WHO ARE THOSE “AFAR OFF” IN ACTS 2:39?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Are we Gentiles included in Peter’s famous Pentecostal sermon of Acts chapter 2? Some say we are. But, as Bereans, we ask, “For what saith the Scriptures?”
Religious people are always looking for clever ways to hang on to Pentecost. They ignore all the verses that prove that Acts chapter 2 does not refer to us the Church the Body of Christ. Pentecost is constantly on their minds. To lose it is to lose their traditional Bible viewpoint. They will lose their denominations, offend their egos, lose their salaries, and lose all their members. That is the honest truth, friend.
Despite the fact that Peter said three times as the Holy Spirit gave him utterance (verse 4), “Ye men of Judaea… Ye men of Israel… Let all the house of Israel know assuredly…” (verses 14,22,36), people today still want to say that he was preaching to us Gentiles as well. They use Acts 2:39. Verses 38 and 39: “ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
An evangelist and Bible teacher of old wrote the following lengthy paragraph about Acts 2:38-39:
“Here Peter in the preceding verse declares exactly what the promise is to which he refers. He says: ‘Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him.’ The promise, then, is the promise of the ‘gift of’ or ‘the baptism with the Holy Spirit.’ … Let us then read the verse in the light of this settled fact: ‘for to you is the promise,’ that is, to the people whom he was addressing, who were for the most part Jews, thus far there is nothing in it for you or me for we were not there, and we are not the Jews. But Peter did not stop there: ‘and to your children,’ that is to the next generation of Jews, or, if you will, to all coming generations of Jews, and that does not take many of us in. But, thank God, Peter did not stop there, but added: ‘and to all that are afar off.’ That does take us in, for we are the Gentiles who were ‘once afar off, But are now made nigh by the blood of Christ’ (Ephesians 2:13). But lest there be any doubt about it, Peter does not stop even there but adds: ‘even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto Him’ (r.v.); that is the call not merely to service, but the call to salvation. We are thus here told in plain words, the meaning of which is unmistakable, that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is for every child of God, in every age of the Church’s history. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is the birthright of every believer in Jesus Christ. It is true that not every believer has claimed his birthright, but it is he is, promised and provided by God, through a crucified, risen, and ascended Savior, and if you have not claimed your birthright, you may claim it today.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
The above is a very shoddy method of Bible handling. Why? Because the author, however sincere, erroneously linked the “church” in Acts chapter 2 with the Church the Body of Christ that exists today. Beloved, Pentecost is not our pattern. It has nothing to do with us today. Absolutely nothing! The working of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has nothing to do with us. Never once does Paul in his epistles, Romans through Philemon, tell us to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Plain English tells us that that was for Israel. Once we believe the Gospel of the Grace of God—Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)—the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Church the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). We are not baptized with the Holy Ghost as Israel was; we are baptized by Him into the Body of Christ. They are totally different doctrines. No honest person could ever say these are the same doctrines:
God’s Word to Israel. Acts 1:5: “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Jesus is baptizing people with the Holy Ghost (“He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost…”, Matthew 3:11).
God’s Word to the Church the Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is baptizing believing into Jesus Christ, into the Church the Body of Christ.
We must move on, however, for we need to focus on answering the question as to the identity of the “afar off” individuals of Acts 2:39.
“ALL THAT ARE AFAR OFF”
Who are these people? Remember… Context! Context! Context! We have to remember the context of Acts chapter 2. These Jews (especially the males) have traveled from every nation under heaven, and they have assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. Verses 5-11 explain: “ And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.  Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.  And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?  And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?  Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,  Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,  Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”
These Jews have done exactly what JEHOVAH had told Israel through Moses many centuries earlier. Three times a year—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles—every male Jew was to travel to Jerusalem and celebrate JEHOVAH’S feasts. Deuteronomy 16:16 commanded them: “Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty:”
But why are these Jews in Acts chapter 2 “from every nation under heaven?” Why were they not all permanently living in the Promised Land? Remember, many centuries earlier, beginning with the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities, 722 B.C. onward to Acts chapter 2, God had scattered Israel amongst every nation under heaven. They never did permanently resettle in the Promised Land. All the Jews who stayed behind in their native lands—such as women and children—were not present in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 2. These are the people who are “afar off.” It has nothing to do with Gentiles. How do we know? Look at the Bible instead of the denominational handbook or seminary textbook!
In Daniel chapter 9, we see the Prophet praying to JEHOVAH, confessing his sins and the sins of his people, just as Moses had commanded centuries before in the Law. The Babylonians led by King Nebuchadnezzar have already come and destroyed Jerusalem. The Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem is in ruins. The northern kingdom of Israel has been taken off to the Assyrians’ land. The Jews’ southern kingdom of Judah is in Babylon, Daniel being among the captives. Daniel knows that God has rightly judged Israel for her centuries of wickedness. He had had enough of her idolatry. They are now out of the Promised Land, literately ruined every which way (economically, spiritually, physically, and politically).
Daniel 9: “ In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;  In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.  And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:  And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;  We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments:  Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.  O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee.  O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.  To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;  Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.”
Verse 7 above identifies the “afar” people of Acts 2:39. Daniel was not praying for Gentiles any more than Peter was preaching to them on Pentecost! Those “afar off” are Jews scattered throughout the world, who are living outside of the confines of Israel’s physical boundaries. They are still under the fifth course of judgment. As JEHOVAH promised wicked Israel in Leviticus chapter 26: “ And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.  And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.  And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.  Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths….  And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.”
By the day of Pentecost and Acts chapter 2, Israel still does not have her Davidic kingdom and she does not have her homeland. Gentiles (now Romans) are still ruling over her and making her life miserable. Nothing has really changed since Daniel’s time. Peter’s message in Acts chapter 2 is how Israel can return to fellowship with JEHOVAH God. As Acts 2:38 says, they are to repent (change their thinking). They are to be water baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. They will then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. That will bring them closer to their Davidic kingdom with Jesus Christ as their King. He will come (yet future) and establish it for them.
No amount of twisting verses will help. There is no message whatsoever for Gentiles in Acts 2:38-39. Peter had to convert all of Israel before he was to preach to Gentiles (Acts 1:8). In fact, Peter did not want to preach to Gentile Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. You cannot tell me Peter was willing to preach to Gentiles in Acts 2:39 but that he refused to do it in Acts chapter 10! That is nonsense. Peter was not addressing Gentiles in Acts 2:39. Led by the Holy Spirit, he only preached to Jews! God was not ready to call Gentiles until He saved and commissioned Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul (Romans 11:13)!