Did the Body of Christ Begin on the Day of Pentecost?

by Jerry Shugart

Progressive Dispensationalism and Pentecost

The Progressive Dispensationalists believe that the Body of Christ began on the day of Pentecost so when Robert Saucy writes the following he is saying that what happened in regard to the Body of Christ was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies:

"The Spirit's coming at Pentecost was nothing less than the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of the messianic outpouring of the Spirit. That this is the meaning of Pentecost is confirmed in Peter's appeal to the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 to explain the event" (Robert L. Saucy, TheCase for Progressive Dispensationalism, 178).

This teaching is a denial of the Traditional Dispensational teaching that the Body of Christ was a "mystery" truth which is not found in the Old Testament. Traditional Dispensationalist Charles Ryrie writes that "dispensational premillennialism has insisted that the mystery is something unrevealed in the Old Testament (though now revealed) in order to demonstrate the distinctiveness of the church from Israel and to emphasize its unique place in God's program for this age...this whole age with its program was not revealed in the Old Testament, but constitutes a new program and a new line of revelation in this present age" [emphasis added] (Charles C. Ryrie, "The Mystery in Ephesians 3," Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan. 1966).

If the Body of Christ began on the day of Pentecost then it cannot be argued that the Church was not revealed in the Old Testament. But we will see that it is very easy to prove that the Body of Christ did not begin on the day of Pentecost and I will quote numerous Traditional Dispensationalists to prove it.

The LORD's Program For Israel is Distinct From His Program For the Church

The Scriptures reveal that circumcision was a requirement for the sons of Israel and any uncirumcised male was cut off from the nation of Israel:

"This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you...And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Gen.17:10-11,14).

However, circumcision profits no one during the Church age, as witnessed by Paul's words here:

"For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Gal.5:6).

The Scriptures also reveal that when the nation of Israel was in a covenant relationship with the LORD the children of Israel were a special people unto Him:

"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth" (Deut.7:6).

On the other hand, during the Church age there are no special people unto the LORD except for believers and in the Body of Christ there is no distinction between the Jews and those of other nationalities:

"And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all" (Col.3:10-11).

In his comments on these verses Norman L. Geisler writes the following:

"In Christ distinctions are removed. These include national distinctions (Greek or Jew...); religious distinctions (circumcised or uncircumcised)..." (Norman L. Geisler, "Colossians," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck [Colorado Springs: ChariotVictor Publishing, 1983], 681).

These facts serve to prove that when the LORD's program for Israel is in view then that program cannot be about the Body of Christ because His two different programs are mutually exclusive. In other words, when the Divine plan toward Israel is in effect then the children of Israel are above all people on the face of the earth so therefore it is impossible that at the same time the Divine plan is also toward the Body of Christ where there is no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. Sir Robert Anderson wrote the following:

"For just as we aver that 'God cannot lie,' we may assert that He cannot act at the same time upon two wholly different and incompatible principles" (Sir Robert Anderson, Forgotten Truths [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980], 44).

Charles Ryrie, previously Professor Emeritus at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote that the Body of Christ "is distinct from any previous body of redeemed people in its nature, characteristics, time, and promises":

"That God is continuing His work of redemption in calling out a people for His name in the church, the Body of Christ, we gladly affirm, but we also insist that this Body of Christ is distinct from any previous body of redeemed people in its nature, characteristics, time, and promises" [emphasis added] (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism [Chicago: Moody Press, 1995], 131).

Now we will examine what Peter said in his second Pentecostal sermon and see if at that "time" the nation of Israel was in view or whether it was the Body of Christ. It has to be one or the other and it cannot be both at the same time.

Did the Body of Christ Begin on the Day of Pentecost?

Stanley Toussaint, Professor Emeritus at Dallas Theological Seminary, correctly understands that the book of Acts marks a transition from the LORD's program in regard to Israel to His dealings with the Body of Christ:

"Acts marks the transition from the work of God provincially among the Jews to His establishment of the universal church" (Stanley D. Toussaint, "Acts," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament, 349).

At some point during the Acts period national Israel was temporarily set aside:

"For if their having been cast aside has carried with it the reconciliation of the world, what will their being accepted again be but Life out of death?" (Ro.11:15; WNT).

We will now examine what Peter said in his second Pentecostal sermon in order to determine if Israel was set aside by the time the day of Pentecost had arrived:

"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:19-21).

It appears that Peter was saying that a repentance on the part of the nation of Israel right then and there would result in the return of the Lord Jesus. Andrew M. Woods, the President of Chafer Theological Seminary, does not agree and says that Peter was not telling that particular generation of Jews that repentance on their part would result in the kingdom being ushered in. According to Woods Peter was merely laying out the condition that the nation must satisfy in the future in order for the kingdom to become a reality:

"All Peter is saying in this sermon is that national repentance (Acts 3:19a) will be needed before Jesus can return from heaven (Acts 3:20-21) and usher in the kingdom conditions of 'the times of refreshing' (Acts 3:19b) and 'the restoration of all things' (Acts 3:21). Merely laying out the conditions that future Israel will one day satisfy in order for the kingdom to eventually arrive is quite different than offering the kingdom right then and there" [emphasis added] (Andrew M. Woods, The Coming Kingdom: What Is the Kingdom and How Is Kingdom Now Theology Changing the Focus of the Church? [Duluth, MN: Grace Gospel Press, 2016], 72).

