And they devoted [steadfast commitment, held fast] themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayersActs 2:42
This may sound weird, but I have realized that all the generations beginning with Jesus first coming, and until the end of time, are “encapsulated” in the books of the New Testament. Let me explain.
Luke writes, “So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'” (Acts 1:6-8, emphasis mine). Who are Jesus “witnesses” specifically, according to Luke? The Apostles. Since, Luke writes, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1-2, emphasis mine). Jesus “chose” these men to be the “witness” of Jesus. They, specifically, were the ones chosen to pass on the message of Jesus to “the end of the earth”.
As I wrote at the beginning, Luke in Acts is setting up his method of communicating his book and his pattern, all the way through, and it will model this: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'” and this, that the churches “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching…” Christians of the first century devoted themselves to learning from the Apostles. Who was entrusted with the words to pass along to the church? The Apostles were. Not the generation after the Apostles. These men alone were given authority, power, and wisdom from God to unfold the mysteries of Christ and of the Church to the rest of the generations. And this is why God made sure it was written down!
Here is something very interesting that I want you to pay close attention to. Paul ends his days with this message to Timothy, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim. 4:17-18, emphasis mine). This was the apostle Paul “signing off”. These are Paul’s last words before his death. If you recall, Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles (to the world). I want you to notice something with me. Paul preached to the ends of the world (according to his knowledge). Didn’t Jesus say that once the gospel had been preached to the end of the world then the end would come? Yes, He did. I know that the world at that time was much smaller. It was more like the “Roman world” which Paul reached. But in Paul’s mind, Jesus was coming to do something now. Do you know what Paul writes at the beginning of 2 Timothy? He says, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:8-10, emphasis mine). Doesn’t that statement sound weird to you? He was enduring suffering (at that time in history) so that the “Elect” might also obtain salvation. You see, Paul was now preaching that Jesus was getting ready to reign on David’s throne from Jerusalem (this is why he points to Jesus coming from “King” David in his greeting. Paul doesn’t usually do this) and to gather in the elect of Israel since in his mind the fullness of the Gentiles had come in and now God was turning His attention back on Israel to gather them to Himself (see Romans chapter 11 for reference) and as Jesus promised also in the gospels. I know we believe that Paul only preached to the Gentiles. However, Jesus said something different about Paul. Here it is: “This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). The word “Gentiles” is separated from the words “people of Israel”. So, at the end of Paul’s life, after he had preached to “all the Gentiles, in his mind” he had now been suffering for the sake of the Elect of Israel, that they might be gathered in.
So, the Apostles’ writings “are” the witness to the end of the world. In the Jewish mind, everything needed to have two or three witnesses to be considered authoritative. Our witnesses now are 1, the Holy Spirit, and 2, the Holy Bible. Therefore, if we change, eliminate, or add to the words of the New Testament, because we think we are an Apostle, prophet, or believe that Jesus spoke to us in a dream, and we want to “add” to the Bible, we are committing a grave sin!
So then, how come Jesus did not come back at the end of Paul’s life. Well, like I said earlier, the New Testament encapsulates all of the events spoken of by Jesus in the gospels into one generation. This is so that every generation since the time of Jesus could read the experiences and truths from the Apostles and interact with “their” history in “our” history. So that every generation experiences the reality of “the last days” in their generation. The New Testament is a small picture of what the entire world, as the world grew and expanded, would look like and it would be repeated.
Jesus spoke prophecies about Israel, the world, the antichrist, the end of time, etc. in the Gospels. And prophecy is “pattern” and prophecy has “layers”. What I mean is prophecy unfolds layers over time and is repeated over time until the final layer is unveiled. We see this pattern all through the Old Testament. Also, the book of Revelation is written like this. Jesus prophecies and I think all prophecies have a now and a not yet layer. And depending on how far out the fulfillment is, it can be repeated for several generations, so that each generation experiences the truth of the prophecy and is a witness to it. We must remember, that both God and prophecy are “outside of time”. And that is the key to how the New Testament is unfolded. God intentionally set up the New Testament experiences so that they would encapsulate history into one generation … until the end.