About 120 people met in a room in Jerusalem to worship. They were disciples of Jesus Christ who, though few, were faithful. They waited for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit. Christ had commanded His few apostles prior to His ascension to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father to them—the outpouring of the Spirit. Now Pentecost had fully come. The few believers met together in one accord in one place. Suddenly the Spirit was poured out upon these believers and they began to speak in other languages. This was a significant day for the church because on this day the church came of age. It entered into adulthood. In the Old Testament the church was a child who was under tutors and governors. They needed pictures and laws to guide them. With the pouring out of the Spirit the church grew up.
This is the idea expressed in Galatians. The church of the Old Testament was as a child under the tutor of the law. These saints received the promises of God’s covenant with them. But they received them in types and shadows, that is, pictures. They were as children because they did not fully understand what God had in store for His church in the ages to come. They knew a Messiah would come, but they did not know who He was or what He would accomplish to save from sin.
With the coming of Pentecost this all changed. The Spirit was poured out into the church and then God’s saints were able to understand what had been so long a mystery to them. The church of the Old Testament had now come of age and had entered into the New Testament era as an adult. All of this needs to be kept in mind as we consider the particular Word of God before us today and in our next broadcast. That Word of God is found in Acts 2:39. Let me read that: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
The apostle Peter is addressing the Old Testament church with these words. He is addressing the men of Israel. He is addressing men and women who had been long-time members of the Old Testament church, the nation of Israel. These men were looking for assurance that what Peter now taught was indeed the teaching of Old Testament Scripture. They were not ready to jump ship, so to speak, in order to follow after some half-baked sect or religion that would require of them to forsake God’s Word to them. They needed to know that everything they now saw and heard was indeed the fulfillment of God’s covenant and promise to them in Abraham. And that is the purpose behind Peter speaking the words we consider today. Peter tells those Old Testament saints, “The promise is still unto you and to your children. You are not forsaking God’s covenant and its promise.”
But there was something additional that Peter also mentions in this verse, something that would take some time for these early Christians to embrace. That promise is also to those who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. In other words, the church had come of age. It would now embrace people who were afar off, people of other races, nations, and languages. All this we must consider in connection with the verse before us. We will do that in today’s broadcast and in the next.
I. The Promise Confirmed
What was it that Peter spoke in these words that was reassuring to the Israelite people who heard his sermon? What was it that convinced them to cast in their lot with these early disciples of Christ? They heard Peter say, “The promise is unto you and to your children.” These were words this nation had heard for centuries already. They had heard over and over again the words of God’s covenant—since the time of their father Abraham. The covenant that God had established with the nation of Israel, the seed of Abraham, was His eternal, unchangeable relationship of love and devotion to His people. It was a bond of friendship that God had established with them by which He swore to be their God and they His people.
Scripture speaks repeatedly of this bond or relationship of love and friendship into which Jehovah had entered with His people. So these words were heard often by God’s Old Testament saints. They were the people of Jehovah, the one true God of heaven and earth, and He was their God. We might ask, what does that have to do with the words Peter now spoke to these believers in the verse we consider: the promise is to you and your children. Well, the covenant that God established with His Old Testament church contained several promises, the chief of which was the promise of the coming Messiah. The one, central promise of the covenant was the coming of their Messiah, on whom God’s friendship with His people rested. God would not be the God of His people, He would not be their friend, they would not be His people, except on the merits of the Messiah, the Christ whom He would send. In this Messiah remission of sin would be found. On His merits alone one could share in a close intimate relationship with God. In Christ all the promises of God’s covenant were yea and amen. Without the fulfillment of this one promise there could be no fellowship with God. So, as often as the church in the Old Testament heard the words of God’s covenant, they also heard the words of this promise.
That Christ was promised in the Old Testament to the nation of Israel cannot be doubted. How often we read in the four gospel accounts that what took place in the life of Jesus was in fulfillment of Old Testament ceremonies, or laws, or prophecies. This was the testimony of Christ Himself to the unbelieving Jews who refused to believe in Him. Jesus says in John 5:39, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” The Old Testament Scriptures testified of Christ’s birth, His death, and His resurrection. They even testified of the pouring out of the Spirit. The saints that stood listening to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost had heard repeatedly: the promise is to you—and to your children.
Ah yes, and to your children. Bear with me. We need to spend a little bit of time on this whole idea. When God established His covenant with His church under Abraham, He told His church that He would be a God unto them and to their children in their generations. In other words, God’s covenant was established with believers and with the children of believers from one generation to the next. God did not save the Jews in Abraham’s family only to leave them and save another people in another generation or two. God’s promise to His church was that He would save in Christ a people unto Himself in the continued generations of believers. This is how God saves His church. It is God’s established way of saving His church throughout the ages—in the line of consecutive generations of believers. This is what these Old Testament saints heard in what Peter said to them in the verse we consider: “the promise is unto you and to your children. You need not fear that faith in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah denies that the promise is to your generations to come!”
Peter did not overlook, therefore, the emphasis that Scripture places on the gathering of the church throughout the ages. For example, Psalm 78:2-7: “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”
I cite this example to show the importance of children in the church of the old dispensation. The saints took seriously their calling to instruct their children because it was in this way that God would continue His covenant in the line of their generations. God taught the importance of children in the church and covenant when He commanded Abraham to circumcise every male child in his family. Circumcision was a sign and seal of the establishment of God’s covenant in the line of continued generations. The promise of salvation was given not only to parents but to their believing children too. This was (and is, as we will find) the normal way that God gathers to Himself His church from one age to the next.
