Part 2: The Unveiling and Shining Forth of Grace
by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
THE GREATEST REVELATION OF ALL TIME
To the Apostle Paul was committed the greatest revelation of all time: “the mystery,” the secret of the gospel and of God’s eternal purpose (Col. 1:25,26). To him was entrusted “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:1-3). His ministry superseded that of Peter and the eleven as, upon Israel’s continued rejection of Christ and His kingdom, he became the apostle to the nations (Rom. 11:13). Solemn recognition was given to this fact by the leaders of the twelve (including Peter himself) as they gave to Paul and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, acknowledging Paul’s divine commission to go to the Gentiles, and agreeing thenceforth to confine their own ministry to Israel (Gal. 2:2,7,9).
In connection with this commission Paul was also the divinely appointed minister of the Church of the present dispensation, “the Body of Christ” (Col. 1:24,25). (Composed of Jews and Gentiles reconciled to God in one body by the cross (Eph. 2:14-16; I Cor. 12:13), as compared with the kingdom church, which had the reign of Christ in view (See Matt. 16:15-18; 19:28; Acts 1:6; 3:19-21).) No other Bible writer has one single word to say about “the Church which is [Christ’s] Body.” None of the other apostles mention it. Not only would we seek in vain for such phraseology in their writings, but we would seek in vain for any discussion of the subject, for they do not discuss the Church of which believers today are members. But Paul, who wrote more of the books of the Bible than any other writer, deals consistently with those truths which concern “the Church which is His Body” (Eph. 1:19-23).
THE REVELATION LOST SIGHT OF
But this great revelation and the glorious truths associated with it have been largely lost to the professing Church.
The Church of Rome ignores the facts we have stated above, though they are clearly set forth in her own translations of the Bible. She insists that the true Church of today is a perpetuation of that which was founded by Christ while on earth; a kingdom to be established on earth, over which Peter and the eleven were appointed to be heads and rulers during His absence. And even though our Lord said nothing about a prolonged absence or of any succession of such rulers, Rome declares that her present pope is a successor to Peter and, as such, the Vicar of Christ and supreme Head of the Church on earth. Consistent with this she holds that she is laboring to fulfill the “great commission” given to Peter and the eleven, requiring water baptism for the remission of sins and claiming to possess miraculous powers.
But Protestantism, while boasting freedom from the tyranny of Rome, has by no means emerged entirely from the shadows of the dark ages. She still suffers a Roman hangover. While renouncing papal authority, she nevertheless still clings to the Roman teaching that the Church of today is a perpetuation of that to which our Lord referred in Matthew 16:16-18 and that it is God’s kingdom on earth. She too seeks to carry out the “great commission” given to Peter and the eleven, though half-heartedly, for she cannot make up her mind whether water baptism is or is not necessary to the remission of sins and is also confused and disagreed as to whether or not she possesses the miraculous powers of what she calls the “great commission.”
Martin Luther, under God, shook Europe to its foundations with a partial recovery of Pauline truth, but the Protestant Church has done little to further that recovery, so that rather than recognizing the distinctive character of Paul’s position as our apostle, most Protestants think of him simply as one of the apostles, along with Peter and the eleven. In taking so short a step away from Rome the Protestant Church has assumed a very weak position, for if Paul is to be considered as one with the twelve, Rome can easily prove that Peter, not Paul, was appointed as their chief (See Matt. 16:19; Acts 1:15; 2:14,38; 5:29, etc.).
THE EXTENT OF PAUL’S MINISTRY
Since Christendom has strayed so far and so long from the great Pauline revelation, she has lost sight almost completely of the vastness of his ministry and influence, and the extent to which his message once became known in the world. An example of this is found in what Bible scholars have done with Titus 2:11.
It is generally—and correctly—agreed that the epiphaneia in this passage connotes a conspicuous or illustrious appearing, a shining forth, and that the phrase “all men” therefore does not signify each individual singly, but all men collectively; all mankind. But few can quite believe even that under Paul’s ministry the gospel of God’s grace shone forth to all mankind, that its proclamation ever became world-wide in scope. They conclude that Paul could not have meant this in Titus 2:11; that he must have meant only that the grace of God, bringing salvation for all, had appeared.
