The Promise of the Father
by Lawrence Everett (Buddy) Martin
HOW TO STUDY ACTS …
I have made this manuscript available for anyone who would like to study the book of Acts in both its spiritual and historical context.
It is important to keep in mind that Acts is a divine recording of a transitional period where the church began as a sect of Judaism, and reaches forward into fulfilling the gospel message, which says, “For God so loved the world.”
Also keep in mind that while Acts was not designed to be exclusively a doctrinal book, yet it does have a great emphasis on the unfolding doctrine of Christ. This is where people tend to get in trouble with Acts. To skip around and take a Scripture from here and there to form a certain doctrine, does damage to the study of Acts.
An underlying design of Acts is show how the early church was discarding her Jewish clothing, and taking on the clothing of Christ.
The apostle Paul explained this —
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:26-28)
One other thing that is very important in the study of Acts — Like all the Bible, this Book is written in a Hebrew mindset, and not in the mindset that we westerners are so use to. I have taken this into consideration in preparing my manuscript.
Then I must add this – There is a chapter of Acts that was not written. It has to do with the fulfillment of the Church. It would be reserved for the end of the age as we know it. That chapter began to unfold on May 14, 1948. (If you don’t know what that date has regard to, read Isaiah 66:8)
For those who are interested, get ready to saddle your camel for an interesting journey. You will find prophetic Scriptures coming together in a way that I pray will deeply stir your heart.
Each study will include the Scripture portion under review, along with a short title. The title will express the major theme of the Scriptures being considered.
To keep these studies from becoming scattered we will attempt to follow a framework where specific doctrines can be considered as they develop. Sometimes we may be able to cover an entire chapter. But more often we will need to break a chapter into manageable parts. Then there will be times when we will skim portions of Acts so that as not to be bogged down with historical detail, or, so as not to get into duplication of studies.
Also there will be times when I won’t place the entire Scripture portion in a study, but will simply draw attention to the area of study. You’ll need to read through the Scripture portion for yourself.
Keep in mind that a primary objective of the Acts studies will be doctrinal, that is, we want to get into what the early Christians believed and taught.
I want to encourage you to become a traveler with us as we journey through time past. Think about how you would see things if you were a Jewish person of that time.
Note: Place your cursor over a Scripture reference and it will appear.
(Acts 1:1-5) Friend of God
Here is our Scripture reading for this study: (Acts 1:1-5)
“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.'”
Vs. 1: Theopolis: It seems that Luke is writing the Acts of the Apostles to someone of major importance. Notice that the gospel of Luke is written to the same person. Theopolis means ‘Friend of God.’ No one really knows who Theopolis was. However, this may also be a code name for true believers.
If you recall, Abraham is the one man in Scripture called ‘the friend of God.’ (James 2:23) But a similar designation is given the disciples by Jesus, and by extension, we can take it to ourselves. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
In any event, our relationship to God under the new covenant is that of family, of friendship, of grace, and of unhindered fellowship. We are called to walk in the steps of our father Abraham.
Vss2, 3: Luke gives a summation of Christ’s pre-ascension activities.
- He gave orders to the apostles.
- He presented Himself alive by many convincing proofs for a period of forty days.
- He shared with them things concerning the kingdom of God. (Keep this in mind. It will be important to our next study.)
The Father’s Promise
Vs4: Jesus gathers the apostles together, and then tells them not to leave Jerusalem until they had received what the Father promised. He said, “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
This brings us to the major thought in our Scripture reading. What did Jesus mean by speaking of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the Father’s promise? When did the Father promise the Holy Spirit?
These Jewish disciples knew that the promise of the Holy Spirit was central to the new covenant. They were well acquainted with the prophetic writings. In addition they had walked with Messiah for three years, and He had reinforced the prophetic promise of the Holy Spirit.
At this point we need to jump ahead just a bit. When Peter began to preach on the day of Pentecost, he called attention to the Father’s promise. Concerning the Holy Spirit, Peter said, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39)
The promise of the Holy Spirit had rested in the bosom of the Jewish peoples. They knew that the Messiah would bring about the promise. God spoke through the prophet, in saying, “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Eze11:19)
Then we have this from Isaiah; “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants; and they will spring up among the grass like poplars by streams of water.” (Isa44:3,4)
The prophets painted scenes in the minds of the peoples that caused a continual longing for Messiah and the new covenant. The Holy Spirit would not only refresh them, but they themselves would become like refreshing streams to those around them.
Permit me a personal note: Some years ago I had a dream in which I was walking across a large field that had nothing but dry grass on it. When I look backed I saw a group of people looking down on the ground, and then looking up at me. When I look at where I had walked, every step had green grass springing up. The next morning I realized that the Lord wanted me (all His children) to bring life to wherever we go. We are to be life givers, but this can only be done with the Spirit of Messiah is flowing through our lives.
Baptism / Mikvah
Vs5: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This statement is a cause of concern for many. But it is really very Jewish. On the temple mount were several mikvahs (baptism pools) that were used for ceremonial cleansing. These cleansings had to do with holiness.
An example of this was when a Gentile converted to Judaism, he had to do three things; offer a sacrifice at the temple, be circumcised, and then be baptized (mikvahed). It was then that the convert was considered to be a true Israelite.
But what did Jesus mean by the disciples being baptized in the Holy Spirit? This meant that in the new covenant, believers would be mikvahed (immersed) in the Spirit of Messiah, and thereby, would become a holy people to God.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a term that speaks of the washing of regeneration. It is in this covenant experience that a believer receives the life of Messiah. Paul said, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1Co12:13) The body we are emerged into is the body of Messiah, and the Spirit we drink of is the Spirit of Messiah.
When the Lord compared John’s baptism to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, He is drawing attention both to the Messiah’s new covenant baptism, and also to a baptism of judgment. John said, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt3:11)
The baptism of fire is a baptism of judgment. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a baptism of life. But I’ll leave that unsaid for now.
(Acts 1:6-11) Israel, the Holy Spirit, and the Second Coming
Let’s get ready for our second study. Israel, the Holy Spirit, and the Second Coming
“So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ 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.'”
We are still in the pre-Pentecost stage where the disciples are receiving final instructions prior to the ascension of Jesus. These pre-Pentecost happenings are crucial to understanding the entire book of Acts, and to the future development of the Christian faith. Within the Scriptures for this study are several embryonic doctrines that are central to the faith of believers.
Let’s view the Scriptures one by one.
Vs6: “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
This one small Scripture speaks to the history of the Church age. The new covenant begins in Israel, and it completes itself in Israel. Remember I said in the first study to keep in mind verse 3, where it says that Jesus was, “appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
For forty days the Lord had been instructing the apostles on the issue of the kingdom of God. So the question they asked did not come out of ignorance. The Lord very plainly taught them that the kingdom of God was being removed from Israel. But He also taught them that the kingdom of God would be restored to Israel at some point. This is why they asked, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
The Kingdom of God
But to appreciate this even more, we need to understand what the term ‘kingdom of God’ really means. This term speaks of the direct rule of God. When a person is born again, they come under the direct rule of God through Christ. But as for Israel, Israel had been God’s visible kingdom in the earth ever since it’s founding as a nation.
The Lord instructed Moses, saying, “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Exo19:6) And so Israel was to be God’s visible kingdom. He would dwell among them. They would represent Him.
When Israel rejected their Messiah, the direct rule of God was taken from them. Jesus said, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.” (Matt21:53) And again, “Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 13:5)
Will Israel receive Jesus Christ as her Messiah? Yes indeed. We will get into that as the study progresses.
Vs7: “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
The Lord’s response is simple, and the implication is simple; ‘Yes, Israel will once again come under the direct rule of God, but that time isn’t for you to concern yourself with for now. It is fixed.’
Power to be martyrs/witnesses
Vs8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…”
The power Jesus is speaking of is the power of new life. In the new covenant, all believers are imbued with the very life of Jesus. This life manifests itself according to the need.
“… and you shall be My witnesses…”
A witness (martus) is where we get our word martyr. But ‘martus‘ also speaks of a witnesser, or the one who gives evidence. However, it can extend itself with the idea of a person who is the evidence. So the apostles weren’t simply to bear witness to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they would also become the evidence of the same. This evidence would spread into all the nations until the end is come.
An example of this is how a man named, Saul, the hater of all things Christian, could be turned into a Paul, the great lover of Jesus Christ and of the Christian faith.
“… even to the remotest part of the earth.”
The Christian faith was never intended to be locked up in an institutionalized religion. It is a living and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. It was to spread throughout all the earth. And it has done this well.
A good example of this is when the Vikings plundered Christian England, they took to themselves Christian slave girls. On their return home, they married these girls, and, in turn, became Christians themselves. True Biblical Christianity carries its own witness. These girls were imbued with the Spirit of Christ.
Vs9: “After He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
The disciples stood there mesmerized. What they did not see was what happened when Jesus went out of their sight. The book of Daniel describes this scene from the heavenly side; “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” (Dan7:13,14)
Vss10,11: “…two men in white clothing stood beside them … ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.'”
The Jewish View of Messiah’s Coming
Here is something that should prove interesting. The ancient Jews had a saying that when Messiah comes, if Israel is worthy, He will come on the clouds. If Israel is unworthy, He will come on a donkey.
Here are some quotes from the Babylonian Talmud; “R. Nahman said to R. Yitzhaq: ‘Have you perhaps heard when Bar Nifle [‘Son of the Clouds’] will come?’ He answered: ‘Who is Bar Nifle?’ R. Nahman said: ‘The Messiah.’ R. Yitzhaq said: ‘You call the Messiah Bar Nifle?’ He said: ‘Yea, for it is written, ‘On that day I shall raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen.'”
“R. Alexandria said: ‘R. Y’hoshua’ ben Levi explained: … ‘If they will be righteous, [the Messiah will come] on the clouds of heaven; if they will not be righteous, [he will come] as a poor man riding upon an ass.'”
What think ye? Will Israel be worthy at the second coming of Jesus? Think about it.
(Acts 1:12-26) The Upper Room Before Pentecost
This 3rd study will concern itself with the final pre-Pentecost happenings.
Note on Pentecost: The Hebrews speak of Pentecost as Shavu’ot, or the festival of weeks. It is the second of three major festivals; Passover and Sukkokt being the other two. Pentecost was also known as the festival of the giving of the Law. You may find it interesting that Pentecost is designed to fall on a Sunday. (According to the Essenes and the Karaite Jews.) More on this later.
To get a feel for this study you may wish to read the Scripture portion as a whole. The Lord has ascended. There are yet ten more days until the feast of Pentecost. It seems there is business to be cared for before the coronation day of Messiah. Let’s see how things go.
The Mount of Olives
Vs12: “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.”
The Mount of Olives figures greatly in the redemption history of Israel. There is a legend among the Jews based on the book of Ezekiel, that when the glory of God left the temple, it passed through the Eastern Gate, and then hovered over the Mount of Olives for an extended period of time. And out of the glory (called ‘ha kavod‘) you could hear weeping. The glory then departs and enters heaven. If you would like to read where this comes from see Ezekiel 10:19; 11:23. Cf. Ezekiel 43:2-3.
Does this sound familiar? Where is the Garden of Gethsemane? It is not on the Mount of Olives? Have we ever heard weeping there?
Then the prophets tell us that when the Lord returns, He returns to the Mount of Olives. It says, “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.” (Zechariah 14:4)
Vss13,14: We find the disciples in the upper room, devoting themselves to prayer. This group includes “the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.”
It is quite possible that the women present included the wives of the apostles. Marriage for the Hebrew peoples was considered the first commandment. Not to be married meant that you were marring the divine image. It was a great sin. Actually a man was given no voice in community affairs if he were not married.
Vss15-26: The remainder of chapter one concerns itself with the selection of someone to take the place of Judas Iscariot. It has to be someone who had accompanied the band of disciples all the way from the baptism of John until the day that Jesus was taken up into heaven. Let me share a few thoughts on what is happening in this portion:
Numbers Carry Significance
… (1) Notice that the group of disciples number 120. What is the significance of this number? There are several places in the Scriptures where 120 fit in, but there is one place in particular that will draw attention to Pentecost. It has to do with the dedication of Solomon’s temple.
It says, “When the priests came forth from the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to divisions), and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY PRIESTS blowing trumpets … then the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” (2Chron5:11-14)
Numbers do carry significance in the Scriptures. It isn’t a matter of getting into numerology. It has to do with patterns. The former testament is filled with snapshots and pictures, types and shadows, of that which is to come. On the day of Pentecost, the new temple of God will be filled with His glory, and there will be 120 trumpeters sounding forth His victory.
The Twelfth Apostle
… (2) Why was there a need for a 12th apostle? It is because 12 represent the fullness of Israel. There is a sense in which each apostle would represent a tribe in Israel. Jesus told the 12 apostles that they would sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Then we have the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem with 12 foundation stones, each with the name of an apostle. But the city also has 12 gates, and each gate has the name of one of Israel’s tribes.
Keep in mind that Jesus is our great high priest. When He ascended into heaven, He carried all God’s people on His heart. For an Old Testament picture of this, we see the high priest entering into the Holiest of Holies, and on his vesture are twelve stones. He brings Israel with him.
Who is Israel?
… (3) Peter says the Scripture had to be fulfilled with regard to someone taking the office of Judas Iscariot. This is a very important point with regard to Scripture. If you desire to be a true student of Scripture, then you must also take this position. All Scripture has to be fulfilled. To over spiritualize the Scriptures is to do damage to the truth.
One example we have of this is when Israel was born as a nation in May, 1948. Before that time it was common to say that the Church represented the total of Israel. But there were a great many men of God, including C. H. Spurgeon, who said that Israel had to become a nation state again before the coming of Jesus. No one thought it was possible at the time. But men like Spurgeon took the Scriptures literally. It had to happen. And it did happen.
Here is the prophecy: “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.” (Isa66:8)
The Hebrew language does not allow this Scripture to be spiritualized to mean the Church. Israel had to be restored as a nation in order for the Church age to find closure. Remember the earlier question the apostles asked; “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” How can the kingdom be restored to Israel, if there is no Israel?
The Last Old Covenant Act
… (4) The important of choosing a Matthais. The issue of casting lots in this instance is the last act that can be said to have been done under the former covenant thinking. We don’t need to cast lots anymore. The idea of casting lots connects to the Urim and Thummin of the former testament. It was a way of allowing God to make His choice in certain matters. Little is known about these objects.
Notice how the company of disciples pray; “‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”
One thing I need to point out in bringing this portion of our study to a close — There are no apostles today on the order of the 12 apostles. These men alone were given power and authority to lay the foundation for the Church. But they were to do so in line with the prophets of old. Thus it can be said that we have our apostles and prophets always with us. You will find them in that old black back book that you read so often.
(Acts 2:1-13) The New Covenant Comes Into Place
I had thought to provide additional information as to how the Jewish peoples saw Messiah before continuing with the studies. But I think it would be better to provide that information as we go along. So let’s move on to our next study.
You may want to read our Scripture references before following through with the study. Doing this will give you a general overview of what our study is about. In this study we simply want to look at the supernatural event that took place at Pentecost. In our next study we will look at Peter’s powerful new covenant message.
Vs1: Pentecost has come – They were all together in one place.
… All the followers of Jesus would be in the temple area for this day. The new covenant must begin at the temple. Listen carefully to this prophecy and you will see Pentecost, and the promise that Peter refers to later in his message of Pentecost:
“‘So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west and His glory from the rising of the sun, for He will come like a rushing stream which the wind of the Lord drives. A Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the Lord. ‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the Lord: ‘My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,’ says the Lord, ‘from now and forever.'” (Isaiah 59:19-21)
Every word in this prophecy is significant. Follow carefully:
“So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west and His glory from the rising of the sun.” (This is a synopsis of the new covenant. The name of the Lord has filled the earth. Christianity has filled the earth like a vine. It is the largest religion by far of any religion on this planet. And it continues to flow forth as a stream into the nations.)
“…for He will come like a rushing stream which the wind of the Lord drives.” This is a description of Pentecost. It was written 750 years before Christ. Note the wordage; “rushing stream,” and “wind of the Lord.”
Also note who it is that is coming like a rushing stream. “He will come.” This speaks of the Messiah. It is His Spirit that fills the band of disciples on the day of Pentecost. Paul later writes, “Because you are sons, God has sent for the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Gal4:6)
“Born Again” Day
Pentecost was ‘born again’ day. The term ‘born again,’ or ‘gennao anothen’ literally means, ‘born from above.’ When the Spirit of Messiah entered into the hearts of His believers, they instantly became new creations. Pentecost set forth the new people of God. The Spirit would never leave them. The Spirit of Christ would abide forever in them and with them forever.
“A Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob…” Zion was a special name for the city of David, and in particular for the temple Mount. The Spirit of the Redeemer rushed to the temple mount.
“…this is My covenant with them … My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring … from now and forever.”
This is the covenant promise given to Messiah, or, the promise the Father made to the Son. And this is the promise Peter later quotes when he speaks from the prophets. Jesus Himself said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:38,39)
Jesus had to be glorified. That is exactly what the day of Pentecost was about. The new covenant is about the glory of Jesus Christ. And Pentecost is the day that Jesus took His seat. (We will cover that in the next study.)
Vs2: “…it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” The disciples were somewhere in the temple area. The temple was simply called ‘the house.’ To the Jews, when you said ‘the House’ no further identification was needed. It meant the temple, that is, ‘the house of God.’
Notice is was ‘the whole house’ that was filled with the sound from heaven. This is not something done in a corner. Just as the giving of the Law of Moses carried its manifestations, even so did the new covenant.
Vs3: “…there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.”
The tongues of fire actually divided itself and came to rest on each of the one hundred twenty. It began as a ‘fire like’ appearance and then came to rest equally on each. What did all this mean?
The Meaning of Fire
In the Bible fire has various meanings but the meaning most common to the Jewish people had to do with God Himself. It signified that God Himself was resting upon these disciples. The writer later said, “For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb12:29)
Then we can draw attention to the burning bush that spoke of holy ground, and to the Mountain of God where the peoples were warned not to come near, because the Mountain was filled with holiness. There are many parallels to be found.
Another factor to take into consideration is that the tongues of fire rested on all the believers. This meant that each of them became anointed spokesmen for God. The Spirit of Messiah rested upon them, and had entered into them. They were now His mouth piece.
And finally — Under the new covenant the term ‘ to prophesy’ carries a different meaning than it did in the older covenant. In the former covenant the prophets spoke towards the cross. In the new covenant we speak from the cross. This is why the one definition we have for prophecy in the New Testament, connects it directly with Jesus Christ. When John wanted to worship the angel, this is what he hears; “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev19:20 – We can develop this further if there is an interest.)
Vs4: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other [languages] as the Spirit was giving them utterance.”
I use the term language for the Greek word ‘glossa’ simply means a language. The disciples were not speaking gibberish, or in languages unknown to the peoples. While the languages were not necessarily known to the believers themselves, the Spirit was enabling them to speak in the tongues of all the nations that were represented. (By the way, every time we see an incident of this nature in the Acts, it is always with a group, and it is never expected, and it is always a sovereign act of God.)
Vss5,6: “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation from under heaven ….each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language”
“Living in Jerusalem” spoke of the diaspora (Jews gathered from the nations) who had been in Jerusalem since before Passover. Notice that these are devout men. This term is used with regard to those who were deeply devoted to God and to the covenant of Israel.
I also want to mention that the diaspora did not normally speak Hebrew or Aramaic. They spoke the native language of their sojourning, but they likely also had a rudimentary understanding of Greek. The Jews from the various lands were known as Hellenistic Jews. In many cases the Hellenistic Jews were even more devoted than the native Hebrews. (The native Hebrews did not care much for Hellenistic Jews.
Vss7,8: “…amazed … astonished … ‘Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?'” (Then the nations are named.)
This is an interesting area. How did they know all the speakers were Galilean? It is because the Galileans spoke with an accent that distinguished them from the Judeans. Judas Iscariot was the only disciple who was Judean. The rest were all Galileans. But the Galileans had another trait. They were fiercely independent. They didn’t always agree with the edicts of the temple priesthood. Even the synagogues in northern Israel had traditions that were separate from the Judean synagogues.
An interesting prophecy that we can consider at has to do with the term, ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’
“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” (Isa 9:1-2)
Vss12,13: “…they all continued in amazement … ‘What does this mean?’ But others were mocking, saying to one another, ‘They are full of sweet wine.'”
It is here that we begin to see the dividing line in Israel. If you recall, the old prophet Simeon said that the child Jesus was appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed. (Cf. Luke 2:34-35)
The day of Pentecost will conclude with many thousands of the Jews receiving Jesus as Messiah of Israel. Many of these peoples will carry their new faith and their new hearts back to the lands where they live. But the mockers were also present at Pentecost. They, too, will have much to say as we will see in the continuation of these studies.
But many will also deny Jesus as the Messiah.
(Acts 2:1-13) The New Covenant Comes Into Place
I want to share a bit on how the new covenant differs from the covenant of Moses, or what is commonly called ‘the Law of Moses.’ I’ll assume that you understand the spiritual dynamics of the new covenant, such as being born again, being in Christ, and such like. So I’ll simply share on areas that are sometimes confusing to believers.
The question that often concerns Christians is, ‘What place does the Law of Moses have in our life?’ The answer is simply, as an instrument of covenant, the Law of Moses has no place at all. For one thing the Gentiles were never been under the Law of Moses at any time. But from this day of Pentecost an on, not even Jews are under the Law of Moses. (I’ll explain as we go along.)
The second question would be, “If we are not under the Law of Moses, then what place do the laws of God have in our life?” They have a great place if you understand the difference between the Law of Moses and the eternal Laws of God.
The third question might be, “If the Law of Moses is abrogated, where does that leave the Jew? Does not the Law of Moses make a Jew a Jew?” No. The Law of Moses does not make a Jew a Jew. Some Jews are natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But it is important to distinguish between the Jews and the Law of Moses. The Jews have yet an important part on the story of redemption. However, the Law of Moses is not in effect. It was replaced by the new covenant.
The Eternal Law of God
First to distinguish between the Law of Moses and the eternal Laws of God. The eternal laws of God have always been in place. They govern all created things. These laws are both moral and spiritual. But while the Law of Moses incorporated many of the eternal Laws of God, the Law of Moses also had laws that were not eternal. This is because the Law of Moses served a particular function that was to complete itself in the coming of Messiah.
The Law of Moses (Torah) was a ketubah, or a marriage contract between Israel and God Himself. The marriage contract did not change who the people were. They were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, regardless of the Law of Moses. What the Law of Moses did was give the people of Israel a special status before the nations. Not only did they become a ‘nation,’ but they also became God’s bride.
Being married to YHWH was the way the ancient Hebrews understood the covenant of Moses. The Sabbath was considered Israel’s wedding ring. It was to be a special sign of the covenant of Moses. And Sinai was the wedding ceremony. At Sinai God gave the laws for the marriage, and Israel had a choice of saying, “I do.” But in the law of the Lord’s marriage to Israel, God placed a curse. The curse had to do with fidelity to the marriage Laws.
The prophets understood this relationship. This is why you hear them use marriage language when they spoke of Israel and Her God. And this is also why you hear wedding language so much in the gospels. The first miracle of Jesus was at a wedding. Then when He gathered the disciples together in the upper room, the Lord again uses the language of the Jewish wedding, when He says, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)
*The ancient Jewish wedding has two parts, much like our Christian weddings today. The ancient wedding had the kiddusim and the nisuim.
Now comes the interesting part. It begins to come together when we understand who Jesus really is. Jesus is God, the marriage partner of Israel, manifest in the flesh. Jesus is the one who appeared at various times in the former testament. He fully represented the Father in everything. Paul later explains that the fullness of God dwells bodily in Jesus Christ. (Set aside questions about deity for now. Just follow how the covenants differ.)
Now let me paint a picture that will help bring this home. My wife and I have been married 50 years. If I were to pass on to be with the Lord, our marriage contract is no longer in force. She is now a widow, and she is free to marry whomever she wishes.
My point is this – If Betty was to marry again, it would not change who she was. But neither could she say to her new marriage partner, “Let’s just use my old marriage license with Buddy. We don’t need to get a new one.” Sounds ridiculous does it not? Well that is exactly what happened at the cross. The marriage partner of Israel died. And the law of marriage between God and Israel was nailed to the cross. It no longer exists.
The Need for a New Covenant
Is there Scripture for this? Most certainly. Paul had to spend time explaining this to the Jewish Christians. The new covenant did not change who they were. Nor did it change any of the promises made to Abraham concerning his descendants. What changed was the need for a new covenant (marriage contract) between the ‘risen’ Lord, and His new bride.
The explanation for all this is found in Romans 7:1-4. Listen carefully and you’ll see the picture: (By the way this portion of Scripture is sometimes used to beat people over the head that have been through a divorce. That is not the issue. It was never designed to be a whipping post. God Himself was a divorcee.)
“Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” (Rom7:1-4)
Did you see it? The new covenant is entirely new. It is designed for a new people, made up of both Jew and Gentile.
I realize I am taking considerable time in explaining this, but failure to understand what the new covenant is about, can be the cause of confusion. So the answer to the question about what place the Law of Moses has in our life is simply, none whatsoever.
Now we have a problem. Oh boy — No laws! No laws! Quite the contrary. The new covenant has its own laws of marriage. And this brings us back to the eternal laws of God. In the new covenant we are under the ‘law of Christ’, and not the ‘law of Moses.’ Is there Scripture for this? Yes.
When Paul spoke of his burden to reach all peoples with the gospel of Jesus Christ, he very carefully spelled out which law he was under. Listen:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law THOUGH NOT BEING UNDER THE LAW MYSELF, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though NOT BEING WITHOUT THE LAW OF GOD BUT UNDER THE LAW OF CHRIST, so that I might win those who are without law.” (1Co9:19-21. Caps for emphasis only.)
Did you catch it? The moral and spiritual laws of God are found in both the Law of Moses and in the Law of Christ, but the law of Moses and the Law of Christ are not one and the same. The Law of Moses was designed for a different people; those before the cross. The Law of Christ is designed for those who come to the cross and take to themselves Jesus as their Lord.
I wanted to share on this before we get into our next study of Acts. Pentecost was when the Church received her wedding garments.
Think about it.
Comments on Acts
I want to give some extra considerations with regard to the study of Acts. To begin with, the Acts of the Apostles is a divine recording of a transitional period in which the new covenant church begins as a sect in Judaism, and then becomes a multi-cultural religion. This was God’s intention from the beginning. (It is recorded in the prophets.)
So keep in mind that Acts was not designed to be exclusively a doctrinal book. It is a history book that includes doctrine. Some truths are being discovered during this period of time. It would be necessary for the Church to discard her Jewish clothing, and become clothed with her true nature. For Church was to be a people from all nations, tribes and tongues.
The book covers roughly a 35 years. It completes itself not long before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. Both Peter and Paul will lose their lives before the destruction. (This is not recorded in the book itself, but is set forth in Church history.)
Then we need to realize that many occurrences in Acts have to do with laying the foundation for the Church by the apostles themselves. This is why you will see certain things taking place in Acts that will not be found in later periods of the Church. (I’m not talking about healings and miracles. These always belong to God’s people.)
As a final thought — Always keep in view that while the covenant of Moses fulfills itself in the cross, the temple priesthood itself, and the sacrifices are permitted to continue during this transitional time. The purpose is for an out gathering of Jews who will turn to Jesus. When this period of time is complete, then the temple will be destroyed completely.
When the book of Acts closes, we hear a parting word from Paul. But let’s not go there now.
Additional Comments on Acts: God became a Jew
With regard to the new covenant it is crucial that we understand who Jesus really is. Only God Himself would have the divine right to fulfill one covenant and institute another. To see Jesus Christ as other than God, is to misunderstand both the covenant, and God’s work of redemption. (Please lay aside any arguments on deity. It is immaterial to this understanding.)
The only way for God to remove the Law of Moses and replace it with the Law of Christ, would be if He, God Himself, were the fulfillment of the Law of Moses in its entirety. As I said earlier, this is what happened at the cross. Jesus is God fully revealed in the flesh. And since the Law of Moses was a marriage contract (covenant) between Israel and the God of Israel, then in the death of Jesus the contract became of no effect.
Now think about this — In the incarnation, God became a Jew. Don’t fall off your stool. This fact is true to the Scriptures. God did not incarnate Himself as a Roman, or a Greek, or an Egyptian. Jesus Christ was born into the Jewish race as a son of Abraham. Therefore He became a Jew among Jews. He walked as a Jew. He worshipped as a Jew. He did Jewish things. And introduces another window we need to look through with regard to the new covenant.
Pay close attention to what Jesus tells the Samaritan lady at the well. She wants to argue religion. The Lord simply says, “Women, believe Me, and hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, FOR SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)
There is so much to be said here, but let me simply share some highlights. Not only did Jesus die on the cross in that his marriage to Israel was then fulfilled, but Jesus also died on the cross as God’s sacrifice Lamb. It could be said that the Jews provided the sacrifice, but that the Gentiles were present at its offering. After all it was the Romans who actually offered the sacrifice. They drove the nails in Him, and lifted Him up in His sufferings. So both Jew and Gentile participated in the death of Messiah.
But did he rise from the grave as a Jew? Not really. Jesus arose and presented new humankind that would represent all mankind, Jew and Gentile. Listen carefully to the apostle Paul:
“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2Co5:16-19)
Notice these things:
(1) We do not know Jesus after the flesh (as a Jew) any longer.
(2) There is a new spiritual humanity that came out of the cross, and in this humanity there is no longer a Jew or a Gentile. We are either in Christ, or we are still in our sins, that is, we are still Jews and Gentiles.
(3) The old things passed way. This simply means that the new covenant is entirely new. It is made for a spiritual or a heavenly people. The former covenant was made for an earthly people.
(4) Everything in the new covenant is from God. He was in Christ accomplishing everything that needed to be done. He is now in all believers, accomplishing everything that needs to be done. (A study in itself.)
(5) Who was reconciled to God at the cross? The world! The world! Everything in God’s program of redemption centers on His love for all of humanity. “For God so loved the world…”
Much more could be said, but think about what I have shared. Are you ready for the next study?
(Acts 2:14-36) Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost
I recommend the reading of Peter’s entire sermon before going further with this study. We left off our last study with the temple mount in astonishment. One hundred twenty Galileans declaring the mighty works of God in the varied languages of the people. Even when the mockers said they were full of sweet wine, it wasn’t because the disciples were stumbling about like intoxicated people. It had to do with their boldness of speech. It had to do with the phenomena of Pentecost.
Now we want to take a look at the first gospel message of the new covenant. The message Peter preaches that day will set the tone for the gospel age. Let’s begin our study. (This study may be a little lengthy, but it is quite valuable to what is going to happen next. When Peter completes his sermon, three thousand new believers will be added to the Church.)
Vss14,15: Peter takes his stand with the eleven.
Everyone’s attention has been drawn by the prophesying. Now it is time for the 12 apostles. God has something clear and distinct to say to all Jewish people who have gathered from the nations.
“Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.”
Probably at this moment the entire temple mount begins to calm down. Peter’s voice is probably heard through the temple confines. It is possible that the priests themselves are giving attention. (Many of them will become believers.)
“These men are not drunk as you suppose.”
Peter is not comparing states of drunkenness. He is simply stating that these men are not drunk. Then he adds that it is but the third hour of the day. (9 a.m.) People get drunk at night.
Vs16: “…but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:”
Preaching the Gospel from the Old Testament
Here is where we need understanding. Peter’s entire sermon is going to center on quotations from the prophets. There was no New Testament. They preached the new covenant from Moses and the prophets. (Can you do that? You need to learn how.)
Did you know that we have been instructed to never exceed the prophets in our preaching and teaching? We are to preach the Jesus of the prophets. And even when we preach from the apostolic writings, we are not to preach in a way that would violate the prophetic writings. Listen to one of the last conversations Jesus had with the disciples:
“Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.'” (Luke 24:44-48)
(By the way, you may often here me say this, but it really needs to sink in; ‘Salvation begins and ends in Jerusalem. Keep your eyes on Jerusalem.’)
All the prophetic utterances Peter quotes from that day are well known to the Jewish people. These quotes were commonly accepted by the Jewish peoples as belonging to Messiah. Therefore, it wasn’t a matter of Peter trying to explain something what wasn’t understood. Peter was speaking to their own faith in the promises given ages ago.
Vs17: “‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth OF MY SPIRIT on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.'”
Men and Women in Proclaiming the Gospel
Notice that sons and daughters will prophesy. This is exactly what was happening at Pentecost. All 120 were declaring the mighty works of God.
But there is another issue I would like to bring out. Although there are certain principles that govern the local church with regard to men and women in leadership roles, this aspect of declaring the works of God belongs to all God’s people, men and women.
There is a Psalm of David that sets this forth. Psalm 68 speaks of Christ. The background for this Psalm is Israel’s escape from Egypt, but its prophetic intent is to Christ. Listen to selected Scriptures that directly relate to the new covenant, and in some cases are actually quoted in the New Testament:
Psm68:1; “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered.” (Did God arise? Were His enemies scattered? Cf. Col2:15; “…He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”)
Psm68:11; “The Lord gives the command; the women who proclaim the good tidings (Gospel is an old English word that means good or glad tidings) are a great host.”
Note it says ‘women.’ The reference is two-fold. After crossing the Red Sea, it was Miriam who begins the worship with a great number of women joining in. They sang the song of Pharaoh’s defeat. But this also points to the new covenant. Women are equal participants in declaring the glad tidings of Jesus Christ in ways and means that the Lord gives them.
Psm68:18; “You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives.” (Quoted in Ephesians 4:8)
Psm69:19; “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden…” (Peter had this in mind when he said we are to cast our cares on Jesus.)
Acts2:18; “Even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.”
The testimony continues.
Vss19,20; “And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.”
This one may seem difficult, but we need to see it in relation to the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the prophets spoke of both events in one setting, and they seemed to merge. However, Paul said that the Church itself was a mystery hidden from past ages.
