So, when (the disciples) had come together, they were asking (Jesus), saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW TIMES OR EPOCHS which the Father has fixed by His own authority(Acts1:6-7NASB)
The previous post examined the disciples’ question to the risen Lord concerning the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel; this post examines Jesus’ answer (v7).
Firstly, one should note how Jesus did not reply. I suspect many Christians including myself in the past would have expected an answer along the lines: “Of what do you speak? What has ‘restoring the Kingdom to Israel’ to do with the Gospel?” Of course, Jesus said nothing of the sort – what the disciples had asked was a valid enough question as I explained in the previous post. Yet it was “not for them to know the times or epochs” pertaining to such matters.
Jesus well knew He was addressing the immediate leaders of the Household of God – a Church to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph2:20). If it were not the apostles’ business to understand these matters, then neither can it be the Church’s prerogative to decree upon the subject. And according to this disclosure the Church (Catholic or otherwise) has barely understood the intrinsic nature and purpose of the current epoch within salvation history. This may appear an outrageous statement to make, but then such has been God’s extraordinary modus operandi (Rev10:7; cf. Rom11:32-33)
The Apostle Paul of course was not amongst the disciples Jesus was addressing in Acts 1, and it was to him that the risen Lord provided new insights concerning this matter which the late-appointed apostle (and I) refer to as “the fellowship (or dispensation1) pertaining to the secret plan hidden in God” (Eph3:9; cf. Col1:26-27 & Rom11:11,12,15,30). As I have to keep repeating, very few if any theologians have grasped what Paul is talking about here, namely that the dispensation of grace to the Gentiles (resulting in eternal life and a glorious inheritance) was unknown to the Old Testament prophets as well as the celestial principalities and powers before it was revealed through St Paul. [Some Christians may have grasped that much but not the wondrous providential and dispensational implications of the fact that fulness of salvation resulting in eternal life was not “Plan A” for non-Jews in the current epoch].
One who at least took a step towards grasping the matter was St John Chrysostom (AD349-407). Chrysostom utilized the Alexandrian NU-textual variant “dispensation” for the key verse rather than “fellowship”, and the former equally makes sense in the context. This mysterious or secret dispensation Chrysostom recognized had not simply “come to pass” but had now been manifested through the establishment of the Church2. He goes on to write in his commentary:
“For this is the gospel: ‘It is He that shall save His people’ – but (note) not a word about the Gentiles. That which concerns the Gentiles the Spirit reveals; that they were called indeed the angels knew, but that it was the same privileges as Israel, yea, even to sit upon the throne of God, who would ever have expected this? Who would ever have believed it? – (for it had) been hidden in God” 3
And by “hidden in God”, Chrysostom was referring to the Father, as does Paul. The apostle’s references to God always and only refer to the Father (cf. 1Cor11:3)– which brings me to the third point.
The monarchical status of God the Father
“It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority (Acts1:7NASB)
I mentioned Paul’s insistence on the Father’s monarchical status, but of course Christ Himself insists upon it in this verse, Jn14:28 and especially in our context Mk13:32). Likewise, none of the apostolic writers deny the fact that there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things (1Cor8:6). Many of the ante-Nicene Fathers were later judged to have “tended to subordinationism”; rather I suggest they were being faithful to Scripture and reflecting the Tradition that the churches had more recently received in person from the apostles and their immediate appointees. I have made a point of utilizing only the language of Scripture when referring to God, His Son and Spirit. Hopefully, my recent post on John chapter 1 made it abundantly clear that I acknowledge Jesus Christ, unlike any other man, to be utterly divine, the One through Whom all things were created.
Nevertheless, to grasp concepts relating to the “secret plan hidden in God from the previous age” (and indeed FROM all pre-Pauline prophets e.g. Mt10:23) it is essential to acknowledge the monarchical status of the Father, and especially His Son’s insistence that His Father alone orders the timing and duration of the epochs.
1. Textual variant in original manuscripts οἰκονομία=administration or dispensation rather than κοινωνία=fellowship. For example, NKJV translates as “fellowship”, NASB as administration
3. Chrysostom’s Homily VII on Eph3:8-11 (my highlighting)
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