The BOOK OF ACTS / THE RECORD OF GOD,
THE HOLY SPIRIT, IN REGENERATION
The “Book of Acts” was a letter written by Luke, a doctor of medicine and a fellow laborer with Paul (Acts 16:10; Colossians 4:14). It was a letter written about the birth and early growth of the church that Jesus said He would build (Matthew 16:18). The letter was a continuation of what Luke had written earlier (The Gospel of Luke) about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, to a friend named Theophilus. Although Luke intended both letters as a surety to Theophilus, God would use Luke’s gospel as an intro-duction of the kingdom of heaven and its king, His Son, to the Gentile world, including the Greeks.
[Remember, the Gospel of Luke was written some years after the ascension of Jesus back into heaven, giving ample time for the word to have spread, even as far as Greece (Acts 2:5-11; 8:4).]
God intended that all of Christendom would have an accurate record of the birth and growth of the church of its first century. Working in the heart and mind of Luke God caused Luke to write a continuation of what he had begun in his first offering. The Book of Acts truly is a record of the birth and growth of the church, the men that God used to bring His purposes about, but further, it is a record of the Lord’s involvement in the birth of the church and of its phenomenal growth. Even though your copy of the Scriptures might read; “The Acts of the Apostles” it more so is, “the Work of God the Holy Spirit”.
Who then, was the human author of the Book of Acts? Peter – James – John – Paul; or Luke [Luke].
Who inspired Luke to write what he did? Theophilus – John – Matthew – Paul – or the Holy Spirit? [The Holy Spirit] (See 2nd Timothy 3:16; 2nd Peter 20-21).
Was Luke a Gentile or a Jew? [A Gentile]. See Colossians 4:11-14; In that letter Paul does not include him when he names certain Jewish brethren that had aided him during his imprisonment, but names him separately. And secondly, both of his letters were written to Theophilus, a Greek of some report. Most likely Luke himself was Greek, certainly a Gentile.
Did Luke personally know Jesus? Yes – NO. [No]
Where then did he get his information about Jesus? a) From Jewish religious leaders; b) From Matthew and others who personally knew Jesus. [From Matthew and others who personally knew Jesus].
From Luke 1:1-2 we read; “1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the word”. Luke gleaned his information from the apostles whom had accompanied Jesus for the three years of Jesus ministry. Even though Luke did not personally know Jesus his knowledge of Him was complete, From 1:3 we read; “3It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” In this second part of his letter “The Book of Acts” Luke wanted to assure Theophilus that what was then happening was a continuation of what Jesus had begun some thirty years earlier. From Acts chapter 1:1-5 we read; “1 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3 To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence”.
Many early church historians such as Eusebius, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr report that the composite letter, “Luke-Acts” was written in the early 60’s of the first century; possibly between A.D. 60 and A.D 62. This would have been approximately 30 years after Jesus had ascended into heaven. At some point during those early years Luke became a follower. His gospel paralleled Matthew’s gospel closely and possibly it was more from him, than the other apostles, that Luke gained much of his knowledge about Jesus. For certain, Matthew had been one of the eye-witnesses, and was one of the ministers of the word during those early years of the church.
Luke later became a friend and fellow laborer with the apostle Paul, and from him he would have learned much of what he wrote in this second part of his letter. Part of what he learned was by word of mouth from Paul, and the rest was from personal experience. We learn from chapter 16:10-11 that Luke joined Paul at Troas, and traveled with him into Macedonia as far as Philippi. He left Paul there. When Paul moved on Luke remained in the city of Philippi. About 8 years later when Paul came thru Philippi again (on his third missionary journey) Luke rejoined him and accompanied him to Jerusalem where Paul was arrested (20:6-21; 18). By this time a close bond had grown between them and Luke accompanied Paul to Rome (20:1-5). (Being a Roman citizen Paul had appealed to Caesar). According to Paul’s epistles (Philemon v.24 and Colossians 4:14) he continued to be Paul’s “fellow-laborer” till the end of his first imprisonment. (Many believe that it was Paul who led Luke to faith in Christ).
While the gospel of Luke tells us of Jesus’ life and the message He carried; the Book of Acts is about His ongoing work through the Holy Spirit. Luke’s composite work was intended to assure and encourage his friend Theophilus, but God intended that it to reach far beyond him, to the entire world. Early on in our study we will learn that God has not abandoned mankind, but is actively calling, regenerating, and confirming many to a walk of faith.
Jesus, the night of His arrest, told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to accomplish this miraculous work (John 14:12-28), and fifty days later He fulfilled that promise. From Acts 2:1-4 we read; “1When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance”. The wonder of it is, God continues this work today and will continue it until Christ establishes His millennial reign upon the earth.
[All Scripture references throughout this work are from the NKJV unless otherwise specified]
Acts / Chapter 1 – 2:13
Jesus’ Promise of the Holy Spirit and His Arrival
On the night that He was arrested, Jesus told His disciples what was about to happen that very night. He would be arrested, and then crucified the next day. That He would die, but rise to newness of life on the third day. That after His resurrection He would be with them for 40 days and then ascend into heaven. But, said He, I will not leave you comfortless I will come to you in the person of the Holy Spirit. That upon His arrival, the Spirit would cause them to know assuredly that He and the Father were of the same mind and of the same will. That He was in the Father and the Father in Him, they were one. That they (Father and Son) would manifest themselves to them (John 14:15-21). Further, He told them that the Spirit would reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8-11). Forty days later He gathered them together once again and commanded; “do not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, which He said, ‘you have heard from Me’” (Acts 1:4).
What was the promise of the Father? (John 14:15-17).
1) That Jesus would return from heaven and join them in Jerusalem. Or, 2) That the Holy Spirit would come to them, and indwell them. [The Holy Spirit would come to them, and indwell them].
When the Holy Spirit arrived, what would He do? 1) Bring peace between the Jews and the Romans. 2) He would baptize them. [He would baptize them].
We read from Acts 1:5 “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” To understand this, we must first understand what John’s baptism was about. John’s baptism was outward and physical. It was meant to identify those of Israel who claimed to be repentant of their sin. It was a declaration that the one baptized recognized their need of cleansing. It was a ceremonial washing. Such washings were a common practice of the Jew. Their priest for example, washed completely before administering their office, and the utensils used in those administrations were also completely washed. The baptism with the Holy Spirit was inward and spiritual. It was administered by God, who had made them clean through His word (John 15:3). It was a cleansing of their heart (their soul) not their flesh. The Holy Spirits baptism placed them in Christ, spiritually uniting them with Him; empowering them to fulfill God’s purpose. [Acts 1:8 “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”]
Certainly the Holy Spirit was given to guide them into all truth and to show them things to come. We read from John 16:13 “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and, He will tell you things to come”. But also, He would empower them. Up to this point, the disciples were like all other men, in that even though they had been made clean they were not endowed with heavens power. They were men working in and by their own strength. This would change when the Holy Spirit came upon and indwelt them. God Himself would empower these disciples to do what they could not otherwise do. They would become His witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Remember, they are the same men who about a month and half before had fled and deserted from Jesus when He was arrested.