Two Mountain Ranges
One way to understand how the prophets wrote about the two appearances of the Lord, is to think about two mountain ranges, one behind the other, with a valley separating them. From a distance all the mountains seem right together, but as you get closer to the mountains you realize that they are separate ranges. That’s often the way prophecy works. The prophets often blended the two comings of Jesus.
Vs21: “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
This is the first glimpse we have of the gospel of grace. This theme will carry over into all the apostolic preaching. Paul later explains the message they were given to preach. Follow closely:
“But what does it say? ‘The word is the near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ — that is, the word of faith WHICH WE ARE PREACHING, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.'” (Rom10:8-13)
If this is not the message being preached, then the message being preached is not true to the gospel. God did not make it hard for men and women to be saved. The one thing they must do is identify with Jesus Christ by recognizing Him as Lord, that is, His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and Lordship. That is what calling on His name actually means.
Vs22: “Men of Israel, listen to these words; Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him … JUST AS YOU YOURSELVES KNOW.”
The ministry of Jesus Christ was well known by all the peoples, not only in the land of Israel, but word had spread about Him to Jews outside the land, and even to Gentiles in various places. Remember the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus? (Cf. John 12:21)
Vs23: “…this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men, and put Him to death.”
The Cross Was God’s Plan
Listen carefully — The cross was God’s plan. Also note that Peter says the Jews nailed Him to the cross by the hands of Gentiles. Remember what I said earlier? The Jews provided the sacrifice, but both Jew and Gentile participated in the offering. Perhaps it is better to say that God Himself provided the sacrifice. The story of God’s sacrifice Lamb is written across the pages of His holy book.
Vs24: “But God raised Him up again … it was impossible for Him to be held in its [deaths] power.”
Vs25-28: “For David says of Him, ‘I saw the Lord always in My presence; for He is at My right hand, so that I will not be shaken.’ … You will not abandon My soul to hades … You will make Me full of gladness with Your presence.'”
This is an interesting prophecy. David speaks both of His experience and knowledge of God’s Christ, and yet it is the Spirit of Christ in him speaking prophetically concerning the cross.
David often speaks of Christ. Actually during the time of Christ, the three most popular books among the Jewish people were, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah. These books spoke of God’s Messiah.
Vss29-31: Peter explains that David spoke as a prophet and had Christ in mind. “Because he [David] was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne. … He looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of Christ…”
Vs32: “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” (This testimony of being the witnesses becomes the force behind the New Testament writings.)
Vs33: “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God … He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”
The events of the day of Pentecost took place because Jesus had taken His place at the right hand of God, and had received His kingdom. This is why Pentecost can be spoken of as the coronation day of Christ.
Vs34: “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”‘
This prophecy is from Psalm 110. And it was accepted by the Jews of that time as applying to Messiah. The importance of this particular prophecy cannot be overstated. Jesus quotes it and the apostles quote it. (Actually Psalm 110 is a panoramic view of the ascension and second coming of Jesus Christ.)
Vs36: “This Jesus God raised up again … Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.”
What was the house of Israel to know? That God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. It is this message that will prick the hearts of all who are listening. Many will turn to Jesus. Some will hesitate. Others will turn away.
Curiosities in Acts
Before I get into another study, I wanted to share some things you may find
curious in the Acts of the Apostles. Here they are:
(1) After the 1st Chapter of Acts, Mary the mother of Jesus is never mentioned again. Did you know that Mary is never again mentioned by name in the rest of the New Testament? It seems the Lord knew that the cult of Mary would eventually arise and do damage to the gospel message. (This is no reflection on Mary. She is the mother of our Lord Jesus. Not the mother of God.)
(2) Did you know that James the brother of Jesus was not an apostle, yet he was given the place of Overseer in the church in Jerusalem, and wrote one of the general epistles? Jesus actually appeared to James by himself. There is a reason for this. We’ll talk about it later.
(3) Did you know that the speaking in other languages is recorded but three times in Acts, and that each time is a sovereign act of God, but that each time connects directly with the day of Pentecost. Keep in mind that Acts covers roughly 35 years of early Church history.
Note: When Paul wrote the Corinthian Church, which is an earlier writing than the Acts of the Apostles, he says that tongues will cease. The interesting thing about this word is that it leaves room for this gift to be used at various times.
The Greek word for ‘cease’ is where we get our English word ‘pause’. (Greek: ‘pauo.’) Pauo speaks of something that is rendered inactive, or restrained. The word does not mean abolish. It is similar to putting a car out of gear. There have been times throughout Church history where this gift has been used in various ways, and especially with missionary work.
(Acts 2:37-47) Three Thousand New Believers
As Peter began preaching on that first Pentecost Sunday, the crowd fell silent. His voice could be heard all over the temple mount. Peter was quoting their beloved prophets. As he spoke, it was as if Joel, and David, and Isaiah were present with them. Their hearts were being pierced with the message of God’s Messiah. It is at this point that someone cries cry out, with perhaps others picking up the cry, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
Once again you may want to read this portion in its completeness before beginning the study. (Why not say a short prayer, asking the Lord to open your eyes to behold wonderful things from His book.)
A Piercing Message
Vs37; “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?'”
We need to remember that while the gospel is a message of life, it is first a piercing message. It is designed to expose the heart, and to render the sinner with no excuse for his sins. Remember what Simeon said to Mary?
“Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed–and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34,35)
The statement Simeon made to Mary about a sword piercing her own soul is a parenthetical statement. Simeon was simply saying, ‘And you, Mary, are not excluded from the sword.’ The revealing of thoughts has to do with God’s gospel doing a work of searching out our whole being.
This is where we need to understand the word ‘conviction.’ Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” (John 16:8-11)
The word ‘convict’, or, elegcho in Greek, speaks of a judicial verdict where we are found guilty with no defense to hide behind. It carries the thought of a moral conquest of the mind.
This is what the gospel is designed to do in the case of a sinner. And this is why these Jewish peoples from the lands begin to cry out, “What shall we do!?”
Repentance As Worship
Vs38: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”
‘Repent,’ (metanoeo) means to change one’s mind or purpose. When you couple it with the Hebrew word ‘nacham’, which means to be sorry, or to suffer grief, then you have the idea behind Biblical repentance. Biblical repentance is to have sorrow over sin which results in a change of direction.
The interesting thing about repentance is that the ancient Hebrews considered repentance as a form of worship. For the righteous man it means to make continual course adjustments, or repentances, in order to keep on a path of righteousness. They believed that these course adjustments, or repentances, were received by God as worship.
Be Baptized in the Name of …
…. each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…”
Behind this statement is the issue of receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah of Israel, and in doing this their sins has already been forgiven. The command to repent is an active imperative. It means ‘to it now!’ Or, ‘Turn to Jesus now!’ “Each of you” makes it very personal.
“Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” In early Jewish baptisms, the person generally baptized themselves with witnesses standing by. In doing this the new believer would express his faith by calling upon the name of the Lord. Let’s reach forward to see this Paul was baptized. Ananias said to him, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (Acts 22:16 – Remember that both Ananias and Paul are from the same culture as Jewish men.)
As for baptizing in the name of Jesus, this was the only form of baptism known by the earliest of believers. However, it wasn’t too long afterward that baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, began to take hold.
Note: Rather than get into the ‘whys’ of Jesus name baptism, I want to recommend that the membership go to the Christian Challenge web site; http://www.ChristianChallenge.org/. Click on Hebraic Foundations, and then scale down to study HF056 – The Name Above All Names.
An Unconditional Promise
… and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Notice the promise is unconditional. “Will receive” is the Greek word ‘lambano’ which means to take to you, or, take into possession. Therefore, in their turning to the Lord and baptism, they will be the recipients of the covenant Spirit. Peter meant this in the sense of new covenant salvation. Receiving the Spirit takes place in salvation. It is not something that takes place further down the road.
Vs39: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
Peter is still going with the prophets. Since we have already covered this, l’ll leave further comment off. The Jews well understood that the promised Spirit came with the new covenant.
Vs40: “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!'”
At this point Peter is still dealing with the message. He has told them what they must do to be saved, but God has more to say to the people, and this statement of being ‘saved from this perverse generation’ is very important to the message of Pentecost. (Especially to the Jewish people.)
The Song of Moses
Peter is now drawing from Moses. As a prophet, Moses spoke down through the ages, and in the song of Moses we have the history of Israel laid out. (Past and future.) I want to highlight a couple parts of the song of Moses, so you will see where Peter is coming from. (When Revelation speaks of the Song of Moses and the Lamb, this is the song in view.)
The song is found in Deuteronomy 32:
Vs1: “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak…” (Moses is prophesying over Israel by the Spirit.)
Vs4: “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just…”
The Rock was one of God’s Old Testament names. When Jesus used that expression, his Jewish apostles knew exactly what He meant. “Upon this Rock I will build My Church.” Peter wasn’t the rock. That would make Peter God. Jesus Christ is the Rock. He is God with us.
Vs5: “They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation.”
Did you catch it? The rejecters of God’s Messiah have acted corruptly towards Him. When Peter spoke by the Spirit, he was telling the crowd to escape from the Christ rejecters. But he is speaking from Moses.
Also notice that Moses says, “They are not His children.” The children of God are only those who receive Jesus Christ. And this is important to understand. No Jew will be saved because he or she is a Jew. Jesus said to them, “Unless you believe I am He, you will did in your sins.”
Why not take time at some point to meditate on the song of Moses. There is much there for the Spirit to share with you.
3000 Added in One Day
Back to Acts 2:
Vs41: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
Recall earlier what I shared about the mikvehs on the temple mount. There were a great number of these ‘step down’ pools, where various Jewish holiness rituals took place. But now they are being used for a different purpose. The apostles would not have gone into these pools with the new believers. Each believer baptized himself or herself.
Can you imagine the activity on the temple mount that day. Peoples were lined up at the mikvehs for baptism. The apostles and others of the one hundred twenty original believers were bearing witness.
Three thousand souls added in one day! This would bring the company of believers upward to four thousand Jewish folk. (Remember that Jesus had appeared to over five hundred believers during His forty days on earth.)
An Overflow of Pentecost
Let’s read our remaining Scriptures as a group, then I’ll make brief comments on portions of the reading. What happens next is a description of the overflow of Pentecost. No one wants to leave Jerusalem. The temple mount still remains very much in focus. After all, the prophet said that Messiah would come to His temple.
Vss43-47: “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.”
…. notice where the miracles and signs are taking place. The apostles are the witnesses of Messiah. They need to take center place in the forming of the Church.
“And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
This is a very Jewish thing. But for these new believers it is enjoined with a sense of expectation they had never before known. It is likely that they expected Jesus to return soon.
“Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple …”
The temple area continues to be the center of activity. At this point there is no resistance from the authorities. What can they do? We will soon see that many of the priests are turning to Jesus.
” … praising God and having favor with all the people.”
Notice how this is affecting all of Jerusalem.
“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
And here is one of the great mysteries of our salvation. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37)
(Acts 3)The Miracle at the Gate Called Beautiful
In the studies to follow, to keep from getting bogged down in minutiae (trivial details), I will comment largely on areas that show how the early church developed in her doctrine and vision. (My comments will be on portions. You will need to view the Scriptures under discussion.)
In this study we will view the entire 3rd chapter of Acts. It would benefit you to read this entire chapter before beginning the study.
Ok, let’s begin:
The Hour of Prayer
Vs1: “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.”
It was time for the evening offering. (The hours of prayer were the 3rd, 6th, and 9th.) The 9th hour was the evening sacrifice. Peter and John were not going to the temple as participants in the sacrifice, but rather to continue their testimony to Jesus as Messiah.
Keep in mind the following:
(1) The early believers were very Jewish. They did not consider their new covenant worship as being separate from Israel. To them it was the fulfillment of Israel’s hope.
(2) The temple figured strongly in the heart of all Jewish people, believers or no. Herod’s temple was the pride of Israel. When the sun touched its white marble covering, light would shine forth in all directions. The temple was the heart and soul of Judaism. It defined what Judaism was, and to the Jewish people it spoke of the potency of their God.
(3) To continue the ministry of Jesus, the apostles must work in Jerusalem as long as possible. Jesus said, “You shall be My witnesses both in JERUSALEM, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Act1:8)
But He also said, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.” (John 12:35)
And again, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4)
Darkness was going to overtake Israel. The message of Her Messiah must be proclaimed at every opportunity. Every Jew must be given the right to accept or reject Jesus Christ.
When the temple is later destroyed and the Jews taken as slaves into the nations, then they will weep bitter tears over Jerusalem.
Even Jesus wept over Jerusalem; “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He [Jesus Christ] who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Matt23:37-39)
Note: We need to remind ourselves often that the Acts of the Apostles deals with a transitional time between covenants. The gospel must go to the Jew first. The old covenant people of God must be given every opportunity to receive Jesus as Messiah, before Jerusalem is destroyed, and all vestiges of the former covenant are removed from the earth.
The Acts of the Apostles closes with this sad quotation from the prophet; “Go to this people and say, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.'” (Acts 28:26-27)
Notice that the closing of the eyes is something done on purpose by the Jewish leadership and many of the peoples. (To be covered later.)
Lame From His Mother’s Womb
Vss2-10: These Scriptures describe the miracle healing of the man who had been lame from his mother’s womb. Consider the following:
(1) The lame man was brought to the temple gate daily. The issue of receiving alms was not frowned on by the Jews. It was sort of the social security program of that day. The Jewish peoples were taught the joy of giving to the poor. You were expected to give, and neither was you permitted to make a poor person feel unworthy, or put a beggar to shame.
Moses instructed the people; “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” (Deu15:7,8) The giving of alms was a major factor in Israel’s religion.
(2) Peter and John had passed the lame man many times. It is even possible that Jesus saw him since He Himself came through this gate often. And, by the way, the Lord did not always heal everyone around Him. So what makes this healing of the lame man different?
It tells us that all true miracles originate in God Himself, and by His sovereign grace. The Holy Spirit led Peter and John to look on the man, and then to become the vessels through which the Lord would grant a notable healing. But this healing had a purpose with regard to advancing the kingdom of God’s Son.
(3) Many times miracles are given for the testimony of Jesus Christ. The lame man was a well-known figure at the gate called Beautiful. (Eastern Gate.) No one would be able to deny what had been done in the name of Jesus. The miracle was granted while the temple bustled with people.
(4) Also note that the miracle is taking place at the hands of the apostles. Once again it is the apostles that the Lord wishes to use in this manner, so that they can continue their testimony as eye-witnesses of the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus Christ.
Vss11,12: “While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, ‘Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?'”
This is a good place to stop and reflect. Notice the attitude of the apostles. Rather than let the peoples place them on some sort of pedestal, they instantly humbled themselves. This will always be a dominate trait of a true servant of God.
The Message of Israel’s Messiah
Vss13-16: Peter once again brings attention to the message of Israel’s Messiah. This message is a shortened version of the Pentecost message:
(1) “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him.”
Peter places the guilt of the cross on the shoulders of the people. They must take account for the sufferings of Jesus, and for their rejection of Him as Messiah. There is no letting up on this issue. Jesus had told the Jewish leaders, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
He says, “God has glorified His servant Jesus.” The term for servant is equally translated ‘child.’ (Pais.) Is Jesus God’s child? Yes, the term ‘monogenes‘ (only one of His kind) is only applied to Jesus in the New Testament writings, with one time using Isaac as a type.
(2) “And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.”
This is ever so important. When Peter says it is “the name of Jesus,” he is touching the heart of ancient Judaism. The name Yahweh was so holy to the ancient people that sometimes they referred to God as ‘ha Shem.’ (The Name.) Peter is using language that they understand. So, to say ‘the name of Jesus,’ there is a connection being made between the God of Israel and Jesus Christ.
Vss17-26: In these Scriptures, Peter begins to tone down the message to a point of encouragement. He tells them that both they and their rulers had acted in ignorance when they crucified Jesus. Peter also draws attention to the Old Testament prophets, in how they announced beforehand that God’s Messiah would suffer.
How Redemption History Works
Here Peter also shares with them how redemption history will work.
Vs19: “Repent and return so that your sins may be wiped away.” True Biblical salvation begins here. Without repentance there is no salvation.
… in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…”
Peter is sharing how both believers individually and the church collectively will be given times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, during our journey in this life. A true revival comes under this category.
Vs20: “…and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you.”
This is a reference to the second coming. But there is a precious truth snuggled here that may not be obvious to all. The Jews yet have an appointment with Jesus. (Think about it.)
Vs21: “…whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient times.”
Restoration is the Greek word ‘apokatastasis.’ This is the only place it is used in the New Testament. It speaks of a complete restoration to health. As a Hebraic expression, or a Jubilee phrase, it directs attention to the millennium.
Vs22: Here Peter calls attention to the most beloved person in Israel’s history, that is, Moses.
Moses spoke of God’s Messiah. Who would not give heed to that Prophet would be cut off from among the people.
Vss24-25: Peter concludes his preaching with the statement of why God raised His Son; “For you first, God raised up His Servant (child) and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
This completes our 7th study. Feel free to share and ask questions.
(Acts 4:1-12) Apostles First Confrontation with Temple Authorities
As we continue it is important to keep in mind that everything is taking place within the framework of the Jewish culture. While it is tempting to try to read our own theologies into the studies, we need to try and keep an open mind. You will be amazed at how the Scriptures are able to speak for themselves.
Also keep in mind the idea of being a close observer or a participant in the happenings. If you were a Jewish person of that time, how would you view these happenings? Remember that your heart has been filled with longings for Messiah from childhood.
With that in mind we can begin our next study. Beginning with Acts 4.
Vss1-3: “As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening.”
The authorities can stand it no longer. They’ve been forced to watch from a distance. To interfere with the apostles would have caused an uproar that would have affected them quite negatively. But the movement is increasing and many Jews are turning to Jesus. They can hold themselves in check no longer.
For a little extra background let’s reflect for a moment on a prophecy that had been given by Caiaphas the high priest, before Jesus was apprehended. The prophecy is very telling. It says,
“Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.'”
“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.’ Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.” (John 11:47-53)
Isn’t it amazing that God would use an enemy of Jesus to prophesy? This example fits the saying that the ways of the Lord are past finding out. The Lord put this prophecy in the mouth of Caiaphas because he was high priest. It doesn’t mean that Caiaphas understood the implications. Actually he probably had something else in mind when he spoke those words. (Did you know that God can make the word of a sinner a form of prophecy to you, and the sinner not even know it. I’m not speaking of fortune tellers.)
It is this same Caiaphas who is in charge on the day of Pentecost, and it is he and the family of priests, who have the apostles apprehended.
Another issue is that it had been taught by the sages of Israel, that when Messiah came, He would be a worker of miracles. These miracles would prove who He was. Later in Jewish history, the rabbis changed this feature of Messiah. Because the miracles of Jesus could not be denied, the Talmudic writers later said that Jesus was a sorcerer.
Vs4: “But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
This suggests that an additional two thousand men were now added to the three thousand of the day of Pentecost. This would bring the believers up to five thousand men.
In the Jewish culture everything revolved around the men. The three most important festivals in Israel required the attendance of the men only. They were required to present themselves before the Lord. Of course their families often came with them.
So what about women and children? While their number is not given in Acts, you can be sure that the group of believers far exceeds five thousand, and in this number are a great many priest. In fact, numbers will bear out that women converts to the faith by far outnumber men.
The Importance of Baptism
Plus you can be sure that all these peoples were being baptized. And this is a good point to reemphasize something important in water baptism at that time. When a person was converting to Judaism, three things were required for the male, and only two things for a female. For the male the requirement was a sacrifice at the temple, circumcision, and the mikveh. (Pool of baptism, or immersion-pool.) For the female only a sacrifice and the mikveh was required. (Actually baptism was seen as a convert’s first act of worship as a Jew.)
Here is a statement that was said over a proselyte baptism: “Blessed are ye, O Israel. Before whom ye make clean and who makes you clean? Your Father in heaven. As it is written, ‘And I will sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean.’ And again it says, ‘O Lord, the hope, miqwe (pool of baptism), of Israel: as the miqwe cleanses the unclean, so does the Holy One cleanse Israel.’” (Notice that the Father was appealed to in baptism.)
This act of Jewish proselyte baptism is likely a clue to how the gospel of Matthew ends, in which Jesus speaks of baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. According to the early Church fathers, Matthew was the only gospel originally written in Hebrew (Or, Aramaic). It was called the ‘Gospel to the Hebrews.’ (Don’t confuse it with the book of Hebrews.) The Jewish people would have understood what was behind this command, in that Jesus Himself was where all authority lies. (Cf. HF056 – The Name Above All Names.)
The Apostles Before the Sanhedrin
Vss5,6: “On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent.”
Notice the three classes of the Sanhedrin; Rulers (chief priests), or, Sadducees, who did not believe in angels, or miracles, nor did they accept the writings of the prophets. The scribes were usually Pharisees. Elders were normally neither Sadducee nor Pharisee. The makeup was 24 priests, 24 elders, and 22 scribes.
Annas was actually the ex-high priest but who was highly regarded and was often called by the title of high priest. Caiaphas was the high priest and son-in-law of Annas. It is the high priests who carried the weight of the Sanhedrin, and who were the force behind dealing with Jesus and the apostles.
Vs7: “When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, ‘By what power, or in what name, have you done this?'”
Of course they knew where the movement was coming from. The high priests hoped to instill fear in the apostles. However, it is quite likely that many in the Sanhedrin had hesitation about interfering with the apostles. One of their most esteemed members later gave somewhat a defense of the apostles. Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul, was a member of the Sanhedrin. (We will get to this later. There is a historical suggestion that Gamaliel became a believer.)
Can you imagine standing before the greatest authoritative power in Israel, and having to give an account for what you were doing? All the men in the ‘Great’ Sanhedrin were highly regarded. They were the supreme court of the nation. (Each town has its own local Sanhedrin.)
The Anointing in the Life of a Believer
Vs8-12: (Let’s take the remainder of our study portion together, then I will comment on parts of it.)
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by this name this man stands here before you in good health. “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone.” And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.'”
…”Peter filled with the Holy Spirit.”
In Greek this speaks of ‘having just been filled,’ or, ‘being filled.’ It is here that we see how the anointing works in a believer’s life. All believers have the Holy Spirit, and every believer has the potential of being filled according to the need of the moment. The anointing is simply the life of Jesus, or eternal life, filling us. Consider these Scriptures:
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.” (1Jn2:20)
What is it we know? We know God personally through His Son Jesus Christ.
“As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” (1Jn2:27)
Notice carefully that John says:
(1) Believers have the anointing ‘abiding.’ Meno speaks of a permanent residency. The Holy Spirit does not come and go in a believer’s life.
(2) This anointing teaches believers about all things. This means that all true believers have the ability to distinguish truth from error. They do it by the testimony of the Spirit. (The Spirit bearing witness in our heart.)
(3) You have no need for ‘anyone’ to teach you. The word ‘tis‘ speaks of a certain someone. The Gnostics set themselves up as ‘gurus’ and taught that there were two classes of believers; the lower class, and the higher class. The Gnostics were the higher class, and other believers had to come to them in order to know the things of God. (Do we still have the Gnostics with us today? Think about it. Jesus said, when they say ‘Christ is here, or Christ is there, don’t go to them.’ Or if they say, ‘the anointing is here or there.’)
(4) Then John says, “You abide in Him.” John is simply telling believers to learn to trust in the anointing that is in their own hearts. We speak of this as the inner witness, or that spiritual intuitiveness that is given us by the Holy Spirit.
Continue with Acts…..
Keep in view that Peter and John are standing before the same Jewish leadership that turned Jesus over to Pilate to be crucified. And once again they are hearing from Jesus, only this time it is through the mouth of His witnesses, the apostles.
What does Peter say? Again He brings out the heart of the new covenant, that is, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and that a miracle has taken place through the name of Jesus. He says, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by this name this man stands here before you in good health.”
The Jewish leaders are hearing Peter tell them that they no longer have any authority to represent the kingdom of God. That all authority is now in Jesus Christ.
This confrontation with the supreme Jewish authorities is crucial to the transferring of the kingdom of God from natural Israel to the new covenant people of God, that is, both Jew and Gentile who receive Jesus as Messiah. The message has to be given directly to the authorities. It cannot be said that God was unfair to the leadership of Israel. God is always just.
Then Peter quotes from a prophecy that every Jew knew pertained to Messiah, but they did not know how it would be fulfilled. (I would encourage the membership to read Psalm 118.)
“He is the Stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone.” (Psa118:22)
Peter will later draw from this Scripture, and a companion Scripture in Isaiah, as he writes his first general epistle. Listen to 1 Peter 2:4-8:
“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,’ and, ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.”
Let’s end our study at this point.
A Picture of New Covenant Salvation
I want to jump ahead in Acts for a moment to share with you a perfect picture of how a person is saved in the new covenant. We will be covering this portion later, but I felt it would give you something to think on.
Every component of how our salvation works is laid out in Acts 16:13-15:
“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.”
(1) Philippi did not have a Jewish synagogue. The Lord led them to the river area.
(2) Lydia was a Gentile who believed in the true God. (She was not a convert to Judaism. She was like Cornelius.)
(3) Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy began sharing the gospel. (Paul was the primary speaker.)
(4) Lydia was listening carefully, and the Lord opened her heart to ‘respond’ to the message. Paul explains what happened in Lydia’s heart in his first letter to the Thessalonian believers:
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (1Thess2:13)
(5) Lydia and her household were baptized.
(6) She speaks of her new faith by saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.”
To Lydia, ‘the Lord’ was now Jesus Christ. She had found the one in whom her heart longed. Her conversion was true. Lydia now had the Spirit of Jesus in residence.
Just something to think about.
(Acts 4:13-22) The Challenge of Authority
At the beginning of this study, we now find ourselves with Peter and John before the Sanhedrin Council. (The Great Council.) Are all the members there? It can’t be said for certain. We do know that some of the Council members are not against the apostles. In any event, Peter’s last statement is, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
What an awesome statement. But Peter spoke by the Spirit of the Lord, and this statement reaches into the very heart of ancient Judaism.
In this study we want to consider what is taking place between the apostles of the Lamb, and the religious leaders in Israel.
Vs13: “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”
…The council was amazed at the boldness of these men. The word ‘confidence’ is the word ‘parresia.’ Parresia speaks of an open, unrestrained, uninhibited, confidence in speaking. It means to speak plainly and boldly. (It does not carry a meaning of irreverence or cockiness.)
Side note: This is the word given to believers in regard to their approaches to God. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence (parresia) to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb4:16)
…“Understood they were uneducated and untrained men.”
It was obvious to the council that Peter and John had not been trained in the rabbinical schools, or they would never have been so direct. The rabbis were trained to quote other rabbis, etc. No one spoke on his own authority. (This was a feature that attracted the people to Jesus. It says, “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Matt7:28,29)
Where to Find Good Preaching
Perhaps we need to make a point. Some of the most powerful preaching and teaching today will be found in small country churches where the minister lacks any training in the skills of eloquence. It is not our skill of speech that accomplishes kingdom work. It is the Lord’s voice to be heard in our speaking. This helps explain why the Lord will often use someone who seems to be so ill equipped, while passing over those we think should be used. (Such a mystery, this.)
Peter later writes, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God.” (1Pet4:11 – Utterances is from a Greek word logion, which speaks of the very voice or utterances of God. It refers to a divine oracle. Thus we are to let the Lord speak through us. Remember what the Lord said; “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”)
… “Began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”
This may make for a nice sermon, such as, will people recognize us as having been with Jesus, but that is not what the issue is here. The Lord’s disciples were often seen with Jesus, and some of the Council of seventy had seen them before this time. So it began to dawn on them who Peter and John were.
But, once again, we also need to keep in mind that not all the seventy members were against the disciples. Two members had provided for the burial of Jesus. Were they present at this meeting, or had this Council been hastily called together? Perhaps the last is more true.
Vs14-16: “And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, saying, ‘What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.'”
No one could refute the evidence of the healed man. He was well known to everyone who visited the temple.
… “They had nothing to say in reply.”
This takes us back to an instruction Jesus had given the disciples earlier in that they would not need to prepare beforehand for a defense; “For I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.” (Luke 21:15)
The Gospel Can Take Care of Itself
Someone had asked Charles Hadden Spurgeon to write a defense of the gospel. His reply went something like this, “The gospel doesn’t need to be defended. It is like a caged lion. Just turn it loose, and it will take care of itself.” (That has been my understanding. To deal with error you only need to preach the truth.)
Vss17,18: “But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name. And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
… The Council was left without defense or argument. The only measure now was to issue a ‘supreme’ command. No more teaching in the name of Jesus. (Can you imagine trying to put out the sun with a garden hose? No one can stop the true ministry of Jesus Christ.)
Vss19,20: “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
The Challenge of Authority
… Here is where we need to talk about the challenge of authority as it related to the moment. Israel was in conflict. There was no Davidic king, and the priesthood was a mockery. The Herods were not Jewish. They were Idumeans who had been forced to convert to Judaism. And while the king and the priesthood were the recognized authorities, that is, put in place by the Romans, they did not represent the God of Israel.
This helps us understand why John the Baptist began his ministry in the wilderness. And why when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he spoke of them as a “brood of vipers.” (Matt3:7) Jesus also spoke of them as an evil and adulterous generation. (Matt16:4 – The word for generation is genea, which speaks of a family)
Another point needs to be made with regard to true authority. Jesus was from the house of David, and as Messiah, He had rights to the kingdom. This is one reason that the new covenant is referred to as “the kingdom of the beloved Son.” (Col1:13)
When Pilate placed the sign over the cross, which read, “The King of the Jews,” the authorities were vexed. But the sign was true. Jesus is king of both the Jews and the Gentiles. Israel crucified her king. But this was all in the plan of God. For now His kingdom is not of this world. And we will once again see the kingdom restored to Israel. (We talked about this in Acts01.)
James the Brother of Jesus
Finally on this point of authority — In the resurrection appearances, Jesus appeared to James alone. This James was His earthly brother. One reason for this appearance is that the Jewish Church was going to need someone they could look to in a unique way, while the Church herself was expanding in all the earth.
But why James? The Jewish people would see James in a very special way. First, he was the brother of Jesus. Secondly, he was from the house of David. There is no question that the Lord covers all bases. (I believe the Pastors in Jerusalem were of the family of James until the second destruction of Jerusalem during the Bar Kohba rebellion in 132 a.d. Kohba was a false messiah.)
Vss21,22: “When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.”
…. The Council was backed into a corner. All they could do at present was making threats. Once again we see the wisdom of God. The rulers in the Israel would be left without excuse. They are charged with crucifying Jesus.
A Couple More curiosities – From the Old Testament
Now is a good time to share a couple more curiosities from the Scriptures. The last ones I shared had to do with the New Testament writings. In this post I we will consider two faith issues from the Old Testament.
(Someone had asked how to preach Jesus from the Old Testament. Perhaps you will pick up something here that can be shared.)
(1) It’s all in the a word – Zechariah 12:10 says, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me WHOM they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”
This Scripture is filled with allusions to the new covenant writings. If you will study it carefully, each statement connects to something given about Jesus. There is one word, however, you may find of particular interest. A Jewish rabbi did. The word ‘WHOM’ is made up of two letters, the first and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet; Aleph andTau.
A Jewish rabbi was reading this and the word ‘WHOM’ stuck in his mind. He then read from a New Testament that was in his library, these words, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'” (Rev1:8) Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet.
The Lord captured this rabbi’s heart with one word. The WHOM brought him to Jesus. (Interesting, no?)
(2) What is it is about the tithe? Leviticus 22:14 says, “But if a man eats a holy gift unintentionally, then he shall add to it a fifth of it and shall give the holy gift to the priest.”
The ancients were commanded to put something in their hand when they came to the Lord. (Cf. Deut14:22-29) Failure to do so was considered the mark of a backslider. It was believed that all physical, spiritual, and financial blessings backslid with the backslider.
So, when it came to repentance, the peoples were told to show their repentance, by coming to the Lord by adding an extra fifth to their tithe. Why is this? It was an issue of right-heartedness. (Cf. Lev27:30,31)
Isn’t it interesting how our purse can become a measure our walk with the Lord. Paul added; “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Gal6:7)
This isn’t an issue of New Testament tithing. But it does appear that no one fools God, tithe or no.
A Couple More curiosities – From the Old Testament
The Lord captured this rabbi’s heart with one word, ‘WHOM’.
What a wondrous lesson! God certainly knows how to guide the hands of His servants. Like Jesus said (KJV style) “…not one jot, or one tittle will pass…” This bringing a devout Jew, even a rabbi, to Christ makes the discovery even better!
Most Christians would be amazed at the Rabbis who have turned to Jesus through the years. As ardent students of God’s Word, they often find themselves confronted with Scriptures that do not line up with their tradition. I am sure it is the Holy Spirit who brings these Scriptures to bear on their hearts.
The ancients were commanded to put something in their hand when they came to the Lord. (Cf. Deut14:22-29) Failure to do so was considered the mark of a backslider. It was believed that all physical, spiritual, and financial blessings backslid with the backslider. This is very illuminating. Would this possibly fall into the category that you mentioned concerning the “Laws of God”?
Yes indeed. But we have to understand how it relates to the new covenant. I don’t mean to drag this out, this is an area that God’s people need to have a better understanding in.
In the new covenant, we are under the Law of God as it is presented in the Law of Christ. But we are not under the Law of the Moses. The Law of Christ is designed for a different people. Yet, any of God’s eternal laws that were included in the Law of Moses, will also be included in the Law of Christ. (We just have to decide what an eternal law is. I’ll explain more in a bit.)
First let’s hear the prophecy concerning God’s new covenant in Christ:
“‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, “I will put **MY** law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.'” (Jer31:34,35)
Some folk think that God is speaking of the Law of Moses here, but this is not the case. It is God’s eternal (love) laws that are to be written in the spirits and minds of God’s new covenant ‘spiritual’ people.
And this brings us back to what I shared about the tithe, and to your question. Does the Holy Spirit place in our spirit to tithe? The answer is, yes, but it takes on a different nature in the new covenant. (Even if we don’t wish to call it a tithe.)
