Mission to Israel, Peter to Rome, And Jesus’ Speedy Return?
March 2009 (revised July 2010 and July 2015)
Mt.10,5: Do not make your way to gentile territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.
Mt. 24,34; In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place.
Mt.24,36: But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angelsof heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father alone.
Gal.2,9: And when they acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, then James and Cephas and John, who were the ones recognized as pillars offered their right hands to Barnabas and to me as a sign of partnership: we were to go to thegentiles and they to the circumcised.
Romans 1,15: I have an obligation to Greeks, as well as barbarians, to the educated as well as the ignorant, and hence the eagerness on my part to preach the gospel to you inRome too.
I have wrestled with the issue of Roman tradition that says Peter pastored and wrote 1Peter in Rome. The only biblical suggestion of this is 1Peter5,13 where Peter signs off with greeting from "Your sister in Babylon." There's a Babylon on the Euphrates, and one in Egypt, both more likely than the vagaries of tradition when scripture makes no mention of Peter Apostolic entrance in Rome, but goes out of its way to highlight Paul's.
And how could Peter and the rest of the ordinary course apostles be out evangelizing outside Israel when they were told specifically by Christ not to go to gentile, ie non Jewish, territory? So it is more likely that Peter, if he did actually arrive in Rome, it was with the intention to evangelize fellow Jews and take care of faithful Jews of the diaspora (1Pt.1,1), more in keeping- sort of- with Mt.10,5.
But Paul was clearly more called there than Peter, and the bible actually proves according to Acts that Paul, unlike Peter, actually arrived in Rome.
And yet Rome is considered the traditional place out of which issued the great treatise brilliantly uniting gentile and Jew into one gospel people (1Pt.5,13).
But I don’t want to jump too far ahead. The apostolic mission to the Jews in Israel likely also corresponds with the statement by Jesus that he would not tarry in coming back, presumably because the fire of Pentecost would help the apostles spread his gospel so quickly that all Israel would accept or reject the gospel in their lifetimes.
To these questions we are required to add the Jerusalem agreement per Galatians 2,9 (above, and Acts 15), and the fact that Acts 28,22ff depicts Paul’s arrival in Rome (to spread the gospel to gentiles- verse 28) as the culmination of his life and the Book of Acts, and the Apostolic introduction of the gospel there in Rome.
As Paul declares to the Roman Jews at 28,28: “You must realize, then that this salvation of God has been sent to the gentiles, and they will listen to it.” Pagans were Paul’s lot (but see also Acts 8,14 where Peter is praying that water baptized Samaritans get the Holy Ghost not long after the first Pentecost).
Interestingly, Peter is not primarily remembered by history for his more probable Jewish mission but for 1Peter, his constitutional treatise about how non Jews by their faith and God’s Spirit became part of "a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were a non-people and now you are the People of God; once you were outside his pity; now you have received pity.” (1Pt.2,9-10)
Here we have arguably the most radical and majestic universal theology of the entire Christian message by Peter regarding folks to whom he was not sent!
What might have happened? Well Jesus didn’t come back on the timetable he stated (Mt.10,34). The Father is the only one who knows the day and hour (v. 35). Apparently the Father decided to give the fig tree (Mt.10,32), that is Israel, more time to bud, perhaps because the initial and sustained anti Nazarene persecution in Israel was so strong that the ordinary course apostles led by Peter didn’t have the chance to adequately spread the gospel to all the towns of Israel, before they got run out of town after James was killed (in 62 AD?).
Whatever the motive of God’s tarrying, and one day is as a thousand years per 2Pt.3,8, if Peter ever got to Rome he did not go to bring faith to the empire as we moderns surmise, to establish non biblical Christendom, or any vague idea of “Christianizing” the empire (which is, as far as empires go, an impossibility).
Instead, God’s intitial mission anywhere in the empire was protecting the base of Jewish believers and to call non Jewish folks out of the morals and religion of empire and into the fulfilled faith of Israel: 1Pt.4,3: “You spent quite long enough in the past living the sort of life that gentiles choose to live, behaving in a debauched way, giving way to your passions, drinking to excess, having wild parties and drunken orgies and sacrilegiously worshipping false gods.”
By the gospel being spread pagan gentiles were constituted as part of God’s new faith Temple-people (1Pt.2,5) which will one day include the saved of Israel, after they see and hear the gospel better the second time (Rev.11,2).
So what can we conclude about the Matthew 10,5 charge to the ordinary course apostles to stay in Israel, and Jesus’ delayed return. Well, they are likely connected.
Thus, two thousand years of history, and Acts 28 (Paul's clear mandate to Rome) and the present Spirit of God, and the unfinished biblical promises of geographically reuniting (Jeremiah 16,15ff.) and evangelizing (Rev. 11) Israel suggest:
1. The gospel didn’t get preached in Israel to God’s satisfaction and according to Jesus' mandate, and thus God showed mercy to his fig tree, his turtledove who he holds incredibly dear, thus the tarrying (Acts 9.31ff does suggest that the apostles worked in churches in Judea, Galilee and Samaria, but Acts is largely silent about how thorough the mission inside Israel was);
2. Peter and the others left their mission charge of Israel, to take care of primarily Jewish Christians, and those gentiles who were willing to join the universal Christian community that was, at first, primarily Jewish;
3. God used both Peter’s and Paul’s mission service to call gentile folks out of the paganism of the empire and into the fulfilled universal faith-Temple of Israel.
4. 1Peter adresses it's reader-hearers as "elect sojourners" or "aliens in the dispersion" (1Pt.1,1), that is, in a distinctly Jewish geographical term. This argues that Jerusalem, or Zion (not Rome), was to always remain in the mind of all the faithful (Acts 15) the center of God's universal and final church consisting of both faithful gentiles and Jews (Isaiah 66,18ff; Rev. 19,17ff, Revelation 20-22).
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...