This problem seems to have troubled even the translators of this passage, for Bible translators have never been agreed as to its true meaning.
According to some translations, like Darby’s New Translation, the apostle meant that the grace of God had appeared, bringing salvation for all men. According to others, like the Authorized (quoted above) he meant that the grace of God had appeared to all men, bringing salvation. Still others use guarded phraseology, even to the point of ambiguity, but most take one or the other of the above views. The majority, probably, including some of those apt to be most faithful in their renderings, conform in substance to the Authorized Version as quoted above. One cannot help feeling that were it not for the translators’ doubts that Paul could have meant that the message of Grace was shining forth to all mankind, all, or nearly all, would have rendered the passage substantially like the Authorized Version. In view of these doubts it is significant that so many have rendered it like the Authorized.
THE TWELVE AND THEIR COMMISSION
Apart from Paul’s statement in Titus 2:11 there is much Scriptural evidence that his message did shine forth to all the known world. Before considering this evidence, however, let us first observe that the eleven, under Peter, had previously been sent to proclaim their God-given message to all mankind. In the records of their “great commission” three different terms are used to emphasize this fact:
“Go ye therefore, and teach [make disciples of] all nations” (Matt. 28:19 cf. Luke 24:47).
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature [i.e., all creation]” (Mark 16:15).
The reader is asked to remember well these three terms: all nations, all the world and all creation, for we are to find them used again in connection with the ministry of Paul.
The Twelve (Matthias replacing Judas) began to carry out their world-wide mission, but never got beyond their own nation. We should always associate Acts 1:8 with Acts 8:1 in our study of the Acts, for Jerusalem, rather than turning to Messiah so that the apostles could go on with their “great commission,” started a “great persecution” against the Church there, with the result that “they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
The twelve have often been charged with bigotry and unfaithfulness for remaining in Jerusalem at this time. In fact, however, it was rare courage and fidelity to their commission that kept them in Jerusalem while persecution raged and their very lives were in danger. They remained at Jerusalem for the same reason that the rest fled: because Jerusalem was not turning to Christ. The first part of their commission had not yet been fulfilled, therefore they were duty-bound to remain there.
The twelve did not remain at Jerusalem because they were prejudiced against the salvation of the Gentiles. There is too much scriptural evidence against this. They remained there because they had a clear understanding of the prophetic program and of their Lord’s commission (See Luke 24:45; Acts 1:3; 2:4). They knew that according to covenant and prophecy the Gentiles were to be saved and blessed through redeemed Israel (Gen. 22:17,18; Isa. 60:1-3; Zech. 8:13). Our Lord had indicated no change in this program. He worked in perfect harmony with it. Even before His death He had insisted that Israel was first in God’s revealed program, commanding His disciples not to go to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans but to “go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6), and saying to a Gentile who came for help: “Let the children first be filled” (Mark 7:27). And later, in His “great commission” to the eleven, He had specifically stated that they should begin at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).
Peter certainly indicated his desire that the “commission” under which he worked would bring about the fulfillment of the prophecies and the covenant to Abraham, when he said to the “men of Israel”:
“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” (Acts 3:25,26).
And Paul, though not working under this same commission, later also bore witness that Israel had been first in God’s program, when he said to the Jews at Pisidian Antioch:
“It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you…” (Acts 13:46).
It was only when Israel persisted in rejecting Christ and His Kingdom that God began to set the nation aside, raising up Paul to go to the Gentiles with the good news of salvation “by grace,” apart from the covenants and prophecies, and “through faith,” apart from works. It was then that Paul went to Jerusalem “by revelation” and communicated to the leaders there that gospel which he preached among the Gentiles (Gal. 2:2). And those leaders, including Peter himself, gave to Paul and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship in official recognition of the fact that Paul had been chosen by Christ as the apostle to the nations and that they were henceforth to confine their ministry to Israel (Gal. 2:7-9).
