Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cornelius & The Mission Of God (part 2 of 4)

Peter adds “you know what happened through Judea,” thus reiterating Cornelius’ previous knowledge and building from his use of “Lord” in reference to Jesus, “beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John announced; with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power” (10:37-38a).  A bit later, after mention of the Resurrection, Peter adds “He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that He is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (10:42).  Conversely, this is not Caesar’s role.  Furthermore, “About Him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (10:43).  Forgiveness of sins, for the prophets, was firstly a gift of God to Israel, and was to be equated with exodus from exile or rescue from foreign subjugation (as proof of God had forgiven them for failing to rightly bear His image in and for the world).  In the name of Jesus, or by acting on behalf of His kingdom because of the confession of Jesus as Lord of all, all are able to receive this gift that had been promised to the covenant people of God. 

To demonstrate the thoughts that were in the air in the first century, if the talk of the “pouring out of the Holy Spirit” that was to be found in the story that the church told about itself, part of which found its way into the Acts of the Apostles (much like Israel’s story was told through the Hebrew Scriptures), was in Paul’s mind when he was penning the fifth chapter of his letter to Rome, then we can reasonably suggest that so too was Peter’s insistence that “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness through His name” was in mind while Paul composed what would eventually be designated as chapter ten, as he says much the same thing about believing in Him. 

With Peter having pulled the Gentiles into the story of Israel (the story that began with Abraham) via talk of belief and forgiveness of sins, which are distinct covenant terms, the story receives its climax as Luke reports “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the message” (10:44).  This metaphorical falling had witnesses.  Indeed, “The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were greatly astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (10:45).  Luke’s construction of this passage inside the narrative is obvious, as the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, here linked to Peter and his preaching, also links back to the second chapter of Acts and Peter’s explanation of the strange events that caused Peter to call to mind the prophet Joel and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that was to accompany the last days. 

This clues us in to the fact that Peter and Luke, along with Paul (because he seizes on these metaphors), believed that the last days (the eschaton) had begun with the Resurrection of Jesus and was being carried forward into the world via the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, this is as a reminder that the original community of Jesus believers, employing a Jewish eschatology that would have been shared by Jesus Himself, did not view the “last days” as an end-of-the-world conflagration in which the world would cease to exist.  Rather, they viewed the “last days” as the time when the loving reign of the Creator God over His creation would be implemented.  They believed that this state of affairs had sprung into factuality in the resurrected Christ and in His church, with this being the natural accompaniment of Jesus’ repeated declaration that, in His presence and person, the kingdom of God was at hand. 

Highlighting the connection to the second chapter of Acts and to the events of Pentecost (there is a story being told in Acts, after all), not only do we have the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, but we also have the fact that the circumcised believers heard the Gentile believers “speaking in tongues and praising God” (10:46).  This had been the experience of those that composed the assembly of believers in chapters two and four.  With this, Gentiles were now experiencing the power of God via the Spirit.  As far as Israel’s story was concerned, this experience of being empowered by the Spirit of God had been the exclusive domain of the specially chosen people of God.  So when it comes to the story of the operation of God’s covenant, what is here reported to have taken place is groundbreaking. 

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