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ACTS 28:17-31

By Charles Welch

Its bearing upon the present dispensation.

An introductory study to prepare the way for future

expositions on vital dispensational subjects.

Many and varied as the numerous attempts after " Unity" may be, there are some things which they all seem to have in common, namely, they go to the Gospels and Acts for their doctrinal and ecclesiastical arguments, emphasize the ordinances of Baptism and the. Lord's Supper, and either 
imagine they possess, or else desire to possess, " spiritual gifts." We believe that such are labouring under a false interpretation. Just as a stick appears bent when standing in the water, so our understanding of Scripture will be distorted whilst we ignore the differing medium. In other
words, if we stand in the dispensation of the mystery, and try to act as though we were in the dispensation of the kingdom, we shall in " that day," if not here, be ashamed, through not rightly dividing the Word of truth.

The careful reader of Scripture can hardly fail to have seen the tremendous influence which the people of Israel have had during their history upon the dealings of God with surrounding nations. The histories of Egypt, Assyria, Moab, of Rahab the harlot, of Ruth, etc., etc., are recorded just so far as they touch this wonderful nation. The Lord blesses or judges particularly with reference to their attitude towards His people. He even "set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the children of Israel" (Duet. 32:8). If we might put it tersely, we should say the history is recorded so long as Israel are recognized as a nation, but mystery obtains when Israel become "Lo-Ammi-not My people:"

The times of the Gentiles could not begin until captivity had taken practically the twelve tribes out of the land. The unrecorded interval of the present time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth seven of Dan. 9. is a case in point (see also Isa. 61:1, 2, with Luke iv. 18-20 and Rev, 5.). We forbear to give further instances of this well-known subject, but now pass on from the general to the particular-the bearing which Israel's national position has upon the present dispensation and preaching of the mystery.

Between the prophecy of Malachi and the so-called New Testament is an interval of several hundred years, unbroken by the voice of revelation. It has been too easily assumed that Malachi finishes the Old Testament, and the Gospels commence the New.*( As popularly conceived. The new covenant is distinctly connected with Israel and the kingdom) If we will give a moment's thought we shall see that the people addressed in Matthew are the same as those in Malachi (i.e. they are their descendants), the same land, city, temple, law, and character, the great mass being superficial, and a few waiting for the consolation of Israel, and thinking on His name; the great and marvelous difference being this, that whereas Malachi says that Christ the Messiah shall come, Matthew shows us that the Messiah has came. The Lord Jesus in the two-fold capacity of Son of Abraham and Son of David walks their streets, heralds the good news of the kingdom, is rejected and crucified, to be seen no more by the nation of Israel until they " look upon Him whom they pierced:' The gospel of the kingdom had good news not only for Israel, but for the Gentiles, for David's greater Son was also the Seed in whom all nations should be blessed.

Rom. 15: 8, 9 should be here noticed. " Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy," etc. Then follow passages which, strictly speaking, are millennial, and will not be fulfilled until the kingdom comes. In full accord with Rom. 15: 8 is Matt. 10: 5-15, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles . . . . .but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The gospel of the kingdom was refused, as was the King,  and the "Go not" is altered to the "Go ye, disciple all nations" of Matt. 28. This opened the door of mercy to the Gentiles, as is shown in the Acts; where the kingdom is once more proclaimed, and the "uttermost parts of the earth" are taken into its scope.

The Gospels really are a continuation of the Old Testament, with this difference," God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us in His Son" (Heb. 1:1, 2). The King long prophesied was present. Alas! Israel, like all of Adam's race, needed a Saviour from sin before they could appreciate a kingdom of righteousness, and consequently we read in Matt. 12:. 6, 41, 42, that they reject the Lord of glory though greater than any temple, prophet or king. In verses 43-45 the Lord Jesus gives a prophetic picture of Israel's apostasy and end; in vexes 46-50 He disconnects Himself from fleshly ties; and to the faithful remnant in Matt. 13. He for the first time opens up the mystery of the kingdom of the heavens.

The history of Israel virtually finished when they rejected Christ and mystery began, but this was not made open and public until long after when the apostle Paul in Acts 28: 26, 27 quoted the same verse openly that the Saviour had spoken privately to His disciples, namely, Isa. 6:10, and just as Christ then commenced to unfold the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, so Paul was enabled to commence the unfolding of a mystery- not the mystery of the kingdom, but the mystery of the one body- the truth for the present time.

Israel, the destined channel of blessing, had for the time failed, and it seems that the apostle Paul in a sense was raised up to do in small measure that which Israel will yet do in fullness when the kingdom comes. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus by the descent of the Son of God is a close parallel to the conversion of Israel " in that day," as recorded in Zech. 12:10-14. He speaks of himself as being one born out of due time, and in I Tim. 1:16 he speaks of himself and his conversion as a type of those who shall hereafter believe, the word " hereafter" being often used in connection with the kingdom. In Rom. 11:1 his argument is, I am saved; I am an Israelite; I am a type and a pledge, not only of a remnant then, but of " all -Israel" in that day. Isa. 61:6 tells us that Israel shall be named " Priests of the Lord," and Paul, in describing his ministry in Rom. 15:16, speaks of it in connection with the Gentiles, "that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable:  A change, however, comes over the apostle's ministry, which was the prelude of the new order of things consequent upon the setting aside of Israel and kingdom things for the time. The first step toward this change is recorded in Acts 19:8, 9. This is the last synagogue witness, and is followed by the apostle " separating the disciples " and gathering them together, as a distinct company from the synagogue, in the school of one Tyrannus.

