"For they that dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew Him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning Him" (Acts 13:27).
We were taking note, in our last article, of a contrast which is marked between the old dispensation and the new: of how much there is to be missed if there is a continuing in the fixed order of the old, and how much there is to be gained by moving into the essential nature of the new. This is found focused for us in the passage we have read.
Without repeating too much of our previous meditation, may I just say that it is perfectly clear in the New Testament, from the Book of the Acts onwards, that the people in the new dispensation, the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, were required to keep completely free from everything set, from everything of a conclusive position, excepting fundamental facts of the faith. So far as their mentality was concerned - yes, their religious, traditional mentality, the mentality which had been formed by very birth into Israel, by all that they had received through training and teaching from their infancy upward - they were to be always open to the Lord even for the revolutionary. They were called upon to come into a place where that no longer held them, but where the Lord was perfectly free to do the revolutionary thing in them and make them revise all their thinking - in the light, not of anything contradictory, but of God's fuller meaning in all that they knew of the Word of God; where they acknowledged that the Lord really had 'more light and truth to break forth from His Word' - indeed, so much more as to make all that they already knew seem as nothing.
You find, therefore, that this necessity precipitated crises in their spiritual course, and sometimes brought them to a standstill, where a tremendous conflict was set up; but the Holy Spirit was sufficiently in possession to win, and to be able to carry them further. That happened with Peter, on the housetop at Joppa. It happened with Saul of Tarsus. There is no doubt about it that, in acting as he did, Saul was acting upon the basis of the Old Testament Scriptures. He thought he had the full support of the Word of God for what he was doing. When he met Jesus of Nazareth out from heaven as he went to Damascus, although he capitulated there and then and acknowledged Jesus as his Lord, his great problem was, 'How am I going to reconcile my Old Testament with this?' He went away into Arabia, and probably for two years he was occupied their with the reconciliation of the Old Testament with the fact of Jesus as Christ and Lord. And he got well through, came back from his desert, and, caught in the resistless stream of the Spirit, became a mighty servant of God.
We want to go on a little further now. We are saying that here, in this new dispensation as represented in the Book of the Acts, the prophets are being re-interpreted, or their inner meaning is being brought to light, with all that that inner meaning implies. We know that the inauguration of the dispensation on the day of Pentecost was accompanied by a quoting of the prophets. It began with Joel - "This is that which hath been spoken through the Prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16) - and went on with other Old Testament quotations pointing to that time.Now, either by direct citation or fulfillment (as clearly seen in the case of the Joel prophecy) or by an unmistakable implication, the prophets are here brought in in many connections.
Christ Alone - The Measure of What Is of God
You pass from chapter 2 of the Book of the Acts, and go on to chapter 5 - the very terrible, dark story of Ananias and Sapphira. Where did the prophets come in in that?
In the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, you have what was introduced spiritually on the day of Pentecost. There you have that wonderful, though difficult, vision of the living creatures, the wheels full of eyes, the Spirit in the wheels, the Spirit of Life going, always going: the Spirit, life, eyes, and the irresistible movement from heaven in relation to the Man upon the throne. "Acts" begins there. The Lord Jesus was received up, out of this world; and in relation to that Man in the throne there is this going on here, touching the earth and yet detached from it; touching, but not fixed here; a heavenly thing. And that is moving with tremendous directness and deliberation. That is like the second chapter of "Acts." The Man in the throne; the wheels, the eternal counsels of God, the goings of God from eternity; the living creatures, the Church; the life within, the Spirit of life there, with His perfect vision - "full of eyes." Is that not what is here?
Yes; but that is the beginning of "Ezekiel". At the other end of his prophecy you have this - away, up from the earth - a vision, a picture, of a temple, a spiritual house, very fully depicted and defined, with every detail marked. The man who leads the prophet around goes measuring, measuring, giving the measure of every detail. This house is all of the Holy Spirit. It is all a measure of Christ, in every part. This thing is not on the earth; it is heavenly measurement. Before you can have the river issuing from the sanctuary, flowing on in increasing volume, deepening and widening, making everything on its banks to live, and swallowing up death in victory as it proceeds, you have to have the house utterly according to God; and then the one overall statement about it is: "the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy" (Ezekiel 43:12). It is all of God; it is all of Christ, His risen, exalted Son. It is out from Him, through a Church constituted on a heavenly pattern, that the life flows; and it is flowing here in "Acts."
Holiness The Law of What Is Of God
Now Ananias and his wife violate the very governing law of that house - holiness; and what happens? That is where Israel failed to hear the voices of the prophets. We said, in our previous meditation, that they carried on the external formalities of the temple, the daily services, the ritual and the liturgy, adopted the forms and the vestments, but the inner life did not correspond. It was the cry of the prophets that a system was being maintained and preserved out of relation to the inner life of the people. The prophets throughout are crying for holiness. The trouble lay there. And what does this matter of holiness really mean? When you really get to the heart of it, what is it? "Why hath satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" (Acts 5:3). That is the unholiness. The act of Ananias and Sapphira implies something deeper - that sinister mind behind; satan finding an opportunity of getting into these holy precincts, this heavenly realm, corrupting and polluting, and establishing his lie. "He is a liar, and the father thereof", said the Lord (John 8:44). A lie right in the presence of the Holy Spirit! The life of the Spirit and the Spirit of life do not just go on ignoring conditions. They require that first of all everything shall be constituted on God's heavenly pattern; that is only saying, constituted on the pattern of Christ His Son; that it shall be really an expression and representation of the Lord Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
(next: "The Spirit Spontaneously Reproduces the Nature of Christ")