The Biblical Basis for Restoration
‘Restoration’ literally means ‘the action of returning something to a former owner, place, position or condition.’ When applied to the church of Jesus Christ, it means returning today’s church, with all its truths and practices, to those revealed in the New Testament. For Bible-believing evangelicals, to pursue, or even consider changing todays church to the pattern of the New Testament church, would require a clear Biblical mandate.
Does the Bible prescribe such an action or should Christians today remain satisfied with the status quo, whatever branch or brand of the church to which they belong? This article attempts to examine the Biblical basis for the restoration of the church today.
This article, along with others in this section, attempts to examine the Biblical basis for the restoration of the Christian church.
We will firstly consider the broader Biblical picture which reveals that God is a God of restoration. Then we will look at the Bible as a book of restoration: The restoration of creation, mankind and Israel. Lastly, we will look at the key verse on church restoration, Acts 3:18-26, in some detail.
God is a God of Restoration
A quick scouring of any Bible concordance reveals 66 references to ‘restore,’ ‘restoration,’ ‘restorer’ and ‘restoring’ in the NIV Bible.
Many of these are references to God restoring a variety of things to individuals, to Israel, etc.; things that have been lost, damaged or stolen. The following are examples:
The Bible is a Book of Restoration
The four main subjects of the Bible are all objects of Restoration
These four subjects are creation, mankind , Israel and the Church. They constitute the entire contents of the Book of Books, from Genesis to Revelation. Each of them was birthed by God and all of them have undergone various levels of corruption, degeneration and destruction as they have been exposed to the world, the flesh or the devil.
1. The restoration of Creation
The Bible is clear regarding the quality of all that God created. In Genesis 1 it states seven times that everything that God made was ‘good.’ After man’s creation it was ‘very good.’ The creation of the heavens and the earth are not, however, described as good, but neither are they to be viewed as bad. They were simply the raw material that God began with. As God worked by his Spirit and His Word the material world was transformed by His creative acts, producing something that was stunningly magnificent, spectacularly glorious!
2. The Restoration of Mankind
The second object of restoration has to do with fallen mankind. As soon as Adam fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, God promised to reverse this catastrophe through the seed of the woman Genesis 3:15. God’s plan was to restore man (including subsequent mankind) to his great high calling of fellowship with Himself through the last Adam, Jesus Christ.
3. The Restoration of Israel
Chronologically, the creation of the nation of Israel is the next main subject of restoration after the creation of mankind.
From Genesis 3-11 the lost state of man is revealed. Cain kills Abel, generations come and go and sin increases. God responds by the flood and rebuilds with Noah. After some time, men turn away from God and construct the Tower of Babel, which God deals with by scattering them and confusing their common language.
How are these histories of Israel’s main restorations relevant to Christians?
The Old Testament was originally written for the Jewish people. The Scriptures undoubtedly ministered hope and faith to the hearts of God’s beleaguered people in challenging times. Nevertheless, the New Testament writers tell us that God gave the Old Testament for Christians.
4. Restoration of the Church
The key passage on the subject of “restoration” in the New Testament is found in Acts 3:18-26:
18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’ 24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
In the last section, we cited some verses from the New Testament which stated that the Old Testament was written for New Testament believers (1 Peter 1:12, Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11). This is further supported by this amazing passage in Acts 3:18-26.
1. Restoration prophesied by all the prophets.
Firstly, Luke quotes Peter saying that the
suffering of Christ was prophesied by all the prophets (v.18). This is well-known eg. Ps 22, Isa 53, etc. In v.21 he states that the prophets also prophesied that God would ‘
restore everything ’ before Jesus returns (at his second coming).
This truth is also found in 1 Peter 1:10-11:
‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiahand the glories that would follow’ Peter here uses ‘the glories that would follow’ to restate ‘restore everything.’
It is reasonable for believers today to accept that the Old Testament prophets spoke about the Messiah and His sufferings. Jesus Christ and His crucifixion are at the very centre of the Bible and the Christian message. We are aware that the prophets gave a prophetic, identikit picture of the coming Messiah, by which the world could recognize Him and verify His claims. The prophecies of his sufferings and death have great apologetic and confirmatory value. But the idea of ‘all the prophet’s, from Samuel on, speaking of these things, is an alien thought to most Bible readers and scholars.