Paul is careful to bring this out. The apostle says, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” Then he says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Gal6:6,7) When Paul speaks of sharing good things with him who teaches, this is a Hebraism that includes the tithe.
In another book, Paul brings this home by quoting directly from Moses. But he puts it into a spiritual context. Listen; “For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.’ God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1Co9:9-11)
See how this works. God’s eternal-spiritual laws of love, that is, sharing, caring, and provided are in the new covenant. It is these laws that are written in our hearts.
And this is where some believers get confused over ‘we are not under the law,’ thinking. Paul said, “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Then he said that the Law was spiritual. (Rom7:12,14)
Think for a moment — If the Law [of Moses] is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual, wherein is the problem? The problem is in understanding the purpose of the Law. The Law [of Moses] was never intended as a means of salvation. Its design was to harness the people for God’s purposes. This is why the Law was considered a ‘yoke.’
Its purpose was for the sanctification of Israel, so she could fulfill her role as a priestly nation. But its greater purpose was to bring her to Christ. In Christ she would be given a new covenant. And when Christ came, He would bring with Him a different yoke. It would be the yoke of His presence in our lives on a daily basis, helping us walk in pathways of rightness.
But here is where one purpose of the Law [of Moses] can be realized in our lives. As we study the Law of Moses, our hearts begin to understand something awesome about God’s eternal laws. For example, you can write across the ten commandments one word — LOVE. To love God and to love our neighbor fulfills the very intent of the law.
I realize you didn’t ask for all this, but I thought it would be good to provide some extra instruction for the benefit of other members who may be struggling in this area.
So, when it came to repentance, the peoples were told to show their repentance, by coming to the Lord by adding an extra fifth to their tithe. Why is this? It was an issue of right-heartedness. (Cf. Lev27:30,31)
God certainly know how define balance, along with recovery!
Isn’t it awesome?!
Here is what I have found as a pastor. We don’t pass offering plates, and rarely do I even teach on the issue of finances. In the back of our sanctuary are two boxes. What happens is that as God’s people study the Scriptures for themselves, they find something being written in their hearts. Next thing they are making trips to the box. This way their giving is coming from their hearts, that is, from personal instruction of the Lord, and not for any other reason. (I never worry about my needs as a minister. God can send a raven to the table of someone who is not in accord with Him, and bring their steak to my table. Kidding) : )
It is interesting how our purse can become a measure our walk with the Lord. Paul added; “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Gal6:7)
This isn’t an issue of New Testament tithing. But it does appear that no one fools God, tithe or no. Jesus did tell the lawyers “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and render unto
(Acts 4:23-31) The Provision of the Spirit
“When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘O Lord, it is you who made the haven and the earth and all the sea, and all that is in them…'”
Keep in mind the Jewishness of this band of believers. As they lifted their voices to God, they made them appeal according to the prophets. And they did it with one mind. What did the prophets say?
Moses said, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them…” (Exo20:22)
David said, “[The Lord] made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever…” (Psalm 146:6)
Nehemiah said, “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You.” (Neh 9:6)
Remind God of His Word
These early believers knew how to appeal to God by aligning themselves with the sacred Writ. There is an ancient prophecy what tells us to remind God of His Word. Listen with your heart:
“On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” (Isaiah 62:6,7)
This prophecy may seem strange to us, but it shows the working relationship between our prayers and God. As for making Jerusalem a praise in the earth, this is something that we Christians should never forget. God’s work of salvation in Messiah, begins and ends in Jerusalem. (First and second coming.)
John said, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev 21:2)
The band of disciples continues their petition to God…..
Vs25: “Who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things?'”
Psalms: The Book About Living a Spirit-Filled Life
Before we go further, let me share something about the writings of David. David was one of the greatest writing prophets of the Old Testament. And the book of Psalms, which was written largely by David, was given for a particular purpose. It became the national prayer book of Israel. It is filled with prophecies and promises
The intent of this book is to teach God’s people how to think, what to believe, and how to pray. Its purpose is to instill covenant thinking in the hearts and minds of those who belong to the Lord. On top of that, Psalms is the only book mentioned in the new covenant writings that is specifically said to connect with living a Spirit-filled life.
Listen to Paul: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in PSALMS and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” (Eph5:18-20) This instruction given by Paul was well-known by the Jewish believers. It was part of their heritage.
Let’s come back to our setting ….
In verses 26-27, the believers quote from Psalm 2. What I would like now is for you to see this Psalm in its entirety. In it you will see the first and second coming of Jesus, and a great many other things. Take time to meditate on it:
Meditate on Psalm 2
Psalm 2:1: “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?”
Psalm 2:2: “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,”
Psalm 2:3: “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”
Psalm 2:4: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.”
Psalm 2:5: “Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying,”
Psalm 2:6: “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” (Day of Pentecost)
Psalm 2:7: “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” (New creation.)
Psalm 2:8: “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” (Jesus said, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth…)
Psalm 2:9: “‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.'” (Second coming.)
Psalm 2:10: “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth.” (An appeal to surrender. Why be destroyed?)
Psalm 2:11: “Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” (A call to godliness.)
Psalm 2:12: “Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” (The wrath of God is a theme that belongs to the second coming, but includes what is called the ‘great tribulation.’)
Notice it says, “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” This is all believers from all times, who truly trust in and look to God’s Messiah.
Moses adds some awesome insight here. He said, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.” (Psalm 90:1 – This is another awesome Psalm that would bear close meditation.)
Back to our study Scriptures. Notice how these believers attribute Psalm 2, directly to Jesus Christ.
Acts 4:27: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant [or ‘Child’] Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel…”
Notice that the disciples let no one off the hook. They name those who were responsible for the crucifixion; Herod, Pilate, Gentiles, Israel.
God’s Redemption Program
Vs28: “…to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
Here is a valuable lesson. The early Jewish believers never for one moment felt that things were out of control. They believed that God’s redemption program had been laid out in eternity, and that redemption had a beginning place and an ending place. What do you believe?
Now listen to how they conclude their petition to the throne of God:
Vss29,30: “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
What elements undergird their praying? First they appeal to the prophetic word. And, secondly, they appeal to the glory of Jesus Christ. There is no self-gratification here. They are praying for the advancement of the kingdom of God’s Son.
What is the result? ….
Vs31: “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
(1) They had prayed. (Totally one in purpose and prayer.)
(2) They had gathered together. (There is a special promise given when God’s people gather, that, believe it or not, is not available otherwise. The ancients spoke of it as the Shekinah.)
(3) The place was shaken. (This shows once again the intensity of the Holy Spirits involvement in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.)
(4) They were ALL filled. (Again we see the awesome power of agreement in the Spirit. “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” Lev 26:8)
(5) Began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Here we see the true purpose of a Spirit-filled life. It is to give the testimony of Jesus.)
To complete this study, I want to bring you back to the title, that is, the provision of the Spirit. The apostle calls attention to how God works in our lives through prayers and the Spirit. Here it is:
“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” (Phil1:19)
(Acts 4:32-37) Giving From The Heart
As we continue our study on Acts, I hope you are seeing just how awesome this book is. There is an excitement in Acts that continues to build with time. The scenery is changing continually.
Now that we’ve gotten our feet wet, I plan to provide studies on a more frequent basis. This is the second study this week. Always feel free to comment on any study that has been provided.
Vs32: “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.”
What are the factors behind all this togetherness and sharing? Consider the following:
(1) Thousands of people are receiving Jesus as Messiah. A new community of believers is forming around the apostles. And no one wants to leave Jerusalem. Can you imagine the excitement and anticipation with these new believers? What will happen next? Miracles and healings are taking place. All eyes are on the apostles.
(2) This new community of believers also speaks to their Jewish heritage. For the Jewish peoples, hospitality and sharing are considered mitzvots, that is, good deeds. Sharing is at the very heart of their Abrahamic faith.
(3) Then we need to consider how the Holy Spirit has created a new love bond between the believers. This is what the unity of the Spirit is about. Did not the apostle say, “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom 5:5)
Side note: Paul said, “Showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph4:2,3) How often do we find a new group, or a new organization springing up whose rally cry is, ‘We are creating a new unity.’ But no one can create a new unity. All we can create is a fresh division in the body of Christ. Our charge is to keep the unity that God has already given us in Christ. We are given the love walk as our union with other believers. Love is to all the activities, of all believers, for all times. (Think about it.)
We will look at a (4) reason shortly.
Vs33: “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.”
Notice the miracles are taking place through the apostles. There is a reason for this. The apostles had the chief role in laying the foundation for Christ’s new community. You will see later that when a new cultural group is brought into the covenant, an apostle is always present.
Vss34,35: “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”
Looking for His Appearing
(4) This brings us to another reason behind the selling of homes and bringing the proceeds to the apostles for the care of the peoples. There is a doctrine that has always served to place a spiritual tension in believers of all ages. (I’m using tension in a good sense, such as in expectation.) This doctrine is found primarily by two Greek words, ‘epiphaneia‘ (appearing), and ‘parousia‘ (actual presence or arrival) of the Lord.
Since the beginning of the Church age every generation of believers has lived with a certain expectation of the return of the Lord. It is this expectation that serves as one of the hallmarks of true new covenant faith. And it appears the Lord hid the ‘time’ of His appearing for the purpose of distinguishing true believers of all ages. It also serves as the purifying doctrine of the Church.
Paul said, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing [epiphaneia].” (2Tim4:8)
John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears (phaneroo: make visible), we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1John3:2,3)
“So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Heb9:28)
“For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming (parousia)?” (1Thess2:19)
And so it was the expectation of the return of the Lord that is behind the early believers selling their homes, and bringing the proceeds to the apostles. We will see later that it was not God’s intention for the believers to ‘clump’ up in a bunch. They needed to be scattered into the nations. (Salt has to be sprinkled, not clumped on food. Christians often have a tendency to clump. This is why the Lord often allows certain things to happen in order to scatter us. Covered in a later study.)
Notes on Barnabas
vss36,37: “Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
(1) Joseph is of the tribe of Levi. This means he is connected to the priesthood of Israel.
(2) He is from Cyprus. Joseph is a Hellenist, or a Greek speaking Jew of the Diaspora. A great many of the Hellenist Jews became Christians. According to one Jewish writer, the larger part of the Diaspora of the middle east had all but disappeared by 300 a.d. What happened to them? They became Christian.
(3) Joseph has a nick name. Barnabas means ‘Son of Encouragement.’ Have you ever met a son or daughter of encouragement? These are the most beautiful of people in God’s kingdom. Nothing but grace flows through their lips. We have a goodly number of sons and daughters of encouragement in our ministry.
(4) This same Joseph soon was known to everyone as Barnabas. It was the apostles who gave him his name. Barnabas became a traveling companion of Paul, and was noted as a prophet. Isn’t one of the main functions of prophecy to encourage? (By the way, all prophets are teachers, but not all teachers are prophets.)
The study is open.
Curiosities on Pentecost (Shavout)
While yet preparing for our 12th Acts study, I felt it would be good to share another curiosity about the day of Pentecost. (Shavout to the Jews.) I’ll draw attention to the words in CAPS by the use of a number.
The Lord said, “You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be (1) SEVEN COMPLETE SABBATHS. You shall count fifty days (1) TO THE DAY AFTER THE SEVENTH SABBATH; then you shall present (2) A NEW GRAIN OFFERING to the Lord. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, (2) BAKED WITH LEAVEN as first fruits to the Lord …” (Lev23:15-17)
There is more to the feast of Pentecost than these Scriptures, but what I’ve presented will show the curiosities. Enclosed in Shavout are Jesus Christ and the new covenant, including the new covenant day of worship.
(1) The counting from Passover to Pentecost included seven full Sabbaths. Pentecost was to be celebrated the day after the seventh Sabbath. Which means that Pentecost was to be celebrated on the first day of the week. (Our Sunday.)
Some promote the idea that Constantine actually instituted first day worship. This is not the case. While Constantine did fix the date for Easter, first day worship actually begins with the earliest Jewish believers themselves.
Not only can we see this in the New Testament writings, but the Talmud refers to this Jewish Christian day as ‘the Nazarene day.’ Jewish synagogues that belonged to believers in Jesus were referred to as Be Nitzraphi. (House of Nazarenes.)
Remember the accusation brought against Paul? The lawyer Tertullus said, “For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5)
Paul’s responded, “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.” (Verse 14)
My point being that Sunday was established early on as the day of worship for the new covenant. And while it was not made a law of the new covenant, it did become the traditional day of worship for both Jewish and Gentile believers.
(2) Notice God tells Moses there was to be a ‘new’ grain offering, but the offered loaves were to be baked with leaven. In the Bible leaven is always symbol of corruption or sin. Keep in mind that Passover was also called the feast of UNLEAVENED bread. But Pentecost had leavened bread.
The two loaves at Shavout were representative of sinful man, both Jew and Gentile, and in how that we as sinners are saved through the perfect atonement of a perfect sacrifice, the blood of Jesus. The leaven represents what the Jews called ‘yezer ha-Ra’, or the evil principle. That principle remains in our flesh. This is why Paul said that in his body was no good thing.
Nowhere in the Scriptures is there a doctrine called ‘sinless perfection’ in this life. We are all sinners saved by the grace of God. But saved sinners have a new law at work in their spirit natures. It is called the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Our spirits have been born again, and infused with the life of Jesus. Yet in our flesh there remains the yezer ha-Ra. This is why believers sometimes feel like there is a warfare going on in them.
But guess who is stronger? Did not the apostle say that ‘greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world?’ The point being that when the Spirit of Jesus is in charge, the result is always life and peace. When the ‘yezer ha-Ra’ is in charge, there is the possibility of every evil thing. (And don’t think that Christians can’t be bad guys.)
This brings us to the conclusion of the curiosity of Pentecost. Remember how the priest was to lift up the loaves and wave them before the Lord. This lifting of the loaves symbolized our have been lifted up in Christ Jesus. His perfect life has been credited to our account.
Isn’t it amazing how you can find Jesus and the new covenant written throughout the Scriptures…
(Acts 5:1-11) Satan’s Intrusion in the Camp
Our last study saw the new believers selling their properties and bringing the proceeds to the apostles. A sense of awe is resting upon everyone. But something happens that is going to bring a new dimension to the new covenant community, and to Jerusalem at large. Satan is going to make an appearance, and he will attempt to do it from within the ranks of believers. Let’s see what effect this will have on the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Vss1,2: “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Why did Ananias and Sapphira decide to involved themselves in a deception? It may be that the esteem given to Barnabas caused envy to rise up in their hearts. Notice that Ananias did exactly what Barnabas did, “He laid it at the apostle’s feet.”
As we look at the Scriptures under study, I want to share two considerations with regard to this issue of deception. One will address whether Ananias and Sapphira were ever believers. The other will address the issue of how Satan tries to plant among believers, someone who is actually working for him.
Vss3,4: “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Some Powerful Lessons
Let deal with our first consideration as to Ananias and Sapphira being believers. There are some powerful lessons to be had here. Notice.
(1) It is Satan who has filled Ananias heart to lie. James tells us how a temptation works in a believer’s life. In reading what James has to say, I will provide some fill in with the use of brackets [ ]:
James said, “Let no one say when he is tempted [a solicitation to evil], ‘I am being tempted by God’ [Or, God is in this]; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone [with evil]. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. [personal sinful longings.] Then when lust [personal sinful longings] has conceived [the temptation is in full control], it gives birth to sin [sin is acted on]; and when sin is accomplished [completes its act], it brings forth death [something always dies where sin gives birth]. Do not be deceived [don’t be fooled. It works this way, every time], my beloved brethren [addressed to believers].” (James 1:13-16)
What James says may fit Ananias and Sapphira. With this couple, the sinful leaning appears to be envy, or pride. But any sinful leaning can become an opportunity for Satan to gain an advantage over that area. This is why believers should not flirt with sin. And as for temptation, we are told both to flee from temptation, but also to pray that we not enter into temptation.
Listen again to what Peter says to Ananias; “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit … Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Do you see it? This is exactly the way James lays it out.
Here’s the crux. If a temptation can gain full control over a believer, that person loses all sense of moral bearing. The believer’s discernment gets muddy. White becomes black. Evil becomes good. And who is going to be hurt doesn’t become part of the picture. In fact in a temptation of this sort, Satan paints a picture of everyone ending up happy. So while Ananias was thinking about how to get honor from the apostles, the idea of death and destruction, or the idea of actually lying to God didn’t enter the picture.
Planted By Satan?
Now let’s take the second consideration, in which Ananias and Sapphira were never true believers to begin with, but had been planted by Satan.
When Peter said that Satan had filled* their heart. The Greek term for filled is ‘pleroo’, which means to make full. It carries the idea of totality. It can only mean that their entire inner being had been filled with a lie. This speaks of Satan being fully in charge.
Is this a case of a sinner being empowered by Satan in an attempt to destroy the work of God? John seems to think so. He says, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (1John3:10)
Notice the language used of Judas:
“The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people. And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them.” (Luke 22:2-4)
The scene appears much the same. But what is the lesson we need to learn? The lesson is that the greatest damage Satan can afflict among believers, will always be to get someone into a position or honor or leadership. This is true whether it is be someone he is able to plant, or if he somehow can get a believer misled in this area. In any event, Satan has made an intrusion.
Let’s leave this for now.
The Judgment of God
Vs5: “And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.”
Notice that it doesn’t say that Peter pronounced a death sentence on Ananias. This was God’s doing. But Peter took his cue from the Holy Spirit, and did pronounce the death sentence on Sapphira.
Let’s take verses 6-10 as a whole. There is little comment to be made.
Vss6-10: “The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.”
Very often we as believers are unable to conceive of God bringing such an awesome judgment upon anyone. We are so use to preaching love and grace. But keep in mind that Satan is always looking for a place to work among God’s people. And in this case it was crucial that such a serious offense be dealt with quickly. And this judgment would ultimately serve to advance the gospel.
Bad Things … Good People?
Note: There is a form of teaching today that leaves the impression that if anything bad ever happens to a believer, it has to be Satan’s doing, and the believer simply needs to rebuke the enemy. Not only is that form of teaching none Biblical, it can do damage to the walk of a believer. It allows for the no true repentance.
The fact is that because God does love us so much, He will introduce a punitive judgment in our life to bring about a correction or repentance where it is needed. The apostle carefully spells this out. Paul says …
“For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” (1Co11:30-32)
What is the result of this incidence of Ananias and Sapphira? Note:
Vs11: “And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.”
Now a new element is involved. Not that this will take away from the joy and rejoicing of believers. Rather, it will help produce the true fruit of repentance, both among believers who may be erring, and among those who are turning to the Lord.
In completing this portion of our studies, I want to point out something about the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord refers to an awesome respect and love for our heavenly Father, and for His truths. It is a healthy fear. When the prophet describes the attributes of Messiah, this is what is said,
“And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is his treasure.” (Isaiah 33:6)
How about it? Would you not like to have the same treasure? Think about it.
The study is open.
(Acts 5:12-16) The Shadow of Peter
As we continue our studies of Acts, there will be times we will need to slow a bit, just do digest something of great value. This is one of those times. In this study we are going to consider the apostolic signs, and what their purposes really are.
One concern of the church has always been to what extent there was to be a continuation of apostolic ministry. The truth is that while healings and miracles of all sorts will always be with us, there are certain works of power that were exclusive to the apostles. These works of power were to validate their place in the kingdom of God. This is why you will often hear me say that there are no apostles or prophets in the same sense as the apostles and prophets who gave us the Bible.
Now for our Scripture readings:
Vs12: “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.”
The word sign ‘semeion’ speaks of something that serves as a pointer or an aid in perception or insight. Semeion carries the idea of a distinguishing characteristic, such as a miraculous event that serves to confirm something. In this case the ‘signs’ confirmed the apostolic ministry.
The word wonders ‘teras’ is similar. It speaks of something that is so unusual that it causes wonderment among the peoples.
Notice that at this point, these signs are taking place only through the apostles. Also notice that the apostles are in the temple area. So what would be the purpose? Once again, it would be to establish the spiritual authority of the apostles of the Lamb. These signs are a sign to Israel. And they point to Israel’s Messiah. The apostles are the witnesses of Jesus.
(We will discuss another side to signs and wonders a little later in this study. There is a dark side. Interested?)
Vs13: “But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.”
Who are these who dare not associate themselves with the apostles? These are Jewish people who have not come to the place of accepting Jesus openly, or fully as Messiah. Why are they so fearful of associating with the apostles? There could be multiple reasons, but one reason would simply be to recall the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
Also notice that these same peoples are holding the apostles in high esteem. This tells us that they haven’t rejected that apostles. Who these people are in particular is only a guess. Some of them could actually be priests or even members of the Sanhedrin. We do know that a great many priests came to accept Jesus as Messiah.
Vs14: “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number … “
We might have expected a decrease among believers after Ananias and Sapphira, but the ranks of believers are swelling. God is pulling to Himself a people. And the apostles of the Lamb are ministering right under the nose of Caiaphas and the high priestly authorities. (Jerusalem is where it began. Jerusalem is where it ends.)
The Shadow of Peter
Vs15,16: “… to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”
Notice that these awesome healings and miracles are taking place through the apostles. Some are being healed when Peter’s shadow passes over them. We didn’t even see this with Jesus. Perhaps these are some of the ‘greater things’ He said the disciples would do. Have you seen anything like that? Have you even heard of anything like that?
No — Because there has never been anything like this in the history of the Church. This is what historians mean by the apostolic age. These awesome miracles are for one purpose — not only the spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they served to validate the apostles of the Lamb as His witnesses. And to give them their rightful place in laying the foundation for the Church. (Remember people taking handkerchiefs or aprons from Paul’s body and demons and diseases left the peoples. These are apostolic miracles.)
Also keep in mind that it is these apostles alone who have the full right to determine what true doctrine is to be. They had particular authority that would be given to no other person. And this is why that any Church tradition that disannuls the writings of the apostles, is a tradition that can be considered a false doctrine.
This brings is to a most important Scripture. Paul said, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord…” (Eph2:19-21)
The Dark Side to Signs and Wonders
We are very carefully warned through the Scriptures, that if men do not speak according to what is written, it is because they do not speak for God. The prophet said, it is because they have no dawn, or light. In other words, they are false prophets or false apostles.
Now comes a clincher. Remember I said that there is a dark side to signs and wonders. And so the question is, ‘To what extent are we to depend on signs and wonders as validations of the gospel?’ Interesting question. Listen carefully to Jesus; “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” (Matt24:24)
The Greek words for signs and wonders are the exact words used for the apostolic works of power. There are two considerations to be had here:
(1) The Lord said, “So as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” The Greek language allows that this is impossible. But the purpose is singular — these workings are an attempt to mislead God’s true people.
Why is it not possible for God’s true people to be misled by signs and wonders? For one thing, they know the Lamb personally. Jesus said, “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:4,5) — It’s all in the voice.
(2) The context places these works of signs and miracles as being in the last days. In other words, there is going to be an upsurge of the seemingly miraculous. Remember Jesus says these are “false” Christs, and “false” prophets. That implies that the signs will be counterfeit signs.
Are there other Scriptures that point to the issue of falseness? Yes, Paul directs our attention to the same issue, when he spoke of antichrist.
The apostle said, “…the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2Thess2:9-12)
What Paul said needs to be broken down a bit. Notice these things:
(1) The power, and signs, and false wonders are an activity of Satan. (Satan is a spiritual being. Remember the magicians of Egypt, who attempted to outman Moses?)
(2) The followers of these signs are not lovers of truth. They were sign chasers.
(3) This special activity will be “sent” by God. This is the hard one. The Greek word for sent, is ‘pempo.’ It speaks of causing movement from one place to another. Which brings us back to the ‘Lo, Christ is here,’ that Jesus spoke of. (The ‘Lo Christ is here,’ is another way of saying, ‘Come over here. Here is the anointing, etc.’)
(4) Notice it is “them” that God sends the deluding influence upon. They are people who are not true believers. (Deluding influence can also be translated as ‘activity of error.’)
So then, should believers believe in healings and miracles? Absolutely. Especially in regard to prayer and faith. But should believers to be seekers of signs and miracles? Absolutely not.
Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” (Matt16:4) The sign of Jonah refers to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A synopsis on The Shadow of Peter
We are going to move on with our study shortly, but I didn’t want to leave some things unsaid. Please take time to read this synopsis. Make sure you understand what I am sharing. And above all, see if what I have to share accords with Scripture.
I’ll number points of consideration:
(1) The term ‘apostolic age’ refers to first century Christianity. The apostolic age ended with the death of John the Revelator around 98 a.d. It was during this time that we received the New Testament. Once the book of Revelation was completed, there was nothing to be added to the sacred canon. And after the apostles and their companions left the scene, the apostolic age was complete.
This is why it is important to understand that there are no apostles and prophets today who can be regarded in the same sense as the apostles and prophets who gave us the Bible. I hope everyone understand this.
The problem today is that it can create a lot of tension among believers today when a stress is placed upon them to measure up to Peter and Paul. No one can measure up to these men. We can only be faithful to our calling and to our generation.
(2) The term ‘apostolic signs’ carries a somewhat similar meaning. It does not mean that miracles and signs will ever stop manifesting among believers. It means that the magnitude of powers seen in the Lord’s original apostles will not be seen in any individual today. This is what Paul meant, when he said, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” (2Co12:12)
Church history itself has proven this to be true. Remember what the Lord said through John to the Church in Ephesus? Listen carefully; “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.” (Rev2:2)
How would you put someone to the test who claimed to be an apostle? I’ll leave that with you. Just think about it. Let’s connect the statement in Revelation to something Paul said.
The apostle told the elders at Ephesus, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.” (Acts 20:29-33)
Did Signs and Wonders Cease?
(3) Did signs, and wonders, and miracles cease with the apostles? No. But the magnitude of power that was present in the apostles of the Lamb, has never been seen again in any individual in the history of the Church.
Certain gifting’s of the Holy Spirit will always be in place among believers, but these gifting’s will always be in accordance with God’s will and according to what He is doing at any particular time.
Signs and Doctrine
(4) Another thing we considered was to what extent signs and wonders are to be looked at as validations of true doctrine. Here is where it can get unbalanced. We are never told to look at signs themselves as validations of truth. This is true in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. This is an area for great caution. For example:
Moses said, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God …” (Deu13:1-5)
Before I share a New Testament Scripture, consider carefully how this warning given through Moses would apply to the Church age. Notice the emphasis on the false prophet is, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them.’
We would say, ‘But a false prophet would never prophesy in the name of Jesus.’ Another thing we would say is, ‘I would never listen to a man who told me to go after another god.’
This is exactly where the problem lies — Paul warned the Corinthian Church that certain ones among them were preaching another Jesus, and that they were receiving a spirit what wasn’t the Holy Spirit, and that they were actually hearing a gospel that is not the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
See how scary this can be? Years ago the Lord began dealing with me in dreams and visions to warn the peoples that another Jesus was being preached today. Ever since then I’m received opposition. Someone may say, ‘Well, Mr. Martin, what makes you so right, and others so wrong?!’
That isn’t even the right question to ask. All I am saying is, read your Bible. Read your Bible. Study the Scriptures for yourself. Find out if the Jesus being preached in some camps today is the Jesus of the Bible. Find out if the message being preached today is the same message that was preached by the apostles.
Now notice one other thing that Moses said, that Paul says nearly the same thing. Moses said, “for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Do you mean that God will actually test His own people with regard to their love for Him? Yes, a thousand times yes.
Now listen to Paul, ” … the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (1Th2:9-12)
Notice ‘who’ is going to send the activity of error. (Deluding influence.) God is going to send it. Why? To test His people. To show who truly belongs to Him.
Finally let’s hear it from Jesus Himself; “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'” (Matt7:22,23)
The Only Sign that Marks True Believers
(5) Finally — Why did Paul say to the Corinthians in the midst of trying to help them understand gifting’s, “I will show you a more excellent way?” There is a reason. Follow closely.
Notice how Paul then begins his wonderful chapter on God’s love. He begins this chapter with startling statements; “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noise gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Now notice, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Why does this sound so familiar? Think about how some groups today center the bulk of their teachings on ‘casting mountains into the sea’ faith. You see, Paul wasn’t taking away from the miracles of faith. He was dealing with the problems that arise when an emphasis is placed on the wrong thing.
But why did he deal with love so strongly? Because love is the only ‘sign’ that the Lord gives that is to be the distinguishing mark of true believers. Not speaking in tongues, or casting mountains into the sea, or casting out demons.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34,35)
Why did Jesus call it a new commandment? It was because on the day of Pentecost, new covenant believers were going to have their hearts filled with a love that is un-worldly, and is not found in man’s natural state. It would be the very love of God poured out in the hearts of true believer. And it would be this ability to love the same way that Jesus loved, that would become the distinguishing mark of believers.
I am not a prophet. I am not an apostle. I am only a simple country preacher who pastors a congregation of less than 200. But I am a voice that needs to be heard. And while the word ‘pastor’s seems to troublesome today, that should not be the case. Pastor simply means shepherd. A shepherd’s primary gift is teaching (feeding).
Listen to the prophet. God said, “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” (Jer3:15)
Since it is time to move on to our next study, I’ll leave this synopsis open for a bit for any responses members may wish to make. (Even when we move on, all prior studies are available for discussion.)
(Acts 5:17-42) Second Encounter With Temple Authorities
In this study we will pick up where the peoples wanted to have Peter’s shadow pass over them. The sick, the afflicted, and those with unclean spirits were crowding into the temple area. It says, “And they were ALL being healed.” Once again we see the kingdom power that was resident in the apostles.
Let’s see what happens next.
Vss17,18: “But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.”
In another study we will look at the various sects of Israel more closely. For now let’s follow the story.
Notice that the driving force is jealousy. The writer of old said, “For jealousy enrages a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” (Prov6:34) The Greek term for ‘filled’ (pletho) gives a picture of a sponge bursting with liquid. Jealousy was overflowing every fiber of their being. They were fully saturated.
Also notice who it is that is filled with jealousy. Not the Sanhedrin council at large. It is the high priest and his associates. This group was use to receiving honor as the highest authorities in Israel. Now the honor is passing to the apostles. You see, jealousy is never rational. It is a consuming power that destroys anything that gets in its path.
In the all this we need to remember the Lord’s special promise for His servants. He said, “‘No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:17)
Angels Watching Over You
Vss19,20: “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, ‘Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.'”
This is the first mention of an angel since the garden of Gethsemane. Nonetheless, we can know that angels are quite active in the lives of believers. They are servants of the kingdom. And they have special concern for those who are to inherit salvation. (Cf.Heb1:14)
This might be a good place to share a bit on angels. The ancients believed that God had a special class of angels who watched over the lives of His people. These angels were nearest to the throne of God. They were called ‘malachi panim,’ or, ‘angels of the face’, or, ‘angels of the presence.’
Do we have reason to believe there is such a class of angels? Yes, we do. When Jesus gave His warning to the world regarding stumbling blocks, He said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt18:10 – The term ‘little one’ is applicable to all believers.)
You can be sure that the angel who was set to release the apostles, came directly from the throne of God. What was the message to be given? The angel said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.”
And so the apostles head right back to the temple. The message of eternal life in Jesus Christ is to be spoken to the heart of the Jewish nation.
Let’s put the following Scriptures together:
Vss21-26: “Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought.
“But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, saying, ‘We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.’
“Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. But someone came and reported to them, ‘The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!'”
“Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).”
And so the apostles are right back in the temple proclaiming Jesus as Messiah of Israel. The problem now is how to apprehend the apostles without causing a riot. The temple guard knew full well that they would be stoned if the apostles were mistreated in any way.
This Man’s Blood
Vss27,28: “When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.'”
Finally it comes out. The high priest and his associates cannot avoid their role in the crucifixion of Jesus. The only way to have their guilt removed would be to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel, and to acknowledge their part in having Him put to death. But that’s not going to happen. These men have no intention of relinquishing their position. Their hearts are filled with both hate and jealousy.
Once again the threatening. But the apostles are not going to let them off the hook.
Vss29-32: “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
Notice carefully how each statement the apostles make is a concise stand-alone statement. Think about their words:
(1) We must obey God rather than men.
(2) The God of our fathers raised up Jesus.
(3) Whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.
(4) He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior.
(5) To grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
(6) We are witnesses of these things.
(7) So is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.
Vs33: “But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.”
Murder had filled their hearts. They were guilty before the judgment seat of God. Rather than admit their guilt and make amends, they seethed with rage.
This is a difficult thing for us to imagine. But you have to remember that Satan is the master power behind the throne. These men were usurpers. They really had no right to the positions they held. Their offices were bought from the Romans.
Gamaliel Defends the Apostles
But here we will see something quite interesting.
Vss34-39 “But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, ‘Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
Who was this Gamaliel? Why would he seemingly stand in defense of the apostles.
This is what we know — Gamaliel was one of the most respected teachers in Israel. He later became the president of the Sanhedrin. He was also the grandson of Hillel. (Paul trained at the feet of this man.)
Ancient Christian history says that Gamaliel became a believer. Whether this is true cannot be said for certain. We do know that Galamiel was later ostracized by the Jewish leaders for some of his beliefs. (According to early Jewish writings.)
But God uses Gamaliel to defuse the rage of the high priests. The Lord is not through with Jerusalem.
Vss40-42: “They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
This pattern of rejoicing over suffering was common to the early believers. Nothing needs to be added to this.
The study is open.
(Acts 6:1-7) Providing for the Widows
The growth of the early Jewish church is nothing less than phenomenal. Even many priests are identifying with Jesus. But a new problem arises. It has to do with the care of widows. In this study we will cover how this problem was dealt with. But this will also be a good time to get a glimpse at how the early Church was structured.
Vs1: “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.”
Hellenistic Jews were Greek speaking Jews, sometimes referred to as Greek Jews. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they were Jews from outside Israel, but in this case it may have been so. Actually there were many Greek speaking Jews in Israel. They had their own synagogues. It should be pointed out that Second Temple Judaism, was not a monolithic religion. It was made up of varied sects. Jewish Christianity became one of them.