We learn from Acts 1:12-14 that 120 disciples; including Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James were in an upper room of an unidentified house doing as the Lord had commanded; waiting for the promise of the Father. With them, were the women, Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers. These continued daily in prayer and supplication. It was these 120 disciples that the Holy Spirit first came upon and indwelt.
We read from Acts 2:1-4; “1When the Day of Pentecost had fully come (50 days after Christ’s ascension), they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
What a scene this must have been. Each one of the 120 saw a divided tongue of fire settling on his fellow disciples. Being Jews they would have understood these tongues as being God Himself settling on them. Several times in their Scriptures God appeared in the form of fire. [See Genesis 15:17; Exodus 3:2-6; 13:21-22; 19:18; and 40:38]. An amazing sight for sure, they each began speaking in other languages. Not just one language per disciple, but each one (120 of them) began speaking in multiple languages other than their given language. What these 120 disciples spoke on that day was not indiscernible utterances but known languages. We read from verses 2:5-11; “5And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.’”
As word spread about this phenomenon thousands gathered to see it for themselves. These thousands were Jews and proselytes out of much of the then known world, and as they listened to the disciples, each person to their surprise, heard them speak in their own language. There were others however that mockingly said, these men are full of new wine (Acts 2: 13). But, in refutation of that accusation Peter stood in the midst of them and delivered the first of two addresses he would deliver in the next few days.
Peter’s First Defense
The one hundred twenty disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem, waiting upon the Lord’s promise when, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon each of them empowering them to speak in tongues (languages) other than their own. Hearing of this phenomenon many Jews and proselytes who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost were amazed and perplexed, saying one to another, “what does all this mean?” (Acts 2:12). But, there were others who said mockingly, “these men are full of new wine, that is, these men are drunk” (2:13).In refutation of that charge, Peter, standing up with the eleven (vs. 2:14) raised his voice and said to them; “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:14-16).
Peter, recalling what Joel had prophesied concerning the end times believed this to be fulfillment of that prophecy and quoting Joel he said; “28And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions 29and also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days 30And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.31The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. 32And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance as the LORD has said, among the remnant whom the LORD calls”.
Was Peter right? Was this a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy? Not exactly, however, what had just happened was seen by Peter as the beginning of that fulfillment. Peter and the eleven were expecting the eminent return of Jesus. This is verified by what the believers did just a few months after Peter’s testimony. They that possessed lands and houses sold them and brought the proceeds to the apostles who distributed to every man who was in need (Acts 4:32-35). This wouldn’t have been done if they believed the Lord’s return was far off. Peter and his fellow disciples had no way of knowing that many centuries would pass before Jesus was to return. Peter and the disciples truly believed they were in the time that Joel had prophesied about. However, even though Peter was not correct in tying Joel’s prophesy with what had just happened, God used the mention of the prophesy to get the attention of the crowd that had gathered.
[Joel’s prophecy will actually find fulfillment during the tribulation. During that 7 year period God will judge the nations for their wickedness. During that 7 year period many of Israel will turn to God and repent of their sins and will call upon the name of the Lord. That is, they will ask God for forgiveness. When they do, God will forgive them of their sin and pour out His Spirit upon them and they will glorify God in their actions, prophesying and worship. Old men will dream heavenly dreams and young men shall see heavenly visions].
Having gotten the attention of the crowd that had gathered, Peter said; “22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: 23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. 25 For David speaketh (Psalm 16:8-10) concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: 26 Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: 27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. 29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day.30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 34For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he said himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”.
Peter stood (2:22) before the same people whom he was so afraid of 53 days before, accusing them of killing Jesus. The man he had denied knowing he now openly declared to be the Holy One of God. In the body of his confession, Peter said; “you by wicked hands crucified Jesus”. However, said Peter, “death could not hold Him. God raised Him from the dead”. He tells these men of Israel that their great king, King David had prophesied about this many centuries before. He testified: “25 For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: 26 Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: 27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption”.
Hearing that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead after having been crucified, and having been confronted with their implicitly in His crucifixion, many were hit hard by Peter’s testimony. Some would hit with mortal fear, they had demanded that Jesus be crucified. Others were genuinely sorrowful, realizing that they had been involved in the death of an innocent man. When the truth of Peter’s testimony hit them, many of them were convicted “by the Holy Spirit” of their sin, and of what they had done, and said to Peter and the other apostles “37Men and brethren, what shall we do?” to which Peter replied “38 Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
They were to repent not just of having been involved in the crucifixion of God’s Holy One, but of their sinful lives, of all of their sin. Peter was calling them to turn away from their sinful lifestyles and turn to following holiness. They were to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. The baptism that Peter was calling for was identification with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. By doing so the one being baptized was testifying that he was placing himself under the authority of Jesus Christ. That he was stepping away from the ordinances of his Jewish religion and was placing his faith and trust in the risen, Holy One, Jesus. By such a baptism the born again Jew or Jewish Proselyte was identifying himself with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In essence, said person was swearing allegiance to Jesus. [For the remission of sins might better be translated “because of the remission of sin]. This would have been difficult for those who obeyed Peter’s call. Publically identifying themselves with Jesus death, burial and resurrection ostracized them from all that was of their Jewish heritage and from their families. They became as dead to them.
Peter went on; “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (vs. 40). In response to this exhortation, we read “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (2:41).
[From eternity past God had predetermined that Jesus would die an atoning death as part of His predetermined plan. (See 2nd Timothy 1:9; Revelation 13:8; 17:8)]. As Peter continued his testimony he told his audience that even though it was by their wicked hands that Jesus was crucified, His death was the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God (vs.23)].
Chapters 2 Through 4
Eight Thousand Plus Souls Added To The Church
Acts 2:41-47 / Three Thousand Souls;
“41Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved”.
What happened first, to these 3 thousand persons (souls)? 1) They were baptized 2) They believed (received) the word. [They believed the word].
[As we progress through record Luke’s letter we will find that this is always the succession. Never is a person baptized before he (or she) believes, that is, before they are saved. Baptism in every situation followed salvation. We shall find, never was a person asked, or allowed, to be baptized unless they had declared or demonstrated their trust in Christ for their salvation].
