When the apostles spoke through Peter a short time after the “Holy Gust” of wind had blown through Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, they proclaimed in the following statement that the winds of change were about to storm through Israel. In order not to be blown away with the changes that were coming, there was only one recourse that everyone must do in order to be pleasing to God:
Therefore, repent and be converted [change your thinking and living] so that your sins may be blotted out, in order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (At 3:19).
This was a proclamation of change, a change in thinking and behavior. The train of God’s messianic movement among the Jews was passing through Israel. If the Jews did not board the train, it would continue to move on from them to the Gentiles throughout the entire world (See At 18:6). If the Jews who first heard the message did not repent from their legal religiosity that was created after the traditions of their fathers, accept Jesus as the fulfillment of all prophecies concerning the Messiah, then they would miss the train.
Those in Jerusalem who had the first opportunity to board the train of change through repentance and conversion to Jesus, but refused to board, would be the first to be trampled from existence in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that national Israel was coming to an end (See Mt 24). It was a matter of change or doom.
If we read again the proclamation of the apostles’ condition for the coming of the “times of refreshing,” it is evident that there were two conditions that were necessary to make the coming change. The Jews had to repent and convert from their old ways. When there was repentance and conversion, then there would be change. Without this change, there would be no “times of refreshing.” Unfortunately, most of the Jews would continue in the deadness of their own legal religiosity, dead in their traditions, and thus, doomed to destruction in the consummation of national Israel. The apostles’ statement was a distinct call for a change from the old to the new, from the old covenant to the new covenant, from the law of Moses to the grace and truth of Jesus (Jr 31:31-34; Jn 1:17; Hb 8:7-13). It was a change in order to escape the doom of national Israel in A.D. 70, but ultimately a change in life to escape the doom of eternal hell when Jesus came at the end of time.
The apostles were the “change agents” for Jesus to turn a people from their own traditional religion to the new ways of God. In the historical setting in which they called for repentance and conversion, those Jews in Judea who did not heed the call would suffer the consequences of their rebellion against God. In the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, over one million Jews died in the consummation of national Israel.
Some have wondered why so many Jews rejected those winds of Messianic change in the first century, and thus discouraged the coming of the “times of refreshing.” The answer is in the nature of the traditional culture of the Jews and the legal religion that they had fabricated after their own traditions. The more traditional a culture is, the more difficult it is for those of the culture to initiate and encourage restorational change.
Traditional cultures will often accept changes that conform to the established culture. However, it is very difficult for traditional cultures to generate and encourage restoration. Restoration involves repentance, and repentance means change. In the case of the Jews of the first century, it meant a drastic change from their traditional religion to the grace of God that was revealed through Jesus (Ti 2:11). Changing to the grace of God from one’s assurance that is based on obedience to the traditional requirements of one’s self-imposed religiosity is very difficult. Specifically, the legal religionist has difficulty making this change. In legalistic religions the adherents find security in the self-imposed traditions of their own religion. But in grace one must trust in the mercy of God.
For the Jews who lived with a theocratic world view, Jesus meant not only a change from legal religiosity, but a change in their isolationist behavior in reference to the Gentiles. It was thus very difficult for the Jews to change in their culture, as it is in all cultures that are theocratic and traditional in function. For the Jews to turn to Jesus, they were turning from the security of their cultural heritage. In the new culture of Christ (Christianity), there would be no Jew or Gentile (Gl 3:26-29). There would be no national Israel to which one could be patriotic, for national Israel was coming to a close in A.D. 70 (See Mt 24). The Jewish world in the eternal plan of God was giving way in the first century to a new community of faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
The early Americans fought for and won their independence from English rule in the middle 1700s. The New World (America) that the revolutionaries built was a world that was built by immigrants, immigrants who had left the old world for the new. They left their cultures of Europe in order to make a new life for themselves in the new world. These were immigrants who were looking for a new life, a life of freedom. They came to America in the thousands during the 1800s in order to think freely and to determine their own future.
Immigrants came with their dreams, and with the baggage of their old cultures and languages. However, when they set foot on the new land of hope and opportunity, they adopted the English language—a nation cannot be united unless it has a common language. With the amalgamation of so many cultures in the New World, they developed a new way of life. Their blending of many foreign cultures formed the American culture of diversity. The people become united in their diversity. The serendipity of the amalgamation of cultures to form a new way of life meant that people learned how to change. The development of the American culture resulted in a subliminal cultural trait that makes it easy to change. Change for a better way of life became a cultural value of the New World.
Those who settled the New World were willing to change for a better life. In severing themselves from the Old World, they were determined to build a nation that was based on the freedom of the individual to think and live. This ability to change for the better spilled over into their spiritual life. As devout Bible students, many would approach their study of the Bible with their minds, not with the bondage of their past religious traditions.
Nevertheless, there were those who brought with them the religious traditions of the Old World. All the traditional religions of the Old World found a place in the freedom of the New World. However, by the end of the eighteenth century, and specifically at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the spirit of independence and freedom gave birth to what is referred to as the American Restoration Movement. The traditional religions of the Old World could not keep in bondage these free thinkers who studied anew the Holy Scriptures.
The Restoration Movement found its birth in America because, in their spirit of independence and love for the word of God, dedicated people began to think freely, and thus cast off the bondage of traditional religiosity. Because of their culture of independence and freedom, it was easy for them to rid themselves of those traditional catechisms of men that kept them in bondage for centuries in the Old World.
Do not make the mistake of believing that it was easy to make the change. It was certainly a fearful thing to flee from the comfort of traditional religiosity. However, their comfort came from the authority of the word of God alone as the foundation upon which they built their faith. They concluded that if the Scriptures were able to furnish one unto every good work, then certainly the Scriptures were all that was needed to present one pleasing before God (2 Tm 3:16,17). It was the authority of the Scriptures, therefore, that moved them on from the authority of the religious traditions of their fathers. As a result, a massive Restoration Movement in faith stormed across America in the 1800s.
The message of restoration, as Peter proclaimed in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, has now gone into all the world. There are millions of disciples throughout the world today who are the product of that nineteenth century American Restoration Movement. They are not products of restoration movements that were generated within their own traditional cultures. They were initially products of mission efforts of the American Restoration Movement that sent evangelists throughout the world. We know of few independent restoration movements in cultures of the world that generated a worldwide impact that was generated by the nineteenth century Restoration Movement of America.
[Next lecture: June 11]