"REPENT ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which be fore 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).
This is one of those passages of Scripture in which so much of Christian doctrine and teaching is packed into such a small compass. In these 67 words (47 in the Greek text) are to be found some of the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith. They are rather tersely mentioned, but we find such concepts as repentance, conversion, blotting out of sins, times of refreshing, the second advent of our Lord, and the restitution of all things. This is quite a wide coverage, and it might repay us to study these with the view of seeing the relation of one to the other, and if at all possible, gaining an overview of the chronological sequence of these events.
At the beginning, however, in order to see one of these matters in its proper setting, let us observe the King James Version rendering of the clause that reads: "And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you." The words in italics are the ones to be noted.
The Greek text literally reads:
the having been before appointed for you Christ Jesus.
The word translated "preached" in the authorized version would better be translated as "appointed." This is how it is rendered in several translations. While a few of the translations render it as the K.J.V., the better rendering is as given in the R.S.V. and others.
"That he may send the Christ appointed for you." R.S.V.
"That He may send the Christ appointed beforehand for you." Weymouth.
"And he may send Jesus your foreordained Messiah." Schonfield.
"When he sends you Jesus, already designated as your Messiah." New American Bible.*
There is, however, a problem in these verses. It is a question which has concerned many Biblical scholars through the centuries of the Christian Era. In one of the Greek- English Commentaries of a few decades ago, we read concerning the times of refreshing:
"What particular period is here designated, expositors are not agreed. It must, of course, be at the coming of the Messiah; but some refer that to his coming at the destruction of Jerusalem; others, to his corning at the end of the world: and others, again, his coming in the Millennial reign. As to the first view, it is, I apprehend, untenable. The third has been in geniously, but not satisfactorily, defended. It seems safest to adopt the second; by which the anapsuxis of the present passage will be the same with the avesis at 2 Thess. 1:7, en te apokalupsei tou kuriou lesou ap' ouranou met' aggeton, 'the restitution of all things.' " 1
Let us look at some of the vital considerations that are outlined in these verses.
The Blotting Out of Sins
First, let us seek to ascertain what God does with our sins. His Word tells us that He forgives (Acts 5:31); He pardons (Isa. 55:7); He remits (John 20:23); He cleanses (1 John 1:7); He washes (Rev. 1:5); He purges (2 Peter 1:9); He covers (Ps. 32:1); He blots out (Acts 3:19); and He makes an end of sin (Dan. 9:24).
A question naturally arises at this point. Are all these statements of what Cod does with sin simultaneous? Are they expressions of but one act, the act of repentance and conversion? An examination of the Hebrew and Greek words will, we believe, furnish the answer. Take first of all the thought of forgiveness. With this can be associated cleanse, purify, wash, cover, and pardon. What does the word for give really mean? There are two Hebrew words rendered "forgive" in our Hebrew Bibles, nasa' and salach. Nasa' means "to bear away," "to lift or raise up," "to send away," "to forgive." Salach means "to send away," "to forgive."
There are two Greek words used in the Greek New Testament, apoluo and aphiemi. Apoluo means "to loose," "to unbind," "to release," "to set at liberty," etc. Aphiemi means "to forgive," "to let go," "to send forth," "to dismiss."
Let us now look carefully at the basic meaning of these Hebrew and Creek words which set before us the concept of "forgiveness." What is the impression they leave with us? Is it that of annihilation, of obliteration, of utter extinction? The time will comewhen sin with its author and all who side with him in rebellion against Cod will go down in unalterable, everlasting destruction (see Rev. 20:10, 13, 14). But is that the thought conveyed to our minds by the word forgive?
Some years ago a writer on this question likened "forgiveness" to a horse tied to a post. Its master comes along, unties the rope, and frees the horse. We also were bound to our sins, but our blessed Lord by His atoning sacrifice frees us, delivers us from that to which we were bound. But how about the post after the horse is set free; how about the horse? Both still exist. The post is there; so is the horse. The difference is that be fore, the horse was bound; now he is free. The moral of this then is that even though we are for given, our sins are still on the books of record in heaven. We are here, but thank God, we are free; yet the record of sin still exists.
Now we come to the other thing God plans to do with our sins if we are faithful to Him. He says: "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions" (Isa. 43:25). "That your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19).
There is one word in Hebrew and one in Greek that expresses this thought. In Hebrew it is machah and this is rendered, "wipe out" (Neh. 13:14); "blot out" (Isa. 43:25); "abolish" (Eze. 6:6); "utterly put out" (Ex. 17:14). The word in the New Testament is exaleipho and is rendered "blot out" in Acts 3:19 and Revelation 3:5.