Three thousand souls (persons) committed their lives into the hands of Jesus Christ on that day for their salvation. In what had they been trusting? They had been trusting in the Law of Moses (a.k.a. works). But, by the power (the authority) of the Holy Spirit they came to understand that by the law they could not stand righteous before Holy God. Not because of the weakness of the law, but of their inability to keep it. The law in fact condemned them.
[It is the same with all who stand righteous in the eyes of God. It is not by the law but by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to Nicodemus (and by extension, us); “3 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God….5 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3…5-8). It was the Holy Spirit of God that convicted and convinced them of their sin. But, beyond that, it was the Holy Spirit that convinced them that their salvation rested in Christ, not the Law].
What happened to them when they trusted in Christ for their salvation? The Holy Spirit placed them into spiritual union with Jesus Christ. They became joint heirs with Christ and spiritual brothers with other believers. (Romans 8:14-17; 1st Corinthians 12:12-13). They were baptized with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Paul explains in 1st Corinthians 12:12-13 that all believers have been placed in the body (the church) by the baptism of the Spirit. They are to drink of the indwelling Spirit. Nowhere in Scripture are believers told to be baptized with, in or by the Spirit, or in any sense to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This indicates that all believers have this experience when saved. Paul supports that conclusion in his letter to the Ephesians; “4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NKJV). Spirit baptism is the reality for every believer at salvation, just as “one faith” and “one Father” are the believer’s reality (Ephesians 4:5).There is no such thing as a second blessing, that is, something that is added at some point after initially receiving the Holy Spirit; i.e. speaking in tongues.
The saved on that day (Jews and possibly some proselytes) did not understand all that had been accomplished on their behalf, but they were overwhelmed by the realization that they had been forgiven of their sins, forgiven not by anything that they had done, but by what Jesus had accomplished by His death burial and resurrection. They were so overwhelmed that they immediately wanted to testify of their faith in Him in a way that would show their dependence on Him and their commitment to Him. Luke writes that in a desire to testify of what had taken place in them, they identified with Jesus death, burial and resurrection by water baptism. Their testimony by this baptism was that they considered themselves dead to their old way of life, and that they had been raised in newness of life. In the Jewish society of that day this would not have been a shallow commitment. In essence they were giving up all that was theirs by inheritance. By trusting in and committing themselves to Jesus for their salvation and identifying with Him they knew they would become as a dead person to their families. They knew that they could possibly lose all that they once owned; business ties for instance may be lost resulting in financial ruin, yet they could not resist what had occurred. They were truly born again persons; they had been born from above. What happened in Jerusalem that day was supernatural; three thousand Jews had had a life changing experience.
That this was not just a passing fancy is evidenced in what followed the next few days, and beyond. Rather than meeting in their synagogues to hear the reading and discussion of the Law, they fellow-shipped with the apostles who were continually giving testimony about the grace of the Lord by word, wonders, and signs. They continued daily in fellowship and prayer with the apostles and with one another. As their under-standing grew they were overtaken by reverential awe. They were so moved that they held all things in common. They that had possessions and goods shared them with everyone who had a need. The Jews who had not come to faith that day, were in wonder of them and the Lord added daily to the church, such as should be saved (Acts 2:42-47).
What should we understand from this? We should understand that when conviction came it was life changing, and that that conviction came from hearing the truth about Jesus Christ. That it wasn’t Peter words that convinced or convicted them. It took the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. There were many others that day, who had also heard about Jesus, had seen many of the signs and wonders He did during the past three years, had been party to or had heard about His crucifixion, and had heard that after being dead and in the tomb 3 days He had resurrected to newness of life. Yet, they would not believe what Peter was saying about Him, that He was sitting at the right hand of God having been glorified and made Lord and Savior (Acts 2:32-36). But, this raises an interesting question; Why did 3,000 persons believe Peter’s testimony and commit their lives to Jesus for salvation and direction of life, but thousands would not? The answer comes from two directions, from the direction of man, and from the direction of God.
Jesus said of man, “19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). Man, in his natural (fallen) state shuts God out because of the evil that pervades his soul. All persons are born in this state, in this condition. There is no natural desire in man of turning to true God. But God, from His direction, overcomes the evil that pervades man and births in him a new nature, a nature that ignites in him new desires; a desire to put his sin behind him, a desire to please God, a desire to fellowship with God and a desire to serve Him. According to a passage we cited earlier, John 3:1-8, this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit when He births new spiritual life in those to whom He has been sent. What must we conclude from this? In that the Holy Spirit cannot fail in His mission it can only be concluded that He is not sent to everyone with the intent of spiritual regeneration.
Among those who would not accept Peter’s message; the Holy Spirit’s miraculous healing of a lame man through Peter and John (Acts 3:1-11); and a second message Peter preached (Acts 3:12-26) were priests, the captain of the temple and the ruling council. Instead of receiving and believing Peter’s message, they arrested Peter and John, and put them in custody overnight (Acts 4:1-3). We read from Acts 4:5-22; “5And it came to pass, on the next day, (after the healing of the lame man and Peter’s sermon) that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”
In response “8Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ 12Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
From verses 4:13-22 we see the result of having a hardened heart and being in spiritualdarkness….
“13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16saying, ‘What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.’ 18So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’ 21So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. 22For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed”.
From their denial and rejection it is clear that not everyone will accept the “good news” about Jesus Christ; that salvation is found in Him and Him alone. But, regardless of the rejection of many there will be many others who will believe and trust in Jesus for their salvation. We read that in spite of the denial and rejection of the Jewish religious leaders, and their attempted intimidation of Peter and John, proximately an additional five thousand people committed themselves to Jesus for their salvation (Acts 4:4).
[Could not the Holy Spirit have overcome the hardness of their heart as He did the 8,000 Jews? Yes, He could have had this been part of God’s plan for them at that time. Some, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea would eventually come to salvation, but it would be according to God’s timing and purpose. From this, we should understand; not everyone we witness to will believe; only those whom God calls, will believe. It is the Holy Spirit that convinces and convicts. And, we must realize, He cannot fail. Those, to whom He has been dispatched, will be saved.]
CHAPTER 4:23 – CHAPTER 5
Boldness, Unity and Purification
From Acts 4:23-28 we read; “23And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: ‘Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ.’ 27For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”
Being let go, Peter and John sought out their companions (possibly the 120 disciples, certainly the other 10 apostles) and reported to them what the Holy Spirit had accomplished through them; the healing of the lame man, and of the five thousand coming to faith. They told of being arrested; of being interrogated the next day by the ruling counsel, and that when intimidated by the counsel, they were able to stand strong by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As Peter and John finished their report, the assemblage of disciples “24 raised their voice to God with one accord and said: ‘Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:’ ‘Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ.’ ‘27For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done’. 29Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus. 31And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:24-31).
