Thursday, December 28, 2006


   In Acts 3:18-26 there is a war raging as to what "the times of refreshing" and "period of restoration" mean. Progressive Dispensationalists say the (1) refreshing has to do with this present church period, and (2) the restoration is about the millennial kingdom. Amillennialists believe that both expressions have nothing to do with the kingdom, which was forfeited by the Jewish people. The church is now taking the place of the earthly kingdom promises. Some amillennialists believe the restoration has to do with restoring the earth, and the realm of mankind, back to the Pre-Fall period. Everything will be restored to a time of sinless perfection. 

   Classical dispensationalists believe that both expressions have to do with the messianic kingdom reign of Christ, whereby He will bring peace to the earth and reign worldwide from Jerusalem "with a rod of iron" (Psa. 2:9), ruling with that "strong scepter" in "the midst of [His] enemies" (110:2). This position will be proven from Acts 3 by (1) context, (2) how the Jews would have understood the two expressions, and (3) by the grammar of the passages in view. 

   While few argue that the church began in Acts 2, there is some confusion about what the apostle Peter is talking about in Acts 3:18-26. (1) Is he discussing still the issue of the church, (2) Is he saying that the coming kingdom is somehow connected to the church, (3) Or has he moved to another subject, the future messianic kingdom, which is not related to the church age? 

   It is important to focus on the verses that are critical to what is being taught in the passage by Peter. Verses 19-21 are of special interest and need our attention in this discussion: 

   Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.
   The Context
   Chapter 3 picks up with John and Peter right after the miraculous events of Pentecost in chapter 2. They had just healed the lame many at the temple gate called Beautiful (3:6-11). The gathering crowd offered the occasion for Peter to speak again about "faith in the name of Jesus," the Prince of life (vv. 15-16). Peter reminds the congregation of Jews that it was announced before hand in "all the prophets" that the Lord’s Christ (Messiah, Anointed One) would suffer. This "He has thus fulfilled" (v. 18). If the Jews repented He would come from the presence of the Lord (v. 19), the one who was appointed for them (v. 20) and bring "restoration of all things" which God spoke about through the holy prophets (v. 21). 

   While the church age had already begun in Acts 2, this was a promise of the return of Christ to reign over the restored theocracy. The "times of refreshing" coming with Christ would be what we label "the second coming." The first coming, when He came to suffer, was fulfilled literally (v. 18) when Christ went to the cross. The second coming will also be literal. 

   Peter continues and says that Christ was the one Moses prophesied about (in Deuteronomy 18:15) as the "other" Prophet the Lord said the people should heed (v. 22). If the people do not listen to Him they are to be destroyed (v. 23). All the prophets spoke of the day of His coming (v. 24), and, as the covenant with Abraham promised, He would bless "all the families of the earth" (v. 25). Peter sums up by saying: "For you first [the Jewish people], God raised up His Servant (Christ) and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways" (v. 26). 

   With verse 26 Peter is saying that the Sacrifice of the Messiah comes before the Reign of the Messiah! 

   Hermeneutics, Interpretation, and Acts 3
   Did Peter know of God’s timetable? Did he understand the length and breadth, and extent of the church age that had just begun? Did Peter even fully realize that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 would begin something new, and that God would be in the process of now rejecting the nation of Israel as a whole for their rejection of Christ? At this stage, did Peter fully understand that a new dispensation had begun, and that the kingdom would be postponed? 

   If we believe in Progressive Revelation, the answer is no. Progressive Revelation would mean in this passage that Peter did not fully understand all that was happening. His offer is legitimate though He did not know the full mind of the Lord in the matter of his imperative for the Jews to "Repent …" In hindsight we understand now that the Jews as a whole would not do this. Summarizing Progressive Revelation: 

