenant was in abeyance and the Jew blinded. Those epistles that are unmistakably ‘Prison’ epistles are five in number, namely, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and 2 Timothy.

  • Ephesians 3:1 – ‘For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles’.
  • Philippians 1:13 – ‘My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace (Praetorium)’.
  • Colossians 4:3,18 – ‘The mystery if Christ, for which I am also in bonds’.
  • Philemon 1,9 cf. 10,13 – ‘Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ’.
  • 2 Timothy 2:8,9 – ‘My gospel: wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds’.

These epistles fall into a related group, as follows:

The Structure of the Prison Epistles showing their distinctive doctrines and their interrelation

Key Words* [* None of these expressions occur in Philippians or 2 Timothy.]

A. EPHESIANS {Seated together} – The dispensation (3:2 and 9 R.V.). Mystery (3:3). The church which is His body (1:22,23). The fulness (1:23; 4:10). Christ the Head (1:22). Principalities and powers (1:21).

Key Words# [# Only occurrences in Paul’s epistles.]

B. PHILIPPIANS {The Prize} – Try the things that differ (1:10 margin). Strive (1:27). Press toward the mark (3:14). Prize (3:14). Depart# (1:23). Offered# (2:17).

C. PHILEMON {The Truth in practice}

A. COLOSSIANS {Complete in Him} – Dispensation (1:25). Mystery (1:26). The church which is His body (1:24). Fulness (1:19). Christ the Head (2:19). Principalities and powers (1:16; 2:10).

B. 2 TIMOTHY {The Crown} – Rightly dividing the Word (2:15). Strive (2:5). Course finished (4:7). Crown (4:8). Depart# (4:6). Offered# (4:6).

The imprisonment referred to in 2 Timothy was not of the same nature as that described in Acts 28. No longer treated ‘courteously’, he was now treated as a ‘malefactor’ (same word as in Luke 23:32,33,39), and without hope this time of reprieve. The first epistle to Timothy has so many literary links with 2 Timothy that it, together with Titus, appears to fill the gap occasioned by Paul’s release from prison, as expected by him (Phil. 1:26; Philemon 22).

While the very nature of the Mystery, in that it was ‘hid in God’ and only ‘revealed’ to the apostle in the capacity of the ‘Prisoner of the Lord’ for us Gentiles (Eph. 3:1-13; Col. 1:23-27), precludes the idea that it would form a subject of Old Testament prophecy, there are features of it that were foreshadowed, and to one or two of these passage we now turn. The first quotation of the Old Testament in Ephesians is chapter 1:

  • ‘And hath put all things under His feet’ (Eph. 1:22).

The apostle uses this Old Testament reference in 1 Corinthians 15:27, were he envisages ‘The end . . . that God may be all in all’, and also in Hebrew 2:8,9 where he sees ‘Jesus’ as the second man and the last Adam. Psalm 8 is not limited to any one dispensation. It looks back to the first Adam and forward to the Second Man and the last Adam, and deals rather with the whole purpose of the Ages up to ‘the end’, and not specifically with any one of the different intervening dispensations by which the ages are subdivided.

The context of the quotation in Ephesians 1 is the ascension, the seating of Christ in heavenly places far above all principality and power (Eph. 1:19-21), and associates this high exaltation of the Lord as Head, with ‘the church which is His Body’, concluding with the words, ‘The fulness of Him that filleth all in all’ (verses 22,23). Leaving this passage for a moment, we turn to Ephesians 4, where another Old Testament passage is quoted, and we shall find that this has something in common with the passage already quoted:

  • ‘Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men’ (Eph. 4:8).

This is a quotation from Psalm 68:18, and the Psalm itself appears to have been written upon the carrying up of the Ark of God to Mount Zion — ‘Let God arise’ (Ps. 68:1) being the words used by Moses whenever the ark set forward before the armies of Israel (Num. 10:35). The apostle borrows from this triumphant Psalm which, in verse 4 and 33, opens and closes with the fact that God rideth upon the heavens (v. 4) and upon the heavens of heavens which were of old (v. 33). It will be seen that the words of verse 33 challenge our interest. Not only does this verse speak of ‘heavens of heavens’, but refers them back to the period called ‘of old’. This as Proverbs 8:22, Micah 5:2 and Habakkuk 1:12 show, looks back beyond the six days’ creation with its limited ‘firmament’ to the ‘heaven’ of Genesis 1:1.