Having heard Peter and John’s report the disciples broke out in praise of God for His empowering their brethren (Peter and John) to speak with such boldness. They remembered that they all had fled in fear a few weeks earlier when Jesus had been arrested. Recalling what their great king, David, had said about the enemies of God of his day and what they themselves now faced, they, with one accord, asked God that He would grant them this same boldness. Immediately, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness (vs.31), not just among themselves, but publically. With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all (vs.33).
The multitude of disciples was of one mind and one purpose. They were spiritually and materially united. Their cause was a common cause. Expecting that the Lord would soon return those who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold to the apostles to be distributed those who had need. Instead of selfishly holding on to personal possessions, these converts from Judaism to Christianity looked upon their property as belonging to all the fellowship (vs’s 32-37). This, of course would have been a great witness to those who were not as of yet Christians. Those who were outside of the faith were in great wonderment of that which was occurring amongst the followers of Christ and Luke writes that it wasn’t just wonderment by which they beheld the church, but also with great fear (5:11), He explains why this was so in 5:1-10.
Consider; “1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ 5Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. 7Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8And Peter answered her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?’ She said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ 9Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ 10Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband” (Acts 5:1-10).
This judgment of God had a two-pronged affect; many other persons, both men and women were added to the number of disciples. But, because of what might happen to them it also prevented those who would not place their faith in Christ to align themselves with the disciples. We read from verses 5:11-16; “11So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. 12And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. 13Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. 14And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. “14And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. 16Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”
[Today, people join churches with little regard of the seriousness of such a step. They seemingly disregard that the Lord of the church of the apostle’s day is the same Lord of this day. That He is as holy today as He was then. Many today do not fear the Lord nor do they respect (fear) His representative body, the church. Not so, the church of our text. We read that the rest of the people, those whom would not believe, so feared what might happen to them, dared not join the church. In these first weeks and months of the church the Lord’s purpose was to set it apart (distinguish it) from the unsaved world. The impact of this was so powerful that over the next 60 years or so, many of Israel, Asia, Africa, Europe and Greece would become Christian’s, but to some degree this started with the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira as the Holy Spirit maintained the church’s purity].
From verses 5:17-28, we read; “17Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. 19But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘20Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.’ 21And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23saying, ‘Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!’ 24Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. 25So one came and told them, saying, ‘Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’ 26Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’
How amazing this is; People in Jerusalem and the surrounding cities brought their sick to the apostles and they were healed of their illnesses and many of demon possession (5:11-16). The apostles, who had been locked up in the local prison, were miraculously found in the temple the next day, proclaiming the word of the Lord. Yet, instead of being moved favorably toward them and the Lord they represented, the religious council and the high priest forbade them to continue teaching in His name. And, when Peter and the other apostles refused, by saying; “29We ought to obey God rather than men. 30The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (29-32), they were furious and plotted to kill them (vs.33).
[This testifies that unless the Holy Spirit moves in the mind and heart (the soul) of man (John 3:1-8; 1st Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:1-5) he will not believe].
God however, had not abandoned them, Luke informs us that Gamaliel, a Pharisee and a teacher of the law stood up “34 and commanded the council to put the apostles outside for a little while. 35And he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. 37After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. 38And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God’” (5:34-39).
Luke doesn’t tell us if Gamaliel was a Christian in secret at this time (or if he later became a Christian), but he was at least a dispassionate judge, a student and teacher of the Law (Acts 22:3) who rose above the prejudices of his party, the Pharisees. Candor and wisdom seem to have been the features of His character. Christian or not, the Holy Spirit used him in argument against the proposed murder of the apostles. Because of his judgment and defense “40 the council agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His (Jesus’) name. 42And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. The church was well on its way!
Chapter 6 / Growth Necessitates Order
“1Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists (The Greek Speaking Jews) because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2Then the twelve (the 12 apostles) summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ 5And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.”
In the early church it was customary to make daily disbursements to the widows of the church who had no other means of support. Some of the believers who were Greek-speaking Jews complained because their widows were not receiving the same treatment as the widows of the Hebrew-speaking Jews. The twelve apostles realized that with the increasing growth of the Church this problem could escalate from a minor problem to a major problem, causing division.
[Satan is the great enemy of the church and if he cannot destroy it by attacks from without, he will seek to cause dissension and overthrow if from within. Such was the case in the young church of our text].
In order to head off such a situation the apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, called the assembly of believers together and encouraged them to search out and appoint seven men who were known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. The apostles believed it was not good to forsake the time needed for prayer and the administration of the Word. The seven men chosen were to be; of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom. They would have needed to purport themselves well, without reproach. They were not only representatives of the Church but its head, the risen and ascended Christ. As they served the needs presented interaction with those served certainly would have followed. Other needs would also arise that would need to be addressed, addressed in holiness and with spiritual wisdom.
Although the above named men were not designated as deacons, it is not unreasonable to think of them as such. In the expression, “serve tables” (vs. 2), the word “serve” is the verb form of the noun from which we get the English word “deacon,” so their function literally was to “deacon” tables. Many churches of our day have appointed men as deacons and they, as the above named seven, should also be of the same qualification. The apostle Paul, in his instructions to Timothy wrote that deacons, were to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain (1st Timothy 3:8). They were keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. (3:9) They were first be tested; and then if there was nothing against them, could serve as deacons (3:10). A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well (3:12).
Paul added that; Not only must a deacon be above reproach but their wives must also purport themselves well also. He wrote: “In the same way, their wives were to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” 3:11).
Because of the faithfulness of the named seven men the apostles were able to consecrate themselves to praying and teaching of the word and as a result; “The word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (6:7).
But, this wasn’t without opposition from the greater Jewish community. We read from 6:8-15; “8Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. 11Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.’ 12So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6. 8-15). 13They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’15All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
Members of the local synagogue rose up against Stephen in argument against his teaching, but they were unable to succeed, he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. In a desperate move to silence him, they secretly induced false witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy against Moses and God. He soon was standing before the Sanhedrin, charged with speaking blasphemous words against the temple and the law. The Sanhedrin heard the charges, but as they looked at Stephen, they saw not the face of a demon, but a face of purity and holiness. They saw a life fully surrendered to the Lord, determined to proclaim the Truth, being more concerned with what was pleasing and acceptable to God than with what was acceptable to them. They saw something of the glory of Christ reflected in the radiance of his face.
Chapter 7 / Stephen’s Defense
When asked by the high priest if the charges against him were true (7:1) Stephen answered and testified; “7:2 Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ 4Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, God) moved him to this land in which you now dwell. 5And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, God promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.
6But, God added that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years. ‘7And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.’ 8Then God gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs.