"To the Jew first" had been the order (see Rom. 1:16), but that order was to give place. "To the Jew first" is not the order for the time present, neither is it an interpretation of the verse to make it an argument for Jewish missionary work. Jews to-day are saved as sinners, just as the Gentiles, with no respect to any special Messianic or national privileges. Acts 20. shows us that bonds and afflictions awaited the apostle at Jerusalem, the Ephesian saints should see his face no more. Some say the apostle was self-willed and obstinate, and went up to Jerusalem against the will of the Lord-we reserve any comment until we are able to give an article on the subject of Apostolic Mistakes! In Acts 20:17-27 the apostle looks back upon a past ministry and forward to a future one. The past he summarizes as " testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," practically the same ministry as that of John the Baptist and Peter: His future ministry he introduces with a "but now," just as he shows the abeyance of the kingdom in Heb.2: 8. This new ministry is connected with "bonds and afflictions," and it is noteworthy that the three great epistles of the mystery written after Acts 28: 26-28 refer, each of them; to the fact that the apostle was a prisoner, a prisoner of the Lord, a prisoner for the Gentiles, a prisoner for the gospel. He further describes this future witness in verse 24, " To testify the gospel of the grace of God:'

The apostle now sets out for Jerusalem, and eventually we find him in peril of his life. Now begins a fresh experience. He is about to enter experimentally into the particular phase of truth delivered to him comprised in the words, "with Christ." Like his Lord, he is taken before rulers and priests, false witnesses are summoned, his enemies cry out, " Away with him! " He embarks for Rome-a prisoner. The terrible shipwreck teaches him yet more of the " fellowship of His sufferings." The hiding of sun and stars makes us think of the darkness of Calvary, the condition of salvation to all on the ship being also typical (all with Paul, and altogether as one company); the breaking up of the hinder part of the ship speaks of the bruising of the heel of Christ; the viper,  powerless and conquered, like the vanquished serpent-the devil; the healing which took place upon the island, all these speak volumes, and when Paul at length reaches Rome death and resurrection fellowship with Christ has been wonderfully typified; between him and Jerusalem lies that experience, henceforth till the Lord Jesus come and the kingdom be set  up Jerusalem passes from view, and with it Israel and all its influence. 

The contrast between the two inspired statements of Acts 28: 23 and 31 is most instructive:

 TO THE JEWS- " To whom be expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of
Moses and the prophets."

TO THE GENTILES AND ALL WHO CAME TO HIM. " Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord
Jesus Christ."

The contrast is sharp and clear. To the Jews it is "Jesus "; to the Gentiles it is " The Lord Jesus Christ "-the title of the epistles to the churches. To the Jews it is Messianic witness, "out of the law and prophets"; to the Gentiles it is not so stated. Other passages show that the apostle was directly taught the mystery by the Lord Himself -it was a revelation. Some deny the difference so patent here, but it is a quarrel not with us but with the Holy Ghost. Christ in resurrection, not as King, but as Lord and Head of the one body is now the theme. We may feel quite sure that the apostle would go over the blessed truths which he penned  in Ephesians Philippians and Colossians to those who came to his own hired house. In Eph. 6:19 he asked them to pray for him that he might have boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel for which he was an "ambassador in bonds." The word "confidence" in Acts 28:31 is the same as the word " boldly " in Eph. 6:19, and shows how the prayer was  answered, If the " two whole years " have any significance they would suggest the period of Israel's setting aside, as in Hoses 6: 2, 3, during which the Gentiles are the particular objects of the dispensational favours of God.

The concluding verses of Acts 28 form the great dividing line between the epistles of the mystery and the epistles that include the remnant of Israel and kingdom hopes and accompaniments. At the moment when Paul quoted Isa. 6:10, the period of the church's " babyhood " finished, and the "perfect man" standard was proclaimed. These subjects we hope to deal with separately, and we would ask our readers to reserve their judgment until they have the opportunity of taking our statements to the Word of truth, and seeing " whether these things are so."

The epistles written before the Roman imprisonment are 1 and 2 Thess., 1 and 2 Con, Gal. and Romans. After the imprisonment-Eph., Phil., Col., 1 and 2 Tim., Titus, and Hebrews. It is of the utmost importance to see the difference that exists in these two sets of epistles. In the early ones, Israel as a nation has its influence, millennial pre-figurings abound, and, humanly speaking, Israel's national repentance might bring the kingdom, and with it the Saviour, even in the very lifetime of those to whom the apostle wrote. After Acts 28. this was not the case. There was no Israel. The kingdom was entirely in abeyance, Jerusalem was destroyed. The Gentiles, as such, were aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, and hence if the Lord had any gospel for them it must be a gospel of sovereign grace indeed. This forms the basis of the first epistle of the mystery -Ephesians.

We conclude this introductory article by summarizing

1. Israel have always had, and will yet have, the chief place in the dispensational dealings of God, and the prophetic parts of the Old Testament are entirely connected wish their national existence.

2. The great dividing line must be looked for not at Matt. 1. nor Acts 2, but where Israel as a nation ceases.

3. That dividing line is clearly drawn at Acts 28.

4. I, as a saved Gentile, have nothing to do with the Mosaic law, as such ; to this most Christians will agree. Neither may I step over the boundary line drawn by the Holy Ghost in Acts 28 without causing hopeless confusion, and failure to appreciate the particular blessings and responsibilities that are mine in this dispensation ; to this very few will agree.

We would earnestly ask our readers to search the Scriptures and "see whether these things are so," also to search out their own arguments for their peculiar ecclesiastical or dispensational beliefs, and find whether much has not been brought over from the closing period of a past dispensation.