As for the term ‘Hebrew’ this generally spoke of the Jewish Christians who were from Jerusalem, and the land of Israel in general. These were more traditional and conservative in their beliefs. They spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. But even this term tends to break down further. Remember how the apostles were referred to as Galileans.
It is difficult to say if these widows were from the land of Israel. From Pentecost to this point, many of the Jews who gathered from the nations did not want to leave. If you were a Jew who had just found your Messiah, would you want to leave Jerusalem? Probably not. So the company of believers keeps multiplying by the thousands.
As for the Hellenist widows being neglected in the serving of food, that may speak to a problem between the Hebrews and the Hellenists. The Hebrews weren’t especially fond of the Hellenists. There may have been other reasons as well.
Special note: The seven men chosen to oversee the task of caring for the widows had Greek names. They could have been from the land, but it is likely that they were part of the Diaspora. Much of the gospel going into the world was done by Hellenist Jews. Paul could be referred to as a Hellenist, but he also called himself a Hebrew. So the terms could be loosely applied depending on the circumstances.
Leadership Pattern of the Early Church
Vss2,3: “So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.'”
What we see being formed here is the office of the deacon. This office did not begin with Christians. It comes right out of the synagogues. Keep in mind that all these are Jewish believers. Their form of government would be set on the pattern of the synagogue.
Let’s do a little lesson. Early on some of the Jewish believers began their own synagogues. The pattern was much the same as the traditional synagogue. In fact the Christian Church today is patterned after the synagogue.
According to research here is how the Jewish Christian synagogue was organized. First you had the presiding officer. He was sometimes called the chief ruler, or elder. He was also spoken of as bishop. The chief ruler was the executive officer of the synagogue. This was the office that James the brother of Jesus held in the Jerusalem Church. (Elders were also called ‘overseers’.)
If you recall, it was after all the discussion concerning Gentiles coming into the church that we hear James say, “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles.” Why would James be the one to make the pronouncement? We will cover this more later. (Cf. Acts 15:19)
When James wrote his letter, he is the only writer to use the term ‘synagogue’ with regard to a Christian gathering. James says, “For if a man comes into your assembly (sunagoge) with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ [you] … become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:1-4)
But there was a second level of elders in the Christian synagogues, who were simply called elders or rulers. But all the elders would be considered pastoring elders. It is this group that Hebrews 13:17, has in view, where it says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
Then there was a third level, and this is where we get our term ‘deacon.’ The deacon was sort of a sub-elder in the local assembly whose duties differed from that of the primary elders (overseers). We will cover more on this later.
What needs to be understood, however, is that while the apostles had primary oversight during the formative years of the Christian faith, they did not serve as elders in local congregations. They were unique in their calling. Their job was to lay the foundations. But when they established a church in any locality, the church was established on the order of the synagogue. This is why when the apostles gathered in Jerusalem to discuss the issue of Gentiles, it says, “When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.”
One other point for now — The idea of there being a five-fold ministry in a local church is without Biblical precedent. There is a reason that the local Church ended up largely with three primary ministries; pastors, deacons, and evangelists. We will also cover this in a later study.
Devoted to Prayer and Ministry of the Word
Vs4 continued: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The apostles knew that their calling was not to be primarily to the local Church. They needed to be in the temple area and in every place that the Lord directed. The ministry of the word spoke of their calling to spread the gospel among the peoples.
Vs5: “The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.”
Bear in mind that these men were not chosen by issue of democratic vote. The selection was by consensus. The apostles left it up to the congregation of believers to select their deacons. But they gave the qualifications.
Vs6: “And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.”
These men received their credentials so to speak through the hands of the apostles. In this way they were given both authority to carry out their task of ‘overseeing’, and their due recognition. In fact this group also became unique in its own right. They were later referred to as ‘the seven.’ (Cf. Acts 21:8)
There is a wonderful lesson to be had here. While these men were given an important task in helping care for the widows, some of them actually went on to other things. Philip became a noted evangelist. He had four daughters who prophesied. Stephen became the first Christian martyr. (Their stories are yet to be told.)
Vs7: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
Notice how the priests are turning to Jesus, and disciples are multiplying. Another confrontation with the authorities is in the making. We will take a closer look at this in studies to come.
(Acts 6:8-15) The Face of an Angel
Two of the seven men selected to see to the care of the widows, are going to make a great impact in the early Church. One will die the first martyrs death. The other will go on to become an evangelist.
The temple authorities are seething in anger over the Jesus movement. They’ve been somewhat restrained but now things are about to change. The young man Stephen is going to flip the switch for a major persecution against the Jewish believers.
Others besides the apostles are involved in miracle ministries. Jerusalem is receiving an undeniable witness that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. In this study we want to look at the man Stephen himself.
Vs8: “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.”
Exactly what the wonders and signs are we are not told. One thing we know, the Jewish peoples are being left without excuse. The one thing that attracted the peoples to Jesus was His miracles. We hear them say, “When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?” (John 7:31)
Let’s again examine the issue of signs and miracles for the Jews. The peoples had been taught that when Messiah comes, He would do awesome wonders that would even exceed the miracles of Moses. What were some of the miracles that Jesus did?
(1) Jesus walked on the water. The Bible says, “[God] alone stretches out the heavens and tramples down the waves of the sea.” (Job 9:8 – The Hebrew for ‘tramples’ is ‘darak.’ It means to walk, tread, trod, bend with the foot.)
(2) Jesus opened blind eyes. The man who received his sight says, “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.” (John 9:32)
(3) Jesus raised the dead, turned water into wine, healed the lepers, restored withered limbs to perfect health, multiplied the fish and loaves, quieted troubled seas by speaking a word, cast out demons, caused fish nets to overflow with a catch, and many such like things.
Then we can take note of how the apostle John ends his gospel. He says, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
And so, once again, Israel would be left without excuse. Not only did Jesus perform many miracles, but the apostles and their companions continue to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ by signs and wonders. This is all taking place in the heart of Jerusalem, and even in the temple itself. You will hear me say more than once, that the new covenant began in Jerusalem, and it will complete itself in Jerusalem.
It appears that this matter of signs and wonders were more important to the Jews than to other peoples. Paul said, “For indeed Jews ASK FOR SIGNS and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1Co1:22-24)
However, with this background on signs and wonders, we need to keep in mind that the highest form of faith is to believe in Jesus Christ, without need of miracles or signs. Jesus said that an evil and an adulterous generation crave for a sign. (Cf. Matt12:39) This comment was directed to the unbelieving Jewish people. Let it not be said of us that we are cravers for signs.
Historical note: I want to mention again that out of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d., there arose a new Judaism, which became known as Rabbinic Judaism. The new Judaism would be without temple, temple sacrifices, and without the ability to keep the Law of Moses. Yet they would claim to be Torah observant. Not only would this new Judaism lack a sacrifice, but it would also begin to teach that miracles and wonders were to be discounted as evidences of Messiah. In their writings they would refer to Jesus as a sorcerer and a deceiver. (And things much worse.)
This new Judaism would add another dimension to itself. The rabbis would begin promoting the idea that they superseded Moses and the prophets. They would even have God listening in on their discussions. And this is why Talmudic study took precedence over the study of the Scriptures. This is also why the greatest thing you can ever do for a Jew, is to get him to read his own Bible. (Isn’t that true with most religious people?)
Satan Doesn’t Want You To Share Your Testimony
Let’s continue …
Vs9,10: “But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”
This is a sampling of the various synagogues in Jerusalem. The ‘Freedmen’ were likely freed Jewish slaves or descendants of freed slaves who had formed their own synagogue. It seems there was more than one synagogue involved in this dispute with Stephen. This incident shows that there were Hellenist synagogues in Jerusalem. (These are Hellenist Jews.)
… Notice they were “unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit” with which Stephen was speaking.
This will always be the case. And this is why Satan works so hard to discourage Christians from sharing their testimony of Jesus. Satan can read. The Word of God says, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev12:11)
Vs11: “Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.'”
The words ‘secretly induced’ is the Greek word ‘hupoballo.’ It is used only here in the New Testament. This word speaks of bringing someone under control, generally by use of a bribe. These false witnesses were paid well to incite the Jewish peoples against Stephen.
God Keeps a Good Set of Books
Isn’t it amazing — The very people who claimed to be Torah observant, or true followers of Moses and the Law, not only break the Law themselves, but they pay others to do the same. Their sins are compounding. And you can believe that God keeps a good set of books. The Old Testament writer said, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Eccl12:14)
Vs12: “And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.”
Up to now the apostles have had great favor with the peoples. This is the first time we hear of a turning against them. The false witnesses have done their job so well that a mob of people began dragging Stephen before the Council. The Greek expressions here show a heated mob-like activity. Perhaps some were even hitting him.
Vss13,14: “They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.”
The Spirit of a Disciple
Stephen is saying nothing. How like his Master he is. If you recall, Jesus had been brought before many of these same people. This scene is a near mirror reflection of what happened to Jesus. Let’s compare:
“Some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, we heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’ Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent. The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, ‘Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’ But He kept silent and did not answer ..” (Matt14:57-61)
Do you not see in this man Stephen, the spirit of the disciple? How often do we rush to defend ourselves, when by doing this we lose the greater glory. Peter said, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1Pet4:14)
Vs15: “And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.”
It seems at this point that Stephen is standing alone before the Council. But it is just as well. Something strange comes to bear. Everyone gets quiet, and everyone notices, including the false witnesses, that Stephen’s face seems to have a glow. What caused his face to glow? It was the Spirit of Jesus, or, as we might say, ‘the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit.’
Does this ever happen today? It happens much more than we may think. It’s not simply a visible glow, although this can happen, but it is an attractiveness that can be seen in the faces of godly people.
Well let’s leave things where they are. In our next study we are going to hear one of the most remarkable sermons recorded in the Scriptures. And from this sermon our brother Stephen will make his journey right into heaven. But not without affecting a Pharisee named Sha’ul.
(Acts 7:1-60) A Message to the Stiff Necked
Our last study saw Stephen being dragged before the Sanhedrin Council. The false witnesses give their accusations, then something odd happens. As Stephen stands there calmly, it says, “Fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.” (One ancient translation has, ‘like the face of God.’)
What Stephen was on the inside, was shining through his face. This is what the Lord wishes the world to see in His people. But the story of Stephen doesn’t end with his angelic appearance. What he is about to share is going to cause a fire storm in Jerusalem. Stephen’s message will become the catalyst for the first general persecution of the Church. It begins in Jerusalem.
In this study we will see how the Lord calls the leaders in Israel to account for their deeds. Stephen will speak a ‘divine’ oracle. Keep in view the promise made by Jesus; “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Cf. Matt10:19,20)
I will comment but little on Scripture portions where Stephen is simply laying out parts of the history of the Hebrew peoples. But you may wish to read those portions in your Bible.
Vs1: “The high priest said, “Are these things so?”
The point of the charge is blasphemy. Stephen is being accused of preaching against the temple and the Law of Moses, and that Jesus Himself was going to both destroy the temple, and alter the customs handed down by Moses. Note that ‘false witnesses’ have been hired to make these accusations. Of course the accusations are intertwined with truth and lies. Not one apostle ever spoke against Moses. They spoke in agreement with Moses and the prophets.
As for the temple, yes, Jesus said that it would be destroyed. This probably came out in Stephen’s debate with the Hellenist Jews. But there another point that may not be apparent to the reader. The statement that Jesus was going to ‘alter the customs handed down by Moses’ is a reference to the oral torah, not to the Law of Moses. The oral torah was also known as ‘the traditions of the elders.’
Special note: We will look at the Oral Torah at different points in our studies. What will be seen is that the intense hatred by the traditional Jewish leadership against the Jewish Christians, and against Jesus Himself, did not cease at the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. That same hatred spills over into some the writings that make up the Talmuds.
Let’s continue ….
Vs2: “And he said, ‘Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran…'”
…. Stephen addresses the Council with respect, and as a fellow Hebrew. He is establishing rapport with his listeners. This is very important because later in his address, Stephen will bring charges against the leadership of Israel.
Vss3-36: In these verses, Stephen lays out the history of the Hebrew people from Abraham to a particular point in the life of Moses. Since these verses are historical, I won’t comment on them. You may wish to read these for yourself.
Vs37: “This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from our brethren.'”
…. This is where Stephen begins to bring it home. In Jewish tradition a figure known as ‘the Prophet’ was to be a major player in events concerning Messiah. Some connected the Prophet directly with Messiah. Others thought he would be Elijah or someone else.
As for being a prophet, many of the Jews believed Jesus was a prophet. Some even saw Him as ‘the’ Prophet. And many others accepted Him fully as Messiah of Israel, in that the Prophet and the Messiah was the same person.
Consider these Scriptures:
“They asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.'” (John 1:21)
“And the crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.'” (Matt21:11)
“Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'” (John 6:14)
“Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, ‘This certainly is the Prophet.'” (John 7:40)
Now listen to what the Lord said to Moses; “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.” (Deu18:18,19)
The point at hand is that as Stephen quotes from Deuteronomy, he is making Jesus both the Messiah, and the Prophet. But Stephen has another emphasis in view. He is expressing that the ‘Prophet’ was not only to be ‘like’ Moses, but His authority would exceed the authority of Moses. Stephen plainly is fixing the authority of Jesus.
The Angel of the Presence
Vs38,39: “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt…”
…. Where Stephen says, “This is the one”, he is referring to Moses. The ancients believed that the covenant of Moses was given through angels. But there was one angel in particular called ‘the Angel of the Presence,’ that communed with Moses in the giving of the Law. Early Christians viewed this Angel as the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, that is, God revealed in angelic form.
Consider what the Lord said to Moses: “Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him.” (Exo23:20,21)
When Moses blessed Israel before his death, he said, “The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones [angels]; at His right hand there was flashing lightning for them.” (Deu33:2)
…. Stephen continues to build his case; “Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him [that is, Moses and in turn the Lord], but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt…”
It appears that Stephen is making a case in that the Jews were just as much sinners in their hearts as were all peoples of the earth. Of course this would never set well with the self-righteous. But Moses himself called the Israelites a “perverse and crooked generation.” (Cf. Deut. 32:5)
Next Stephen goes through a succession of disobedient factors of the Hebrew peoples.
Idolatry, An Issue of the Heart
Vss40-43: “…saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt — We do not know what happened to Him.’ At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel. You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the God Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.'”
….. Stephen skips across Israel’s history to show just how idolatrous they had been as a people, and how rebellious they were to the God of Abraham. Again keep in mind that Stephen is speaking by divine oracle, therefore, it is the Lord God Himself who is calling the Council into account.
Note: Did you know that when Israel came out of Egypt, they actually brought their idols with them? Stephen is quoting Amos the prophet. God spoke through Amos, saying, “‘Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves. Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,’ says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.'” (Amos 5:25-26)
….. Something to ponder — Is it possible for a Christian to hold to a form of idolatry and not be truly conscious of it? Perhaps. How about when a religious institution becomes ‘lord’ of our life? Remember that it was institutionalized religion that crucified Jesus. It was institutionalized religion that persecuted the early believers. It was institutionalized religion that destroyed so many Jews through the centuries. Institutionalized religion has been responsible for more Christian martyrs than any other single source. Think about it.
….. What do you suppose Jesus meant, when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”? (John 18:36)
Let’s continue on ….
Vss44-46: Stephen highlights Israel’s history through Joshua on to Solomon.
Vss47-50: “But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘Or what place is there for my repose? Was it not my hand which made all these things?'”
…. There is a sense in which the Jews had become temple worshippers. Stephen knew this. His point was that God doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands. Do we need to learn this lesson?
…. Actually the holiest of holies had been crucified on the cross. The apostle said, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” (Col2:10)
…. Holiness begins with Jesus and is transmitted to us through His precious blood. This is why believers are called ‘holy ones.’ (Saints.)
Stiff Necked Resistance
Now comes the charge. I need to press the point that it is the Holy Spirit who is speaking through Stephen. The charge is coming from God Himself.
Vs51-53: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
…. Who is this group that God calls ‘stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart?’ Who is this group that God further charges with being betrayers and murderers of the Righteous One, and of having persecuted the prophets, and on top of all, while they claimed to be keepers of the Law, but were actually perverters of the Law. (Oral traditions, etc.)
Keep in mind that already many thousands of Jews have received Jesus Christ.
This is the very same people group that John the Baptist called a ‘brood of vipers.’ The Lord called them ‘a wicked generation,’ and instructed the disciples to beware of their teachings. (Cf. Matt3:7; 16:11; Luke 11:29)
This characteristic of being ‘stiff necked’ was often used in Scripture to describe those in Israel who refused to bend to the will of God. They did not love God, nor did they care for His commandments. When Stephen says that their fathers ‘always resisted the Holy Spirit’ this was a reference to the prophets of old. Their fathers killed the prophets, and now their hatred was fixed on the apostles.
The prophet Isaiah makes an interesting comment about this group. The Lord said, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.” (Isaiah 63:10,11)
Is it possible for a believer to grieve the Holy Spirit today?
Truth Pierces the Heart
Vs54: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.”
…. The Greek language here expresses the strongest of anger, to the extent that the grinding of their teeth could be physically heard. It is likely that Stephen knew his end was near. But the anointing of the Lord was flowing so strongly through him, that He cared for nothing else but that the Lord be glorified.
This is what the Spirit-filled life is really about. The Psalmist said it well enough; “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.” (Psalm 115:1)
Vs55,56: “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'”
…. It is interesting to see that Jesus is standing. It is as though Jesus stands to receive the first Christian martyr. It all other places where it describes Jesus and the throne of God, the Lord is seated. But here, before the stoning ever begins, Stephen is experiencing the throne. It doesn’t say that Stephen heard anything. But perhaps he did. If so, could it have been, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matt25:34)
…. Everything Stephen says is couched in Hebraic thought form. His Jewish audience would have understood this scene much better than many of us today. Stephen is describing God’s Messiah standing in the hakavod (the glory) of God. This is another way of saying ‘the right hand of power,’ which was a Messianic expression.
Vss57-59: “But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!'”
…. Covering their ears was a way of declaring Stephen guilty of blasphemy. But something else is in view here. The penetrating judgment of God has fallen on them. His Word has afflicted them in the deepest of their hearts. They want it to stop. Their rage becomes uncontrollable.
…. “They rushed at him with one impulse.” Can you even imagine such a thing? This is supposed to be a court of justice, with men of integrity and wisdom, whose leanings are supposed to be towards grace and compassion.
…. Stoning was the fate for blasphemy. We may find it interesting that Gamaliel says nothing during these proceedings. Was he there? Perhaps. It may be that Gamaliel saw when everything was out of control, to raise his voice would have been only increased the fury.
A Young Man Standing By
…. Now take special note that there is a certain young man standing by, who, while he doesn’t participate in the stoning, was recognized by the stoning group as someone of authority. They lay their robes at his feet. This man Saul is a disciple of Gamaliel, and was well known by the Council, and probably by many in the group itself.
Of course we know who this man was. He was to become the great apostle Paul. And this stoning incident will become a major issue the Lord will use to deal with Saul’s heart. Paul would never forget the stoning of Stephen.
Vss58-60: “When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.”
…. Notice that Stephen has two final statements to make. He speaks directly to Jesus and asks the Lord to receive his spirit. But in his final breath is a prayer, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” How so like Jesus is this Stephen.
What can we learn from the man Stephen? For one thing Stephen shows the power of spiritual life that belongs to of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said that the disciples would be His witnesses, Stephen is a wonderful example.
Being a witness isn’t simply in our words. It has to do with what we have become. Stephen’s life had been transformed through his Messiah. This is the life that God offers us through His Son, Jesus.
(Acts 8:1-24) Persecution, Scattering, and Philip
As we move forward with the Acts studies, I want to re-emphasize something of importance. It is always tempting to want to read our own belief systems back into early Church history. But doing that will do damage to a true study of Acts. This book has to stand on its own merits. The Acts of the Apostles is a ‘divine’ historical book. To appreciate this book we must see ourselves as travelers with the apostles, and, we must attempt to do our best to take on a Jewish mind set of that time.
Here’s what we must keep in mind. The Acts of the Apostles covers a period of time when the new covenant is being introduced. There has never been anything like this new faith. And because the new covenant is replacing a former covenant, and because Acts deals largely with a transitional period, we will see activities take place in Acts that are pretty much fixed for that period of time. Once the transitional time frame is complete, the Church will find herself with some well-established doctrines in place.
You can almost compare the time that Acts covers, to the 40 years of Israel’s wanderings before she entered the land of Canaan. Once Israel entered the promised land, which happened after Moses left the scene, many of the things that took place in the wilderness ceased. For example, it says, “The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.” (Joshua 5:12)
I am sharing this just to help you keep focus. It isn’t a matter of miracles, or healings, or works of the supernatural stopping with the departure of the apostles. It is more an issue of the Church entering into a new era. She will have a well-established foundation.
With that being said, let’s continue. Our last study completed itself with Stephen saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” It then says, “He fell asleep.”
The idea of believers falling asleep is a common Hebrew idiom. It says, “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.” (1Kings2:10) This expression is found in a great many places in the older testament.
To add to this, in the new covenant there is no death for believers. Jesus said, “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24) If we have passed out of death into life, then there can be no death experience to be had for a believer. Our passing will be as it was with Stephen. You can be sure that as Stephen closed his mortal eyes, his spiritual eyes beheld the full glory of heaven.
In this study we will take up from Stephen. It is here that we see the first general persecution of the church. This persecution resulted in the scattering of disciples. We especially want to look at Philip the evangelist, in how the gospel goes out into another people group.
Vs1: “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
…. ‘Hearty agreement’ is the Greek word ‘suneudokeo.’ Saul wasn’t simply standing by. The Greek word carries the idea of pleasure and satisfaction. Here we see the character of a man who has made himself an enemy of Christ. We will later see how the power of the gospel can completely transform a Saul into a Paul.
…. It appears the persecution began the day Stephen was stoned. The mob intensified in fury. While the Scriptures do not say, there are various historical accounts as to how many believers were put to death. They range from 2000 to 3000. With this in view it is no wonder it is called a ‘great persecution.’ But we also want to keep in mind that there were large numbers of Jews, who, though not yet fully accepting Jesus as Messiah, yet had strong leanings towards the apostolic band.
…. The disciples were scattering throughout Judea and Samaria. But the enemy’s fury is playing against him. Wherever the disciples go, they carry the testimony of Jesus with them. It can truly be said that “they loved not their life even when faced with death.” (Rev12:11)
…. The apostles, and probably a good number of believers, did not leave Jerusalem. It was God’s will that their leadership remain in place.
Vs2: “Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.”
…. The ‘devout’ men may have been a mixture of Jews. Many of the Jews probably felt a sense of shame over the stoning of Stephen. After all, great miracles, healings, and the casting out of demons were taking place. Acts 2:47says the apostolic party was “having favor with all the people.”
The term ‘devout’ is also used in the Scriptures for certain Jews and others who had not yet received Jesus, but who were truly ‘towards God’ in their hearts. These folk usually came to the Lord in time.
The word for ‘buried’ speaks of a funeral. Stephen’s burial was not a hidden thing. ‘Loud lamentation’ (kopetos) means the ‘beating of the head and breast.’
Vs3: “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”
…. The word ‘ravaging’ is strong. ‘Lumainomai‘ connects to a verb which means to dishonor by use of force. Saul was totally irrational in his use of force, by dragging men and women out of their homes. His rage was so intense that he saw no need for mercy for anyone. It is difficult for us to imagine that this would become the man to give us the great Pauline writings.
God’s Purpose in Scattering
Vs4: “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”
…. Continue to keep in mind that we are fellow travelers. Let’s go down to Samaria with Philip.
Vs5-8: “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city.”
…. It is generally thought that the city of Samaria that Philip went to was the same city where Jesus ministered to the lady at the well. If this is the case, then the peoples were well prepared for the gospel. It says, “From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done.'” (John 4:39)
…. We will shortly see that while Philip did signs and miracles, and while many were being baptized, Philip was unable to grant them the seal of the Holy Spirit. This had to be done through the hands of the apostles. We will see why shortly.
…. Here again, this is one of those places where we have to be cautious about wanting to read our own church doctrines back into the setting. What happens in Samaria has puzzled quite a few folk, but it is well understood when we understand the importance of apostolic authority in setting the foundation for the Church.
…. The rejoicing in the city was over the miracle activity, the healings, and the casting out of demons, and also because of the gospel being preacher. But again, no one of the city could be brought into the new covenant until the apostles came on the scene.
Even Simon Himself Believed
Vss9-13: “Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, ‘This man is what is called the Great Power of God.’ And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.”
….. The expression ‘practiced magic’ is not to be confused with modern-day magicians. The one who practiced ‘mageuo‘ was a wizard or a sorcerer, who practiced magic by invoking supernatural (demonic) powers. (Mageuomeans to practice witchcraft.) The peoples of Samaria had for a long time looked to Simon as the great power of God. This was the message he gave out. This implies that he was both a false Messiah and a false prophet.
…. It says he was ‘astonishing‘ the people. The force of this word (existemi) speaks of people being literally overwhelmed, even charmed. It appears the people had become enraptured with Simon and with his demonic powers. This same word will be used for how the Philip’s miracles affected Simon. He was absolutely taken back with the power the evangelist had. Simon’s amazement meant he was ‘charmed’ by the power present in Philip.
…. What broke Simon’s hold over the people was the preaching of Jesus as Messiah. The peoples were being baptized, and Simon himself was baptized. Everything was in place.
The Apostles of the Lamb
Vss14-17: “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.”
…. Now the big question — Why could Philip not lay his hands on the peoples for them to receive the Holy Spirit? The reason is that the Samaritans were a separate people group from the Jews. Each time a new people group is added to the new covenant, an apostle must be present. During the time of the apostles there were four distinct people groups; Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, and, believe it or not, the disciples of John the Baptist. This latter group had swelled to such a size as to take on its own identity. (More on this later.)
Each time a new people group is given entrance into the new covenant, it is as though the day of Pentecost reaches forward and adds them to Pentecost 33 a.d. The only instances in Acts where people speak in tongues, which, by the way, is always as a group setting, and always as sovereign acts of God, are in Acts 2, Acts 10, and Acts 19. Were there any speaking in tongues with the Samaritans? It doesn’t say.
…. The Jews and Samaritans were sworn enemies. Each group had its own temple, and its own priesthood. Each group claimed to be the true Israel of God. Had the Spirit of the new covenant been given the Samaritans without the oversight of an apostle, they would have become a schismatic group. Since the apostles were all Jews, the Samaritans would have set about structuring their new religion in competition with the apostles in Jerusalem.
What then was God’s answer? No matter how many miracles, and casting out of demons Philip did, and regardless of their believing, and baptisms, the Samaritans would only be given the seal of the covenant through the hands of the apostles of the Lamb.
Why is this? Paul explains: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph4:4-6)
The Church was to be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ being the corner stone. (Eph2:20)
And What of Simon the Sorcerer?
Vss18-24: “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.’ But Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.'”
…. Of course Simon the Sorcerer never received the Holy Spirit himself. Our question might me, ‘But it says he believed and was baptized.’ We have to decide as to what was it that Simon believed?
Simon believed that the miracles were from God, and though he was baptized, his believing was never righteous believing. To believe unto righteousness implies a repentance of the heart is in place. Simon had no sense of a need for a Savior. His interest was power directed. Even when Peter directed Simon towards repentance, the sorcerer’s reply reveals only a desire for self-preservation. He said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
I want to mention that there is a legend that Simon later relocated to Rome, and through his continued demonic activities, a statue was erected to him, and he was accorded as a god. (According to Justin Martyr. Other writers also mention him. He is spoken of as the fountain-head of heresy.)
There is much more to be said about these happenings in Samaria, so let’s leave the study open for discussion. Put your thoughts or questions on the table.
(Acts 8:25-40) Philip Goes After One Man – The Eunuch
The door of salvation has been opened for the Samaritans. When Peter and John arrive on the scene, the Spirit of the covenant is provided for the Samaritan believers. Now it is time for Philip to move on. He heads out into the desert to locate one man. You can be sure this leading is of the Lord. In this study we want to see what this ‘one man’ business is all about.
First a parting word on the apostles. It says….
Vs25: “So, when they [the apostles] had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”
Peter and John confirm the testimony of the gospel to the Samaritan believers. Where it says they ‘solemnly testified,’ the Greek is ‘diamarturomai.’ This word carries the idea of severity, or, a charge to the people. They are to continue on with their confession of faith.
So as the apostles journey back for Jerusalem, they preach the gospel to a number of the Samaritan villages. The moment has been seized. The Word of the Lord is spreading throughout the region.
Now let’s pick up with Philip. It says ….
Vs26: “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a desert road.)”
… “An angel of the Lord.” This angel is not to be confused with ‘the angel of the Lord’ of the Old Testament. The Old Testament term ‘Angel of the Lord’ was a theophanic expression concerning divine appearances of God. It was used before the coming of Jesus. Once Jesus enters the world, this expression is no longer used as a ‘theophany.’
This angel is sent by the Lord to guide Philip to the next stage of his ministry.
Note: A theophany refers to an appearance of God in human or angelic form. [‘Theo‘ is God. ‘Phan‘ is to show, or to see.] These appearances in the former testament are sometimes spoken of as a Christophanies.
…. “Spoke to Philip.” Angels are messengers of the throne. They bring messages, and also carry out missions that are according to God’s purposes. Do they speak to believers? Probably much more than we realize. But an angel of God will never offer himself as a distraction from Jesus.
This is why the idea of ‘spirit guides’ found in new age teachings, or the idea that we ‘command’ angels, as is found in some charismatic teachings, sets dangerous tones for those unaware of how deceptions work. Angels of God do not carry out our orders. They are servants of the throne. While they render service to God’s people, they only receive their directives from God Himself.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
Vss27,28: “So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.”
…. The eunuch was either a Jew by birth, but more likely a proselyte to the Jewish faith. In any event the new covenant belonged to him by virtue of his relationship to Israel. This presents an interesting picture with regard to the ancient Jews. Since the new covenant was theirs by right of birth, they only needed to receive Jesus as Messiah. They already believed in the One true God of Israel.
But for Gentiles, the story differs. Gentiles were often idolaters, that is, they believed in many Gods. So in order to be partakers of the new covenant, the Gentiles had to turn from their idolatry to the living God, and in doing this, they were to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
… There are plenty of myths, legends, and facts about Ethiopians. If you recall, Miriam was struck with leprosy for her challenge to Moses’ marriage of a Cushite woman. (Cf. Num12:1-15)
You may also find it interesting that some years ago Israel ransomed thousands of Ethiopian Jews (Falasha Jews), and brought them to Israel. They soon discovered that many of the Falasha Jews were Christian Jews. (It is the same with many of the Jews brought to Israel from Russia.) Was God in this? The underpinnings of religious practices of the Ethiopian Church are still very much Jewish.
The Testimony of Isaiah 53
Vss28,29: “..and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.'”
…. Philip heard him reading. The eunuch was reading from the Greek text. (LXX.), which was likely the Torah of the Ethiopian Jews, just as it was for the Jews in Egypt.
…. It seems unlikely that the eunuch would not have heard about Jesus, while in Jerusalem. But the times of salvation are in the Lord’s hands. This eunuch’s appointment was near at hand. It had to be the Lord’s doing that the eunuch was reading from Isaiah. More Jews have come to Jesus through the testimony of Isaiah 53, than from any other Scripture portion in the Bible.
Vss30,31: “Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
…. “Unless someone guides me.” This reveals the Jewishness of the eunuch. The Jews were taught that to understand the Scriptures properly they needed to listen to a master teacher. This was probably why the eunuch had no hesitation in inviting Philip to the chariot. The way Philip approached him, he likely thought the evangelist was a teacher of sorts.
The Centerpiece of the Bible
Vss32-34: “Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: ‘ He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he does not open His mouth. In humiliation his judgment was taken away; who will relate his generation? For his life is removed from the earth.’ The eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?'”
…. The eunuch’s attention has been arrested at what can be called ‘the centerpiece of the Bible.’ Isaiah 53, is the clearest and most concise picture of the work of the cross and of Jesus to be found in the prophetic Scriptures.
The ancient Jews accorded this to Messiah. It was only after the New Testament Church came into existence, that Jewish writers later tried to make Isaiah 53, into a picture of the suffering Jews, and not to Messiah. But no matter how hard they attempted to do this, the text does not allow for such an interpretation. It is speaking of an individual. And it is so clear in its description of Jesus, that some Jewish Bibles even leave it out. (Along with other prophetic writings that too clearly refer to Jesus.)
Note: A great many Jewish rabbis have been brought to Jesus by this portion of Scriptures. But this was also true in the early Church. During the time of the apostles, the teachings about the coming Messiah dominated Jewish thinking. This is why Paul was able to convince both synagogue leaders, and a great many of the Jewish peoples that Jesus was Messiah. The Scriptures bore witness in themselves.
Here is an interesting passage from the Talmud (B. Sanh. 97b): “In the school of Elijah it was taught: ‘For six thousand years the world will exist [there will be] two thousand years of Tohu [void], two thousand years of Tora, and two thousand years of the Messiah. But because of our sins, which are many, several of these [Messianic years] have already passed.'”
“He Preached Jesus to Him”
Vs35: “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.”
…. What makes this so wonderful is the double witness. We have the prophet setting forth the Messiah in unmistakable language, and we have the gospel evangelist declaring Jesus as Messiah. Keep in mind that the Bible of the early Jewish Church was the exact same Bible used by all the Jews. Here we have a new covenant Jew presenting the Messiah to another Jew. What better witness to a Jew is there?
Vss36,37: “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'”
…. Here is a clear example of how salvation works in the new covenant. You have the anxious heart, seeking to know. You have the gospel presented. You have the believing heart taking to itself Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Out of this comes the overflowing confession of, “I believe!” And then you have this new believer instantly wanting to fulfill the command of baptism.
Vs38,39: “And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.”
…. This is the first example we have of a believer entering into the waters with a new believer, and baptizing the believer personally. They were probably at an oasis.