‘9But the patriarchs, becoming envious of their brother Joseph, sold him into Egypt. But God was with him 10and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. 11Then there was a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. 12But, when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. 13And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh. 14Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. 15So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died in Egypt, he and our fathers. 16And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.
17But, when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt 18till another king arose who did not know Joseph. 19This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live. 20At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months. 21But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. 22And.Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds 23Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. 24And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. 25For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. 26And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’ 27But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.
30And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord (Pre-incarnate Jesus) appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. 31When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, 32saying, ‘I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look. 33Then the LORD said to him, ‘Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. 34I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
35This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel (by pre-incarnate Jesus) who appeared to him in the bush. 36He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. 37This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ 38This was the same Moses who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, 39whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. 42Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven (stellar deity’s of their own imaginations), as it is written in the book of the Prophets:‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel 43You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan; figures which you made to worship.” God said; For this (because of your sin) I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’
44Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as God appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling (a temple) for the God of Jacob. 47But Solomon built Him a house. 48However, said Stephen; the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet reports God saying: ‘49Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest 50Has My hand not made all these things?’ 51You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute and kill…. those who foretold the coming of the Just One (Jesus)? He who now you have become the betrayers and murderers of. (See Acts 7:2-52).
Starting with the call of Abraham Stephen laid out there whole history up to their slaying of Jesus Christ the Just One. But, rather than being moved to toward repentance “54 they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth…57They cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58and they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (7:54..57-58).
His execution was witnessed by Saul, (58b) who was as exercised against the followers of Christ as was his contemporaries. Luke will tell us more about him in chapter 9 when he himself will be apprehended by the Holy Spirit and will become a changed man.
Stephen, rather than cursing his executioners, knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (vs.60). And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Chapter 8 / Into Samaria and Ethiopia
Following the stoning of Stephen, Saul with unbounded energy against Christians (followers of Christ) went through-out Jerusalem dragging his hapless victims from their homes and committing them to prison. This persecution so intensified that the followers of Christ, because of this persecution, fled into Judea and Samaria. We read from Acts 8:1-4 “1Now Saul was consenting to his (Stephens) death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
The Lord had commissioned His followers to begin their witness in Jerusalem, but then to reach out to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Up to this time, their witness had been confined entirely to Jerusalem. Expecting that the Lord would soon return, they were comfortable in the company of one another and the leadership of the apostles. But now in fear of persecution they scattered to those other areas, at least into Judea and Samaria. The apostles though, remained in Jerusalem. From the human standpoint, it was a dark day for the believers. The life of a member of their fellowship (Stephen) had been taken and they were being chased like criminals. But, from the divine standpoint, it was not dark at all. The Lord’s intended purpose for them was fulfilled. Leaving Jerusalem they became His witness throughout the named regions, and elsewhere. Their dispersal however did not silence their testimony; everywhere they went they carried the good news of salvation. Thus, the primitive Church began to fulfill its commission as the Lord had prophesied.
Sometime after the dispersion, Philip, one of the seven (Acts 6:5) went down to a certain city in Samaria and proclaimed Christ. We read from Acts 8.5-13: “5 Then Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8So there was great joy in that city”.
This is interesting because up to this point there was great animosity and disrespect between the Jews and the Samaritans. Samaritans were the descendants of Assyrians and Israelites of the Northern Kingdom who had been taken into captivity by Shalmaneser the Fifth in 727 BC. Sargon, Shalmaneser’s successor, colonized Samaria with 27,290 of both peoples, the Assyrians and the Israelites. Mixed marriage was a result of this dual colonization and their offspring became known as Samaritans. Because of their willingness to compromise the worship of God with the idolatry of the Assyrians the Israelite descendents became despised by the true Jew, those who had descended from Judah, the Southern Kingdom.
To carry the message of Christ to these people would not have been a natural desire, in fact it would have been very much against the disposition of any Jew, but here Philip goes, preaching that very message. But Philip was no longer a normal Jew, He now was a Christian Jew indwelt by the Holy Spirit, “God” Himself. Because of that indwelling Phillip could no longer look upon the Samaritans as he previously had; he now looked upon them with the love of God.
[An observation—As God the Holy Spirit indwelt Philip, He indwells every believer today. The believer of today cannot honestly claim to love God and have hatred for others]
That Phillip didn’t go into Samaria by his own decision, or in his own strength, is evidenced by the “miraculous signs” that the Holy Spirit worked through him. Many paralytics and cripples were healed and evil spirits were cast out of many. Because of these miraculous signs, the people of that city listened to Philips message. Many of them believed Phillip’s Message and were added to the church. They testified of their faith in Christ for their salvation by water baptism, their declaration that they now considered themselves dead toward their old way of life, but alive in newness of spiritual life. (See Acts 8:5-8; 12).
However, not all truly believed; “9But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God’…18And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ 20But Peter said to him, ‘Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.’ 24Then Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me’” (8:9-11…18-24).
That Simon wasn’t truly repentant of his sin is found in his words, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.” There is not a hint of repentance, only fear of judgment. He was not sorry for his sin, only for the consequences it would assuredly bring.
[This should be a red flag; many today ask God that He would forgive them of their sin, not from a repentant heart, but because of the fear of judgment. A true repentant heart is possessed only by those who have truly made Jesus the Lord of their lives].
Our passage tells us that upon hearing that the Samaritans had received the Word and had become followers of Christ, the apostles dispatched Peter and John to see if these things were so. Being convinced that salvation had truly come to the Samaritans they prayed for that they might receive the Holy Spirit, and when they laid their hands upon them, He descended upon them (8:14-17).
A question arises; why didn’t the Samaritan’s receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized? At Pentecost those who believed Peter’s message (Acts 2:38-39) Repented; trusted in Jesus for their salvation; indentified themselves Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection by water baptism and then received the Holy Spirit. But, Here the Samaritans who came to trust in Jesus for their salvation likewise identified themselves with Jesus death, burial and resurrection by water baptism, but they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until several days later when Peter and John, coming from Jerusalem, prayed for them and laid their hands on them. Why?
We must remember, the church was in its infancy, and the Samaritans, and Gentiles who were soon to follow, needed to be accepted by the original members of the church, who at this time were Jews. This would happen when Peter and John returned to Jerusalem (Acts 8:25; 15:14-81) and testify that they had witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon the Samaritans as he had on them on Pentecost. The Jewish Christians of Jerusalem needed to know that they and the Samaritan believers were one in Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This would head off any schism that might arise. They now were of the same faith and served the same Lord, this would have removed all doubt that salvation had now come to the Samaritans. The Holy Spirit was God’s gift to the Samaritans, as He is God’s gift to all who trust Christ for their salvation.