With this official recognition of the divine purpose the apostles at Jerusalem were “loosed” from their original commission to make disciples of all nations, and Paul alone could say:
“I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (Rom. 11:13).
Arguments are sometimes presented from church history to prove that the twelve did go to Gentile territory; that not more than one or two of them died in Palestine. But even if these arguments could be fully substantiated, this would not enter into the case, for whatever the Circumcision apostles may have done after the agreement of Galatians 2, they had no apostolic authority among the Gentiles, and after the declaration of Acts 28:28 they had no apostolic authority whatever. What any of them wrote (of the Scriptures) after that, they simply wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, just as any other Bible writer.
Let us mark well, then, that Peter and the eleven, who had originally been sent to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to “all nations,” “all the world” and “all creation,” never completed their mission. Indeed, had they done so that dispensation would have been brought to a close, for our Lord had said concerning the tribulation period (then imminent, but later graciously postponed):
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).
If, therefore, the pouring out of the Spirit had been followed directly by the pouring out of God’s wrath (both predicted in Joel 2 as quoted by Peter in Acts 2) Israel would have turned to God in repentance and the twelve would have proceeded to proclaim “the gospel of the kingdom” to all nations. That dispensation would thus have been consummated; the end would have come. But rather than send the judgment immediately, God interrupted the prophetic program and revealed His secret purpose, sending Paul forth to proclaim to all mankind “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
PAUL AND HIS COMMISSION
Surely no one even superficially acquainted with the Book of Acts or the Epistles of Paul will question the fact that sometime after our Lord’s commission to the eleven, Paul was sent, as an apostle of Christ, to proclaim to all mankind “the gospel of the grace of God.”
It is significant that the three terms employed in the so-called “great commission” to indicate its world-wide scope are also used in Paul’s epistles in connection with his ministry. Only, whereas the twelve never got to “all nations,” “all the world” or “all creation” with their message, Paul did with his.
In closing his epistle to the Romans the apostle says:
“Now to Him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.
“But now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25,26).
And to the Colossians he writes concerning “the truth of the gospel”:
“Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you…” (Col. 1:6).
“…which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven [all creation under heaven]; whereof I Paul am made a minister” (Col. 1:23).
Various arguments may be advanced to prove that “the gospel of the grace of God” did not actually reach “all the world” or “all creation,” and we do not deny that to those addressed “all the world” would doubtless mean all the known world, and “all creation” would likewise mean all the creation as they knew it. But the point is that whatever these three phrases mean in the so-called “great commission,” they must also mean in these statements by Paul, for the terms are exactly identical in the original.
We have seen how the twelve did not get their message to “all nations,” “all the world” or “all creation,” because, on the one hand Israel rejected it and on the other hand God had a secret purpose to unfold. But Paul, to whom this secret purpose was revealed, says he did get his message to “all nations,” “all the world” and “all creation.”
Whereas the twelve never got beyond their own nation in carrying out their commission, it is written of Paul that during his stay at Ephesus “all they which dwelt in Asia [Minor] heard the word of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:10). To the Romans he writes: “from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:19), and speaks of his plans to go to Spain (15:24), plans which may well have been accomplished between his two imprisonments. Even of his helpers it was said: “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6). And to the Romans again he says: “your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8).
With regard to this last statement it is argued by some that since Paul had not even been to Rome by then, it must be that believers from the Jerusalem Church got as far as Rome under their “great commission.”
We do not accept this as valid, for while indeed there were “strangers from Rome” present at Pentecost, there is no indication that there was any substantial number of these, or that those present were even converted, much less that they started a church at Rome. Thus those to whom Paul wrote at Rome could scarcely have been converts of the Circumcision believers at Jerusalem. They had doubtless been won to Christ through those whom Paul had reached with “the gospel of the grace of God.”
This leads us to recognize another important fact. We have seen from Matthew 24:14 that if the twelve had gotten their message to all the world “the end” of that dispensation would have come. This proves at the same time that Paul was not laboring to fulfill the “great commission” to the eleven and that he did not preach the same gospel as they, for then “the end” would have come in his day, since he says that his message had gone to “all the world.”