This experience of our sins' being blotted out, then, is something we know and experience by faith today. We know it is true, because Cod's Word says so, but in Acts 3:19 there is a certain time factor that must be taken into account. From this verse it is evident that the blotting out of sins is intimately related to the second advent of our Lord. We read:
"Evidently, Peter, speaking by inspiration, and thus beyond his own finite understanding, is referring, tersely, to two great events of earth's last days (1) the mighty outpouring of God's Spirit, and (2) the final blotting out of the sins of the righteous which are tied to a third climactic event, the second advent of Christ." 2
We further read on this point: "The work of the investigative judgment and the blotting out of sins is to be accomplished before the second advent of the Lord. Since the dead are to be judged out of the things written in the books, it is impossible that the sins of men should be blotted out until after the judgment at which their cases are to be investigated. But the apostle Peter distinctly states that the sins of believers will be blotted out 'when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ.' When the investigative judgment closes, Christ will come, and His reward will be with Him to give to every man as his work shall be." 3
The Times of Refreshing
This "refreshing" is evidently at a predetermined time, for it is called "the times of refreshing." An illuminating concept from a well-known author can be seen in the following:
"The prophecies which were fulfilled in the outpouring of the former rain at the opening of the gospel are again to be fulfilled in the latter rain at its close. Here are 'the times of refreshing' to which the apostle Peter looked forward when he said: 'Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus' " (Acts 3:19, 20) . 4
"It is our work today to yield our souls to Christ, that we may be fitted for the time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord fitted for the baptism of the Holy Spirit." 5
Evidently, then, "the times of refreshing" are equated with the early and latter rain mentioned in Joel 2:28, 29. There is one earlier reference to this, however, in Isaiah's prophecies. He wrote:
"I will pour my spirit upon thy seed" (Isa. 44:3). In Acts 2:17, 18, in both the Creek and English texts, we read: "I will pour out of my Spirit." Observe the little preposition apo = "from" or "of." God "sheds forth" some, a measure. He does not exhaust the plenitude of power. Some was released at Pentecost, but the great remainder is reserved for the time of the .latter rain. Observe these encouraging words:
"The work will be similar to that of the Day of Pentecost. . . . The 'former rain' was given, ... at the opening of the gospel. . . . The 'latter rain' will be given at its close." 6
"The great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening." 7
"These scenes are to be repeated, and with greater power. . . . The latter rain will be more abundant." 8
How we need today to seek for that preparation of heart and mind, that we may be Spirit-filled for the finishing of the great work of God.
The One Which Before Was Preached Unto You
This was mentioned briefly at the beginning of this article, but we refer to it once again. It is the Greek word for "which before was preached." This is prokecheirismenon. A form of the same word is found in Acts 22:14, where it is translated, "God . . . hath chosen thee"; but the Greek word should really be rendered, "previously appointed," It was something foreordained in the purpose of God. So in Acts 3:20 "which before was preached unto you" should read, "the having been fore-appointed for you."
But think of a further emphasis. A. T. Robertson sees in the wording and construction of these verses a very significant emphasis, the Jesus whom the apostles preached was really the Messiah.9 Of course the word Christ, Greek Christos, actually means "anointed" or "Messiah," but in the translation in our Bibles we have to a large extent lost sight of the Messianic mission of Jesus our Lord and Saviour. The English translation from the Syriac renders Christos all the time as Messiah, and thus brings forcibly be fore us at all times in our reading that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed and in truth the Messiah sent from God.
The prominent question in the days of our Lord was whether Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Coming One, the Sent of God. This was what had been in Peter's mind, but he learned to say, "Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16, from the Syriac). So did Nathanael, when he declared, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel" (John 1:49). The woman at the well listened to Him and was deeply stirred. She went back to her people and declared to them excitedly, "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" (John 4:29).
The "times of refreshing" are to bring the "anointed," the "Coming One." And He in turn brings the "time of restitution of all things."
1. S. T. Bloomfield, Greek-English Commentary (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1847), vol. 2, p. 543, col. 2. (Italics supplied.)
2. The SDA Bible Commentary, on Acts 3:19.
3. The Great Controversy, p. 485.
4. Ibid., pp. 611, 612.
5. Evangelism, p. 702.
6. The Great Controversy, p. 611.
8. Christ's Object Lessons, p. 121.
9. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (New York and London: Harper Brothers, 1930), vol. 3, p. 46.
* From The New American Bible used by permission of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, copyright owner.