[The Holy Spirit is God’s gift, Simon thought He could be purchased and used for his own advantage. Condemnation was to be his lot. This should alert the professed Christian of our day; The Holy Spirit cannot be bought or earned. Such persons need to be reminded; the Holy Spirit was given to the Samaritans, and the Jews, freely, before they had done any works. He was God’s gift to them. Their acceptable works commenced after receiving the Holy Spirit].
[William MacDonald (Believer’s Bible Commentary) writes; “It is from this man Simon that we get the modern word ‘simony’—making a business out of that which is sacred. It includes the sale of indulgences and other supposed spiritual benefits, and all forms of commercialism of divine matters”].
8:26-40 / The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch
Having concluded their mission in Samaria Peter and John went back to Jerusalem and reported to the apostles and the church that the Samaritans had also received the Holy Spirit. Philip however was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert of Gaza. Read from verses 26-40; 26Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” 30So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”31And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him”. 32The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “ 7He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth 8In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth” (Isaiah 53:7-8). 34So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
37Then 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.” 38So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
From verse 26 we read that an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, instructing him to go into the desert of Gaza (Gaza, a city of Ethiopia). Philip was not told why, but that he was to go there. He did not know it, but he had a divine appointment. He would meet a man whom he was to share the gospel with. As we examine this account we see God’s hand at work, both in the life of Philip and in the life of the eunuch. First we find that the Holy Spirit had directed Philip to take the specific route that would bring him into the presence of the eunuch. Secondly, the timing was exact. Philip had left Samaria, and the eunuch left Jerusalem at such time as would cause their paths to cross. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit had caused the eunuch to be reading Isaiah 53.7-8:
The first consideration; Philip would have been content to stay in Samaria administering to the churches that had grown out of his witness, and establishing new church groups. But, an angel of the Lord spoke to him (probably in a dream or a vision) directing him to go into the desert area of a city named Gaza located in Ethiopia and in obedience to that instruction he went.
The second consideration; Philip left Samaria at such time that would bring him into the presence of the eunuch and the eunuch left Jerusalem at such time that would bring him into the presence of Philip. Was this a coincidence or was this by divine appointment? Certainly this was by divine appointment. Remember, it was God’s messenger (an angel) that had directed Philip to leave the ongoing work in Samaria and go to Ethiopia.
The third consideration; The Holy Spirit caused the eunuch to be reading from Isaiah 53.7-8 at the exact time that Philip would appear. He read; “ 7He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth 8In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth”.
As the eunuch was reading from Isaiah the Holy Spirit prompted Philip to approach the chariot in which the he was sitting, and as he did, he overheard what the eunuch was reading and then the Holy Spirit prompted Philip to ask; “Do you understand what you are reading?” Responding to Philips question the eunuch asked “how can I understand unless someone explains it to me?”
What an opportunity the Holy Spirit had opened for Philip!
[The eunuch had apparently become a convert to Judaism, since he had been to Jerusalem to worship and was now returning home. Judaism, however, would not and could not save him (make him spiritually right with God), it was his schoolmaster. He had to be brought to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is no different with us. Our religion will not save us; only faith in God the Son can accomplish that].
Isaiah 53:7-8 was the exact place from which a comparison could be made between the sacrificial lamb of Judaism and the sacrificial Lamb of Christianity. Salvation was to be the eunuchs through the shed blood of God’s Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. Also, the Holy Spirit opened the eunuch’s understanding in order that he could receive the truth of that which he was reading. Upon understanding, immediate conversion followed. He was reborn spiritually from above (Jn. 3.3-8).
Consider God’s hand in this…
(1) Sometime in his past he had become a convert to Judaism. The Holy Spirit had convinced him that the God of the Jews was the only true God.
(2) The Holy Spirit had created in him a hunger to know more about “God” evidenced by the fact that he was reading from the book of Isaiah.
(3) The Holy Spirit had given him a hunger for God. His religion was not passive, we find him returning from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship.
(4) And, It was not by chance that he was (at the time of Philip’s arrival) reading from Isaiah 53.7-12. It was because of the Holy Spirit working in his mind and upon his heart.His salvation was not of chance, but by divine purpose. He was one of those who were divinely appointed to salvation (see John 1:11-13; John 3:1-8; Ephesians 2:1-8). The proof that the eunuch had entered into spiritual life is evidence by his immediate desire to be identified with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
This should cause us to stop and think of our own salvation and to be appreciative of it. It did not come about by our own choice, but by the election of God. Each person’s coming to Christ may be somewhat different, but each one’s coming is not because of heritage (of blood) nor because of human decision (the will of the flesh, self) nor of a father’s will for his child (the will of man), but by the will of God (Jn. 1.13).
Philip and the eunuch separated after the eunuch had been baptized, the eunuch back to the royal courts of Candace, the queen of Ethiopia, and Philip, being led by the Holy Spirit to Azotus on the western side of Judea. Traveling north he testified in all the cities along the coast until he came to Caesarea.
Salvation had now come to the Jews (a pure race), to the Samaritans (peoples of a mixed race), and now to the Ethiopians, people of a different color. Jesus command to His disciples, that after receiving the Holy Spirit they should be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea, in Samaria and to the uttermost part of the earth, was being carried out. And, it continues today.
Chapter 9 / The Calling and Salvation of Saul
During the time that Philip had been in Samaria (about a two year period), and then led by the Holy Spirit to go into Ethiopia to witness to an Ethiopian eunuch, Saul (to whom we had been introduced back in Acts chapter 7:58) was going throughout Jerusalem leading a persecution against the church.
We read from Acts 9:1-2; “1Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
But, something dramatic was about to happen to Saul; what was it?
We read from verses 3-9: “3As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 5And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 6So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ 7And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
Paul had been convinced that Jesus was dead and buried in a Judean grave. He was convinced that since the leader of this sect was dead, the way to end this idolatry (His thinking) was to get rid of His followers, quite a task, because by then they numbered in the thousands. But now with crushing force, Saul learns from Jesus himself that He was not dead. Saul was confronted by the very person whom he had denied and rejected.
Those that were traveling with Saul also saw the light and heard the sound. However, they heard the voice as a noise, not as a discernible voice (See Acts 22:9). This helps us understand why today not everyone who hears the gospel message with his or her physical ear hears it with a spiritual ear. In our day, a gospel message may be preached, to a group of several thousand but only one may hear it with understanding, the one to whom the Holy Spirit speaks. Paul in 1st Corinthians 2:14 wrote; “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” As in Saul’s case, a person who hears and understands the gospel; is a person whom God has effectually called out of spiritual darkness and in whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated newness of spiritual life.
Returning to our text, we read from verses 9:10-19;
10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 17Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and 19aafter taking some food, he regained his strength.