   By progressive revelation we mean that the Bible sets forth a movement of God, with the initiative coming from God and not man, in which God brings man up through the theological infancy.1
   The progress of revelation certainly suggests that God may have had in mind certain facts that some of the human authors did not full comprehend, but that others may have known with additional revelation given later.2
   In many prophecies of Scripture, God did not reveal everything at once concerning a specific truth of doctrine. … Progressive revelation is especially important in gaining a full understanding of eschatology as the prophetic plan unfolds through the Word of God.3
   In conclusion, Larkin notes:
   God’s foreknowledge that the Jewish nation would not at that time heed the announcement that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand and repent, does not militate against the sincerity of the announcement any more than the offer of spiritual salvation by a preacher of the Gospel to an audience of sinners who he has every reason to believe will refuse his offer, is not a sincere and "bona fide" offer.4
   The Amillennial View
   Many amillennialists do not know what to do with Acts 3. Their theology gets in the way, though generally, I appreciate their exegetical skills in the Greek text. They work hard to disavow what the text is teaching about the millennial hope of the nation of Israel. The old Princeton scholar Alexander writes concerning 3:19: "Looking simply at this verse, the times of refreshing, as observed already, might denote nothing more than the relief from pain, and other pleasurable feelings which accompany repentance and conversion."5
   Barrett writes on verse 21:
   "One aspect of the restoration of all things is given in 1:6 … Luke … suggests about the restoration of creation to the sinless and blissful state of Adam in Eden is clear that he did not think in [Jewish] nationalistic terms.6
   Disregarding the idea of an earthly, literal, historic messianic kingdom reign on earth by Christ, Hackett adds on verse 19 about the times of refreshing: This "refers to the present consolation of the gospel, or to the blessedness which awaits the followers of Christ at the end of the world, when he shall return and receive them to himself in heaven. … "The apostle [had] in view Christ’s second coming, when those who have believed on him shall enter upon their eternal rest in heaven." 7 Notice how any earthly kingdom idea is ignored. When interpreting a passage of Scripture, the interpreter must keep in view what the listeners had in mind. God does not speak with forked tongue! The Jews took the passage about the "refreshing" as the millennial reign! 

   Christ Should Suffer, He Thus Fulfilled (3:18)
   The sufferings of Christ were thoroughly announced in many Old Testament passages. It was predicted to happen literally and historically. Peter speaks of the predictions as the things using the relative pronoun a which is a neuter, plural, accusative in the Greek text. Broadly speaking, and by using the plural pronoun Peter may include Christ’s virgin birth, life ministry, death, burial, and resurrection, all of which are prophesied in the Old Testament. He would certainly be including the great body of verses about the establishment of the Davidic earthly reign of the Messiah! The expression announced before is the Greek word prokataggelo that is actually three words put together which means: "to before accordingly announce" (aorist, active, indicative). The prophets not only wrote all of these things down but they spoke about them "by the mouth."
   Peter then adds "He has thus fulfilled" (plarao, aorist, active, indicative). The word thus is houtos and should be translated likewise. The fulfillment was certain and guaranteed by the authority of God Himself. "Fulfillment" was almost always referring to a literal and actual completion that happened on earth, in time. 

   Repent therefore and return (3:19a)
   Peter here uses two aorist imperatives with the verbs (metanoeo, change the mind) and (epistrepho, turn around, turn back). The Jewish people today know perfectly well that repentance is required for the nation to be redeemed. In New Testament times repentance was necessary for the messianic kingdom to begin. Repentance was the burning message of both John the Baptist, and of the Lord Himself, when they began to minister to Israel. In the Gospels, as a verb and a noun, the word is used twenty-six times. Israel was to reject their sins, turn away from them, and turn to Christ. Some did, but most did not!
   The ancient Jewish rabbis even say, "The Messiah was prevented from coming because the generation was unworthy."8 Rabbi Eliezer said, "If Israel repents, it will be redeemed; if not, it will not be redeemed."9 Rabbi Y’hoshu’a hinted at the fact that the Messiah would send the Antichrist to bring about repentance. He wrote, "[Can it be that] if they do not repent they will not be redeemed? [No,] but the Holy One, blessed be He, will cause a king to arise against them whose decrees will be cruel like [those of] Haman, [whereupon] Israel will repent and turn to be good."10
   Avi-Yonah and Baras add to this in their historical analysis of New Testament times, that John "had to prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming by preaching repentance. … He exhorted the people to repent, for the kingdom of heaven [the earthly messianic rule] was near. … Baptism was one of the principle elements of conversion; John the Baptist now made it a basic requirement for repentance."11
   What did Peter mean by return (epistrepho)?
   In almost 100% of the uses, the word means to turn around, return, bring back, and in a few cases, to convert.12 While the word is certainly connected to the spiritual conversion of the Jews, and the wiping away of their sins, as well as being connected to the word repent, the idea behind the concept has further implications. It is connected to the purpose clauses hopos (v. 19, that) and hopou (v. 20, that), with the idea in order that. There is almost no difference in this construction and the conditional element in all purpose clauses that normally begin with hina.13 What we have then is  Repent … and return … in order that the times of refreshing may come and in order that [God] may send Jesus the Christ appointed for you. 