… Two wonderfully amazing things happen at this point:
(1) The Spirit of the Lord ‘snatched’ Philip away. The term here is ‘harpazo‘. This word speaks of a sudden removal, or, to be snatched away, seized up, caught up (into heaven), and such like. It is the word Paul uses for the removal of believers in the second coming of Jesus.
(2) The second thing is that the eunuch goes “on his way rejoicing.” What makes this wonderful is that it demonstrates a person’s completed faith. You can be sure when the eunuch arrives back home, he will have a message to share with the Jewish community in Ethiopia. People who are truly born again are unable to keep the message to themselves.
Vs40: “But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.”
…. Once again we are looking at the apostolic era where amazing things are taking place.
Philip the evangelist makes Caesarea his home. It is interesting to later hear how Philip had four virgin daughters who were themselves prophetesses. And the great tormenter of the Church, that is, Saul who becomes our beloved Paul, stays with Philip for a while. (Cf. Acts 21:8,9)
Let’s complete our study for now. Feel free to comment, ask questions, make observations, etc.
(Acts 9:1-9) Saul the Tormentor Meets the Glory.
We’ve seen the door of salvation open for the Samaritans, and we’ve seen the Ethiopian eunuch receive his born-from-above experience. Now our attention will be brought back to a man who has been the greatest tormentor of the Jewish believers. In Hebrew his name is Sha’ul.
This study is important for more reason than one. Not only does it show how the Lord can wonderfully turn an enemy into His friend, but it also shows how God can deal with the most depraved of hearts. Paul later refers to himself as the foremost of sinners, to show how God’s grace can reach into the hardest of hearts. Here is what he said:
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (1Tim1:15,16)
Vss1,2: “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
…. “Breathing threats and murder.”
Notice it doesn’t say Saul was ‘breathing OUT’ threats. It says he was ‘breathing threats and murder.’ The Greek is ‘empneo apeile kai phonos.’ This phrase describes an atmosphere flowing in and out of Saul. His very breathing was full of murderous intent. Saul’s consuming passion was to destroy the infant Church. Can you imagine such a vile hatred in anyone?
…. “Went to the high priest.”
Saul was acquainted enough with the high priest to secure letters to put believers in fetters and transport them back to Jerusalem. Keep in mind that Saul is a disciple of Gamaliel, who was himself a member of the council. Saul may have been a junior member. Makes you wonder how Gamaliel viewed all this.
…. “The synagogues at Damascus.”
The council cared nothing for the Samaritans. In their arrogance they assumed power and authority over all Jews, everywhere. Damascus had a great many synagogues. Saul fully intended to search out any Jewish believers in Jesus.
Here is how Paul later described his role in persecuting Jewish believers: “I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9 -11)
Did you note how Paul spoke of the deaths of the saints. He is not simply speaking of Stephen. As it was earlier stated, historical figures place the deaths of these Jewish believers between 2 to 3 thousand.
…. “Belonging to the Way.”
The early Jewish believers identified their new covenant faith as ‘the Way.’ This became sort of a formal title for identifying them. Adam forfeited the way to God. Jesus, became the Way back to God. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
Blinded By The Light
Vss3-6: “As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.'”
…. “A light from heaven flashed around him.”
The heavenly light was a brilliant flash. Paul later wrote that the Lord, “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” (1Tim6:16) The soldiers saw the light and heard a sound, but they did not hear what was actually being said to Saul.
It is not known whether Saul actually saw Jesus fully at this point. He may have only saw His form or image. (The Lord does appear to him later.)
The unapproachable was known to the Hebrews as ‘hakabod‘, or, hakavod, or, in English, ‘the glory.’ This was the light that rested over the mercy seat in the tabernacle. It was out of this light that Moses heard the Lord speaking to him. Moses did not see the Lord Himself. The ancients sometimes connected the hakovod with Messiah.
God said to Moses, “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.” (Exo25:22)
In another place God speaks to Moses, saying, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exo33:20) The light that flashing around Paul was nothing less than the glory of God.
Saul Meets Jesus
…. “Heard a voice.”
The Lord spoke to Saul in Hebrew. Suddenly this violent aggressor is stunned to the core of his being. His heart is lanced.
… “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me.”
The Lord calls Saul by his Hebrew name. And here is the first reference to the fact that you cannot separate the Messiah from His people. To do harm to one of God’s people is to touch His Messiah. He and His people are one.
We catch a hint of this in a prophetic text; “For He said, ‘Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely.’ So He became their Savior. IN ALL THEIR AFFLICTION HE WAS AFFLICTED, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.” (Isaiah 63:8,9 Caps for emphasis.)
… “Who are You, Lord?”
Saul surely responds in Hebrew, and used one of two Hebrew words for Lord, that is, Yahweh, or, Adonai. In his confused state Saul does not say, ‘Adoni,’ which would mean, ‘My Lord.’
The importance in all this is that Saul has never had God speak to him before. There can be no question that it is the God of Israel speaking. All Saul can now say is, “Who are You Lord?” And what does he hear next? You can be sure he hears something totally unexpected.
…. “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Some ancient translations read, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.”)
Where the KJV has, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks,” this statement is not in the earlier manuscripts. (Not in this place.) But Paul, in one of his later testimonies does later include it as having been said. (Cf. Acts 26:14)
Can you imagine the horror of Saul’s soul. His murderous rage has been thoroughly pierced. Some think this is Saul’s conversion experience, but not so. Saul is before the judgment seat of God.
The word conviction, elegcho in Greek, carries the thought of a moral conquest of the mind. Conviction has to complete its work before there can be entrance into the kingdom of God’s beloved son. Saul is under the deepest of conviction. Think of all the harm he has done to God’s people, including those actually put to death.
Next the Lord says,
Vs6: “But get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”
This alone tells us that Saul’s conversion is not complete. He is going to spend several days in darkness, with a need to sort through his own thought life. The man’s world has just been turned upside down.
Vs7-9: “The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
…. It is later shown that the men with Saul did not actually understand what was being said to Saul. They heard sound but could not distinguish words. This experience left them entirely speechless.
…. “Though his eyes were open, he could see nothing.”
This alone would cause Saul to know that what happened to him was much more than a vision. It was very real. He had seen the glory. John later writes of Jesus, in saying, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Vs9: “And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
Saul is unable to eat or drink. He is blind. He is a prisoner to his own thoughts. No where do we read that the Lord speaks with him any further. Nothing else needs to be said. Saul is under deep conviction. But there will be a man shortly enters into his life that will provide the answers that Saul needs.
Acts 9:10-22 The Radical Transformation of Saul
In our last study we left Saul sitting in darkness. The man who struck fear in the hearts of believers is blind. Saul has entered the ‘dark night of the soul.’ But we will soon see that God has great plans for this man. And so even in his darkness, Saul is given a vision of a man named Ananias coming to him. Let’s pick up our study …
Vs10-12: “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.'”
…. So far our studies have kept us in the Jewish world. The door for the Gentiles has yet to be fully opened. Everything that has happened so far can be called ‘in house.’ Everyone is a Jew. The believers are Jews. Those against Jesus are Jews. It is a Jewish battle.
Perhaps we need to reflect on a prophecy given to Mary. When the baby Jesus was brought to the temple, according to the custom of the time, the prophet Simeon said, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed–“ (Luke 2:35)
Many in Israel failed to turn the corner with the new covenant. This became their ‘falling.’ Will they rise again? Most certainly. This is why we cannot separate the history of the Church from the people of Israel. Our future is intertwined. The new covenant is a Jewish covenant. It has never stopped being that. And it can only complete its work when Israel through her leadership, calls upon Jesus as Messiah.
Jesus said, “From now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He [Jesus] who comes in the name of the LORD!'” (Matt23:39)
Back to Ananias….
…. The name Ananias is the same as Hananiah. And as we read what happens to Ananias, it is much like reading the story of the Lord speaking to the child Samuel. After calling his name the third time, Samuel says, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”
…. But the distinction is much different. Samuel wasn’t sure who was speaking to him. Saul is perplexed, and asks, “Who are you Lord?” But with Ananias, he knows exactly who is speaking to him. When he says, “Here I am, Lord,” he is responding to Jesus.
…. This brings us back to what Jesus said about His sheep; “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.” And, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:14,27) This is the strength of true Biblical Christianity. Every person born again knows Jesus in a very personal way, and certainly knows His voice.
…. But the message Ananias hears is astonishing. He feels compelled to question the Lord. Saul of Tarsus? The Lord’s response is very telling. Saul is praying. Saul has had a vision of Ananias coming. Saul sees Ananias in a vision laying hands on him for his healing. The Lord always works on both ends.
…. Everything Jesus says to Ananias, is to build this disciple up for the task set before him. It is important to understand that a true walk of faith is never a step into darkness. It is always a step into light. Not that we will know all the facts of the future, but we will know that our forward movement is ordained by the Lord. This is why it is always best to wait, if you are not sure.
Vss13,14: “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.'”
…. The news of Saul’s playing havoc on the Church had spread when the Jewish believers scattered out of Jerusalem. The reports had reached Damascus.
Vss15,16: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.'”
…. Here we see one of the great mysteries of our faith. Everything that happens in bringing Saul to the Lord, has been the Lord’s doing. At no point could it is be said that Saul was a seeker. Later we hear Paul say that God had set him apart from his mother’s womb. (Cf. Gal1:15)
…. This is what Ananias hears about Saul. The Lord says:
(1) He is a chosen instrument.
All believers are said to be chosen in Christ, but not all believers are chosen instruments in the same sense as was Paul. What is said about Saul, the Lord had earlier said to the original apostles; “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit…” (Cf. John 15:16)
The apostle Paul later writes the believers, and says, “He chose us [all believers] in Him before the foundation of the world.” Cf. Eph1:4)
Such a wondrous mystery this….
(2) He will bear the name of Jesus before Gentiles, and kings, and the sons of Israel.
As we move forward in Acts, we will see this to be the case. But this statement goes far beyond Acts. The apostle Paul has done more to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ than any other person in the history of the Church. It is not uncommon to find certain Jewish writers today of accusing Paul of being the originator of Christianity.
(3) He will suffer much for his faith in Jesus Christ.
And he did. Listen to Paul’s later description of his service to the Lord:
“…in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (2Co11:23-28)
…. For those who love being called apostles today, makes you wonder how they would measure up to the man called Paul.
Vss17-19: “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus.”
…. Saul’s last instructions were, “Enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:6) It is at the moment of the laying on of hands that Saul receives his healing, and is given the Spirit of the covenant. (Birth from above. Paul later gives more fill in on this experience.)
…. He is now in fellowship with the disciples in Damascus. Here again we see the kind of love that is poured out in the hearts of believers. Saul is a brother in the Lord. His past is forgiven. He is one with Jesus Christ. And he is loved as a true brother of the faith.
Vss20-22: “…and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, ‘Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief
…. What greater miracle is there than a radically transformed life? There is the no greater miracle. What makes this even more awesome, is that Saul the tormentor brings that same zeal he had as a persecutor of the Church, over into his life as a witness to Jesus. This is some of what Jesus meant, when He said, “You shall be my
witnesses.” (The transformed life is a sure testimony to the truth of the gospel.)
…. Guess who is confounded now? The Sanhedrin has just lost their greatest warrior. He is now a warrior for Jesus. And this new warrior turns his full attention to preaching Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus. (So much for 4 years of seminary training.)
Vs22: “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”
…. Even the Jewish leadership in the synagogues was no match for Saul. This man not only had the knowledge that came from his years of training under Gamaliel, combined with the fact that he was from a family of Pharisees, that is, the most devoted sect in Israel to the Scriptures, he now has the anointing and wisdom that only the Holy Spirit can give. Saul now has what he saw in Stephen.
Let’s complete this part of our study at this point. Feel free to comment and ask questions.
Acts 9:23-31 Saul Finds His Place With Believers.
In our last study we saw the right hand man of the Sanhedrin Council change sides. Saul the tormentor of the church is now Saul the proclaimer of Christ. Again we get another glimpse at what the term ‘sovereign grace’ means. The Lord can do what He wants, when He wants, and with whom He wants. This is why the Bible says that His
ways are past finding out.
As we continue in these studies, I am using the term Christian Jews, or Christians in a generic sense. That name was not given to the Jewish believers until a little latter. Early believer’s worship of Jesus was known as ‘the Way,’ or as ‘the sect of Nazarenes.’ They remained very much Jewish.
You might find it interesting that there is a prophecy in the former testament that says God’s people would be given a different name. I’ll explain this more when we get to the study where believers take on the name Christian.
Saul is doing well in among the brethren in Damascus. But Jerusalem is going to be another story.
Let’s continue on with our studies.
Vss23-25: “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.”
…. “Many days had elapsed.” Acts leaves some spaces in its telling of early church history. Saul’s conversion took place about three years after Pentecost. It is commonly held that Saul was in Damascus for three years. So we are considering events that are taking place six years after Pentecost.
…. “The Jews plotted together to do away with him.” Here also we see the nature of a group of Jews who will later follow Paul in his missionary travels to try and disrupt his work. It is this kind of people who will become ‘thorns’ in his flesh.
…. “They were also watching the gates day and night.” The Jewish nonbelievers were unable to withstand Saul’s wisdom. Their astonishment began to turn into anger, and the natural course of anger is to remove the cause. (Of course they did the same with
Jesus.) It appears the synagogue leaders had recourse with the governing authorities. The apostle later writes that the governor of the city had soldiers posted at the gates to seize him.
…. “His disciples took him by night and let him down.” Saul’s testimony in the synagogues was the cause of a great many conversions of the Jews. These converts would immediately look to Saul as their teacher. It was likely that the house Saul was in was on the city wall. (This would be similar to Rahab helping the spies of
Vs26: “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..”
…. Can you imagine the consternation among the Jerusalem believers? The man responsible for many deaths and imprisonments, was now trying to associate with the believers. No one could believe that Saul was a disciple. And even though Saul had been gone from Jerusalem, the memory if his persecutions were very fresh in their minds.
…. Also notice that Saul did not attempt to approach the Sanhedrin Council. Obviously the word had gotten back to Jerusalem of his conversion. But now that he was a man of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit would direct his comings and goings. The time of his confrontations with the Sanhedrin was yet to come.
Vs27: “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.”
…. Barnabas means ‘son of rest.’ Barnabas took the initiative to seek Saul out to hear what he had so share. Being fully convinced that Saul was a true follower of Jesus, Barnabas personally brings him to meet Peter and James. He did not meet the other apostles at this time.
…. Thank God for believers like Barnabas. These kinds of believers have a special gifting for restorations, and for bringing peace to troubled situations.
Note: Barnabas was the uncle of John Mark, the writer of the gospel of Mark. Barnabas and Saul (Paul) became very close friends. It is also likely that Saul stayed at the home of the sister of Barnabas while in Jerusalem. He would have met Mark during this time. (According to early church writers, Mark wrote his gospel at the
dictation of Peter.)
Vs28: “And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.”
…. The fear of Saul had vanished among believers. He continued with the apostles and moved about as he wished. The persecutions in Jerusalem had settled a bit, but Saul is going to stir things up a bit.
Vs29: “And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death.”
…. Saul is doing his preaching in the same synagogues as did Stephen. What a glorious testimony. The man of whom the Hellenist Jews had put their cloaks at his feet so they could stone Stephen, has now picked up the martyr’s torch and is proclaiming Jesus to Stephen’s stoners. Once again we see the power of the ‘sword’ of the Spirit. The gospel of Jesus needs no defense. It is well able to take care of itself.
Vs30: “But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.”
…. The brethren are concerned for Saul’s safety. Tarsus is where Saul is from. Would not be wonderful if we had more fill-ins here. Makes you wonder what kind of reception Paul got from his parents and family. Whether they turned to Jesus is not known. Paul says very little about his family.
…. We are soon to turn away from Saul for a while. His fruitful service will increase later on. For now the Lord will have him continue to grow in knowledge and understanding. It is the same with us. Sometimes we are anxious to get things going, but our time is not yet. When the moment comes we will have our work set before us.
Vs31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.”
…. The rest is a rest from persecution. The Church needed this time for regrouping, refreshing, and refurbishing.
…. Notice it speaks of the ‘church’ throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria. There is the only one church, but many flocks. The early believers met in homes, but often continued attending the synagogues. Later on Jewish believers were forced from the synagogues.
Since we are at a natural stopping point we can conclude this study for now. Saul will not be heard from for a while. The apostle Peter is going to take the forefront. Our next study will pick up with Peter.
Acts 9:32-43 From Saul to the Apostle Peter
For the next few studies Saul (Paul) will be out of the picture, and our attention will turn largely to the apostle Peter. These studies should prove to be interesting. We are going to see changes at work in both the thinking of the apostles and in the composition of the Church.
Again let’s remind ourselves to leave behind our 21st century Church thinking, and see ourselves as participants with the early believers. It is time for us to begin some travels with the apostle Peter.
Are you ready?
Vs32: “Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda.”
…. Time frame: Biblical chronology shows this to be about 40 a.d., or seven years after Pentecost. Also keep in mind that since Pentecost there is no record of anyone speaking in other languages. During these months and years since Pentecost, there are untold thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus. At this point of time the Church is made up entirely of Jewish and Samaritan believers.
…. “Traveling through those regions.” This is a reference to vs31,
which speaks of Judea, Galilee and Samaria. Peter is traveling throughout the region where converts have been made. He may be helping to establish the churches. (Lydda is a little over thirty miles from Jerusalem, near the Mediterranean sea.)
Vss33-35: “There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.’ Immediately he got up. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.”
…. Peter calls Aeneas by name, and then tells him that “Jesus Christ” heals him. Next Peter tells the paralyzed man to ‘get up and to ‘make’ his bed. It is interesting how Aeneas is told to something. You will find this is often the case where a miracle work of God is involved. The Lord requires that we do our part. As Aeneas responds to Peter’s words, he receives a miracle healing.
…. “All who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.” Here again we see the miracle working power of God through the apostolic band. Notice how great the Jewish harvest is becoming. Entire cities are turning to Jesus.
Vs36: “Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room.”
…. It was the custom of the Jews for the women to prepare the body for burial. This they did. But they also put her body in an upper room. This was likely where the believers met for services. The believers knew that the apostle Peter was close at hand.
…. This brings us back to the signs of a true apostle. Notice that the disciples in Joppa do not attempt to bring Tabitha back to life. They were well aware that the apostles had been given unique powers. So they sent two disciples for Peter.
Vs38: “Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, ‘Do not delay in coming to us.'”
…. There is no question that the disciples believed Peter had the power to raise Tabitha from the dead. No one would have strayed very far from the upper room.
Vs39: “So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.”
…. It is felt among some groups today that we ought not to mourn the passing of a believer, but this is contrary to our nature. Although we know without any doubt that a believing loved one goes to be with Jesus, we yet feel their loss very deeply. It is perfectly right to weep.
But here we will see Peter do something we might find strange.
Vs40: “But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.”
…. Why did Peter send the disciples out of the room? Were they not believers? The reason is deeper. Peter needed his moment of aloneness with Jesus. The apostles did not just go around raising people from the dead. Peter kneels in prayer. Just he and Jesus. And in the quietness of the moment the apostle receives what he is to do.
No shouting. No loud noises. No repeated praying. No having to wrestle the devil. Peter turns to the body, and says, “Tabitha, arise!” Instantly resurrection power fills her lifeless body, and she sits up. This is what happens when Jesus is in charge of a situation. When we are in charge the best we can do is make a fair show in the flesh.
Can we learn from this? How often do we set about to do great things for the Lord, and then wonder why they don’t happen? Could it be that we aren’t getting our instructions in prayer.
Someone once asked the Chinese Christian how he was able to bring so many people to Jesus. He said, “I talkee, talkee, talkee. Then I walkee, walkee, walkee.” His point was before he begins witnessing, he got together with Jesus. Then when he went, Jesus went with him. What a simple and yet profound truth.
The apostle Paul describes this great truth. He says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal 2:20)
Vs41: “And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.”
…. Peter calls the believers back to the upper room, and there before them stands this precious disciple of Jesus Christ. She had been made whole. And you can be sure that whatever medical condition resulted in her demise, that condition was no longer present in her body.
Vs42,43: “It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon.”
…. Again we see the pattern of ‘many’ conversions as a result of a miracle. The Lord knows that the Jewish harvest has to have its miracle element, and this is exactly what He provides.
But this is another reason the Jewish people of that time were left without excuse. Signs and wonders followed the apostles and others of the apostolic band. These signs and wonders continued to affirm that Jesus was truly Messiah.
The apostle Paul later writes, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1Co1:22-24)
Synopsis on the First Seven Years
We are about to enter a major shift in our study of the Acts. The door for the Gentiles will put the early Jewish believers in uncharted waters. So before we get to that door, it will be good to highlight where we’ve been. We dealt with the first seven years of early Church history. But now a season is about to change.
When the disciples ask the Lord if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” That statement lets us see that the Father works in ‘times, and, ‘epochs’.
The word ‘time’ or kronos in Greek refers to an exact time or age. Epochs is different. The Greek word ‘kairos‘, speaks of a season that fits a particular purpose. The Lord designed his redemption program to work through times and epochs. (People always looking and longing for a return to the early church period don’t understand this issue of seasons.)
In the Bible, the number seven speaks of completeness, or fulfillment. The first seven years of Acts has seen the new covenant offered to Eretz Israel. (Land of Israel.) Everything has been taken place has been within a Jewish-Samaritan framework. (The Samaritans were half Jews.) And everything has been within 150 miles of Jerusalem.
(Damascus is within the land promise made to Abraham.)
Here is a brief synopsis on what we have covered thus far:
(1) Jesus said that the kingdom one day would be restored to Israel. This shows us that God’s redemption program as we know it will conclude with Israel coming to the kingdom. (Acts 1:6,7)
(2) The day of Pentecost was the coronation day for Jesus Christ and the beginning of the new covenant. (Acts 2:32-36)
(3) The proclamation of the wonderful acts of God was spoken to the Jewish peoples in all the languages of their sojourning. This is the only recording we have of speaking in other languages in the first seven years of the Church. (Acts 2:1-16)
(3) About three thousand Jews were added to the Church at Pentecost. (Acts 2:41) Many of these will return to the land of their dispersion carrying the news of Messiah’s kingdom with them.
(4) Special signs and wonders are taking place through the hands of the apostles. This will continue throughout Acts. (Acts 2:43)
(5) A lame man receives a miracle healing through the apostles, and this brings about their first confrontation with the Jerusalem authorities. (Acts 3,4)
(6) The number of Jewish men in Jerusalem who accept Jesus as Messiah reaches about 5000. (Acts 4:4)
(7) A judgment is brought upon a Jewish couple, Ananias and Sapphira, for lying to the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5:3-11) This brings a soberness upon the believers.
(8) The number of converts steadily increases, as special miracles continue to take place through the apostolic band. Peter’s shadow passing over people brings healings. (Acts 5:12-16)
(9) A second confrontation with the authorities and the apostles are placed in prison. An angel delivers them and they continue to preach right in the temple complex. (Acts 5:17-32)
(10) The apostles are again brought before the Sanhedrin Council, but this time Gamaliel intervenes. They are released after a flogging. But the apostles continue right on teaching and preaching Jesus as Messiah. (Acts 5:27-42)
(11) Seven men are chosen to help care for the Hellenistic widows. (Acts 6:1-6)
(12) One of the seven, Stephen becomes the first martyr of the Church. The stoners of Stephen lay their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts6,7)
(13) A great persecution begins and this man Saul becomes it prime mover. (Acts 8)
(14) Another of the seven, Philip, goes to Samaria and a great ministry takes place there. Peter and John come on the scene and the door is opened for the Samaritan believers to enter the new covenant. (Acts 8)
(15) Philip goes to the desert and meets the eunuch. This man will carry the gospel back to Ethiopia. (Acts 8)
(16) The man Saul heads for Damascus to imprison Jewish believers, but he is accosted on the road by Jesus. He is blinded for three days, until a disciple names Ananias arrives, and Saul is brought into the new covenant. (Acts 9)
(17) Saul begins preaching Jesus and many more Jews turn to the Lord in Damascus. He has to be let down a wall to escape imprisonment by the authorities. (Acts 9)
(18) Saul goes to Jerusalem, but the believers are afraid of him. Barnabas introduces him to the apostles, and Saul begins ministering in the Jewish synagogues. He is sent to Tarsus to keep him safe.
(19) Peter travels through the region of Galilee, Samaria and Judea, ministering to believers and producing new disciples. He has two miracles that greatly increase the ranks of the Church. He raises up the lame man, Aeneas, and also brings back to life the disciple Tabitha. (Acts 9)
(20) The numbers of Jewish believers is in the multiplied thousands. The harvest has been rich and includes a number of priests. (Acts 9)
There it is in brief. Keep in view that we’ve covered seven years of harvest among the Jews of the land. The door for the Gentiles has yet to be opened. But it is quite near.
Acts 10 For God So Loved — The Gentiles”
The Jewish harvest has gone well. Many thousands of Jewish people, including a great many of their half-brothers, the Samaritans, and also including a number of priests, have received Jesus as Messiah of Israel. The time has come for the door of covenant to be opened to the Gentiles. In this study we will deal with the entire 10th chapter of Acts.
Vss1,2: “Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.”
…. Caesarea is on the coast, north of Joppa where Peter is staying. Cornelius was part of the Roman occupational forces in Israel. Both he and his 100 soldiers were all Romans.
…. “A devout man and one who feared God with all his household.” Cornelius had forsaken the gods of the Romans. He is an example of a righteous Gentile during his time. However, he was not a Jewish proselyte, or Peter would not have hesitated to enter his home.
…. “Gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.” Cornelius recognized the truth of the Jewish religion. His heart was compassionate to their needs. It wasn’t uncommon to find some of the Romans helping build synagogues, etc.
Vss3-6: “About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a
tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.'”
…. The angel appears to Cornelius while he is praying. A godly fear comes over him. But when the angel speaks his name, a sense of holiness prevails. Cornelius responds, “What is it, Lord?” (Lord or ‘Kurios‘, can also be translated ‘Master’. It is a title of deep respect. Lord Jesus Christ is ‘Kurios Iesous Christos‘.)
…. “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” The word for memorial is applied to but one other person in the New Testament writings. Jesus said of the lady who washed His bathed His feet in her tears, “Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory* of her.” (Cf. Mark14:9; Matt26:13) [*mnemosunon: Something done to arouse the memory of another: UBS Lexicon.]
…. “Dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon.” In the new covenant, angels are not given the role of communicating the gospel. It has to be done through redeemed men. In this case Peter must be summoned. He has been given the keys to open kingdom doors for the nations.
Vss7,8: “When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
…. “A devout soldier.” This soldier was deeply affected by Cornelius. He himself was a god fearing man, and could be trusted to relay Cornelius’ experience to Peter as only a godly person could do.
Vss9: “On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.”
…. “As they were on their way.” This is one of the great principles to learn about the work of the Lord. God always works on both ends. Peter is being prepared for a venture that will be beyond his imagination.
…. The sixth hour was a set time of prayer for the Jews. The early Jewish church continued with many of their ancient traditions. Peter was very much a Jew.
Vss10-16: “But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat!’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.’ Again a voice came to him a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.”
…. Peter’s vision was two-fold in purpose. Its primary emphasis was to prepare Peter for the entrance of the Gentiles into the new covenant. But it had a second purpose and that was to make Peter understand that the new covenant is not simply the covenant of Moses refurbished. It is a distinct covenant unto itself. Thus we have Gentiles admitted to the covenant, but we also see where former kosher laws have no place in the new covenant.
According to early Church writers, Mark served as Peter’s scribe. As I explained earlier, if this is the case then the gospel of Mark is Peter’s gospel. Listen carefully to a portion of Mark’s gospel and you will hear a parenthetical statement probably made by Peter. (It would fit Peter’s vision):
“When He had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, ‘Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?’ (Thus He declared all foods clean.)” (Mark 7:17-19)
The statement, ‘Thus He declared all foods clean,‘ is parenthetical. Peter would be commenting to Mark a truth that the Lord was teaching at the time, but that Peter didn’t catch until later on.
Vss17-23: “Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was
reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.'”
…. Notice how everything comes together. Peter is coming out of the vision and it has him perplexed. The men sent by Cornelius arrive and are inquiring for Peter. The Spirit of the Lord speaks directly to Peter, telling him to accompany the men “without misgivings.”
“Without misgivings” is ‘medeis diakrino.’ Peter is to make no judgment calls. He is going with them and carries no doubts as to whether this was of the Lord.
Vss21-23: “Peter went down to the men and said, ‘Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?’ They said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well-spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.’ So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.”
…. Once the men give their testimony about Cornelius, Peter does was any good Torah-observant Jew would do. He gets a handful of witnesses. (This belongs to the ‘two or three witnesses’ that is laid out in Scripture.)
I will simply highly the remainder of this chapter. Much is repetitive of the events that led up to this point.
Vss25-29: Peter arrives and Cornelius falls at his feet in an attitude of worship. Peter raises him up, “Stand up! I too am just a man.” When Peter enters the house, he finds a great many people assembled.
…. Peter’s first statement allows us to see that Cornelius was not a Jewish proselyte, but rather a Roman Gentile. He says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (The vision is working on Peter’s mind and heart.) The apostle then asks why he was sent for.
Vss30-33: In this portion Cornelius relates the visitation of the angel and his instructions to hear from Peter. He then says, “Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
…. Can you imagine the emotions running through that room, on both sides, that is, with the whole household of Cornelius, and with Peter and his group. They are in uncharted water. What does God have in mind? Now it’s Peter’s turn.
Vss34-43: Peter opens his mouth and begins to preach Jesus. Here is a summary:
…. “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality.” Peter is the first apostle to realize that the new covenant is not for Jewish ownership. Although it began with the Jews, God’s intention was to include all peoples of all the nations.
…. “You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed.”
…. “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”
…. “He is Lord of all.”
…. “They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.”
…. “God raised Him up on the third day.”
…. “This is the one who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.”
…. “All the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
Vss44-46: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God…”
…. Keep in mind that this is seven years after Pentecost. This is the second time we read of people speaking in other languages. According to the testimony it was exactly the same as had happened at Pentecost. It is interesting that of the 35+ years of recorded early church history, only three times is there a record of people speaking in other languages, and each time is a group setting.
…. The circumcised (Jewish) believers “were amazed.” Why the amazement? They were amazed because no distinction was made between the Jews on the day of Pentecost and the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius.
…. But why the speaking in other languages? It was as though the Lord was placing the house of Cornelius on the day of Pentecost, and accounting to the Gentiles full and equal rights in the new covenant. Peter will later explain this to the Jewish believers.
…. Once again we see where an apostle had to be present to open the kingdom door for different peoples. Peter later calls attention to him having been given the authority to open the door for the Gentiles. (Cf. Acts 15:7-9)
…. This is also why we hear Paul write, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs
according to promise.” (Gal3:27 -29)
Vss46-48: “…Then Peter answered, ‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’ And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.”
…. The early believers put a high premium on being fully immersed in water. Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1Pet3:21) Water baptism was considered the rite of covenant.
Acts 11:1-26 Traditions and the Expanding Gospel
We completed our last study in Acts with Peter staying at the house of Cornelius for a few days. In the meantime word gets back to the church in Jerusalem that Peter has transgressed the traditions of the elders by entering the house of a Gentile, and by eating with Gentiles. It is causing quite a stir.
The case in view is that the early Jewish church had to work through traditions that did not belong to the new covenant. In fact many of these traditions weren’t even part of the covenant of Moses. (More in this in a moment.)
Are you following the studies well? Keep in mind that the best way to study Acts, is to become a participant in the happenings. Try to set aside 21st Century theological thinking, and see yourself as a close observer of the happenings. Ready?
This is Acts025 – Acts 11:1-26 Traditions and the Expanding Gospel.
Vss1-3: “Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.'”
…. “The apostles and the brethren throughout Judea heard…” Keep in view that Peter is the only apostle involved in the matter of Cornelius. But the word spreads rapidly. The act of the eating with Gentiles was a grave offence in the Jewish religion of that time. Emotions are running high. Could it be true? Of course this is the norm for Acts.
…. “Those who were circumcised took issue with him…” This phrase may seem odd since all Jewish men were circumcised, but it is a reference to the party of the Pharisees. The ESV version reads, “The circumcision party criticized him.”
…. “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” This accusation made by the party of Pharisees is quite similar to what the Pharisees had accused Jesus of doing. It says, “Both the Pharisees and of the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.'” (Luke 15:2)
Note: There were many God-fearing Pharisees who came into the true knowledge of salvation by grace through faith. The danger area zone had to do with ‘traditions’ that had undermined the writings of Moses. These traditions often set aside what had been taught by Moses. Jesus referred to them as ‘leaven.’ (The Talmud was written by
descendants of the Pharisees.)
Listen to the Lord’s warning to the disciples — “‘How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that He [Jesus] did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matt16:11,12)
Vss4-14: Peter recounts the story of Cornelius.
Vs15: “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.”
…. “Just as He did upon us.” Peter equates what happened at the house of Cornelius as exactly what happened with the Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost. Therefore the speaking in other languages with Cornelius was not some esoteric speech. It was
…. “At the beginning.” Peter indicates that this is the second time this experience of speaking in other languages has taken place. From this we can see that speaking in other languages was the exception and not the rule for those experiencing the new covenant. Had it been the rule, Peter would not have gone back to the day of Pentecost as a reference point.
We may wonder why speaking in other languages was made part of the Cornelius experience, but we will see why in a moment.
Vs16: “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'”
…. Peter is recalling what Jesus said just before His ascension. It was at the house of Cornelius, that Peter began to realize that all believers, regardless of race or culture, were to have their hearts baptized in the Holy Spirit, or what can be termed, the Spirit of the covenant. The speaking in other languages served a different purpose.
Vs17: “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
…. Peter silences all arguments. The issue is that God made no distinction between the Jewish and the Gentile believers’ entrance into the Church. It was as if the Lord reached forward in time, and then brought the Gentiles back to the day of Pentecost, thus making them full participants.