We’ll consider Ananias in more depth shortly, but continuing the call and conversion of Saul we read; “19bSaul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ 22Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
We learn more about Saul’s conversion from his letter to the Galatians. He wrote: “13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal.1.13-16).
By the time Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, he had realized that long before he had done anything, good or bad, he had been chosen, separated from his mother’s womb and called by God’s grace. As we consider this, we are reminded of Jesus calling his disciples. We read from John 15:16a; “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.” This by the way is true of everyone who is truly born of God. He or she didn’t choose Jesus as their Savior, He choose them.
God is in the business of calling people out of spiritual darkness, creating in them new spiritual life so that He might work through them in order to bring about His purpose. (John 3:1-8; Ephesians 2.1-10). Before God created the world, He had chosen Saul to be His representative to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). It wasn’t by chance that God had purposed that he be of pure Jewish decent, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; or that he was a Pharisee, giving him a knowledge and understanding of the true God and the law (Philippians 3:5). And it was not mere coincidence that he had been taught at the feet of Gamaliel, the leading teacher of Hebrew laws and customs (Acts 22:3), or that he was advanced to leadership in Judaism above his fellows (Galatians 1:14). His understanding of the gospel came by direct revelation from Jesus Himself (Galatians 1:10-18).
God used all these things in Saul’s life to bring him to Himself and to cause him to be the person that he was. Our story (our personal history) may be different than that of Saul, yet our coming to God is by no means less significant, for if we are His, we are first called out of spiritual darkness, convinced and convicted of our sin, and brought to a point of repentance and commitment.
From a heavenly perspective, Saul was called and confirmed in the councils of God before His creative acts (Ephesians 1:1-5) but it was now time from the human perspective to bring his salvation about and to change him into the man that God intended him to be.The things that had occurred in the life of Saul before his calling, had God’s intended effect, but the stoning of Stephen and his words of “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” may have been that which overwhelmed him more than anything else.
Isn’t it the same with us? None of us just all of a sudden committed ourselves to Jesus. There were things that occurred in our lives over the years that brought us to a point of believing that Jesus was in fact God in the flesh; that He was given by God as our propitiation; that He paid the penalty of our sin; that because of His sacrifice, we are acceptable to God, and our sins are forgiven. Perhaps He used some person, various trials (tribulations), or maybe in was a sermon or a Bible study. Whatever brought us to Christ it was the work of God. [Praise the Lord].
We learn from the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) that the rich man’s brother’s would not be convinced of the truth of God even if they were to be confronted by someone whom had arisen from the dead. From John 3.1-8, we learn that a person must be reborn spiritually before he or she can understand (see) the kingdom of God. And from 1st Corinthians 2:14, we learn that “the natural man is unable to receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” So it was with Saul. It was time for Saul to be confronted by Jesus “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” On his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians of that city, he himself was arrested by the realization of the truth about Jesus and of what he was doing. He was persecuting not only the followers of Jesus, but Jesus Himself. And so it is with us. There came a time in our lives (for we who have been born again) when we were confronted with our sin, brought to the realization that our sin was against Holy God, and that because of sin, we were alienated from Him and lost. Our only hope was in God’s mercy and that it was Jesus who could bring us to God.
It is not that Saul immediately understood everything about God. “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” But nonetheless, rebirth came to him on that road. And, so it was with us. When we were “born again,” we didn’t become theological giants at first blush, but we did understand that we were sinners, lost, and were on our way to eternal damnation. God gave us spiritual eyes (spiritual understanding) to see ourselves as we really were, and of our need for His mercy.
We note from the account of Saul’s conversion that God didn’t just save him and then leave him to himself. God had a purpose for him; “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do’ (9:6). As He had a purpose for Saul, God has a purpose for us. God’s purpose for each of us, including Saul, is that we glorify Him. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”( Ephesians 2:10).
Later on in Luke’s letter (chapter 22:12-13) we read that Ananias had become a devout follower of Jesus and was well known by the Jews of the Damascus area. In our present chapter (9:10-18)) we read that even though he was fearful of Saul, yet he was obedient to the Lord’s command, and sought Saul out. “10Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ 11So the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.’ 13Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.’ 15But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.’ 17And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.”
Even though fearful of Saul, Ananias was obedient to the Lord’s command, and Saul, the persecutor of Christian’s, became Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. What a blessing it must have been for Ananias, to see Saul brought to the truth of the Gospel and converted! Ananias was a great example of how you and I should live out our lives. Even though we might be fearful of reprisal against our stand for Christ, yet we should be obedient to the Lord’s command of being ready to give a defense to everyone who asks us the reason we have trusted in the Lord (see 1st Peter 3:15). As Ananias, we should be obedient to the Lord’s commands. Ananias was the faithful conduit through which God’s message was delivered to Saul. And often times, if we are faithful we are the conduit through which God’s word is delivered to those who He redeems.
Returning to Saul’s conversion we should take note of those things that had occurred in his life, things that were then occurring, and those things that would occur as he matured in the faith.
1) He had been chosen (elected) to salvation in eternity past (Gal: 1.15).
2) He had been called by God’s grace, the unmerited favor of God (Gal:1.15).
3) He was regenerated, made spiritually alive (John 3.3, 5; Eph 2:1-5).
4) He had been granted the faith, the Gift of God that makes it possible to believe (Eph.2:8; Heb.12:2).
5) He was converted, which wrought in him a positive change from spiritual death to spiritual life (Rom 6:11; Eph.4:24; Col. 3:10).
6) He was made just, right with God (Rom. 4:2; 5:16, 18).
7) He was adopted (placed) into the family of God (Rom.8:15; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1.5).
8) He was sanctified, set apart from the world into the kingdom of God (John. 17:17; Acts 20:32, Acts 26:18; 1 Cor.1:2, 6:11; Heb. 10:10).
9) He was being, throughout his life, conformed (maturing) to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29, 12:2).
10) He had been given the gift of perseverance (Eph. 6:11-17).
11) By the grace of God, he was able to die to self (Rom. 6:6; Gal.2:20; 5:24).
12) And, upon physical death, he was to be glorified (Rom. 8:30; Phil. 1:21-23).
Paul’s life, from his conversion forward, affirms all of these things. We read; “20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ 22Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:20-22).
It wasn’t by chance that God had purposed that he be of pure Jewish decent, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; or that he was a Pharisee, giving him a knowledge and understanding of the true God and the law (Philippians 3:5). And it was not mere coincidence that he had been taught at the feet of Gamaliel, the leading teacher of Hebrew laws and customs (Acts 22:3), or that he was advanced to leadership in Judaism above his fellows (Galatians 1:14). His understanding of the gospel came by direct revelation from Jesus Himself (Galatians 1:10-18).