‘Prophets’ are mentioned 4 times in this short passage, and are numbered with two of the greatest Old Testament prophets, Moses and Samuel. (See Jeremiah 15:1). In addition, Abraham, who was arguably the first Old Testament prophet in scripture, Gen 20:7 (excluding Enoch, Jude 14), is also quoted, connecting his prophecy of his offspring blessing all peoples on the earth, Gen 12:3, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14.
It should be remembered that, according to the Hebrew canon of the section of the Old Testament known as the Nevi’im, or the Prophets, is divided into two sections: the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets. The Former Prophets contains four historical books—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The Latter Prophets includes four prophetic works—the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (Minor) Prophets. The Twelve Prophets, formerly written on a single scroll, includes the books of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Thus, in the Hebrew canon of the Prophets there are, in effect, eight books.
Adopting this approach, the historical books of the Old Testament may be included in Peter’s ‘all the prophets’ statement. Old Testament historical events may be interpreted as prophetic actions, exemplified by such actions as Noah and the flood, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses, the Passover, the Red Sea deliverance, the Hebrew Tabernacle, Moses raising a replica of a serpent which brings healing, Pentecost, the desert wanderings, Moses Tabernacle, David’s Tabernacle etc.
If this is what Peter and the writer of Acts was meaning, there are many examples of revival, decline, repentance, restoration and renewal: the Book of Judges, Biblical revivals through Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah etc., Israel’s backslidings, the Babylonian captivity and restoration to their land. If this is the case, there are many examples of decline and restoration from which the church can glean wisdom and direction in times of need.
2. The emphasis on ‘these days.’
Although the passage states that the prophets reveal a future restoration which will occur before Jesus returns, Acts 3:21, it also says they ‘foretold these days’ Acts 3:24. Here Peter clarifies the ‘everything’ of v21 by saying the focus of all the Old Testament prophets was what was happening in ‘these days.’ As far as we can determine, Peter was referring to the experience of the church’s life from Pentecost to the healing of the crippled beggar in Acts 3:1-10, which could only be a few weeks, at most. What they saw as ‘these days’ was to be fully restored at the end of time.
So, what was happening in those days? The Day of Pentecost had happened! The Spirit was outpoured on 120 people including the apostles, then the Gospel was preached and 3000 people we not only converted but also were promised to receive the Holy Spirit.
There is widespread agreement amongst commentators that the description of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 is not part of the chronological history of the early church, but rather a statement regarding it’s general, daily activity. In these 5 verses, we see the use of the imperfect tense 8 times. This tense indicates continuous behaviour. These are the practices the first apostles received from Jesus Christ to pass on to the fledgling Church. These things are the backbone, the lifeblood, the daily, constant, week-by-week agenda of the church in Acts. They describe its inner life, the principles, the practices, and the priorities they employed – all activities which undoubtedly played a part in the early church’s impact upon its society. They are recorded in Scripture so that all subsequent churches could become healthy and maintain a spiritual vitality and effectiveness, by practising the same activities. These things are meant to be a way of life for God’s people.
The apostles teaching was paramount and fellowship was also high on the list of priorities. The breaking of bread and remembering the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, were also deemed central, as were the corporate prayers of the believers which concluded the four practices that Luke considered the essential elements of church life. Acts 2:42
Luke then follows this introductory statement with a general description of the life the believers experienced together Acts 2:43-47. There was a tangible sense of God’s presence seen in a variety of supernatural wonders and miraculous signs. In addition, the relationships between believers were astounding! They were truly united and expressed their love for God and for one another by public worship in the Temple and by eating together in private homes. They had everything in common and shared with the needy, sometimes selling their belongings to do so!