As for the speaking in other languages, the Spirit of the Lord gives whatever gift He wills, to whoever He wills, whenever He wills, and for whatever purpose He wills. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we told to look for speaking in other languages as a sign that a person has entered the covenant of Christ.
Vs18: “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'”
…. It appears everything is settled at this point, but what to do with Gentile believers is going to surface many times in the future. The Pharisee party may have thought that all Cornelius needed now was to be circumcised. The problem with this view is that the Lord had already accepted Cornelius fully without benefit of circumcision.
Vs19-21: “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”
…. The scattered disciples did not know about the events with Cornelius, so they shared the gospel with Jews only. At some point in time certain disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit to begin speaking to the Greeks. Perhaps the word had gotten to them concerning Cornelius. The ‘Greeks’ in this case would be both Greek speaking Jews as well as Gentiles. In any event the door was wide open for the Gentiles.
…. “The hand of the Lord was with them.” The Lord was directing their work, and bearing witness with large numbers of conversions.
Vss22-24: “The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And
considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.”
…. “They sent Barnabas off to Antioch.” Barnabas was a Hellenist Jew from the country of Cyprus. He was an obvious choice to serve as an emissary from the apostles to Antioch.
…. “When he witnessed the grace of God he rejoiced.” What was happening at Antioch was amazing. Barnabas simply rejoiced, and then encouraged them in the Lord.
…. “Considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” In addition to the great number of those who now believed in Jesus, Barnabas himself was responsible to bringing in many more. The Arabic translation says, “And he drew a large multitude to the Lord.”
Vss25,26: “And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
…. “To look for Saul.” The Holy Spirit no doubt placed on the heart of Barnabas to bring Saul to Antioch. Barnabas was well aware of Saul’s calling in that he was to be a minister to both Jews and Gentiles. The time had come for Saul’s next assignment.
…. “For an entire year they … taught considerable numbers.” The church at Antioch grew by leaps and bounds. Over time it became the major center for evangelism to the world. The Antiochene Church became Saul’s home church, and its members early on consisted of both Jews and Gentiles.
…. “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” This statement has received mixed reviews over the years. Some say it was a term of derision or mockery given to the believers by outsiders. But according to the prophets, God’s people of the new covenant were to be given a new name “which the mouth of the Lord will designate.” (Isaiah 62:2)
On the name Christian — The book of Isaiah is often referred to as the fifth gospel. The reason is because it so clearly sets forth God’s Messiah, the new covenant, and the Church, and Israel’s history. Here is the portion that speaks of a new name to be given to God’s people:
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will designate.” (Isaiah 62:1,2)
(1) Early believers were called by various names. Sometimes they were called Galileans, or, Nazarenes. The early church historian, Epiphanius says that the disciples were actually called ‘Jessaeans’ before they took the name of Christians. This name had regard to David’s father. The prophecy goes; “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” (Isa11:1 – A Messianic prophecy.) But the name that became the identifying name for new covenant believers, was Christian.
(2) The term “mouth of the Lord” is a prophetic expression. It speaks of a prophet speaking from the Spirit of the Lord. That believers were first “called” Christians at Antioch, suggests that this name came by way of the prophet, or prophets. In any event it became the historical name for peoples of the new covenant. Peter himself says that we are to glorify God in this name. (1Pet4:16)
(3) The name Christian comes from Christ. It signifies ‘anointed ones.’ What more appropriate name would there be for new covenant believers. Christians belong to Christ and share in His anointing. Jesus Himself described a new covenant believer in the terms of a prophet. And John says that all believers have the anointing dwelling in them. (Cf. John 7:38; 1 John 2:20,27)
In the new covenant the prophetic anointing has passed into all believers. This is why you don’t find the same stress on prophets as you do in the Old Testament. It’s not that there are no new covenant prophets, it is simply that their role differs considerable from the prophet of the former testament. In the new covenant no believer has to depend on a prophet in order to hear from the Lord.
Acts 11:27 – 12:25 The First Apostle Goes Home
In reading Acts it is easy to get the idea that things are happening in fairly rapid succession. But this simply isn’t the case. We have already covered seven years of church history. Acts covers roughly thirty-five years.
Think about it — If the apostles were about the same age as Jesus, and the Lord was crucified at age thirty-three, this means the apostles are now forty years old. When we complete Acts, the apostles will be over sixty years old.
Let’s continue …
In our last study of Acts we found that the name ‘Christian’ had been given to new covenant believers. We also saw where the Old Testament prophet said that God’s people would be given a new name. However the name Christian took a while to complete its rounds. The early Jewish believers in Judea were generally known
as ‘the sect of the Nazarenes.’
Where are we now in the history of the early Church? Cornelius came to the Lord about seven years after Pentecost. A great movement has taken hold in Antioch. Barnabas brings Saul to Antioch, and they teach in the Church there for a year. The beginning of this study will put us at about eight years after Pentecost. It will extend itself to about eleven years after Pentecost.
Acts 11:27-30: “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”
… The role of the early church prophet was not only to expound on the prophetic mysteries of the former testament, they were also gifted to foretell future events. They were forth tellers with an additional gift of foretelling. It is known that the prophets during that time were relatively itinerating in that they traveled from place to place. Some historians seem to think that Agabus was one of the seventy disciples that Jesus had sent out.
…. Agabus speaks of a famine about to descend on the entire world. A number of ancient secular writers speak of this famine, including Josephus. Josephus said that it was especially hard on Judea. It is quite possible that this famine was a judgment from God. But the believers were to be prepared beforehand. The church in Antioch sent contributions to Jerusalem by Barnabas and Saul.
Acts 12:1,2: “Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.”
…. This statement fixes our time frame in the early part of 44 a.d., which is the date of Herod’s death. (About eleven years after Pentecost.) Once again we see spaces of time in the book of Acts.
…. Troublesome times were on the Church. About the time Barnabas and Saul brought the contribution to Jerusalem, Herod put the apostle James to death with a sword. Herod was taking over the wishes of the Sanhedrin.
…. Death by the sword was one of the most disgraceful of capital punishments allowed by the Jews. It was usually reserved for those considered to be deceivers of the people. In later Talmudic writings, Jesus is spoken of as ‘the deceiver in Israel.’ If you recall, after the burial of Jesus, the chief priests and Pharisees said to Pilate, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘ After three days I am to rise again.’ Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” (Matt27:63,64)
Vss3-5: “When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”
…. Herod took advantage of this feast to give the Jewish leadership a special present. The leadership was especially happy to see Peter placed in prison. Of course Peter was familiar with the prison. He had been there before. So he settles for a night’s sleep. The man Peter doesn’t seem to be worried for the future.
…. This took place during Passover. Four quads would be sixteen soldiers. Seems everyone remembered that this man Peter had been delivered out of prison before. Four soldiers were assigned to Peter on each watch. He would be chained to two soldiers, and the other two kept watch outside the cell.
…. God’s peoples throughout the city were praying fervently for Peter. This was a moment of crisis for the church. One apostle had been beheaded. Another was waiting the same judgment.
Vss6-17: Rather than comment on each verse, let me give a brief synopsis on Peter’s deliverance by an angel. An angel of the God appears and light fills Peter’s cell. What is Peter doing? He is sleeping. The angel strikes Peter on the side to awaken him. He is told to gird himself and put on his sandals. Peter thought he was dreaming. The chains fall off. They walked out of the prison, past the guards, and then out of the city gate. The huge iron gate opens by itself. Peter then goes to the house of John Mark’s mother, Mary. After some astonishment, Peter motions for them to be silent. He says, “Report these things to James and the Brethren.” Peter then leaves for another place.
Vss18,19: “Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.”
…. Here we see the severity of Herod. Herod would kill anyone who got in his way, or who questioned him. He was of a vile temper. Herod actually murdered his own wife, Mariamne. In addition he murdered Mariamne’s mother and his own three sons. There was a common saying that it was better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.
…. It should also be noted that the rule of Rome for soldiers was, if you let a prisoner escape, you forfeit your life for his. In this case it wasn’t only Herod’s vile temper, but also the following of the rule of Rome.
Vss20-23: “Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’ And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.”
…. The Jewish historian Josephus says that Herod’s apparel was of silver, and when the early morning sun hit it, it sent out brilliant rays. This was one reason for their outcry in saying Herod was a god. But there was another reason — Herod struck fear into anyone he was around. The cry was a desperate at flattery. Of course Herod took it to himself.
…. Josephus records this incident and says that the angel appeared in the form of an owl. But the Christian historian Eusebuis, says Herod looked up and saw an angel sitting over his head. The angel smote him with a disease. What was the cause? Herod took to himself the glory that belonged to God alone. But it was also time to avenge God’s servants of whom Herod had dared to touch.
Vss24,25: “But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.”
…. This is where we can see the truth in what the prophet said; “‘No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:17)
…. After the death of Herod, believers became even more vocal in their declaration of Jesus as Messiah, and many more converts were added to the faith. The opposition was losing ground.
…. Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch. They take John Mark with them. From here we are about to enter into another chapter of history.
Acts 13 Barnabas and Saul Sent out
Our main objective in the Acts studies is to see how certain doctrines developed in the early Church. We are at a point where everything from this point is going to revolve around the travels of Paul. To keep the studies from bogging down in minutiae, I will leave off much detailing of geography and places, and will concentrate primarily on events and messages.
This study will put us in 45 a.d.. It has been fifteen years since Pentecost 33 a.d. Great things have been happening, and great things are still in the making. With this chapter we enter into what is the considered the second part of Acts. From this point Acts shifts from Peter and the church in Jerusalem, to Paul and the church of Antioch.
Vss1-3: “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”
…. “Prophets and teachers” – In this case the terms prophets and teachers do not necessarily speak of particular offices. The Greek allows for all five men to be prophetic teachers. A prophetic teacher could give insights in the Scriptures, that is, forth tell, and in certain instances provide something concerning the future, that is, foretell.
…. “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul.” – A revelation was made to one of the five, and they all in turn bore witness. Paul later writes about this feature. He said, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.” (1Co14:29)
…. “When they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” It wasn’t the fasting and praying that empowered Barnabas and Saul to their work. They already had this from the Lord. The fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands were to make the Church one with the work to be done. This would have been done under the oversight of the Holy Spirit.
Vss4,5: “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper.”
…. “Being sent out by the Holy Spirit.” There is no greater rule of faith than this. If what we are doing is not under the oversight of the Holy Spirit, then what we are doing cannot be of the Lord.
…. “Proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” The new covenant had to be offered to the Jews first before it could be given to the Gentiles. It wasn’t a matter of God placing the Gentiles as second-class citizens in His kingdom. It is a matter of how His redemption program was set up. The Jewish nation was to provide the Messiah, and the new covenant was their responsibility to take to the entire world.
…. “John as their helper.” John Mark is the writer of the gospel of Mark. As earlier noted, John Mark was said to be Peter’s scribe. For this reason the gospel of Mark could also be thought of as the gospel of Peter.
Vss6-13: In the city of Paphos a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, or son of Jesus, tries to turn the procounsul away from the faith. This is the first time we hear Saul also spoken of as Paul. (Saul was his Hebrew name. Paul was his Greek name.) Paul says:
…. “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” Paul then speaks blindness over the false prophet Elymas, and out of this the procounsel believes the message of the Lord.
Elymas is spoken of as an interpretation of his name. It may come from an Arabic word which means to ‘mutter.’ Peeping, whispering, and muttering were trademarks of spiritists.
…. “John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” While John Mark was young and inexperienced, it doesn’t say why he left. However, this did become a point of contention later on between Paul and Barnabas.
Vss14-16: “But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, ‘Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.’ Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, ‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:'”
…. “They went into the synagogue and sat down.” It was the custom among the Jews for the Law and Prophets to be read, and then a message to be given. It was also the custom to allow any male of age to speak at the end of the service. This custom paved the way for the gospel to be presented in orderly fashion to the Jewish peoples. The officials invited their visitors to address the assembled peoples.
…. “Paul stood up.” This is the first time we find Paul taking the lead. But the lead will be his throughout the remainder of Acts.
Vss16-37: “…and motioning with his hand said, ‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel….”
…. Paul begins with a common form of address to the Jewish peoples. In saying, ‘you who fear God’ Paul is addressing the proselytes, and to those known as God-fearers. The apostle then begins outlining the history of the Hebrew people.
Paul quickly goes to his point; “From the descendants of this man [David] God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.” He continues on to John the Baptist, then to how the Jewish authorities had Jesus crucified, then the resurrection and appearances of Jesus.
The apostle speaks from the prophets, and concludes with the following remarks:
Vss38,39: “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.”
…. One term that will continuously stand out in the preaching of the apostles, is the word ‘believe.’ Salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. We are to add nothing to this, and we are to take nothing away from it. But the key is understanding that the word ‘believe’ is a thing of the heart. When a person believes in the Biblical sense, it means he is taking to himself Jesus as Lord. The confession of that Lordship is merely a response to what has already taken place in the heart.
Next we have the warning that is often given to Jewish peoples….
Vss40,41: “Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: ‘Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.'”
…. God gave this warning through the prophet Habakkuk, with a view to the rejecters of Jesus. The warning was not to Gentiles, but rather to those who should have accepted Jesus, that is, to the house of Israel.
Vss42,43: “As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.
…. “Many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas.” The preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ had such an impact on Judaism that it could be compared to a sword. Many hundreds of thousands of Jews especially in the diaspora, turned to Jesus with all their heart. But it was the leadership in Jerusalem that renounced Him.
Here is where we begin to understand what Jesus meant, when He said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worth of Me….” (Cf. Matt10:34-37)
Let’s see this happen…
Vss44-47: “The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.'”
…. “The whole city assembled.” The crowd outside the synagogue would largely be Gentiles. They want to hear this message.
…. “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy.” The term ‘Jews’ speaks of a certain group, not all the Jewish folk. Why were they jealous? In no way would they to accept that Gentiles could be equal to them in a covenant relationship with the God of Israel.
…. “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first.” Why was it necessary for God’s message concerning His Messiah be spoken to the Jews first? Listen to Paul’s explanation; “To whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh…” (Rom9:4,5)
…. “Judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.” No person is worthy of eternal life based on their genealogy or personal merits. These rejecters proved themselves unworthy in their rejection of the gospel.
…. “We are turning to the Gentiles.” This was to be phase two for God’s new covenant redemption program for the early Church. You will find this pattern repeating through the travels of Paul. It may sound like, ‘If the Jews accept God’s message, then the Gentiles will not be offered the message.’ Quite the contrary. It was God’s will from the beginning that the message be given to the whole world.
Thus we hear….
Vs47: “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.” The apostle is quoting the prophet Isaiah. (Cf. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6)
There are a great many prophecies given concerning God’s love for the Gentiles. We will cover more of them in future studies. Just keep in mind that the Lord setting aside the Hebrew peoples was not an end in itself. His purpose was to have a people prepared who could carry His message of redemption to all the world. The sad thing is that many of the Jews had become so self-righteous that they thought the message was all about them. Not so. It was about God’s love for all humanity.
Vs48: “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
…. “When the Gentiles heard this they began rejoicing.”
The Gentile reference here is not about proselytes. It speaks to Gentiles in general. And the joy of the Gentiles overshadowed the grumblings and the blaspheming of the Jewish opponents; at least for now.
…. “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
Some would have this to read, “As many as were disposed to eternal life believed” but that does damage to the language. The Greek for ‘appointed’ is ‘tasso.’ It means to assign someone to a particular task, to arrange, to set in order. This sentence can also be translated, “Those who had been designated for eternal life became believers.”
The word ‘tasso‘ is seen in the following Scriptures: (I’ll use caps for the English word.)
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had DESIGNATED.” (Matt28:16)
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are ESTABLISHED by God.” (Romans 13:1)
This issue of being appointed to eternal life is not something we easily grasp. To the natural mind it seems like unfairness, but we have to balance this out with the understanding that, not only is God totally just in all His ways, but He is also ‘all knowing’, and ‘ever present.’ This means that God is present in past, in the present, and in the future. He is outside of time and He often speaks in those tenses. For this reason it can be said that any person who is going to be saved, already has his name recorded in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation speaks of the saved having their names recorded in His book of life from the foundation of the world.
Vss49-52: “And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
…. “The word of the Lord was being spread.” The gospel is a powerful message. Paul tells us that it does its own work in the hearts of those who believe.
…. “The Jews incited the devout women …. and leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas.” These are likely Gentile proselytes. You can see what is happening. These proselytes have done everything to become part of the Jewish religion. Now their religious feelings are being challenged by the fact that any Gentiles can partake in new covenant salvation without becoming a Jew.
…. “Shook the dust off their feet … continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The disciples did exactly what Jesus had instructed; “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt10:14)
The disciples being filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit may be a general statement concerning both the apostolic band and the many new converts to the faith.
Acts 14 Opposition Follows the Apostles
A major dilemma is on the horizon for the early church. The new covenant is radically different from the Law of Moses. Gentiles are turning to Jesus by the thousands. But questions are looming. Are there to be two Christianities, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles? Do Gentile converts need to be circumcised and come under the covenant of Moses? Is the new covenant simply the covenant of Moses made new, or is it altogether a new covenant?
The questions are many but they will have to wait for now. The apostles and elders must meet together. This crisis can only be settled under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We don’t get to that until Acts 15.
For now let get back to Paul and Barnabas. This is Acts029 – Acts 14
Opposition Follows the Apostles.
Vss1,2: “In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.”
…. Iconium was part of the Roman Galatia. Paul will later write the churches of Galatia, with warnings about turning to a false gospel.
…. “Spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed.”
The penetrating power of the gospel was so strong, that it resulted in a great many of the Jews and Greeks turning to Jesus. Once again we see the makeup of the synagogue, that is, Jews, or Judeans as they were often called, and Greek proselytes.
…. “But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.”
The Greek word for ‘stirred up’ is ‘epegerio‘. It means to arouse or excite. The unbelieving Jews knew exactly what to say to poison the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. But this takes place outside the synagogue. The unbelieving Jews were unable to stand against the gospel as it was being presented. Their only means of defense was to stir up opposition throughout the city.
Vs3: “Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.”
…. The apostles continued to preach boldly. And the gospel did what it is designed to do, it drew the peoples to Jesus. As for the signs and wonders, these were not things the apostles did on their own. The Lord provided the working of wonders according to His own will. This is a lesson all believers should learn. There are no ‘wonder workers’ in the body of Christ. All works of power are the doing of the Lord alone.
Vss4-7: “But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; and there they continued to preach the gospel.”
…. “The people of the city were divided.”
We may find it odd how anyone could disbelieve when the gospel was going forth with signs and wonders, but it happens. In this case there was another issue involved. The peoples of that time were very superstitious. Sorcerers and false prophets abounded, and the working of demonic signs were common. You can be sure the nonbelieving Jews used this to their advantage.
…. “Fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe.”
It wasn’t simply a matter of saving their own lives. They left behind a people who had come to know Jesus, and it was time to spread the gospel in other parts. It is more likely that the Holy Spirit directed them to their next venture.
Jesus had instructed the disciples, “When they persecute you in one city, flee to the next.” (Matt10:23)
Vss8-18: I will provide a synopsis on these verses. At Lystra, Paul saw that a lame man had faith to be healed. From this came a miracle healing. The peoples in their superstitious zeal thought the gods had come down. They began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes. (Zeus was the supreme deity of the pagans, and Hermes was the messenger or speaker for the gods.) The priest of Zeus came with oxen to offer sacrifices with the crowds.
Here again we see the heart of all true servants. Both Barnabas and Paul tore their robes, and began crying out that they were only men who came with the good news that the peoples were to turn from their idolatry to the living God. Eventually the crowds were restrained.
But not for long. Sure enough, the enemy is fast on their trail. It says.
Vss19,20: “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.”
…. These Jews who followed after Paul and Barnabas were not simply sinners of the regular sort. They had made themselves avowed enemies of the cross. Think about this for a moment. Does this not bring back a memory. The man Saul was an enemy of Jesus before he became the great apostle Paul.
But how could the unbelieving Jews turn the peoples against the apostles? It may have been through the embarrassment of the people. These Jewish men were probably well adapted at psychology. It happens today. Some men are masters at crowd manipulation.
…. “Stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.”
This is a horrid picture. The Gentiles not only stoned Paul, but they drug him through their streets and out the gate. The very ones who wanted to worship him as a god, are now treating him with scorn and ridicule. He was left on open ground, unworthy of being buried.
Was Paul dead? Most likely. This may be the time that Paul spoke of being caught up into paradise. He wrote:
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago– whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows– such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows–was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” (2Co12:2-4)
…. “While the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city.”
Could there be a picture of bravery greater than this? Paul walks right back into Lystra. Somewhere during these happenings there were people coming to the Lord. Paul will shortly come back through Lystra to strength the disciples that have been made there. But for now he needs to get on with the Master’s business. The next morning after being left for dead, Paul departed for another city. There was so much work to be done.
Vss21-23: “After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'”
…. “Returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.” Each of these cities had been troublesome places for the apostles. Yet the souls of the new disciples were precious to God. They needed to be encouraged.
…. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
This statement is troublesome to some, for the simple reason that it is the commonly taught that we enter the kingdom of God when we are born again. So is Paul speaking of God’s heavenly kingdom, and that we will face many trials in this life? That is a good answer. But what Paul is saying can also be understood in its Hebrew sense.
The word for ‘enter’ is ‘eiserchomai‘. This word includes the idea of ‘coming under’ or ‘taking possession’ or ‘have part in, or ‘share in’ and ‘live among.’ Paul may well be speaking of the believers coming under kingdom rule. The term kingdom of God to the Hebrews usually meant the direct rule of God.
When we first become believers we know so little about how God rules in our lives. But the ancient people of God had a grasp on His rule. This is why every morning they would say, “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai echad.” (Or, ‘Hear O Israel. The Lord is our God. The Lord is One.’) And this is how they were taught to put on the kingdom of God.
So, through many tribulations we learn the rule of God. (Something to think about.)
Vs23: “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
…. You can be sure that the elders set in place would be similar to that of the synagogues. These gatherings of disciples needed their own order and the synagogue pattern would have been normal for them. Actually there were various names that the leaders went by, depending somewhat on the language and culture. Elders, pastors, and bishops were different ways of referring to the same leadership.
Since they were all young in the faith, the initial eldership may have come largely from those who turned to Jesus from the Jewish faith. This would be either Jews or proselytes. They would already have a background of the Scriptures. But it was serious enough to be accompanied by prayer and fasting. Whoever these elders were, the Holy Spirit would have given a spiritual consensus to all those involved.
Vss24-28: A synopsis: The apostles continue their journey, sharing the gospel, and then arrive back at Antioch, from where they had begun. It says, “When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.”
… It is generally estimated that from the sending out of Barnabas and Paul from Antioch, up to the council in Jerusalem was approximately five years. This means we have covered another five years of early Church history. The council was held in 51 a.d. That date would place the apostles ages at fifty years and older.
We will conclude the study here. Our next study is going to cover some very interesting issues. “What do we do with the Gentiles?”
Acts 15:1-29 The Apostolic Council of Jerusalem
Gentiles are turning to the Lord by the multiplied thousands. To this point the church has been decidedly Jewish. Many ancient Jewish customs have been taken for granted. But the Gentiles know little about these customs. Yet the Lord has accepted them just as they are. How then are the Jewish and Gentiles Christians to have fellowship?
And so we turn to the most important study in the book of Acts. The council of Acts 15 is the only church council in history that can claim to have a direct bearing on the Christian conscience. Others may claim it, but only this council has been put in place by the apostles themselves, and has been made part of the sacred Scriptures. What happens in this council will determine the direction of the church throughout the age.
Vs1: “Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'”
….It will later be shown that these men had taken upon themselves to teach a necessity of circumcision. It is also likely that they put themselves off as representing James and the apostles in Jerusalem. After the decision of the council, this same group will continue to frustrate the work of the gospel. (To be covered later.)
Vs2: “And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.”
…. Keep in mind that Paul and Barnabas are apostles themselves. But it was crucial that the Church be of one mind. This issue could easily split the church into various factions.
…. The term ‘apostles and elders‘ marks the government of the Church in Jerusalem. James was the presiding elder.
Vs3: “Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren.”
…. The word had been spreading and when the group from Antioch brought first hand reports of the Gentiles turning to Jesus, joy was the overwhelming reaction.
Vs4: “When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.”
…. The church in Jerusalem had heard the reports also, and they gathered to listen to Paul and Barnabas. The apostles and elders in Jerusalem received them as special envoys of the church in Antioch. You can be sure that the general reaction was the same as it had been in other churches. The glory of the Lord was being revealed to all peoples! Of course there is a group who will cause deep concern at the meeting.
Vs5: “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.'”
…. The joy over Gentiles receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior was soon dampened after Paul and Barnabas shared their report. Some of the sect of the Pharisees went to work, demanding that the Gentiles be circumcised. But this is not something new that would disappear. There have always been groups who place additions to our salvation in Christ that are not Scriptural.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this group did not represent all the Pharisees. Many of the Pharisees truly loved Jesus and were not a party to the troublers. Paul himself came from the Pharisees.
Vs6: “The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.”
…. The church is not mention here, but later verses allow us to understand that a greater part of the church was present. Feelings were running high, and all parties were allowed to offer their thoughts. You can be sure this was an exhausting moment. The apostles themselves may have not have participated in much of these discussions.
What happens next will cause everyone to get quiet. One of the apostles of the Lamb begins to speak. Peter is held in deep admiration by all parties. A hush comes over the assembly.
Vs7: “After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.”
…. When Peter speaks of ‘the early days’ he is referring to Cornelius. This had happened several years ago. The council takes place in approximately 50 a.d. Cornelius came to the Lord several years earlier.
Vss8,9: “And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”
…. Peter explains that God looks at the heart alone. In doing this He made no difference between Jews and Gentiles. This is something the Pharisees opposers did not want to hear, but truth is truth. What Peter is sharing is crucial to the Christian faith. There are no conditions to be met for God’s work of salvation other than believing in the message of Jesus Christ. Peter’s point goes further. There can only be one body, and faith alone will determine who becomes part of the body of Christ.
Here it comes….
Vss10,11: “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”
…. What a stunning statement! Peter tells the assembly what the true message of the church is to be. We are all saved the same way. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Any other gospel that does not bring this emphasis cannot be accounted a true gospel.
Now it’s Paul’s turn again…
Vs12: “All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.”
…. Can you imagine the presence of the Lord that revealed itself in these moments. Everyone else has had had their say, and now the great apostles of the church are speaking.
After Peter comes Paul and Barnabas. These men of God relate their experiences, and share from the miracles and the many conversions. What a spell-binding moment.
Next it will be time for James to speak. Let’s take a moment to share a bit on James. Not only is James the brother of our Lord Jesus, but he is also bishop of the church in Jerusalem. (Bishop is the presiding elder.) We also need to remember that Jesus appeared to James by himself. All these things count for the important role that James had in the Jerusalem church.
There is another reason that James held such esteem with the Jewish Christians. James was of the house of David. This was a distinction of great honor among the Jews.
We can see why the Lord used James to give the Jerusalem church a person of whom they could rally around. As for the apostles, they were never given the role of being ‘over’ any local church group in the sense of pastoring. They were to lay the foundations. Each church would have its own governing body.
James is going to sum up the proceedings. There is no question that the apostles are in agreement, and that a spiritual consensus is in place. We will see this shortly. But the fact that James takes the lead should silence any notion of papal authority. Everyone remains quiet as James speaks.
Let’s hear what he has to say:
Vss13,14: “After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, ‘Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.”
…. This is the only place in Scripture where Peter is referred to by his Hebrew name.
Vss15-18: “With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuilt the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My Name’, says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.”
…. The essence of this prophecy is that God intended from the very beginning to have a people from all the nations. The tabernacle (booth) of David has its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. There is more to this prophecy but we can deal with that if questions arise. (The tabernacle of David is a prophetic picture of the new covenant. The tabernacle of Moses represented the covenant of Law.)
Vss19,20: “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.”
…. When James says ‘it is my judgment’, he is making a summation for the apostolic council. The summation is not, however, an issue of making the Gentiles responsible for the Noahide laws, while the Jews are responsible for the Mosaic laws. It is about table fellowship.
The actual problem centered on how to bring Gentile believers into fellowship with Jewish believers, so that they could have things in common, such as table fellowship. The Jews were very sensitive about many things. Some of the problem area came from the traditions of the elders. Over time these extras would disappear.
The issue was this: The Jew was not to require more of his Gentile brother than these afore mentioned things, and the Gentile brother was not to concede less than these things to his Jewish brother. Paul lays this principle out in Romans 14, and in other places.
Vs21: “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
…. The point James is making is that as the gospel goes forth, there will be many opportunities to minister to the Jewish peoples and in their synagogues. Therefore God’s new people are to be careful to not offend the Jewish peoples. It is estimated that 10% of the Roman Empire at that time was Jewish or Jewish converts.
Paul later elaborates on this, when he says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.” (1Co9:20,21)
Vs22: “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas– Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren….”
…. The entire apostolic assembly came into agreement. The principle was established. Leading men from the Jerusalem church would accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to give additional testimony concerning the findings of the council.
The letter is sent as follows:
Vss23-29: “and they sent this letter by them …
‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.
‘Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.'”
Here are the things to take note of:
(1) The letter represents the full consensus of the apostles and elders of the church of Jerusalem. “Having become of one mind.” The consensus certainly would include both Peter and Paul. These apostles had become close friends through the years.
(2) The letter includes the testimony of the Holy Spirit; “Seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials.”
(3) The issue was that Gentile believers are under no obligation to observe Jewish traditions. It is certainly fine for Jewish believers to do so as long as these traditions do not nullify the freedom that belongs to the full community of faith, or, that these traditions do not become overstressed so that the body of Christ becomes divided.
Acts 15:1-29 The Apostolic Council of Jerusalem
We will pick up from the council of Acts 15, and review the happenings from the council until Paul begins his second missionary journey. Paul’s second missions trip will cover four years; 50 a.d. to 54 a.d. Assuming that the apostles were near the same age as Jesus, this second mission trip will put Paul around 50 years of age at its beginning.
The council of Acts 15 played a major role in releasing the Jesus Messianic movement from its Judaic matrix, and from any bindings of the covenant of Moses. And now that Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were in the same boat, the Jewish harvest would begin to slacken over time. The gospel had to be presented to the Jew first. Then it was to go into the many cultures of the world. This was God’s plan. The whole world must be given the gospel of God’s saving grace.
From this point the Acts of the Apostles will center almost exclusively on the apostle Paul. We know very little about the twelve apostles other than legends, but with Paul we are given a major portion of the New Testament. His writings are the earliest we have of the Christian canon, and it is Paul’s writings that help give Christianity its spiritual shape throughout the church age. His role in the spread of Christianity is without comparison. (This will be one of our shorter studies.)
Vss30,31: “So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.”
…. The overwhelming joy was due to fact that it was now certain. All the apostles and elders in Jerusalem were in full accord with the truth of the gospel. Believers in the new covenant are to be given Christian liberty. But it wasn’t a matter of discarding the writings of the Hebrew prophets. It was a matter of understanding covenants. The older testament could be used as a tool of instruction, as long as it was used ‘lawfully.’ (That is, in light of the new covenant, and of our salvation by grace through faith.)
Vss32-35: “Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message. After they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out. But it seemed good to Silas to remain there. But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord.”
…. A larger group of men accompanied Judas and Silas to Antioch. When Judas returned to Jerusalem with the group, Silas and others of the group chose to remain. There was much teaching to be done. And Silas is going to become a partner in missions with Paul.
Vss36-41: “After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
…. These few Scriptures are full of history. But since Acts is a basic chronology on the early Church development, we are left with a number of spaces. What we see happening at this point is the developing of two mission teams. Paul and Silas will be one team. Barnabas and John Mark will make up the other. However, this is also the last mention of Barnabas or John Mark in Acts.
Perhaps it should also be noted that not all disagreements between believers are necessarily fleshly. Sometimes the Lord is working behind the scenes and the outcome will be a blessing. So was Paul simply lacking in grace in his refusal to take John Mark with him? Or was there more to the story. And why did John Mark leave Paul and Barnabas on their first mission’s trip? Is it possible that Mark was not yet ready for the message he heard Paul preaching? Perhaps the Jerusalem council helped settle his heart. (Of course this is all conjecture.)
In any event, at some point Mark does become a blessing to Paul. While in prison, Paul wrote Timothy, saying, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” (2Tim4:11)
Acts 16 The Vision (Come Help Us)
We’ve passed the half way mark in our Acts studies. I plan to change the format for our future studies. Along with my personal commentary I will ask questions that will encourage things to think about. The questions will be identified by Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. (This study has 12 questions.)
I also want to encourage you to read the Scriptures we are studying in your Bible. In some cases I will give a brief synopsis of a Scripture portion without presenting the Scripture portion itself.
Vss1-3: “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”
…. We may wonder why Paul circumcised Timothy, since Timothy and his mother were already believers. On the other hand, Titus was not required to be circumcised even though he met with the Church in Jerusalem.
Q1: What was the difference?
Q2: Do you consider this to be a compromise on Paul’s part? (Why or why not?)
Vss4-8: Paul returned to several churches that he and Barnabas had pioneered, sharing the letter from the council of Jerusalem. The result was always the same, joy and strengthening. But an interesting thing is seen in these travels….
…. It says, “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”
…. And, “…they were trying to go to Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.”
Notice how the Holy Spirit guides Paul and Silas to the places they are to minister. These are deeply spiritual men.
Q3: Is it possible to be led by the Spirit of the Lord in such a clear fashion today? (Do you have a testimony you can share in this area?)
Vss9,10: “A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
…. This could have been a dream which is sometimes spoken of as a ‘vision of the night,’ or it could have been an angel appearing to Paul in a vision. A dream or vision from the Lord always carries a divine imprint. Whatever the case, Paul had his new instructions.
Q4: Is there anything in the Scriptures that states that dreams and visions are part of God’s program for His people?
