Sunday, July 26, 2020

David’s Covenant and the Resurrection

On Tuesday we looked at the first six public messages in the book of Acts to consider how one’s audience ought to determine the content of a gospel message, a pattern well established by the apostles in their preaching.

It seems obvious that the apostles did not simply memorize a few key points to preach about in every situation. They did not utilize a predictable series of Old Testament proof texts. They were not merely checking boxes, but responded to the needs of the particular audience to whom they were preaching.

So now here we are in Acts 13.

The Seventh Message: Paul in Pisidian Antioch

After their time in Cyprus where they surely preached similar messages to the one we are about to examine (though the Holy Spirit has seen fit to record none of them), Paul and Barnabas continue to the city of Antioch in Pisidia, about 100 miles north of Perga, where they landed. Antioch was located in what is now southern Turkey. It is there that Paul gives a message which is very much a departure from those of Peter and Stephen that are recorded for us by Luke in the first twelve chapters of Acts.

This is Paul’s first public message preserved for us in scripture. It is also the first message explicitly delivered to a mixed audience of Jews and proselytes meeting in a synagogue (there were almost surely proselytes in other synagogues, but since Paul is now well into Gentile territory their numbers were likely greater). In any case, Paul acknowledges both groups (“men of Israel and you who fear God”).

Unlike Peter (but like Stephen), Paul does not start from a particular prophecy but instead makes a number of familiar references to Israel’s history — and it is a very selective history. Rather than use the mistreatment of the patriarchs and prophets to make a moral point about the character of his listeners, Paul is concerned particularly with establishing David as a messianic prophet of particular note.

Putting David Over

To this end, he starts with Egypt rather than Abraham, omits any mention of Moses or Joshua by name and glosses over the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan and the period of the Judges in a couple of sentences. These are significant characters to mention only in passing, but Paul quickly moves on to Israel’s request for a king, originally granted in the person of Saul and ultimately in God’s choice of David, Israel’s greatest monarch, most prolific psalmist and among its greatest prophets — that is, assuming having Christ as the subject matter of your prophecies is what really matters.

And it is.

David is the only king of whom God said he “will do all my will”, and Paul’s point is that it is only in Messiah that this prophecy is fully realized. He says:
“Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.”
This is the pivotal statement of Paul’s message and if you’ve missed it, everything that follows may seem out of place or unrelated. But it is not.

Forward to the New Testament

He now jumps forward out of the Old Testament to information we find in the Gospels, first to John the Baptist, with whom his audience is surely familiar. Paul establishes that John himself was not the fulfillment of David’s prophecy but that someone much greater was still to come. From there he moves on to a short synopsis of the death and resurrection of the Lord because “they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets.”

Perhaps because he is teaching in a synagogue, Paul makes more of an effort than Peter or Stephen in their previous messages to establish the Lord’s bona fides by way of the Old Testament, making no fewer than 11 references to its authority in order to demonstrate that Jesus Christ fulfilled all the messianic prophecies, that everything he did was in accordance with them, and that it was only by completely misreading them or ignoring their accomplishment in Jesus that the Jewish rulers were able to justify his crucifixion in their own minds.

David and Resurrection

Having told his story, he now establishes his case by appealing to three separate Old Testament passages to demonstrate that the resurrection was both promised and necessary to the blessing of the spiritual children of those to whom the promises were made. The first is Psalm 2, written by David:
You are my Son, today I have begotten you,”
which Paul uses not as a reference to the birth of the Lord Jesus (and certainly not as any suggestion that the Lord began to be the Son of God upon his earthly birth) but in connection with the exaltation that has resulted from his resurrection, as the psalm itself declares. Psalm 2 has nothing to do with a baby and everything to do with an exalted king who will one day be set on “Zion, my holy hill”.

Paul’s second Old Testament quote was not written by David, but it is about him. It is found in Isaiah 55, where God declares to Israel:
“I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.”
Here Paul is setting up his punch line by establishing that there was a covenant with David that could not possibly be fulfilled in David’s lifetime. David’s “holy and sure blessings”, the steadfast, sure love promised to him by God, included an everlasting throne and kingdom. And yet David had died, and could not possibly personally inherit these promises. And if Messiah, David’s “son”, had been crucified, he too could not possibly fulfill these promises unless he were to rise from the dead.

Finally, Paul quotes Psalm 16, which again was written by David:
“You will not let your Holy One see corruption.”
Again here he is establishing that the resurrection is not only contemplated by the prophets and psalmists but necessary to the plan of God and the fulfillment of his covenant with David. David himself saw corruption. The Lord Jesus did not, and thus was able to personally usher in all the blessings of the Davidic covenant on behalf of Israel, just as surely as he is able to usher in all the spiritual blessings of the new covenant on behalf of those who believe in him today.

The Fulfillment of the Covenant

This message that the resurrection and exaltation of Christ is entirely in harmony with the Old Testament scriptures is Paul’s central thesis in Antioch and elsewhere in his writings. Having established Jesus as Messiah and fulfillment of God’s covenant with King David, Paul goes on to make the offer of forgiveness of sins “through this man” and the offer of a freedom that could not be accomplished by the Law of Moses.

As he concludes, he refers back to the Old Testament one more time. Just in case his audience is incredulous at this interpretation, Paul quotes Habakkuk to demonstrate that this reaction too has been anticipated by the scripture:
“Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.”
Habakkuk’s prophecy is not about Messiah but about the Chaldeans, but Paul’s point is that being astounded at the way in which God does business is historically a fairly predictable turn of events. So even the unbelief of those who reject the message is actually a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

The Old Testament background and authority Paul draws upon in his gospel message in Antioch might not be of concern or interest to Gentile audiences hearing of these things for the first time.

But the fact that the resurrection of Christ is pivotal to the plans of God and a source of blessing to everyone who believes in his name is a truth relevant to all.

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