This description is repeated in Acts 4:32-37, underscoring the ongoing nature of New Testament church life. Its hallmark was simplicity. Spirituality was simple, comprising of the four points of Acts 2:42 and the gathered church was simple – truly loving one another! This combination, coupled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit proved to be a recipe for explosive growth in the church Acts 4:4.
Naturally, as the church grew in numbers it had to become more organised. It needed deacons to handle the church’s benevolence and elders to provide care and oversight. Apostles and prophets were added to pioneer missions and provide ongoing direction and oversite.
3. The decline of the church
Arthur Wallis, in his ‘Special Introduction’ to a reprint of Frank Bartleman’s ‘What Really Happened at Azusa Street?’ renamed ‘Another Wave Rolls In,’ made a very astute observation regarding of the church in the New Testament:
“In the New Testament we have a clear picture of the early Church. It wasn’t a perfect Church because it was composed of human beings, and they are never perfect. However, the early Church was perfect in constitution, perfect in the revelation of God’s mind, received through His holy apostles and prophets. They had complete light and thus had no need to progress into fuller revelation in the ensuing centuries.
“Through the apostles, the early Church received in that first century a complete revelation of the mind of God. This revelation is, of course, contained in our New Testament. But also, as they walked in the light of this revelation, not only the revelation but they themselves became a model of God’s intention.”
Wallis’ assessment is correct. There were imperfections in the early church, like Peter’s acquiescence to Judaist practices which Paul sharply rebuked at Antioch, Gal 2:11-21, immorality, and faulty doctrine at Corinth or those at Philippi who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Nevertheless, God provided the Apostles, especially Paul, with perfect revelation regarding all aspects of church life and faith, belief and behaviour. This revelation is recorded accurately in the New Testament.
But in Acts 3:21 we find a prophecy about the ‘restoration of all things’ which will occur at the end of time. Consider the context of the message. Prompted by the healing of a crippled man, Peter explained the healing as an act of God through Jesus. Everyone knew that Jesus had been crucified but this miracle made it evident that he was very much alive and active in their midst. Peter then weaved in the gospel message, appealing to his hearers to repent and turn to God, before offering further Old Testament prophecies to explain what was happening during those days Acts 3:24. These events were simply the New Testament church at work.
The prophecies of restoration at the end of time have to do with what was happening in the church of those days, and assume that there would be some sort of loss, apostacy or corruption between then and the end of time, which required restoration by the hand of God.
If this is a correct interpretation of this promise of the restoration of all things, we would expect to see some evidence of the decline of the church over the past 20 centuries. In addition, we would also expect to see some similar evidence of ‘times of refreshing coming from the presence of the Lord’ Acts 3:19.
It is no exaggeration to say that the evidence for both above is voluminous! The decline of the church – it’s apostacy, heresies, subtractions and additions to the original revelation, fill the pages of virtually every book on church history. Similarly, history is peppered with Great Awakenings and lesser-known revivals that have revitalised the Christianity of their times. This website is populated by numerous articles covering both these subjects.
4. The same principles or requirements for revival apply to restoration.
The most popular Bible verse on man’s responsibility for revival is 2 Chronicles 7:14 ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’
Humility expressed by repentance and prayer have always elicited a response from God. Rare indeed is any outpouring of the Holy Spirit that did not include such godly elements.
Some revivals have been born from sincere obedience to God’s word. The entrance (NIV ‘unfolding’) of God’s word brings light Ps 119:130 A.V. When light is received it produces a turning to God through repentance, prayer and holiness.
The same is true of restoration. In this passage Peter exhorts his hearers to ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so your sins may be wiped out. That times of refreshing may come from the Lord,’ and ‘he sent him (Jesus) first to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.’ Acts 3:19, 26.
It is entirely possible that the church of the end-times, prophesied in this passage, is already being revealed throughout the world. Ever since the Reformation the church has been on a road of restoration. This work of God has been a steady but sure process of development for over six hundred years. Our responsibility is like that of the Bereans: ‘Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.’
Many other articles on this site record the great moves of God which have gradually inched Christ’s church back to the Apostolic revelation. If restoration is on God’s agenda, there is great hope for the church of our day and we can play a part in the unfolding of His plans.