The apostle has not quoted verse 33 in Ephesians 4, but he is fully aware of its implications, and so could use the reference to the ascension and the gifts in Psalm 68:18 as a suggestive foreshadowing of what he was about to reveal in Ephesians 4. Let us note the way Ephesians 4 seems to echo Ephesians 1:

  • Eph. 1:17-23 ‘That He may give’. ‘Far above all’. ‘Principality and power’. ‘The church [ecclesia] . . . His Body’. ‘The fulness of Him that filleth all in all’.
  • Eph. 4:7-12 ‘He gave gifts’. ‘Far above all’. ‘He led captivity captive’. ‘The Body of Christ’. ‘That He might fill all things’.

Colossians 2:15 shows that those who were at this time ‘led captive’, were principalities and powers that were ‘spoiled’ at the cross. Where he speaks of ‘heavenly places’ in Ephesians 1, he speaks of ‘all heavens’ in Ephesians 4; in both passages the Saviour is seen exalted ‘Far above all’, whether above all principality or above all heavens. The word translated ‘far above’ is the Greek huperano..Ano by itself means ‘above’, and is used of Jerusalem which is above. If the apostle therefore chose to add the prefix huper he must have intended something different and something superior. So, auxano means ‘to grow’, but huperauxano means ‘to grow exceedingly’ (2 Thess. 1:3). Katabaino means ‘to go down’ (Luke 10:30), anabaino means ‘to go up’ (Mark 10:33), and therefore huperbaino means ‘to go beyond’ (1 Thess. 4:6).

Psalm 68:33 recognizes the ‘super-heavens’ for it does not simply say ‘To Him that rideth upon the heavens’, nor ‘To Him that rideth upon the heaven of heavens’, but ‘To Him that rideth upon the HEAVENS OF HEAVENS’, and not only so, ‘which were of old’, as we have already seen. Deuteronomy 10:14 distinguishes between ‘the heaven’ and ‘the heaven of heavens’ as does 1 Kings 8:27. Hebrews 4:14 speaks of Christ that is passed into the heavens, but the Greek word dierchomai means to pass THROUGH, as in 1 Corinthians 16:5, for the Great High Priest of Hebrews was to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High. Not only so, but Psalm 68:33 adds to the words ‘The heavens of heavens’ the further explanatory clause, ‘which were of old’.

Psalm 102:25 refers this to the original creation of Genesis 1:1 BEFORE the limited ‘firmament’ which was thereafter ‘called heaven’ (Gen. 1:6-8), and which was in due time to depart as a ‘scroll’ (Isa. 34:4; Rev. 6:14) and with a great noise (2 Pet. 3:10). Where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, will never pass away, for it is the ‘super-heavens’ which are ‘Far above all heavens’ and so beyond the limitations of the present six days creation which is limited both in space and in time.

The prophecies and the types of the Old Testament do not speak of the dispensation of the mystery, for that would involve a contradiction of terms. If the present parenthesis was ‘hid in God’ and ‘hid from the ages and generations’ from the beginning of the world (the ages) (Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26) and ‘before the world began’ (age times) (2 Tim. 1:9), it could only become known when God Himself chose to reveal it, and this He did upon Israel’s defection, to the vessel He had chosen, namely Paul, ‘the prisoner of Jesus Christ’ (Eph. 3:1).

Hosea chapter 3 demands a dispensational break at Act 28, and the Old Testament reference we have cited supplements that demand, by indicating a calling and a sphere which Moses and the Prophets never knew. They only who ‘rightly divide the Word of Truth’ believe ALL that is written; HOW it is written; to WHOM it is written, without hesitation, alteration or subtraction. May every reader ‘search and see’, and abide by the teaching of ‘the Word of Truth’ (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15). / http://www.bereanonline.org

By Charles H. Welch

The Berean Expositor (Acts 17:10,11) – A Magazine Devoted to Bible Study;

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