Times of Restitution of All Things
The words of our title were used by Peter and are recorded in Acts 3:21 and are part of the passage comprising verses 19 to 21 which reads correctly in this way: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted that your sins may be blotted out, and that so the times of refreshing (lit. a breathing space) may come from the presence (lit. countenance) of the Lord; and that he may send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you, whom the heaven must receive and keep until the times of restitution of all things...".
These verses must mean that a renewed offer of Jesus as Messiah and of the kingdom was being made to the Jews; that upon their repentance and conversion the Lord Jesus would return, and the times of restitution set in without delay. It must not be thought that Peter in so speaking, had any such two‑thousand‑year "postponement" in mind as that which we believers now see retrospectively to have intervened between then and the return of our Lord.
"Restitution" means the restoration of a thing to its former situation, and restoration in respect of Israel nationally was in the disciples’ minds when they asked our Lord prior to His ascension: "wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). But as "all things" are to be restored, it must be more widely understood.
The "times of restitution" promised must be of the greatest importance, seeing that Peter declared that God had spoken of them through all His prophets from the beginning. Of our first parents it was written "Let them have dominion", (Gen.1:26) and the Psalmist refers to this in Psalm 8:6: "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet". But the writer to the Hebrews much later wrote: "But now we see not yet all things put under him" (2:8) although in the verse following, he adds: "But we see Jesus...that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man". Thus the death of Jesus according to this writer, together with His coming again affirmed by Peter in Acts 3, are shown to be the combined means by which God shall accomplish the restitution or restoration of all things, including man’s lost dominion.
There is a sense of universality respecting our Saviour’s death shown in such Scriptural declarations as: "Christ Jesus…gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim.2:5‑6); "that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb.2:9); as well as the words in Gal.3:14‑16 that Christ is the seed of Abraham, through whom by an oath‑bound covenant God has guaranteed that all nations of the earth would be blessed. In harmony with all these words are those by which the angel of God heralded our Lord’s birth as Saviour: "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:10).
Considering all these assuring words, however, honest enquirers have been known to say, in effect: But Christ came 2,000 years ago and we do not see that mankind as a whole has benefitted. Sin and dying have continued to afflict the human family. Millions are still steeped in superstition and dwell in darkness—without Christ and God. Every Christmas are heard the prophet Isaiah’s words: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this." (Isa.9:6‑7)
There is an answer to all this seeming non‑fulfilment. Earlier we saw that the restitution of all things is made dependent not only upon Christ’s redemptive death, when He first came, but also upon His work of restoration when He comes the second time. But it may still be asked, has nothing transpired towards that end during that interval? Our answer is that the divine purpose has unfolded exactly as God intended from the beginning.
It is clear that the proclamation of the Gospel has been restricted by God. The message was limited at first to Israel, as Jesus said to His disciples: "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt.10:5‑6). Some of these "sheep" were "found", and are referred to by such words as "He (Jesus) came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become sons of God." (John 1:11,12); and these are described by Paul in Rom.11:5 thus: "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace". Our Lord’s own conduct showed that He did not expect that His message would be received by all. For example, He said: "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." and, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye (His disciples) see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (vv.23,24); "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt.7:14). Contrary to the view that is current in Christendom, Christ gave no suggestion that world‑conversion was then His aim. True, He said "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations" (Matt.24:14) and this has been fulfilled; but "as a witness" unto all nations does not mean that the Divine intention then was world‑conversion.
Later, there was a development after Israel’s national rejection of their Messiah, expressed in Paul’s words: "From henceforth I will go to the Gentiles" (Acts 18:6)—and even before this God had shown Peter in a vision that the time was right to preach the message of salvation to the Gentiles as recorded in Acts, chapter 10. Peter related his experience to an assembly in Jerusalem, and afterwards, as Acts 15:14‑17 shows, James interpreted the new development thus: "Simeon (Peter) hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name." The words that should be particularly stressed are "to take out", contrasted with "the residue of men" and "all the Gentiles" in verse 17. The "taking out" clearly shows a selection or election, and this is confirmed by Paul in Rom.11:25 when he writes that "blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness (the full number) of the Gentiles be come in." In the same chapter, as we have already seen, Paul had referred to a remnant from Israel (v.5), to which is now added the complement from believing Gentiles. In both cases, the principle of election is clearly seen.
So we conclude, that the interval between Christ’s first and second advents, or between His death for all mankind and the times of restitution of all things, has been to select those who shall be members of His true church—or of His mystical body (Eph.1:22,23)–and not until the "gathering together unto him" is accomplished will His reign with them begin to introduce "the times of restitution" in respect of "all Israel" and "all the Gentiles".
It should be noted again that "the times of restitution" or restoration are concerned with "all things". We are told by Paul in Rom.5:12 "as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men", so that restitution must involve the removal of sin and death from mankind. Thus our Saviour will reap the full harvest secured by His redemptive sacrifice. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied". (Isa.53:11) This is in harmony with Paul’s declaration in 1 Cor.15:25‑26 when he shows that our Lord "must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." He has already referred to "they that are Christ’s at his coming", and they will be with Him in heavenly glory, but what has just been quoted refers to another band—mankind in general—who shall proceed to a restored state of human life in perfection on a restored earth, to fulfil God’s original design for mankind—a purpose that has been temporarily opposed by Satan.
John in the Revelation, chapter 21:1‑5, gives a wonderful picture of the conditions that will eventually obtain on earth after "the times of restitution" have fulfilled their purpose: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away...And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon. the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful."
In conclusion, we must also add the words of Paul which he wrote in his letter to the Ephesians 1:9‑10 (Weymouth’s translation): "This is in harmony with God’s merciful purpose for the government of the world when the times are ripe for it—the purpose which He has cherished in His own mind of restoring the whole creation to find its one Head in Christ; yes, things in Heaven and things on earth, to find their one Head in Him."
The Forest Gate Bible Monthly