   While the repentance will certainly bring salvation and the wiping away of their sins, Peter has more than this in view. He had in mind the coming of Christ (the Anointed One) who is to reign on the throne in Jerusalem. Again, Peter did not understand all that was happening at Pentecost. He did not realize that a new transition was underway. But this does not mean he was wrong in what he said. He did not know what God had in view, and that the He certainly knew by His divine foreknowledge that the Jews would not repent. 

   The Seasons of Refreshing (v. 19b)
   For an honest interpreter of the Word of God, this passage is about the restoration of the theocratic kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament. It will be David’s Son, the Lord Jesus, who will rule on his throne from Jerusalem. The Jews had no idea when this would happen though they wanted it to happen immediately. The expression "times of refreshing" (kairoi anapsyxeos) (v. 19) and the expression "the period of restoration" (chronoi apokatastaseos) (v. 21) are without parallel in the New Testament, though the verb apokathistemi ("to restore"), which is the verbal form of apokatastasis ("restoration") is used extensively in the LXX of the predicted restoration of Israel (Jer. 15:19; 16:15; 24:6; 50:19; Ezek. 16:55; Hosea 11:11).14
   There is little doubt that this is what Peter had in view! 

   The seasons (kairoi anapsyxeos) picture a period of cooling winds from the presence of the Lord, sunshine and pleasant breezes. God will give rest, political and national rest when the Christ, appointed "for you the Jews," will return from heaven. 

   Progressive Dispensationalism Misses the Mark
   Progressive Dispensationalists believe this is the time of the church dispensation, but that the "period of restoration" is the kingdom. The expressions of "purpose" that flows together is unbreakable in the grammar. The two must be the same. In great detail Ryrie addresses this issue. Though what he says is lengthy it is worth quoting here: 

   A word should be said about the progressives’ revised interpretation of Acts 3:19-21 and the phrases "times of refreshing" and "restoration of all things." The former phrase, they say, refers to the present time [as they put it] (the "already" aspect of the kingdom) and the latter to the future return of Christ (the "not yet" phase). But that would not have been what Peter’s audience understood, nor is it supported exegetically. The "that" (hopos) in verse 20 introduces a purpose clause; i.e., repent for the purpose of or with a view to. The purpose involves two things happening—the coming of "times of refreshing" and the coming of Christ. Progressives believe that the times of refreshing refer to the present time, preceding the return of Christ. But the construction links the two events: the times of refreshing (the millennial, Davidic kingdom) will come when Christ returns and not before. The two clauses (with two subjunctive verbs) that follow hopos cannot be separated, as progressives do, in order to support their already (present Davidic kingdom, "restoration of all things") concept. Nothing grammatically separates the promises; in fact, they are joined together by the connective kai [and]. Therefore, both expressions refer to the promised restoration of the nation Israel in the Millennium. This teaching of an already inaugurated Davidic reign in revisionist dispensationalism is far from firmly established by clear exegesis of the relevant texts.15
   Christ is Appointed for Israel as their King (3:20)
   The amillennialists and the Progressives are grammatically wrong when they attempt to force the issue that Peter is "not" discussing the millennial promises of the Lord. Peter uses two subjunctives that are tied to the word repent. "That refreshing MAY COME " (v. 19b) and "That [God] MAY SEND" (v. 20). "One could just as easily read verse 20 as "that He may send the foreordained Christ again" (understanding the Greek word palin (again) to be in view) as "that He may send the foreordained and future Christ."16
   Peter said pointedly to the Jews that "the Christ (the Anointed One) was for them (v. 20b). This Christ is "His Christ" (v. 18), and this must refer to Psalm 2 where the messianic reign of the Christ, the Son of God, is in view, not His salvation work as prophesied in Isaiah 53. 

   As already shown, verse 20 is about a second "sending." Christ was "appointed" to come as Savior with His first appearance. This verse is speaking of another sending. The word appointed is a perfect, passive, participle in the Greek text. The grammar is saying that Christ "has been appointed" in the past and that appointment will come right on up until it happens, is fulfilled! The verb is procheirizo, with the hand, thus "to assign, signal with the hand, to take to hand," or "to appoint." Or, to gesture with the hand that something be carried out or done. In this case, God has signaled that His Son is the one designated to come to earth to rule and to bring peace to a near-destroyed planet. 

   The amillennialists keep missing the fact that Christ’s appointment here is "for you" the Jews. The messianic earthly reign is clearly set forth in the Old Testament. The king will rule over the world through the revived and regathered nation of Israel. Amillennialists like Lenski simply make His return as something that happens at the end of the world. He does not explain further what that means.17
   Heaven must receive (3:21)
   Christ ascended to the throne room of His heavenly Father before the very eyes of His apostles (Acts 1:11). They were told by an angel that He "will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven" Jesus told the Jewish Council upon His arrest that they would "see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:63; Dan. 7). 