This must not be misunderstood. God saves His church from one generation to the next. This is how God gathers His church. But this does not mean that God saves every child born into the church and sphere of His covenant. The line of election and reprobation cuts through the church too. There are Esaus and Ishmaels—a wicked seed in the church. At times that wicked seed can overtake the church and we find God cutting off that church as a whole, while continuing His promise with the elect few that are left in that church. This is what had happened at the time of Pentecost too. The Jewish nation was cut off, the nation that walked in work righteousness and crucified the Christ. The apostate nation of Israel as a whole was cut off.
Paul addresses this issue in Romans 9. Paul had a continual sorrow in his heart because his Jewish kinsmen according to the flesh were cut off. These were Israelites, the Old Testament church to whom pertained the covenant, the service of God, the promise, and out of whom Christ was born. Now God was cutting this nation off because of its utter unbelief. But this does not mean that God was cutting off every person in that nation of Israel. Paul states in Romans 9:6, 7, “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel. Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children.” God was not discontinuing His church of the Old Testament on the day of Pentecost and starting over. Peter assured the Jews to whom he was speaking that the promise of God was still to them and their children. The nation of Israel was being cut off but not the elect church of the Old Testament. God would continue to gather His church from among the believing Jews and their children. The New Testament church is but a continuation of the Old Testament church. It was the same church as of old, but it was now grown up and no longer under the tutor of the law.
We need to try to visualize what was going on in Jerusalem at this particular moment. These saints who belonged to the Old Testament people of God stood before Peter and were listening to him give them this sermon about Jesus of Nazareth. They had all heard of Jesus. They had witnessed His miracles and heard His instruction. But these were sincere Jews. They were not about to throw their faith aside, what they had been taught as children. They were not about to forsake God’s covenant with them and their children. They were not going to ignore the promise of salvation given the church of the Old Testament in order to follow after some new religion. Yes, what Peter now spoke concerning Jesus Christ sounded true, but to ignore the promise? “No,” Peter tells them, “the promise of salvation in Christ is to you and to your children!” The coming of Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to you and to your children! The Messiah has come and the promise of salvation in Him has come to you! We are not forsaking the Scriptures you have been taught. We are not forsaking the covenant of God with His people. What you have seen take place is exactly the continuation of the church and covenant you have learned from childhood.
In other words, dear listener, Peter was confirming the covenant that God had established with His people in Christ. He was confirming for the sake of his hearers what God had promised them about salvation in Christ. Peter was confirming that Christianity was indeed the continuation of the church and covenant—however, now in its New Testament form. These saints needed to be assured of that. This is why Peter confirms God’s promise of His covenant with His New Testament church. This means, of course, that the way that God gathers His church in the New Testament is substantially the same as in the Old Testament.
There is, however, a new development as far as the gathering of the New Testament church is concerned. That development we will consider in our next broadcast. The new development is that God will gather His church in the New Testament, not from one nation of people as He did in the Old, but from all the nations of this earth. God will not limit His church only to those born into the church but now adds to His church those of every race, culture, and country.
That is the new development regarding the church of the New Testament. But, given that new development, God still gathers His church in the line of generations in the New Testament. If God establishes His church, let’s say, in China, God will not save the church there in one generation only to forsake it and take up another work in India. Where God establishes His church, He will continue His church in that place in the line of the generations of believers. The same is true in our own land. We find a myriad of churches that rise up for a decade or two and then suddenly die and are gone. However, that is not to say that God may not have saved His people in such a church; but it is obvious that God did not choose to establish His church in such a place. Proof of God’s faithfulness in any given work is that the generations to come that are born out of believing parents will carry on in their place in the church and covenant.
All this is behind what Peter now speaks to these Jewish saints on the day of Pentecost. Peter instructs these believers who leave Judaism to join the church of the New Testament: the promise is still to you and to your children! God’s covenant has been made new in Christ but still continues with you and with your children after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant. God still enters into a relationship of love and fellowship with you. He still binds you to Himself so that He is your God and you are His people. He dwells with you as a sovereign Friend. You are His.
Those same blessings He establishes with you today, just as He did with Abraham, who is the Father of all believers. And this covenant He establishes with you is still rooted in the promise that in Christ is the remission of sins and life everlasting. And it is equally true that God will establish His covenant in the line of your generations! That has not changed either! To His NewTestament church God says: the promise is unto you and to your children! God will be faithful to gather His church in the line of your generations. Our children are not saved by virtue of the fact that they are born to believing parents. Faith is not passed on from parent to child. Faith comes as a work of God’s grace alone through Christ. Natural lines have nothing to do with it. But God does promise yet today that He will raise up believing children to believing parents whom He will also save by His grace. The faithful church today, therefore, looks for God’s blessings in the generations to come.
Just a short word to believing children who perhaps may be listening today too. Children, what you do as you grow up in the church will have a profound effect on the future of the church.
Godly parents and the church pray that God will preserve their children in their generations. They look for that. That is evidence to the church that God’s blessing rests upon it. It is equally true, too, that the promise is unto all that are afar off even as many as the Lord our God shall call. We will consider that next time. Those adults and families who join the church through the work of evangelism are a necessary part of the church. But internal growth is necessary too, for the spiritual well-being of the church. This is a sign of God’s continued blessing. When the faithful church conducts baptisms, when we see young men and women who marry in the Lord and stay in the church, it is evidence that God is indeed gathering His people there. When the church witnesses with the new generation an increase of families who again bring forth children, then it is evidence that God is indeed establishing His church and covenant in the line of continued generations.
The covenant and its promise belong to the church of Christ and believing parents today. The faithful church of Jesus Christ today is a continuation of the church of the Old Testament. We can rest assured in this blessed truth, just as did the saints who heard Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost.
We will hear an explanation of the rest of Acts 2:39 in our next broadcast.