…. Also note that the language of Acts changes in this verse. Luke has joined the group. It says, “Immediately WE sought to go into Macedonia.” Paul refers to Luke as “the beloved physician.” (Col4:14)
Vss11,12: Paul and Silas make their way to Philippi. This city was a Roman colony. It did not have a synagogue.
Vss13-15: “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.”
…. Paul and Silas were in Philippi for a number of days. At some point the Spirit of the Lord leads them outside the city to a riverside. It is here that we see the dynamics of the gospel. As Lydia is listening, it says, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”
Q5: How does this incident accord with what Paul said in Romans 10:8-10, with regard to how salvation works?
…. A point needs to be made. Paul later writes that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.” This alone tells us that only the gospel has the power to unlock the closed heart.
Q6: Is it possible for a person to completely shut themselves off from the gospel? (Give your thoughts.)
…. Notice that it says Lydia was a ‘worshiper of God.’ Since the gathering took place on the Sabbath, the women who gathered were either Jewish or proselytes to the Hebrew faith. This term implies that Lydia was likely a proselyte.
…. Also note how baptism once again enters immediately into the picture. Water baptism makes a statement that the person being baptized is coming under the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is a death to the old life and its ways, and a picture-perfect identification with God’s work of the cross. Lydia and her household were taking on Jesus as Lord and Messiah. How many converts are in view is not known. Later in this chapter it speaks of brethren.
Q7: In your opinion, where does water baptism fit in God’s program of redemption?
Vss16-34: In these Scriptures Paul has an encounter with a demon-possessed slave girl. The result is a stay in jail. But the final result is the spreading of the gospel. Rather than reference this portion of Scriptures in total, I’ll give brief descriptions of the happenings.
…. The possessed slave girl follows Paul for several days. The demon’s message is, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” (Vs17)
Q8: What’s wrong with this picture? Is there a lesson to be learned here?
…. Paul and Silas are thrown in prison. It says that at about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God. The prisoners are listening. Then an earthquake happens, everyone’s chains fall off, the jailer just about loses it, and when he is prepared to take his own life, he hears a voice say, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”
Q9: Do you believe there was a relationship to the praying and singing of hymns in regard to the earthquake?
Q10: Why do you think the prisoners didn’t try to escape?
…. It says, “[The jailer] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'”
Q11: In God’s plan of salvation is there anything to be added or anything to be taken away from this simple statement of believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved?
Vss35-40: These Scriptures tell the remainder of the story of Paul and Silas in prison. When the chief magistrate sends to have them released, he was in for a shock. Paul says to those who brought him the message of his release…
…. “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly. No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.”
Q12: Do you think Paul was being vindictive in his insistence that the magistrates to come personally and bring them out? Do you see any wisdom in this happening?
Acts 17:1-21 From Thessalonica, to Berea, to Athens
In Paul’s travels we pretty much see a repeat performance in each city. Wherever the gospel goes, it brings with it both redemption and troubles. This is the way it has always been. The kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness have not fellowship with one another.
But Paul has his instructions; “To the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentiles).” To keep the studies from being cumbersome with extra detail, I will continue to give a brief synopsis on his travels. Questions are also included to help as aids in discussion. There are seven questions in this study. (Q1, Q2, etc.)
This is Acts032 – Acts 17:1-21 From Thessalonica, to Berea, to Athens
Vss1-10 — Synopsis on Thessalonica —
It appears there was no synagogue in Amphipolis or in Apollonia. In Thessalonica, Paul, Silas, and Timothy minister for three Sabbaths at the synagogue, giving evidence from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Paul says, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” The result is a turning to the Lord by some of the Jews and a large number Greeks. Thus the beginning of the Church in Thessalonica. History tells us that Salvanus (Silas) was the first bishop (pastor) of
this Church. (Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian believers are generally dated about 51 a.d.)
The pattern continues. There is jealousy among the unbelieving Jews and a mob action is created. Unable to locate Paul, they drag Jason, Paul’s host, along with other believers before the city authorities. Notice the double charge: “These men who have upset the world have come here also.” And, “They all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
According to Roman law it was a serious offense to declare anyone a king who was not put in place by Caesar. This was the legal reason Pilate could have Jesus crucified under Roman law. Remember what was said; “If you release this Man [Jesus], you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”
Q1: Is there any place in Scripture where Jesus actually acknowledges Himself to be a king?
Q2: Is there any place in Scripture where Jesus is acknowledged by others to be the King of Israel?
The authorities receive a pledge (satisfaction) from Jason and they are released. The rulers likely recognize the cause of the disturbance.
Continue on to Berea….
Vss10-15: Synopsis on Berea — An interesting statement is made about the Jewish people in Berea. It says, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.”
The Greek word for ‘noble minded’ is ‘eugenes‘ (yoog-en-ace). It speaks of being well born, of a noble race, or of an important person. Its accompanying meaning is open-mindedness. This synagogue was just opposite that in Thessalonica. In Thessalonica the Jews were filled with pride. In Berea we find an eagerness to hear Paul, and to explore the sacred Scriptures. Again a great many believers are added to the church. The harvest continues.
Q3: What was the one thing that showed the Bereans to be noble hearted? (Feel free to expound.)
Q4: Without drawing from or quoting other references, can any member provide from his own knowledge, three Old Testament Scriptures that could be used to show Jesus is Messiah? (Show the reference and explain the connection.)
The pattern again. It says, “But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there.”
Note: People often wonder what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Here we see it in action. Wherever Paul went, there were unbelieving Jewish opponents who came behind him to attempt to destroy his work. The Lord answered Paul’s prayers by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (Cf. 2Co12:9)
Q5: We hear a lot about positive confessions today. While proper confessions are always in order, what was it that Paul said he would rather boast (glory) in?
Let’s continue to Athens. Here we will spend a little more time as we prepare to make our way to Mar’s Hill. (Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill will be covered in our next study.)
Vs15: “Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.”
…. Paul is in Athens by himself. He sends word for Silas and Timothy to hasten quickly. The work there is great. Here we see what Jesus meant, when he said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matt9:37)
Vs16: “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.”
…. Athens is steeped both in idolatry and in philosophy. It had a strong connection with such ancient philosophers as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. One ancient writer said it was easier to find a god in Athens than to find a man. As Paul looks on, he is irritated (paroxuno) in his spirit. The Greek used for Paul’s feelings speak of an exasperation that he can hardly be contained.
Q6: Is there any place in Scripture that would suggest there is a place for spiritual anger to rise up within a believer? (Explain.)
Vs17: “So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.”
…. Paul cannot stand idly by. He reasons with the Jews on their days of assembly, but he is in the market place every day. The apostle was like a voice crying out in the darkness of idolatry. This issue brings to mind a personal experience that I want to share.
Personal testimony: (1961) “My ship was in port. It was night, and I was walking the streets of San Diego. Loneliness and unhappiness were my traveling companions. Then I begin to hear voices singing. On a corner was a Salvation Army band. Young people were singing songs about Jesus and His love. Their faces were radiant. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I was drawn back to childhood, and the songs we sang in church. That scene plays a part in my turning to the Lord. It became imprinted in my inward parts. But it would also become part of my future ministry.”
When Betty and I lived in a military town, I would take my guitar, a group of singers, and we would head for the bar district. Off the back of a flatbed truck we sang and worshipped the Lord. Then we would pass out tracts to the soldiers. Yes, I did get spit at, but I also saw a number of these young GIs turn to the Lord. The point is that just one small voice speaking into darkness counts for the Lord. You can be sure that Paul’s ministry in the market places touched the lives of many, just as the Salvation Army voices reached into the heart of a wayward lad.
Vss18,19: “And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’ — because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?'”
…. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were actually rivals. It is enough to say that the Epicureans were atheists. They held to no future life, and that our present life was to be lived in all sorts of pleasures. The Stoics were just the opposite. They were rigid in their philosophy. They believed that the world was governed by fate, that happiness could only be found in virtue, and that a good man had complete rule over all his passions. But their belief in one god is sometimes likened to pantheism, or, God is everything. Both groups were eager to tare Paul apart. After all they were filled with the wisdom of the age.
…. “They took him and brought him to the Areopagus.” ‘Epi ton Areion Pagon‘ means the ‘unto the Hill of Mars.’ This was where the court met to determine if any new teaching was to be held lawful. This was not a court of judgment but rather of examination. The Athenians were a refined people. They prided themselves in the ‘wisdoms’ and ‘arts.’
Note: Mars was the war god of the Romans. I’m afraid my last name reveals more than I would like to have revealed. Seems somewhere in my far distant past I had some pagan ancestors. Martin means ‘of Mars.’ Of course the name is found in just about every culture, including Jewish, Irish, English, Scottish, Spanish, Italian, so forth. So what gives? Guess we were all pagans at one time. : )
Vss20,21: “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean. (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)”
…. The emphasis is on “new.” The Athenians would quickly tire of the old, and constantly looked for something new to stimulate their thinking. Some unstable Christian movements can get caught up in this same kind of thing. These movements are built on excitement. When one thing gets old, a newer doctrine has to be introduced to keep the movement going. But is this what God wants?
This is not so with the truth of the gospel. The old, old, story is forever new. It is fresh every morning. It never loses its power. And when it finds its resting place in our hearts, the chase for new things is over. When a person truly finds Jesus, he or she has found what life is all about.
Q7: Are there any Scriptures both the Old Testament and the New Testament that can place the Wisdom of God and Jesus together?
Acts 17:22-34 Paul’s Sermon on Mar’s Hill
We are now in Athens with Paul. He is about to speak at the Areopagus, to a group of prominent Athenians who meet to discuss matters of religion and philosophy. This group was sort of the guardian of the gods for Athens. One of their functions was to make certain no new gods who were not on the list of gods, were introduced in Athens. (Areios pagos was located on Mar’s Hill.)
Vs22: “So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.”
…. There would have been a rather large group assembled before the court of Areopagus. It is not known for certain how many judges there were, but some sources place it at 12 members. Paul uses wisdom. The term “very religious”, is ‘hos deisidiamonesterous’. It can be used in a good or in a bad sense. Here Paul is using the term in a conciliatory manner. He is acknowledging their deep religious feelings. (A wise man knows how to make words acceptable.)
Vs23: “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”
…. Unknown God is ‘Agnosto Theo.’ (Where we get our word agnostic, or, ‘I don’t know’, or, ‘without knowledge.’) The Athenians were afraid of offending one of the gods so they had more than one altar to an unknown god. It was also illegal to introduce a new God that was not on their list of gods. The ‘unknown god’ could serve as a point of discussion.
…. Notice how Paul disarms any accusation of heresy or promoting a new god. He is simply saying, “I want to talk to you about the God you already worship, but of whom you don’t know much about.” The word ‘ignorance’ is ‘agoneo.’ It speaks of an unawareness. Paul is not calling them ignorant. At this point he has their full attention.
Note: I want to recommend a book that reveals how this very wisdom has been used by missionaries over the centuries in bringing large groups of peoples to the Lord. It is entitled, ‘Eternity in Their Hearts‘ by Don Richardson. The reason South Korea has such a strong Christian following today is because both the Koreans and the Chinese had a knowledge of the true God. No images were permitted for this God. The Koreans called Him ‘Hananim,’ or, ‘the Great One.’ (Chinese called Him Shang Ti.)
The Protestant missionaries recognized right away that the Koreans retained a concept of the true God. They used this knowledge to bring the gospel message. The response was overwhelming. The Catholic missionaries on the other hand accused the people of idolatry in this matter. Thus the Catholic presence in Korea is much smaller than that
of the Protestants.
…. Paul begins his short but profound sermon.
Vs24: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands…”
…. Notice that Paul says the very same thing that Stephen said when he spoke to the Sanhedrin; “The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says.” (Acts 7:48) This message should never be forgotten. But what an affront to all who believe that God can be found in buildings or in idols.
Some years ago while in Jerusalem, I went to the wailing (western) wall. This is the most sacred of places to the Jewish peoples. In fact there is an ancient tradition passed down that says the Shekinah is on the other side of the wall, to the east. When I placed my hand against the wall, all I felt was ‘deadness of stone.’ Not that I was expecting anything. No Presence. No Shekinah. No anointing. The reason is because God now dwells in temples of human hearts.
Vs25: “Nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.”
…. Paul strikes at the very root of idolatry. The peoples thought that the gods had to be appeased with ‘food’ offerings and such like. But the Hebrews knew that one of God’s names, that is, El Shaddai, meant that He was sufficient in all things, or, He is the perfection of all things. There is nothing we can give God that can add anything to Him. And this is why our salvation is of God alone. We add nothing. The apostle said, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)
Vs26: “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.”
…. The apostle disarms those distinctions made by both the Greeks and the Jews. The Greeks were pretty much the same as the Jews in seeing their race as superior to other races. Paul simply says that all peoples and nations come from one man. There is no boasting to be found. All share in Adam’s fall. There is no blood line in humanity that exceeds another in acceptance to God. “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom3:23)
…. The apostle then touches on God’s providence in saying that our times were fixed from eternity. (Boundaries speak of the earth.) David also gives us insight into this. He said, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
Vs27: “That they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”
…. Paul’s point is that the human race was designed to seek God. The reason is because of the vacancy in our spiritual nature that can only be filled by God Himself. Humans were designed to walk in unrestrained fellowship with the true God. This fellowship was lost through sin. It is now restored in Jesus Christ. It says, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1Co1:9)
…. The fact that God is “not far from each one of us” speaks of God’s reality in all of creation. Even the creation itself declares that ‘God is!’ This is why only a fool would say that God does not exist. Our very natures reflect something of God Himself. But the image has been marred. Men outside Christ can only see distortions.
Vs28: “for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.'”
…. Some of the ancient philosophers had an understanding that there was only one true Supreme God. Actually this understanding is embedded in most every culture, but the same scene presents itself. This God cannot be known directly. This truth was even presented in the tabernacle plan of Moses. Paul quotes from the poet Aratus, who made this statement almost 300 years before Christ. Aratus as well as other poet-philosophers spoke of the Supreme God as ‘Father.’ But here Paul applies this quote to the God of the Hebrews.
Vs29: “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.”
…. Paul knew that the more intellectual philosophers did not see these idols as gods, but the peoples as a whole did. However, Paul makes a crucial point here. The human race is close kin to God. Adam is the only person in the Bible other than Jesus Christ who is actually called ‘the’ son of God. This was because Adam was created in God’s likeness and image. As head of the human race, Adam’s fall became our fall. Paul knew that all of this idolatry revealed hearts at variance with the true God.
…. The term ‘divine nature’ comes from one word, theios. It simply speaks of the Divine Being, or the Person of God Himself. The Greeks used it for the essence or nature of God. They didn’t apply it to a particular god.
Vs30: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.”
…. Paul was not saying that God approved of the ignorance of humanity with regard to the true God. He took into consideration man’s separation from Him. Yet in all this, God placed in the heart of man a deeper need for truth. Now that redemption (Truth) has come, it is time for men to turn from their vain things, and turn to the living God. The message of repentance applies to all men, Jews and Gentiles.
Vs31: “Because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
…. Here is the turning point. Paul says that God has a fixed time in which all of mankind will appear before Him for judgment. It will be a judgment of righteousness. Notice that the judgment revolves around a “Man.” Jesus Christ is God revealed in the flesh, Messiah come to us, God with us, the hope of the everlasting hills, and the One in whom all of creation has waited. And this even applies to the heathen. How can this be? Because this knowledge of ‘the Coming One’ has been written in the conscience of all men. This is why in every culture you find a form of Messiah consciousness. (Though different terms may be used.)
Vs32: “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this.’”
…. Once again we see the power of the gospel. When the resurrection is referenced it makes a distinction in the listeners. In this case “some” sneered, and “others” said they wanted to hear again. But because of the mockers, the meeting began breaking up.
Vss33,34: “So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”
…. Did Paul’s sermon produce any fruit for the kingdom? Indeed. Notice the three elements. The scoffers. The ones who said, ‘We’ll hear more later.’ Then you have Dionysius who was one of the 12 judges. Eusebius later records that this Dionysius became bishop (pastor) of the Church in Athens. In addition to Dionysius, we have Damaris and others. Damaris was most likely a woman of position.
Hence we have the beginnings of the church in Athens. Here also we see once again how the gospel has the power to gather into God’s kingdom, those who would believe. But this is an area that is far beyond our own means of understanding. We simply accept the testimony. In an earlier point in Acts, we hear, “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (13:48)
Acts 18:1-22 Paul Completes His Second Missionary Journey
In this study we finish up Paul’s second missionary journey. In line with our new format, the study will include questions, however, there are only three questions with this study. Feel free to address any part of the study.
In some portions I will give a brief synopsis on the Scriptures under consideration, without giving the Scriptures themselves. It would help to follow in your Bible.
Acts 18:1-4: “After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
… Paul arrives in ‘sin city’ of the east. The term ‘Corinthianize‘ was commonly used for the depths of immorality. Corinth was referred to as ‘corai entha,’ or, ‘here are girls (whores).’ The temple of Aphrodite (Venus) had 1000 temple prostitutes. This would be one of Paul’s greatest challenges. Knowing something about Corinth will help put a backdrop on Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian churches.
Note: It would be good to review the study HF011 – The Corinthian Dilemma. Go to:
… It is here that Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla. The Jews had been expelled from Rome, and the expulsion appears to have been the result of an in-house struggle between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews. The Historian, Seutonius says that Claudius, “expelled the Jews from Rome, who were continually making tumults, being moved thereunto by one Chrestus.” (Chrestus is thought to refer to Christ.)
Q1: Who started the Church in Rome?
Whether Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians is not known, but it is known that they became true disciples and were strong leaders in the early church. A church was established in their home. Like Paul, they were tent makers.
Paul does what is his custom, and reasons in the synagogues that Jesus is Messiah, and that there is no salvation aside from Him. And of course the pattern continues, as we will see.
Vss5-11: Synopsis – Silas and Timothy arrive and this frees Paul up to devote himself more completely to the ministry of the word. The resistance begins with certain of the Jews blaspheming the Lord. Paul shakes out his garment against them, and says, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
… This did not mean that Paul would stop speaking in the synagogues. It meant that the synagogue of Corinth had had plenty of opportunity to respond to God’s message. It was time to turn to the Gentiles. Shaking the garment demonstrated that God was shaking the unbelieving Jews out of any covenant relationship with Him. It was also a way of saying that the rejecting Jews were now responsible for their own judgment
Q2: Is there anything in the Scriptures where Paul may be drawing from when he shakes out his garment?
… Paul goes to the house of man named Titius Justus, which is right next door to the synagogue. Titius was a worshiper of God. He can be compared to Cornelius. It is interesting to note that the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, along with his household, and many Corinthians also become believers and are baptized. Thus we have the church of Corinth.
… The Lord speaks to Paul in the night, saying, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” (Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half.)
Notice the promise made to Paul; “No man will attack you in order to harm you.” We will see this in a moment.
Q3: What do you feel the Lord meant in saying that He had many people in Corinth?
Vss12-17: Synopsis – At some point the Christ-rejecting Jews rise up against Paul and bring him before the proconsul. They make their accusations, and as Paul is about to respond, the proconsul simply dismisses the case. His concluding remark is, “I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.” Then he has them driven away from the judgment seat.
The Greeks take note of the dismissal, and began to beat Sosthenes, the synagogue leader. It appears the beating served a good purpose. Sosthenes became a believer and joined himself to Paul. Isn’t it interesting how our enemy can actually become our best friend. (When Jesus becomes the point of friendship.)
Vs18: “Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.”
… What sort of vow that Paul kept is not said. It may have been a Nazarite vow. But that would be questionable, since the Nazite vow was to be completed in Jerusalem. Of course Paul did not consider himself to be under the law. It also could also have been a vow thanking the Lord for his safe keeping in Corinth.
Vss19-21: “They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking leave of them and saying, ‘I will return to you again if God wills,’ he set sail from Ephesus.”
… Notice how Paul always heads for the synagogue first. The apostle is loyal to the charge of, “To the Jew first.” Either Aquila or Priscilla are the ones asking him to stay, or possibly the synagogue people, but for some reason Paul is pressed in his spirit to continue on. We do know that a strong work is in place in Ephesus.
Vss22,23: Paul takes ship to Caesarea and greets the church there. He then goes to Antioch. This completes the apostle’s second missionary journey.
Acts 18:23 – 19:10 All In Asia Heard
It is time to depart with Paul on his third missionary journey. Are you ready? Let’s put on our Hebraic thinking caps.
Keep in mind that to appreciate Acts more fully, we need to become participants of the times. One of the problems we have in studying this book, is in attempting to read where we are today, back into where they were then.
(There are seven questions with this study. They are designed to stimulate your thinking.)
Ok. Let’s saddle our camels and travel on down the road.
Acts 18:23: “And having spent some time there, he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.”
… How long Paul stayed in Antioch is not known. As the apostle begins his 3rd missions trip, he seems to be alone. Paul begins this trip about 52 A.D. To give a perspective on time, we are just over the half way mark between the cross and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. Old Testament Judaism disappears with the temple. At the point of this study it has been almost 20 years since the cross.
Q1: In what sense can we say that Old Testament Judaism disappeared in 70 A.D.?
Vss24-28: Synopsis on Apollos. Apollos was from the diaspora of Egypt. There was a very large contingent of Jewish folk in Alexandria, Egypt. They even had their own temple there. Over time a great many of these folk became Christian. The movement of John the Baptist had become a rather large movement on its own. It reached Alexandria, Egypt, and Apollos was one of the adherents of that movement. Hisknowledge of Jesus Christ was limited, yet he had a heart for the things of the Lord. Apollos comes to Ephesus, and Priscilla and Aquila take him under their wing. Under their tutoring Apollos becomes a completed Biblical Christian. He, in turn, also becomes one of the strongest early church teachers of the faith. It says,
“….he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”
Here is something Paul wrote about this man; “So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” (1Co3:21-23)
Q2: What does Paul mean in saying that “all things belong to [us].”
Acts 19:1-7: Synopsis on Paul’s encounter with 12 disciples of John the Baptist.
… This is a very interesting scene. When Paul comes across these men, he detects something amiss in their spiritual makeup. It may have been a lack of ‘Jesus’ in their communication. True Biblical believers have their lives wrapped around Jesus. But this wrapping involves the Holy Spirit. The apostle is puzzled, so he asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
The KJV fails to translate Paul’s question correctly. It may sound stilted, but it translates directly as, “The Holy Spirit did you receive – having believed?”
Of course the problem is soon realized. They had never gotten past John’s baptism on to the finished work of the cross. Once Paul explains this, they are then baptized with a believer’s baptism, that is, in the name of Jesus. When Paul lays his hands on them it says, “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.”
Q3: Why do you think it was important for these men to be rebaptized?
Another point of interest is that this is the last time in the book of Acts there is a mention of someone speaking in other languages and prophesying. The other two times are in Acts 2, and then in Acts 10. All three cases are sovereign acts of God.
Q4: How can a believer know if another person has the Holy Spirit?
Vss8-10: “And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
Q5: What does the term ‘the Way’ refer to? (Feel free to elaborate.)
… Notice that when some began to harden themselves against the gospel, Paul takes those who had believed out of the midst of unbelief. We can be sure that the apostle is lead of the Spirit to do this. But the apostle remains faithful to the charge of ‘to the Jew first.’ Once the synagogue begins rejecting the gospel message, Paul knows that to press the issue any further would only hardened their hearts further.
Q6: Is there any Scripture reason for removing new believers from unbelieving influences?
… Paul later writes the Colossian believers, and speaks of their being transferred out of darkness into “the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.”
Q7: What does the term ‘the kingdom of God’s beloved Son’ refer to?
… Next we find Paul at the school of Tyrannus where he teaches for two years. The Ethiopic version says that Paul “taught daily before the court and the governors.” Tyrannus must have been someone of importance.
… It is here that we read, “All who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” The term ‘Asia’ refers to a region that encompasses much of what is called Turkey today.
Acts19:11-41 Miracles and Disturbances along the Way
We are on Paul’s third missionary journey. Have you rested your camels enough? Ok, let’s go. Appears we have some excitement ahead.
There are seven questions in this study. Feel free to work with these questions or any other aspect of the study that you wish. I will continue to give a synopsis on certain portions of Scriptures rather than do a Scripture by Scripture commentary.
Vss11,12: “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.”
… The Greek term Luke uses for ‘extraordinary miracles’ (tugchano dumamis) speaks of miracles so unexpected and rare as to be beyond the normal. This is the one place this term is used in New Testament writings.
It was on the basis of these kinds of miracles that Paul could challenge those who claimed to be apostles. He alludes to these apostolic wonders in his second letter to the Corinthians, when he writes, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” (Peter’s shadow falling across people for healings and deliverances is another instance of ‘apostolic miracles.’)
Q1: Are there Scriptures that set apart the original apostles of Jesus Christ as being distinct from all other ministers and ministries throughout the Church age?
Vss13-17: Synopsis: Certain Jewish exorcists attempted to use the name of Jesus for casting out demons. They thought that Paul’s power was in the use of this name. The problem was they had no right to use the name that is above all names. In trying to cast an evil spirit out of a man, the spirit said, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, who are you?” The spirit then leaped on these seven sons of the Jewish chief priest, Sceva, and left them bloodied and naked.
Q2: Are there lessons to be learned from this happening?
Vss17-20: “This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”
… The powers of darkness were uncovered and put to shame. The victory centered upon one thing alone. It had to do with the power and authority that is in the name of the Lord Jesus. Notice how those who worked in the occult were turning from Satan to the kingdom of God.
Q3: Why is it that the name of Jesus Christ has such power for a believer? (Feel free to elaborate.)
Q4: Is there any place for the power of the name of Jesus Christ to become available to a sinner?
Vss21,22: “Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’ And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.”
… This is the first time we see that something is compelling Paul about Jerusalem and about Rome. Later a goodly number warnings will be given to Paul that distresses await him in Jerusalem. Some find it strange that Paul would seemingly ignore all these warnings, and insist on going on to Jerusalem. (The next two questions will include areas we haven’t covered in these studies, but which have their roots in Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome.)
Q5: What is your opinion on this issue of Paul being continually warned about going to Jerusalem, and yet he was determined to go?
Q6: Is there a lesson here for our own personal experiences in the Lord?
Vss23-41: Synopsis – While in Ephesus, a maker of idols named, Demetrius, gathered the tradesmen together and created an uproar over how Paul was turning peoples away from idolatry. The tradesmen were filled with rage, and it begins to spill over into the city. A mob grabbed Paul’s traveling companions and drug them into the theater. But certain disciples would not let Paul enter. Interestingly enough, most of the people didn’t even know why they were there. When they saw Alexander the Jew, a roar begins in the crowd that lasted for two hours. They were chanting ‘Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians.’ Then the town clerk begins to quieten things down, and tells the peoples that if the craftsmen have a complaint to make, they need to bring it to the authorities. After this the crowd was dismissed.
… It is amazing how the Lord can use people who are nonbelievers in bringing about a positive result for His people.
Q7: Is there any Scripture that indicates God can work in the heart of a nonbeliever to achieve His own purposes? (Feel free to elaborate.)
Acts 20 Paul’s Warning Against False Shepherds
We’ve seen extraordinary miracles take place with aprons from Paul’s body. But now it is time to get on down the road. Paul is pressed in spirit to get to Jerusalem. However, as we continue with this third mission’s trip with the apostle, we yet have yet some very important lessons to learn.
Several things will stand out in this study. One has to do with Paul’s warnings against false shepherds. Another involves ‘whose blood was shed on the cross.’ According to the apostle it was God’s blood. Then there are other things of great interest.
Because this portion of Scriptures is so thought provoking, I will not provide questions. The study speaks for itself and hopefully will bring about questions and responses simply through the reading.
Ok, back on your camel. We are off again.
Vss1-6: Synopsis – Paul travels from Ephesus to Macedonia to strengthen disciples in that area. From there he goes to Greece, where he spends three months. When he hears of a plot being formed against him by the Jews, the apostle decides to move on to Phillipi, and then to Troas.
At various parts of the journey, his companions include, Luke, Sopater of Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, Gaius of Derbe, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus of Asia. (You will come across these names in some of Paul’s writings.)
Vs7: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”
… As pointed out earlier, while Paul allows liberty in regard to when believers gather, it did become traditional very early on for the primitive churches to meet on the first day of the week. That this was a formal gathering is seen in the phrase, “When we were gathered together to break bread.”
Vss8-12: Synopsis – Paul addresses the believers with a message until midnight. The young man, Eutychus, goes to sleep and falls out the three-story window. He is picked up dead, but when the apostle places his arms around him, Eutychus’s life is restored.
Vss13-16: Synopsis – The apostolic band travels on. Some by ship. Paul by land. The apostle meets the ship at Assos, and they go on to Bitylene, from there to Chios, then to Samos, and finally to Miletus. Here it says, “Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.”
It is here that we come to the heart of this study. Let’s follow this scene closely as Paul sends for the elders of Ephesus. (‘tous presbuterous tes ekklesias,’ or, ‘the elders of the Church.’) We will find that the term elder, bishop, and shepherd all refer to the same
calling of ministry.
Vs17: “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.”
… Miletus is about 30 miles from Ephesus. Later in his discourse, Paul will refer to these same men as ‘bishops’. (episkopous.)
The pastoral offices of the Church are known by various interchangeable terms. Presbuteros (elder) is from a Jewish background, and speaks of rank. Although it was an official designation for leaders, it also spoke of those who were up in age. The term bishop (episkopous) refers to the dignity of the pastoral office and comes primarily from the Greek. (Refers to ‘overseeing.’)
Vss18-21: “And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.'”
… As Paul shares with these elders we catch a glimpse of a true shepherd’s heart. No hireling would suffer for God’s people as did this man of God. Paul poured out his life into these churches. Perhaps this is one reason that a person has to be approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. Part of this proving relates to serving under another man’s stewardship. We learn faithfulness by being faithful.
Vs22,23: “And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”
… Paul describes himself as being under the impulse of the Holy Spirit in going to Jerusalem. At the same time the Holy Spirit is preparing him for the things that lie ahead. The apostle knew in his spirit that Jerusalem was only a stepping stone to Rome.
It also possible that the warnings given to Paul were for the benefit of the churches themselves. Keep in mind that the Scriptures are still being written, and the church needs to know how God’s providence is always behind all things that happen to His children.
Thus Paul can write, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom8:28)
Vss24-27: Synopsis – Paul reaffirms that he has a course to complete and a ministry to fulfill. He charges them to remember that he had not failed to declare to them the whole counsel of God, and that he was innocent of the blood of all men. The apostle feels strongly that these men would not see his face again. He considers these to be his last words to them.
… Here we need to mention something about a stewardship that comes from the Lord. A ministry given to a person from the Lord is actually a stewardship, which simply means the person with the ministry had a course to complete, has authority within the sphere of the ministry given, is empowered and blessed to accomplish the ministry, and is accountable to God for the ministry itself.
The term stewardship is the Greek ‘oikonomia‘ which speaks of an administration, that is, the management and oversight of particular household affairs. In this case our stewardship has to do with kingdom business. This is one reason pastors are known as overseers. They are entrusted with sheep allotted to their care. (Every true minister of God has a stewardship.) But we cannot limit stewardships to simply being a pastor. Any ministry that is given a person that accounts for kingdom business is a stewardship.
Now follow carefully the warnings and the testimony of the blood:
Vss28-31: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
… “To shepherd the church of God…”
Notice in this discourse that Paul uses the terms elders, bishops, and shepherds as the same ministry. (Shepherd and pastor is the same word.) This brings to attention a prophecy in Jeremiah, where the Lord says, “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” (Jer3:15)
… “Which He purchased with His own blood.”
To say that Jesus is a wonderful man, or a great teacher, or even a prophet places no restraints on the confessor. To say that Jesus is God puts everything on a different level. There can only be one true God. So the apostle very plainly states that the blood that flowed through the veins of Jesus was the very blood of God. Thus we are to know that God provided ‘Himself’ a sacrifice.
This is also why the sprinkled blood causes a new creation to spring forth. God became man to take our place, so that we could become His very own children through the redemption of His blood. This is also why when Abel’s blood cried for vengeance, the blood of Jesus spoke differently. It speaks to mercy and love. God’s life was in the blood of Jesus. And it is God’s blood that is sprinkled on our
hearts in our birth from above. (Think about it.)
… “After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”
The apostle is using a term that the Lord Himself used. Jesus said, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt7:15) A wolf has one purpose alone, and that is to feed himself. Thus it is with the false prophet.
… “And from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
The ‘and’ speaks to a different category. Are these people false prophets or simply men driven with ill motives? It could be both. But it does speak to people who corrupt the gospel, and distort the teachings of the Lord. The word ‘perverse’ is diastrepho in Greek. It essentially means to distort or misinterpret.
The warning is that God’s people must always take care to whom they listen. The motive of the speaker can be very subtle. In this case it was the drawing away of disciples after themselves.
Vss31-35: Synopsis – In this portion the apostle brings things to a close. He tells the elders to be on the alert. He also says something of great importance to believers in all the ages; “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
This is very personal. Paul knows that the whole of the Scriptures speak to God’s redemption in Christ Jesus. He also knows that as we behold the things concerning Christ, our own spiritual lives will be built up, and we will share even more in the inheritance that is given to us in Christ. (The inheritance relates both to this life and
the life to come.)
Paul also says something interesting in this portion. He quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” What is interesting is that this statement is not recorded anywhere in the gospels. It shows that Jesus said a great many things that were not recorded. (But this one statement carries the very heart of Biblical Christianity. We are to be givers and not takers. Paul said that we are to “help the weak.”)
As for the Lord saying and doing things there were never recorded, the apostle John affirms this. He said, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
Of course this does not mean that we have the right to say Jesus said something in that He didn’t say it. We are expressly warned not to exceed the written Word of God.
Let’s complete our study.
Vss36-38: “When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.”
… This is one of the tenderest scenes recorded in the New Testament. Everyone present is weeping and they keep on kissing Paul. Their sorrow is almost more than they can bear. Paul had been a spiritual father to them.