Is Woods right? Of course not. When Peter used the Greek word translated "repent" that word was in the "aorist" tense and the "imperative" mood. Here is what is said about the imperative mood:

"The imperative mood corresponds to the English imperative, and expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding. Thus, Jesus' phrase, 'Repent ye, and believe the gospel' (Mk.1:15) is not at all an 'invitation,' but an absolute command requiring full obedience on the part of all hearers" [emphasis added] (The Blue Letter Bible: https://www.blueletterbible.org/help/lexicalDefinitions.cfm?lang=G&num=5794).

Because Peter was commanding the nation of Israel to repent and since he had received the Holy Spirit to guide him in all truth (Jn.16:13) then it is certain that the LORD's purpose on that day was in regard to the nation of Israel and not to the Body of Christ.

Toussaint, to whom Woods dedicated his book The Coming Kingdom, understands that at Acts 3 the LORD was dealing with the nation of Israel and not the Church which is His Body:

"Was Peter saying here that if Israel repented, God's kingdom would have come to earth? This must be answered in the affirmative...Acts 3:17-21 shows that Israel's repentance was to have had two purposes: (1) for 'individual' Israelites there was a forgiveness of sins, and (2) for 'Israel as a nation' her Messiah would return to reign" [emphasis added] (Stanley D. Toussaint, "Acts," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament, 362-63).

Sir Robert Anderson wrote the following commentary on Peter's words at Acts 3:19-21:

"To represent this as Christian doctrine, or the institution of 'a new religion,' is to betray ignorance alike of Judaism and of Christianity. The speakers were Jews--the apostles of One who was Himself 'a minister of the circumcision.' Their hearers were Jews, and as Jews they were addressed. The Pentecostal Church which was based upon the testimony was intensely and altogether Jewish. It was not merely that the converts were Jews, and none but Jews, but that the idea of evangelising Gentiles never was even mooted. When the first great persecution scattered the disciples, and they 'went everywhere preaching the Word,' they preached, we are expressly told, 'to none but to the Jews'."

"The Jerusalem Church, then, was Jewish. Their Bible was the Jewish Scriptures. The Jewish temple was their house of prayer and common meeting-place. Their beliefs and hopes and words and acts all marked them out as Jews...Nothing was further from the thoughts of these men than 'founding a new religion.' On the contrary, while hailing the rejected Nazarene as their national Messiah, they clung with passionate devotion to the religion of their fathers" [emphais added] (Anderson, The Silence of God [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978] 75-78).

Of course those in the Body of Christ are not to tell anyone that if they repent then the Lord Jesus will be sent back to establish His kingdom on the earth. Peter's words were addressed to the nation of Israel at a time when the nation of Israel remained in the LORD's plans and before that nation was set aside and before the Body of Christ even came into existence.

Wilt Thou at This Time Restore the Kingdom to Israel?

After He was resurrected the Lord Jesus was with His Apostles for forty days while He tutored them about the things concerning the kingdom:

"To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God...When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them,It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:3, 6-7).

The Apostles certainly did not believe that Israel had been temporarily cast aside because they asked the Lord if the kingdom would be restored to Israel at that time. If they believed that Israel had been cast aside then they would not have asked the Lord if the kingdom would then be restored to Israel.

In his commentary on these verses Toussaint said that "some conclude from the Lord's response that the apostles had a false concept of the kingdom. But this is wrong. Christ did not accuse them of this. If the followers of the Lord Jesus had an incorrect view, this would have been the time for Him to correct it" (Stanley D. Toussaint, "Acts" in The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament, 354).

Of course if the Apostles were in error for thinking that Israel had not yet been set aside then there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Lord Jesus would have corrected them. The fact that He didn't correct them speaks volumes! At that time Israel had not yet been set aside. After the Cross the nation of Israel was given another chance to recognize that the Lord Jesus is their promised Messiah. His prayer from the Cross had secured for Israel another chance:

"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk.23:34).

Later, after the Crucifixion, Peter said the following to the nation:

"But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses...And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers" (Acts 3:14-15,17).

Toussaint wrote that "the people with their leaders (cf. Luke 23:13) had acted in ignorance (cf. Acts 17:30; Eph. 4:18; 1 Peter 1:14) in the sense that they did not recognize who Jesus really is. So God gave them further opportunity to repent" (Ibid., 361).

Yes, and just a few verses later we see the Apostle Peter commanding the nation to repent (Acts 3:19). All of this proves that Israel remained in the LORD's plans even after the Cross. And since the Apostles believed that it was possible that the kingdom would be restored to Israel at that time then it is obvious that they had not been told that nation had been temporarily cast aside. The reason that the Lord did not tell them that was because they had not been cast aside and at Acts 2 they remained the focus of the purposes and plans of God.