Saturday, December 10, 2011

Understanding the Gaps in Scripture

Grand Canyon from the South Rim, near the NPS Visitor Center
Back in 2003, my wife and I had an unexpected opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  We never thought we could afford to go there.  But our Lord is an amazing God, and He provided.

One of my sisters and her husband graciously allowed us to stay in her time share condominium in the beautiful town of Sedona, Arizona.  Sedona is a fabulous Southwest vacation destination, also referred to as Red Rock Country.  And I used my sky miles from all the business travel I had been doing, so that we were able to get two free tickets round trip from Philadelphia.  I also had rewards points with Hertz rental car that enabled us to get a free car during our stay in Arizona.  Lastly, I had enough Marriott rewards points accumulated, so that we could stay at the very nice Courtyard Marriot in Phoenix on our first night there, before we traveled to the time share condominium in Sedona. I can't forget to mention that my wife's parents were gracious enough to watch our three girls for a week, while we took this fantastic get away.  All of this was unexpected.  The Lord provided it all free of charge as a wonderful surprise to us.

One of the things about the Grand Canyon is that when you stand next to it, you are overwhelmed with awe at the deep, vast expanse.  It's incredibly wide and deep.  I think the bottom of the canyon is about a mile down from where you stand on the rim.  Another thing about it is that when you look across the tops of some of the rock formations at certain angles, such as you see in the photo above, you cannot always tell that there is a huge gap between them.  It's not until you view them from a different angle that you see just how large a gap there is.

The Scriptures are like that, too.  There are some verses in the Bible that skip over large periods of time without any indication that they are doing so.  And when you read about the same events in other portions of Scripture, you get a view from a different angle, so to speak.  Sometimes you find out there was actually a large gap of time between two sentences. It’s important to be aware of this, so that when you read these passages and others like them, you can properly understand the meaning.

Here are some examples:

The First and Second Coming of Christ
The prophet Isaiah wrote: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God…” (Isa 61:1-2)

About seven hundred years later, when Jesus began His public ministry, he began by reading this passage from Isaiah in the synagogue.  “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.’ And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’"  (Luk 4:16-21)

Notice how Jesus stopped before reading the words “and the day of vengeance of our God.”  When He came the first time, it was not for the sake of vengeance, but to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, and to proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor.  As Paul later wrote, “Behold, now is ‘THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,’ behold, now is ‘THE DAY OF SALVATION.’” (2Co 6:2).  When Jesus came the first time, it was not to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God.  That will be when He comes the second time to execute judgment and punish His enemies.

So in Isaiah’s prophecy, there is a gap of at least two thousand years between two phrases in the same sentence: “the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God.”

The resurrection and the ascension
At the end of Luke’s gospel account of Jesus, He records the events that occurred from Jesus’ resurrection until the day He was taken up to heaven.

In the passage where he records Jesus’ appearance to His disciples in the locked room in Jerusalem, he states: “While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, ‘Peace be to you.’"  (Luk 24:36).  From that point, the passage continues until the end of the book, where Luke states, “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luk 24:50-51).

In this passage, it all seems to be one continuous event, as though Jesus led the disciples from that locked upper room all the way to Bethany on the same day, and then ascended into heaven.

However, in Luke’s second account of these events in Acts, he expands on this further and reveals that there was a span of forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension.

His second account begins like this: “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” (Act 1:1-5)

Following his description of some of what Jesus said that day, Luke states: “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’” (Act 1:9-11)

So it becomes clear that there were forty days and many detailed events that occurred between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension, which Luke left out in His first account.  It was apparently for the sake of brevity that he did not expand on these events the first time.  As John states in His gospel, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (Joh 20:30-31) The gospels are not an exhaustive record of everything that Jesus said and did.  So when you read the last chapter of Luke, you need to be aware that this gap exists.

The Ascension and post-Pentecost Events
In Luke’s gospel and Acts, he give two different accounts of what happened after the ascension.  In his gospel, he states, “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luk 24:50-53).  So in this record, it appears that the disciples returned to Jerusalem after the ascension and were immediately took up the practice of praising God continually in the temple.

However, in Acts, he clarifies that there was a gap of ten days that occurred between the ascension and their time of continual praise and rejoicing in the temple.  Luke records that immediately following the ascension: “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Act 1:12-14).  Here it is obvious that they first returned to the upper room in Jerusalem where they devoted themselves to prayer until the day of Pentecost.

Jesus’ death on the cross occurred on Passover, and his ascension was forty days later, according to Luke’s account in Acts 1:3.  The Feast of Pentecost occurs fifty days after Passover, so by simple math, we can determine that there was a period of ten days between the ascension and Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out.

The disciples were obedient to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit before they went into public to be witnesses for Jesus.  They knew they needed to first be endued with power in order to be His witnesses.  So it wasn’t until ten days after Jesus’ ascension that the disciples began to continually praise God in the temple courts.  This is another one of those gaps that occurs in Scripture. Luke’s first account leaves a period of ten days unaccounted for in Luke 24:52.  It was only later in his second account that Luke unpacked that further for us.

Paul’s first trips as a disciple to Damascus and Jerusalem
Luke leaves another gap in his record of events, and this time it is between Paul’s first visits to Damascus and Jerusalem as a Christian.

He records the events that occurred during Saul’s visit to Damascus immediately following his conversion to Christ: “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.” (Act 9:22-28)

In this passage, it seems like Paul went directly from Damascus to Jerusalem.  However, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he said his first trip to Jerusalem was three years after his Damascus road experience.  He wrote, “Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother.” (Gal 1:18-19). This corresponds with Luke’s account, which says, “When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Act 9:26).

So what seems like an immediate trip to Jerusalem in Luke's account did not occur until an period of three years had elapsed!

In the same epistle to the Galatians, Paul stated that the second time he went to Jerusalem was fourteen years after the first visit, and that Barnabas accompanied him on this second trip.  He wrote, “Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.” (Gal 2:1).  This corresponds to Luke’s account, which states, “But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.” (Act 9:27-28).  Barnabas did not go with Paul until his second trip to Jerusalem, and he was influential in helping Paul to obtain the right hand of fellowship with the apostles.

So what Luke covers in a couple sentences happened over a period of seventeen years total.  This included three years between Paul's trip to Damascus and later to Jerusalem, plus another fourteen years between Paul's first and second trips to Jerusalem.

Putting it All Together
These are just a few examples from Scripture that show how there are sometimes gaps in Scripture, where large periods of time exist between two sentences or two phrases in the same sentence.  These are not always further expanded elsewhere in Scripture, but when they are, it helps us to better understand what took place in the interim during the gap.

If we do not understand that these gaps exist, then we can become confused about the events of biblical history and arrive at wrong conclusions about what occurred.  This can sometimes lead to unbiblical theology, so we need to be careful and pray for a clear understanding of Scripture.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy applies to us with regard to this when he wrote, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2Ti 2:15).  We need to rightly divide the word of truth, and sometimes it requires us to divide phrases or sentences in Scripture.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. The photo source is Couleurs de la Terre / Colours of the Earth

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page, such as The Bible is the Word of God, Read the Bible for All Its Worth!, The Uniqueness of God's Word, All Scripture must be fulfilled and The Bible Never Fails. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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