   With a reference to the Messiah being deity, Zechariah says that "His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west" (Zech. 14:4), and "Then the Lord my God, will come, and all the holy angels with Him!" (v. 5). Christ who is the Lord will be king over all the earth (v. 9), and the survivors of the tribulation from among the nations will come up to Jerusalem year after year and worship the King, the Lord of hosts (vv. 16-17).
   Christ remains in heaven until (achri) "the period of restoration" (Acts 3:21). The Greek word restoration is a tri-compound word apokatastaseos that means "to again set in order." Or, "to restore something to the rightful owner." The word is also used to describe the "balancing of accounts." Some English texts translate this word as "the restitution." Liberal commentators, and some amillennialists, try to argue that the idea in view means the complete restoration of all things back to the time before the Fall of Adam. But that idea is not reflected in God’s holy prophets (plural) throughout the Old Testament, nor is it reflected in the context, and, in the discourse Peter is delivering to the Jews in Jerusalem! This idea is indicative of "a reach" by those who do not want to fact the obvious! But the millennial reign, the restoration of the theocracy, is cited with hundreds if not thousands of references "from ancient time." 

   Grammatically, the expressions the "times of refreshing" (v. 19) and "the period of restoration" (v. 21) must go together. The two expressions cannot be split up by the Progressives nor the amillennialists who want to deny the idea that Peter is referring to the restoration of the theocracy. Peter did not know at this point God’s timetable. He, along with the other disciples, would much later. Here in these early Acts chapters, and that Peter and others knew was that the Holy Spirit was poured out as Christ predicted (1:8) and as then happened in chapter 2. 

   Amillennial scholars, like Kistemaker, work hard to make the church the same as the kingdom, doing so by ignoring the fact that kingdom statements have to do with Israel and not the church. Kistemaker writes: "While Christ’s gospel is preached on earth, Jesus remains in heaven, from where he directs the development of his church and kingdom"18 Those who attempt to deny the obvious generally have an agenda, or an ax to grind. They avoid what is most clear to attempt to prove a point. But the grammar of the passage cannot be denied! It makes it clear that Peter could have still been looking for the coming kingdom if only his people would repent. In a distant theory, this could have happened. But God knew what the Jews were going to do. The kingdom was postponed and the church age would accelerate and spread to all the nations! 

   There are other older scholars like Alford who seem to "see the light." On verse 19 he wrote: 

   No other meanings, it seems to me, will suit the words, but that of the times of refreshment, the great season of joy and rest, which it was understood the coming of the Messiah in His glory was to bring with it. That this should be connected by the Apostle with the conversion of the Jewish people, was not only according to the plain inference from prophecy, but doubtless was one of those things concerning the kingdom of God which he had been taught by his risen Master.19
   Ger well summarizes:
   The cumulative fruit of individual repentance would be the messianic king’s return to establish the era of His sovereign rule, the "times of refreshing." In other words, Jesus will not return until Israel repents. Jesus is, after all, Peter pointed out, "the Christ appointed for you," with reference to the Jewish people. … This is the long anticipated "age to come" (Is. 11:1-12), the coming kingdom which will be the final realization of all the promises God had made to the Jewish people through the prophets.20

1. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), 102.
2. Roy Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor Books, 1991), 272.
3. Mal Couch, gen. ed., An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000), 64.
4. Clarence Larkin, Rightly Dividing the Word. (Glenside, PA: Rev. Clarence Larkin Est., 1920), 55.
5. J. A. Alexander, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956 reprint), 115.
6. C. K. Barrett, Acts, 2 Vols. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1994), 1:206.
7. Horatio B. Hackett, Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992 reprint), 61.
8. Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1979), xxix.
9. Ibid., 61.
10. Ibid.
11. Michael Avi-Yonah and Zvi Baras, ed., Society and Religion in the Second Temple Period (Jerusalem: Massada Publishing, 1977), 210-11.
12. Horst Balz & Gerhard Schneider, ed., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 2:40.
13. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 7 Vols. (Nashville: Broadman, 1930), III:46.
14. Frank E. Gaebelein, gen. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 9:297.
15. Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 169-70.
16. Frank E. Gaebelein, gen. ed., Expositor’s, 9:298.
17. R. C. H. Lenski, The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1961), 142.
18. Simon J. Kistemaker, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 136.
19. Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, 4 Vols. (Chicago: Moody, 1958), 2:36.
20. Mal Couch & Ed Hindson, gen. eds., Acts Steve Ger (Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 2004), 65.