Acts 21 Paul is Seized in the Temple
We have traveled the Acts road for 25 plus years. It’s been that long since the birth of the Church. The destruction of Jerusalem is about 12 years away. In this study we enter the final 1/4 of the book of Acts. The remainder of our studies sees Paul’s imprisonment and his subsequent journey to Rome.
This study has seven questions.
Well, it’s time. Let’s make our way on to Jerusalem.
Vss1-14: Synopsis – Paul leaves Melitus and after various ports, arrives in Tyre. Along the way the apostle receives warnings about going to Jerusalem. From Tyre they go to Ptolemais and then on to Caesarea, where the apostolic band stays with Philip the evangelist for some time. Philip has four daughters who are prophetesses.
Q1: Are there any Scriptural significances that may relate to Philip’s daughters being called prophetesses?
Vss10,11: “As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'”
… Little is known of Agabus. He prophesied some years earlier of a great famine to take place, which did occur. (Cf. Acts 11:28)
Vss12-14: “When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!'”
… This is where some think that Paul was being obstinate, but other considerations point just opposite. We know that something has been pressing Paul to get to Jerusalem. Actually the Lord appears to him during his distress in Jerusalem, telling him that just as he had testified of Him in Jerusalem, he must also do so in Rome. (To
be covered later.)
Q2: Why do you think Paul was so insistent on getting to Jerusalem? (Feel free to elaborate.)
Q3: Is there another instance in Scriptures where a prophet is given a job to do, but is swayed by someone who also claims to speak for God, and by listening to the other person, turns aside? (There is such a case. Please think it over. It is in the Old Testament.)
Q4: Is there a lesson to be learned in this? (Relates to Q2 & Q3)
Vss15-17: “After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.”
… The welcoming group is not James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem. This will take place on the morrow. Paul is treated with love and respect.
Vss18,19: “And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.”
… The James here is the brother of Jesus. Since it only mentions James and the elders it appears that the other apostles have gone forth with their varied ministries. These elders may have gathered from different points in Judea, hearing that Paul had arrived.
Paul shares his testimony of how the Lord had worked mightily among the Gentiles. In all this he takes no credit to himself.
Vss20: “And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…'”
… Paul has made it for Pentecost. Jerusalem is filled to overflowing with Jews. And it is here we begin to see the tension for Jewish believers. As long as the temple is standing and sacrifices are being offered, you can be sure emotions are being pulled in all directions. Keep in mind that a great many priests have come to accept Jesus as Messiah. Add to this that Paul has become a lightning rod everywhere he has gone. And many of those who have made themselves his enemies are also present in Jerusalem. The mixture is volatile.
Where James says, ‘many thousands’ have believed, the term actually speaks of tens of thousands. New covenant faith has been spreading among the Jews in a remarkable way. But as already stated, the new covenant faith is still in a transitional phase for the Jewish peoples. It is not always understood. And as long as the temple is standing there will be an attempt to mix the covenants.
Vss21,22: “And they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. ‘What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.'”
… James and the elders know that Paul’s message is being distorted, but they have to find a way to disarm the enemy. Keep in mind that all these men are Jewish believers. They are situated in the very heart of Judaism. So a decision needs to be agreed upon.
Q5: Do you think that Paul and James are in disagreement over the message of the gospel? If so, why?
Vss23,24: “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.”
… Here we seem to have an anomaly. (Something difficult to grasp.) James knew that the temple sacrifices were no longer binding or efficacious. (Without effect.) But during this transitional time of the Church, many of the Jewish believers were still blending certain parts of the covenant of Moses with the covenant of Christ.
The Nazarite vow is an example. It was still being used by some Jewish believers. This is where James sees a way to divert an attack on Paul. Notice that Paul himself is not under the Nazarite vow. But there was a provision made for someone to join those under the Nazarite vow by paying their expenses. The joiner did not cut his hair, but by association he participated in the closure of the vow.
Q6: Is the Nazarite vow something that Christians should take upon themselves? If so, why? If not, why not?
Vs25: “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”
… James reemphasizes that people who were not of the Jewish culture had no concern in this area. For the Jews even this was but temporary. Once the great harvest of the Jews was complete, the Lord would dismantle the very heart of ancient Judaism by removing the temple and all its sacrifices. What would be left are the moral commandments which are always binding on the conscience of all believers.
Q7: Did the Lord intend there to be two Christianities, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles? (Feel free to elaborate.)
Vs26: “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.”
… When Paul presented himself before the priests, it was for identification. Paul loved his Jewish kinsmen. It is here where we understand a statement he made:
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1Co9:19-22)
Vss27-30: Synopsis – Some of Paul’s Jewish enemies from Asia, saw him in the temple area, and assumed, or used as a pretext, that Paul had brought Gentiles into the temple. This was such an offense to the Jewish worshippers that the city itself got caught up in the uproar. Paul is dragged out of the temple. The doors are shut.
… Perhaps the doors were shut to keep Paul from taking ahold of the horns of the altar. This had become a last resort in certain instances when a Jewish person was seeking protection from his pursuers.
Vs31: “While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion.”
… A large garrison of Roman soldiers was stationed near the temple in case of disturbances. There may have been several hundred soldiers who came to see about Paul, since the next Scriptures mentions ‘centurions.’ A centurion was over 100 men.
Vs32: “At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”
… When the peoples saw the soldiers coming with their swords drawn, things calmed down. Some years ago there had been another riot in the temple and a great many people were trampled to death. The Romans were fierce and ruthless in making examples of those who would break their laws.
Vss33,34: “Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks.”
… It is interesting how the crowd was so willing to beat Paul, and yet most of them didn’t even know what he was accused of. The enemy had well stirred up their passions. The noise was so great and the accusations so mixed that the commander could not determine what the problem was.
Vss35,36: “When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, ‘Away with him!'”
… Does this sound familiar? When Pilate was seeking how to release Jesus, he resorted to some irony, in saying, “Behold, your King!” The response was, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” When Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” It was the chief priests who answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
Vss37-39: “As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ And he said, ‘Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?’ But Paul said, ‘I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.'”
… What happens here is amazing. Paul is ever the evangelist and the man of wisdom. But we also see here a man of languages. As for Greek, this was pretty much the lingua of the empire. The Jews of the diaspora spoke it. The Old Testament had been translated into Greek. Both Josephus and Philo spoke it. And the New Testament writings were in Greek.
Vss40: “When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect …”
… Well, we’ve reached a high in our study, but let’s shorten things for now. We have covered all of chapter 21. What happens next needs to be in a study by itself.
Acts 22 Paul’s Testimony in Jerusalem
The crowd is shouting, “Away with him!”
In our last study, Paul is taken into custody by Roman soldiers. He secures permission from the commander to address the people. As Paul motions to the crowd, a hush falls, and he begins speaking to them in the holy language, that is, in Hebrew. This is an awesome moment. What the apostle has been longing for is granted. He will share his testimony in the very heart of Jerusalem. Only the Lord could have brought this together.
Let’s listen to Paul speak. (There are no questions with this study. Feel free to comment on anything that is offered.)
Vs1: “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.”
… Paul addresses them as ‘brethren’ and ‘fathers.’ He has their full attention. The apostle’s salutation is very much Jewish. Paul is composed, deliberate, and yet conciliatory to his listeners. You can be sure that there are members of the Sanhedrin present.
Vs2: “And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet…”
…. Many of the peoples likely thought Paul was a Gentile. But when he speaks in Hebrew, their hearts and minds are stirred to hear what he has to say.
“…and he said,”
Vs3: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.”
…. What other apostle could have made this statement? At that time a disciple (talmid) looked to his Master teacher as a father. Paul’s reference to Gamaliel gave him all the attention he required. You can feel the crowd relaxing. He has just identified himself with the greatest rabbi in Judaism.
How great Gamaliel was to the Jews is later noted in the Talmudic writings. “From the times of Moses to Rabban Gamaliel, they (the scholars) did not learn the law but standing; after Rabban Gamaliel died, sickness came into the world, and they learned the law sitting; and hence it is said, that after Rabban Gamaliel died, the glory of the law ceased.” (Misn. Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 4.)
…. Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel. From what we have read, Gamaliel had feelings for the Jewish believers. The Talmud also records how Rabbi Eliezer, a close friend of Gamaliel, was accused of being a minim, that is, a Jewish Christian, and was put out of the synagogue. (We will cover these areas more in detail after we complete our studies in Acts.)
Vss4,5: “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.”
…. Since we have already covered this period of Paul’s life, little needs to be said. There is a good chance that some of the Sanhedrin, perhaps even Caiaphas or his father-in-law, Annas, was present when Paul spoke. Whatever the case, these leaders knew that what Paul shared was the truth. The apostle may have even set his eyes on them during this discourse.
Vss6-10: Synopsis – Paul testifies to his experience on the road to Damascus. He even says that it was Jesus who spoke to him. Keep in view that Paul is speaking in Hebrew. He would have said ‘Yeshua‘, where we say Jesus.
Vs11: “But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.”
…. Where the NASB has ‘brightness’ the KJV has ‘glory.’ The Jewish listeners would still be listening quite intently. In Hebrew Paul said ‘ha kavod,’ or, ‘the glory.’ For the Jews this term had a special connection to the Messiah. The ancients taught that the ‘glory’ resting over the mercy seat was the ‘light of Messiah.’
Vss12-15: Synopsis – Paul speaks of the disciple Ananias coming to him with a message from the Lord. The apostle says that Ananias was, “a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.”
…. Once again Paul identifies with the Jewish peoples in a special way, when he refers to Ananias as being devoted to the Law. Here Paul relates a little more of the message that Ananias brought.
The message was, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.”
Each statement here is deeply Hebraic. Listen:
“The God of our fathers.”
This speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here Paul tells them that the doctrine of Christ is fully testified to by the patriarchs of Israel.
“Has appointed you to know His will.”
God’s will is the gospel itself, which, in turn, speaks of our salvation through the finished work of the cross. The apostle said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
“To see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.”
This is an awesome statement. The term ‘the Righteous One’ was often used either for God Himself, or for His Messiah. There is no question that Paul is ascribing deity to the Lord Jesus. But to hear an utterance from His mouth also points to the salvation of every person born into His kingdom. Jesus speaks to our hearts.
Paul continues with what Ananias has to say:
Vs16: “‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'”
…. According to earlier writers, the one doing the baptizing and the one being baptized were both to call upon the name of the Lord. It was taught that the Presence of the Lord was in His name, and by calling upon His name, the Spirit bore witness to the faith expressed.
This is probably what Peter had in mind when he said that baptism itself does not save us, but it is “an appeal to God for a good conscience– through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1Pet3:21)
Once again keep in mind that Paul is speaking Hebrew. We do not see it readily in English, but the apostle has just made a direct connection between Jesus Christ and Yahweh. But even here the peoples are still undisturbed. It isn’t until Paul reaches the next part of his testimony that the trouble renews. You may be surprised at what causes the problem.
Follow closely as Paul continues his testimony.
Vss17,18: “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.'”
…. The message Paul hears is very telling. The Lord knows the hearts of all people. The lines have been drawn. The great harvest of the Jews in Jerusalem was nearing a closure. Their hearts were becoming stony. It is time for Paul to move on.
Vss19, 20: Synopsis – In his trance, Paul wants to reason with the Lord, which, by the way, is very Jewish. (Ever see Fiddler on the Roof?) Abraham and Moses both reasoned with God. Here Paul explains to the Lord how the Jews knew that he had been a persecutor of believers, and would understand. But the Lord puts his reasoning to the side.
Now we come to the problem. Paul continues…
Vs21: “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'”
…. There it is. At the mention that Gentiles would be brought into a covenant relationship with the God of Israel, all ‘hell’ breaks loose. This shows us just how far the Jewish peoples of that time had drifted from the true message of God. God was not the God of the Jews only. He was also God of the Gentiles. The prophets had much to say about God’s concern for Gentiles. Here is an example from the LXX:
“And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall arise to rule over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust, and his rest shall be glorious.” (Isa15:12)
Vss22-24: “They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!’ And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.”
… Not much needs to be said here other than the commander is at a loss. He probably understood very little of what Paul said. All he knew is that the peoples are once again in an uproar, and now it is worse than before. They are acting like mad men.
Vs25: “But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?'”
…. Paul knew that it was against Roman law to beat a Roman citizen, or otherwise mistreat him without a formal trial. This is where Roman citizenship was a major plus during that time.
Note: Had this been Peter or any of the other apostles, they would have been beaten without mercy. A person without Roman citizenship would never be given the right to stand before Caesar. (We will see this later with Paul.) This is also why James and the apostles saw a special call in Paul as being the apostle to the Gentiles.
Vs26: “When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, ‘What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.'”
…. Once again it was a grave penalty to bind and to beat a Roman. To do so would bring about some form of punishment and even the loss of position. Everything comes to a standstill.
Vss27-29: “The commander came and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The commander answered, ‘I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.’ And Paul said, ‘But I was actually born a citizen.’ Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.”
…. Citizens of Tarsus were given Roman citizenship by Mark Anthony, long before Paul was born. The apostle was registered as a citizen of Rome. Aside from being born a Roman citizen, citizenship could be purchased under certain circumstances, but it was quite costly.
Notice that the commander was afraid because Paul had been put in chains. For Roman citizens even to be bound without trial was a grave offense.
Vs30: “But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.”
…. Paul is kept in the Antonion castle overnight to provide him protection but also to allow for a hearing. What happens next continues to be awesome. Paul must testify once again before the full Sanhedrin. But we must leave it off for now.
Acts 23 Paul Before the Sanhedrin Council
This study begins with Paul standing before some of the same ones who gave him permissions many years prior, to bring any Jewish people belonging to ‘the Way’ back to Jerusalem. He had received his letters from the high priest. In this case he will be standing before a different high priest, but a number of the Council members will be the same. Let’s see what happens.
(I am going to leave questions off this study also. Feel free to discuss any portion.)
Paul had been kept in protective custody by the Romans until it could be determined what the charges were against him. It is the day after the riot in the temple and in Jerusalem, and Paul is brought before the Council. But the Roman soldiers are also close by. They have no intention of letting Paul be abused. He was under protection of Roman law.
Acts23:l: “Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.'”
…. Paul is known personally by some of the members of the Council. This contributes to his confidence in addressing them. He is probably searching their faces to see who is there. In his younger days, Paul was most likely a candidate for the Council. He also knew that not everyone on the Council harbored ill feelings towards the Nazarene movement.
The apostle gives a brief summary as way of testimony, but it doesn’t go over very well with one man in particular. Let’s call this man ‘the great hypocrite.’ (It will be shown that this is the case.)
Vs2: “The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.”
… Now we see where the venom lies. The leadership of Judaism at the time hated the Christ movement. This particular priest was known for his cruelty. He was put in office in 48 a.d., and removed from office by King Agrippa in 59 a.d. (About two years after this.) According to Josephus, Ananias was assassinated during the war with Rome in 70 a.d.
Vs3: “Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?'”
…. We may wonder what happened to Paul’s self-control, but there may be more to the story than this alone. What the apostle said was deliberate. He called Ananias a hypocrite. Jesus used similar language with regard to certain of the scribes and Pharisees; “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matt23:27)
This adds something to the picture. What Paul said may have been either a prophecy, or even a curse. In Judaism, to say, “God is going to strike you,” was to speak a curse. It is possible that the Holy Spirit had spoken through him.
Vss4,5: “But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”‘”
…. To not know Ananias was high priest is easily explained by the fact that Paul had been absent from Jerusalem for a great many years, and the priestly office changed every so often, either at the whim of the Romans, and others who were in charge. (Often to the highest bidder.)
Here is where we see Paul’s use of tact. He knows that under the present circumstances he does not have a chance for a fair hearing, and especially after calling for a curse on the high priest. But I wonder if this was simply the Spirit of Jesus speaking through Him, and calling things as they were.
Remember Jesus said, “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matt10:19,20)
Vs6: “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!'”
…. What a moment of triumph! Paul cries out loud enough for everyone to hear him. The Council makeup is of both Sadducee and Pharisee. He calls himself a son of ‘Pharisees.’ This implies that both his father and mother were Pharisees, as well as his forbearers. Then Paul reaches into Pharisee beliefs that are also beliefs carried by Christians, which is the resurrection of the dead. Of course the Sadducees do not believe in an resurrection, or in angels, or in miracles. (According to Talmudic writers, the Sadducees believed there was no other world except what we presently live in, that the soul and spirit die with the body.)
Notice the outcome:
Vss7-9: “As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?'”
…. Paul needs say nothing more. The Pharisees are now defending him. Notice that they are pretty much saying what Gamaliel had said many years earlier, concerning the mistreatment of Peter and John; “Stay away from these men and leave them alone, for it this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (Cf. Acts 5:34-39)
When the Roman commander sees that the things are about to come to blows, he takes charge.
Vs10:“And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.”
…. Has Jesus been a part of all this? After all, in the great commission, He said that He would be with us always. Here we next see something wonderful indeed.
Vs11: “But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.'”
…. Think about how many times this precious man has borne witness to Israel’s Messiah. Now the Lord appears in a vision to Paul. He is to take courage. Paul’s testimony must continue right up to Rome. This is what the apostle has in mind when he later writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith!” (2Tim4:7)
Vss12-22: Synopsis – More than 40 Jews bind themselves under oath to not eat or drink until they have killed Paul. The chief priests are to have Paul brought before the Council for further examination. Paul’s nephew hears of the conspiracy, tells it to Paul, and Paul has the nephew brought to the commander. This is the background for Paul’s relocating elsewhere. (You may wish to read these verses.)
… We may wonder what happened to these 40 men and their oath, but during that time it was an easy thing to be absolved of an oath. The religious leaders claimed power of binding and loosing, and could easily release someone from an oath.
Vs23,24: “And he called to him two of the centurions and said, ‘Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.’ They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”
…. Caesarea is about 70 miles from Jerusalem. The commander knows that the Jews can go to great lengths to accomplish their goals. He also knows that this man Paul is a man of importance. He has the troops ready by 9 p.m., before the request can be given to him by the Council, for Paul to be brought to them. There are 200 foot soldiers, and 70 cavalry men. This commander had no intention of letting the Jews get a hold of Paul. Behind all this is Paul’s Roman citizenship.
The Romans treat Paul with respect. The problem is that no reason could be found to place Paul in bonds of any sort. The Romans had to be quite careful how they dealt with him. Interestingly enough, the Romans could be fierce in dealing with conquered peoples, but very concerned when it came to Roman citizenship. This is why to hold Roman citizenship at that time was a great honor.
Vss25-30: Synopsis – This concerns the letter sent to Felix, by the commander explaining what he can about Paul. (You may want to read this portion.)
Vss31-34: Synopsis: The soldiers and their charge travel to Antipatris. Next morning the foot soldiers return to Jerusalem, and the horsemen travel with Paul on to Caesarea. There Paul is presented to the governor. Knowing that Paul is a Roman citizen, he asks which province he is from, and Paul tells him Cilicia.
The chapter closes with:
Vs35: “‘I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,’ giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.”
…. The commander had ordered Paul’s accusers to present their case before Felix. During this time Paul is kept in Herod’s Praetorium, which is actually a palace. You can be sure that Paul is given considerable liberty for friends to visit with him. We know that Luke is with him during all this time.
As we continue our journey with Paul for the remainder of Acts, the story will continue with added interest. Every time Paul makes a defense, it becomes an opportunity for the furtherance of the gospel.
Acts 24, 25, 26 Felix, Festus, and Agrippa
This study will differ from our prior studies in Acts, in that we will actually cover three chapters in one setting. The study deals with Paul’s appearances before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, before he begins his journey to Rome. While there are no questions with the study, you can be certain that it contains some very interesting insights.
The high priest Ananias arrives in Caesarea with a contingent of elders and an attorney named Tertullus. They intend to bring charges against Paul. But what they really want is for Paul to be returned to Jerusalem. There remains a death plot against him.
Paul is summoned and Tertullus begins with accusations. When he is finished, Paul is given permission to speak for himself. The apostle relates the events that led to the moment. Felix then decides to wait for Lysias the commander to come down to give his testimony. Once again Paul is remitted to custody, but given freedom for visits from friends and for any other ministry needs he may require.
Acts 24:24-27: Paul before Felix and his wife Drusilla.
Felix is deeply interested in this movement called ‘the Way.’ Some days later Felix brings his Jewish wife, wishing to hear more from Paul. As Paul discusses righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come, Felix becomes frightened, and says to Paul, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.” And so Paul continues as he was for two more years. But Felix sends for him often to hear more about the Way. At the end of the two years Felix is replaced by Festus.
Acts 25:1-6 – Paul before Festus.
Before Festus meets with Paul, he makes a trip to Jerusalem, where the chief priest and other leading men bring charges against Paul. They want Paul brought to Jerusalem. Festus refuses this request, but does allow certain of the leaders to accompany him back to Caesarea for a hearing. Paul is ordered to be brought forth. This time charges are added to charges.
Vs7: “After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove.”
…. While being unable to prove corruption against Paul, they only showed their own hearts. These were the kind that Paul warned about in his letter to the Philippians; “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.” (When we return to our Hebraic studies, I will share more in the deceit that came from this group in what was later called Talmudic Judaism.)
Vss8-9: Synopsis – Paul begins his defense, but Festus wishes to placate the Jews, so he says to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?” And here is where we see Paul play his ultimate card.
Vs10-11: “But Paul said, ‘I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.'”
…. When Paul said, “No one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar,” there was no more argument to be had. His Jewish accusers would have not more say in the matter.
Note: The law of appeal to Caesar was very sacred to the Romans. Under Julian law any magistrate, or any other with Roman authority, who put to death, or tortured, a Roman citizen who had made an appeal to Caesar, could themselves be condemned. It could even result in a death sentence. (This appeal was generally used as a final need. Most citizens would not want to appear before the emperor of Rome. But Paul must go to Rome.)
Vs12: “Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, ‘You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.'”
…. The council agreed that Paul should be sent to Rome. But this also relieved Festus of any obligation to the Jews, which he was really needed in beginning his new administration.
Acts 25:13-22 Festus lays Paul’s case before Agrippa.
King Agrippa and Bernice come to Caesarea to give their respects to Festus in his new office. Festus remains deeply disturbed over Paul, so he begins laying out the case before Agrippa. All this intrigues Agrippa, so he wishes to hear the apostle for himself. Festus says, “Tomorrow you shall hear him.”
Acts 25:23-27 thru Acts 26: Paul before Agrippa
Here is some of the most marvelous telling of Paul’s background and of the gospel. (I suggest that the reader review these Scriptures.)
Acts25:27: “For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”
…. This is how Festus finishes his presenting of Paul to Agrippa. What an awesome moment. The auditorium is filled. Agrippa’s entourage of commanders and prominent men of the city overflow the place where they are. And what an audience Paul has for this moment of presenting the gospel.
Acts 26: Synopsis – Paul is given permission to speak, and speak he did. He stretches out his hand, first giving honor to Agrippa, and then he gives his personal testimony from his youth up to the moment of His meeting Jesus Christ, and then completes what he has to say with the present proceedings. Does he affect his audience? Listen:
Vs24: “While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.'”
…. There is no question that Paul was a man of great learning, and a man well suited for his call to the apostleship. What is happening here is that conviction has settled over Festus. But keep in mind that Agrippa gave Paul the right to speak freely. Can you imagine the tense moment. The Holy Spirit has laid the case open before their eyes. Also keep in mind that King Agrippa’s father, Herod, had tried to destroy the Christian faith early on. If you will take time to reach through this portion, you will find Paul directing everything towards one man, King Agrippa.
Notice how Paul will not let Agrippa escape attention. He speaks directly to the king.
Vs26,27: “For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. ‘King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.'”
…. Paul leaves no opportunity to go amiss. The movement of Christ has made its impact everywhere. King Agrippa is well acquainted with the prophetic teachings on Messiah. What is Agrippa’s response?
Vs28: “Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.'”
…. That Agrippa was under deep conviction goes without saying. A close rendering of what he said would be, “You have nearly persuaded me to embrace Christianity.” Note again Paul’s boldness.
Vs29: “And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”
…. It is here that Agrippa and the council stands up. They are completely overwhelmed with the gospel. But they do what men often do. Rather than make a response, they take a side trip. In this case they all agree on the innocence of the apostle. But for the moment, perhaps that is as it should be. After all, the gospel doesn’t leave when the messenger leaves. It remains to continue its convicting work long afterward. It could well be that some of these peoples did turn to the
What is the outcome for Agrippa?
Vs32: “And Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.'”
…. There you have it. Paul’s testimony in Israel is finished. The rulers have heard the gospel. Where else could he speak? Both the Jewish authorities and the Roman rulers of the land have heard. And so now Paul must make his way to Rome.
Acts 27-28:10 Paul’s Ship Wreck
We are nearing the end of our study on Acts. There is only one study to be had after this one. What a journey! Think about it. We were with the apostles on the day of Pentecost. That was some 30 years ago. (Are you feeling older? 🙂
We were also with them just before the ascension of the Lord. Do you recall the last question the apostles asked before His ascension? They said, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” What was His reply? He said, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” The answer Jesus gave allows us to understand that a people group called Israel will one day, once again come under the direct rule of God through His Messiah.
The reason I want to point this out is because in just a short time, Israel as the a viable nation would disappear from the earth. Beginning in 70 a.d., she will disappear for almost 2000 years. But at the end of that time, the prophet said that a land and a nation would be born in one day. We saw that day take place on May 14, 1948.
Well, that’s a subject of its own. For now we need to get aboard ship. It’s going to be a rough journey ahead. I can tell you as an old salt, that the sea can be pretty troublesome at times. I’ve had my share of weathering gales and typhoons in the Pacific Ocean. (Was in the Navy 1959-1963)
This next to the last study will be a general synopsis on Paul’s ship travel to Rome. I don’t intend to scrutinize each verse. Rather, I’ll highlight a those things that will give additional insight into the workings of God. Paul has completed his testimony to Israel. There is no turning back. The Caesar must hear from this man. Are you ready? Ok — Let’s see if you have some sea legs.
Acts 27:1-20 – Synopsis – Paul is turned over to a centurion named Julius and they set sail for Italy. The apostle is well treated but the journey itself will be filled with threat of life. After various ports, and a change of ships, the weather begins to worsen. Then it becomes so dangerous that the crew and passengers began to despair for their lives. It continues to get worse. Finally they lose all hope of being saved from ship wreck. But Paul has something to say.
Vs21: “When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, ‘Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss.'”
…. The apostle had forewarned them. Now that they are in deep despair, he reminds them of this. Yet Paul also has a word of comfort for them. In fact this group of people need not worry any longer. They would make the journey safe. But not without mishap.
Vss22-24: “Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.'”
…. Only a man of God, with a Word from God, could say such a thing as did Paul. Yes, the ship will be lost, but not a person aboard the ship will lose their life. Paul then relays the reason why. An angel of God had been sent to him with a message. Paul must stand before Caesar.
…. We may wonder why the Lord did not simply save the ship and all its passengers. But here again we seen the wisdom of the Lord. All that happens through this will add to Paul’s credentials as an apostle, and to his witness to all who come in contact with him.
Vss25-44 Synopsis: Paul knew they must run aground. Even at this the sailors tried to escape from the ship. Their scheme is averted. Finally Paul convinces the crew to eat, and in doing this, he breaks bread in their presence and gives thanks to the Lord. Paul’s demeanor causes everyone to take courage. The following morning they see a bay and cast off anchors to allow the ship to be driven. The ship strikes a reef, runs aground, and then begins to break up.
It is at this point that the soldiers decide to kill the prisoners. The centurion not wanting Paul to be harmed, did not allow this to happen. Again keep in mind that under Roman military law, if a prisoner escapes it could well mean the death of the one who was entrusted with the care of the prisoner. But no one was going to lose their life that day. All made it to shore by clinging to various objects from the ship.
Acts 28:1-6 – Synopsis ‘The Island of Malta’
The natives of the island showed great kindness in ministering to the ship wrecked. But here again we will see an apostolic miracle and a testimony. While gathering sticks for the fire a viper fastens itself to Paul’s hand. After the apostle shakes the snake off into the fire, the natives watch him for quite a while to see when he would die. They assumed he was a criminal and that justice had come home. But when Paul didn’t die, they decided he was a god.
Let’s let the Scriptures speak for themselves….
Vss7-10: “Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days. And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured. They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed.”
…. This is the last mention of apostolic miracles and healings in the book of Acts, but it is telling enough. Notice it says the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were being healed. Paul is very much like his Master in this regard. It must have been an amazing thing to see all these miracle healings. You can be sure that a church is left on that island.
Special note on this study – I want to point out that we’ve merely skimmed the journeys of the apostle Paul. We’ve been with him on only one ship wreck. Paul tells us in another place that he was shipwrecked three times. In one case he actually spends a night and a day in the deep.
I want to close this study by sharing how Paul describes his difficulties as an apostle. He was forced to do this because of those who wished to challenge his calling. Listen carefully:
“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?– I speak as if insane– I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles,
dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” (2Co11:22-29)
Acts 28:11-31 Paul at Rome- A Word to the Jews
With this study we will complete the book of Acts.
There are a couple of things I need to reemphasize about the Acts of the Apostles. Acts was never intended to be simply a doctrinal book. Its emphasis is on the changing of covenants. The pattern in the preaching is ‘to the Jew first,’ and then to all other nations.
There is a simple truth in this. The new covenant completes the covenant of Moses. The Messiah had come. But the new covenant was made with Israel, and though many rejected Him, the essence of our faith still remains Hebraic. It is heavenly in its spiritual essence.
We have been looking at the very first disciples of Jesus Christ, and in particular the ‘apostles of the Lamb.’ No other person has ever had the authority given to the original apostles. This does not mean that healing and miracles ceased with them. It simply means that these men had the responsibility and authority for laying the foundation for the new covenant. For this reason they are to be held in honor along with God’s prophets of old.
Let me mention once again, that the new covenant had its beginning in Jerusalem, and will complete itself in Jerusalem. You’ve often heard me say this. However, this is a key note to understanding redemption history.
Ok, it’s time to go. Are you ready for Rome?
The Lord promised Paul that he would appear before Caesar. Let’s pick up from the island of Malta.
Vss11-15: Synopsis – Paul spends three months on Malta and then the apostolic band sets sail. After some port stops, the apostle arrives in Puteoli, Italy, which is about 120 miles from Rome. It should be noted that there were already Christians there. There is an ancient tradition that the bishop (pastor) of Puteoli was one of the 70 disciples that Jesus had sent forth. In any event, Paul was stayed with them for seven days.
“… and so we went toward Rome.”
From this point the apostolic group will travel by foot. Rome was the metropolitan city of the Roman Empire. It was known everywhere as the ‘city on seven hills.’ At that time she was considered the mistress of the whole world. Rome was supposedly built about 750 years before Christ. This would put its founding around the time of Isaiah the prophet, or somewhat earlier.
Vs16: “And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier that guarded him.”
…. Jewish Christians from Rome met Paul and brought him to the city. No one knows who began the work in Rome. Neither Peter nor Paul was involved in its beginnings. The church may have come as a result of Pentecost 30 a.d., and then grown from there. Paul wrote a letter to them. In fact to study early church doctrine it would be amiss not to place the letter to the Romans at the forefront.
Vss17-20: Synopsis – After three days Paul sent for the local Jewish leadership. When they came, Paul sets about to explain the events that led to his present circumstances. The apostle ends his defense with a statement that sets forth the true reason for his chains.
“… therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”
The expression ‘the hope of Israel’ had a rich meaning for the Jewish people. It spoke directly to Messiah. Jeremiah calls attention to this term in applying it to God; “O You Hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night?” (Jer14:8)
Vs21: “And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you.”
… It is quite interesting that no bad reports had been sent from the priests or the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Nor had any of the Jews from anywhere spoken evil of Paul. A lot could be read into this, but perhaps the prophet said it best, when he said, “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD..” (Isa54:17)
Vs22: “But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
… These Jewish leaders are quite open to Paul sharing the gospel with them. Notice that they speak of the Christians as a ‘sect.’ At that time the Jewish Christians were still pretty much considered one of the many sects of Judaism.
As for this ‘sect’ being spoken against, Jesus said it would happen. He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matt10:34-36)
Vss23-25: Synopsis – A day is set for the Jewish leadership to come hear to Paul speak of Messiah. He speaks to them from the law of Moses and from the prophets, “from morning until evening.” Some of the men are persuaded while others “would not believe.” It is at this point that Paul gives them one final word, in saying, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers…”
What Paul says next sets forth what happened to the Jewish peoples in their rejection of Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that the rejection isn’t simply against what Paul has to say, it is a rejection of the testimony of Moses himself and the rest of the prophets. In quoting from Isaiah….
Vss26,27: “‘GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY, “YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.”‘
… This tells us why it has been difficult to carry the witness of Jesus to Jewish people through the centuries. In rejecting the testimony of the prophets, they shut themselves off from the revelation of Christ.
But it goes much deeper. After the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d, a new Jewish religion arose from the ashes. This new religion set aside the prophets and put in their place the rabbis. Over time it became known as Talmudic or Rabbinic Judaism. But the seed bed had already been planted. This is what Jesus had in view when He spoke of ‘the traditions of elders.’
The one statement to keep in mind is, “They have closed their eyes.” The leadership shut their eyes to Jesus, and because of this the Lord said they had the greater sin. One day this will be reversed and the Lord will open their eyes.
Paul then says…
Vs28,29: “‘Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.’ When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.”
… Once again we see how the gospel was intended for all peoples of every kindred and tongue.
And so we come to the closure of the book of Acts. It says, Vss30,31: “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”
…. Does the story end here. Not according to some historians. It is said that Paul was set at liberty and traveled on into Italy, France and Spain. Perhaps he did. We do know that he desired to go to Spain. There was a large colony of Jews there. It is also interesting to note that modern Jewish demographics states that 90% of people from the Iberian region have Jewish lineage.
Well, we’ve reached the end of our journey through Acts. We began with ‘the promise of the Father.’ That promise has been the bulwark of Christianity down through the ages.
Of the story of Acts is still being played out.
The Lord bless you,