All those who heard Saul were astonished and baffled. This was the man who had been persecuting the followers of Christ, espousing the virtues of Judaism, but now he was boldly proclaiming that salvation wasn’t in Judaism, but in Jesus Christ, He whom their brethren had crucified. Most however, were not receptive of his proclamation and “23After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall” (9:23-24).
Several dramatic changes had occurred in Saul’s life. He who had been the persecutor of Christ and His followers was now identifying himself with Him and them. He went into synagogues preaching that salvation was to be found in Jesus rather than in Judaism. Going into the lion’s den (so to speak), he boldly spoke about the One his brethren had murdered, pro-claiming Him as the Son of God, thus, God. He immediately sought out the fellowship of other followers of Jesus Christ (vs. 19). And as he increased in knowledge and assurance (in strength) he more and more confounded the Jews of Damascus in discussion, debate, and argument showing that Jesus was truly God’s anointed.
Leaving Damascus he went to Jerusalem supposing that he would be readily received by the church. But, “26When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord” 9:23-31. Some believed that Saul had truly become a follower of Christ, others did not, but Saul was forever a changed man. A spiritually born again man.
In light of Saul being a changed man, a spiritually reborn man, perhaps it would be good before progressing further, that each of us consider, if in truth we are truly changed persons. The apostle Peter wrote: “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.” (2 Pet. 1:10), and the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ 24Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matt. 7:21-27)
Each of us should pause and ask ourselves, “Is there evidence in my life that I am truly a child of God? Am I truly spiritually born again?” It is imperative that we are children of God because Jesus also said; “Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
The apostle John writing that one can know for sure whether or not he or she is a child of God, wrote; “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John. 5:13). “These things” refer back to what he had earlier written in the letter. He wrote of four things that testify of one’s salvation.
The first evidence of whether we have truly been born again is how we deal with sin. Knowing that at times a Christian would sin, John wrote; “1:8 if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” John added; “1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (Chapter 2:1-2). The first assurance of one’s salvation therefore is the recognition of sin and the confession of it. The components of confession are, the agreeing with God about it, and secondly the recognition of the need of forgiveness.
The second evidence John refers to is found in verses 2:3-6; “3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”
The third evidence is found in verses 2:7-13; “7Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”
The fourth evidence is found in 2.15-17; “15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever”.
When one sins (which regretfully one will) he or she need not fear the loss of salvation. On the contrary; evidence of the surety of salvation is in the truth of the recognition of said sin and a desire of its confession and cleansing. The world does not see sin as sin against the Holy God. The world calls sin by other names always excusing it. When a Christian sins, he or she has and advocate with the Father and even though the Christian may sin, Christ’s blood makes him or her judicially right with God the Father. That was the purpose of the sacrifice; Jesus stands before the Father as an advocate and as the propitiation for the Christian. He cannot fail in His advocacy, and God will never forsake the propitiation found in His blood.
The proof of our having a true relationship with God is found in John’s four evidences given above. If there has been a change in one’s life, there is a change. While perfection (true maturity) has not yet been gained, we find ourselves recognizing and dealing with sin; we will want to and will obey His commandments; we will love one another; and we will not love (be bound to) the things of the world. If we truly are alive in Christ, have been born again, these same tenets are our affirmation.
SAUL, THE CHANGED MAN
Acts 9.17-31: 17Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and 19after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.23After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.31Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
There were several dramatic changes in Saul’s life. First, he was baptized (vs. 18). This was not a baptism in the tradition of the Jews (ceremonial cleansing). Nor was it the baptism in the manner in which John the Baptist had been baptizing people, preparing them for the coming Messiah, but Saul (Paul) was identifying himself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one he had just recently been persecuting. What a testimony! Here was the hater of Christianity saying to the world that he was identifying himself with the one whom had been murdered, of whom the grave could not keep, and who, by the power of God had been resurrected to newness of life.
Second, he immediately sought out the fellowship of other Christians with other followers of Jesus Christ (vs. 19).
Third, he went to the synagogues and preached Jesus. Going into the lion’s den (so to speak), he boldly spoke about the one his brethren had murdered, pro-claiming Him as the Son of God, thus, God.
Fourth, he increased in strength (knowledge and assurance) and confounded the Jews in discussion, debate, and argument showing that Jesus was truly Christ (God’s anointed) and that his message came from Him.
Many today claim to be Christian, yet live their lives as they did before their claimed conversion. This however was not the way it was with Saul. There was a dramatic change in his life. He truly was born again.
The Expansion of Christianity into Gentile Territory; (Acts 9:32-43)
“32Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. 33There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. 34And Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.’ Then he arose immediately. 35So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord”.
36At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. 37But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40But Peter put 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. 41Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. 43So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.
What are we to make of this? Why did Luke (the human author of this letter) pause in his informing Theophilus (and us by extension) about Paul, and turn back to the ministry of Peter?
Our answer is found in Matthew 16:13-19. In that passage, Jesus asked His disciples whom they thought He was, to which Peter answered; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded saying; “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. They were his badge of authority to open the door of Christian opportunity to Israel on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-42), and to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:34-48). This same privilege was given to all the disciples (John 20:22-23), but it was Peter through whom the Holy Spirit would initiate this mission.
As Paul was being prepared for the ministry to which God had called him, Peter was journeying throughout Judaea witnessing and ministering to the Jews. At Lydda Peter brought healing to Aeneas, a man who had been crippled for eight years (Acts 9:32-34) and raised Tabitha A.K.A. Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-43). As a result of Aeneas’ healing many at Lydda came to faith in the Lord and many at Joppa also believed because of Tabitha being raised from the dead.
While Peter tarried in Joppa ministering “1There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ 4And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it, lord?’ So he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.’ 7And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa” (Acts 10:1-8).
We are not told how the centurion had come to worship and fear God, only that he did. From the description given about him in 10:22; “that he was devout and God-fearing”, it can be inferred that he was a proselyte to Judaism. Evidently he attended the synagogue and to the best of his knowledge and ability he followed the Old Testament Scriptures. Nevertheless, according to 11:14 he had not entered into New Testament salvation. He was a religious person (as many people are before being regenerated to newness of spiritual life) yet he was spiritually dead.
Being a proselyte to Judaism he would have understood and followed the Law of Moses. The Law told him that he was a sinner and needed be cleansed of his sin. Because of this conviction he prayed to God continually (10:2) for that cleansing. He truly was repentant of his sin. He had a repentant heart and from that heart he prayed for deliverance. Because of his repentant heart and because of his continued confessions and asking for deliverance God answered his prayers by sending His angel to tell him what he was to do (10:1-5).
Parentheses / Lest someone might think that Cornelius’ repentant heart was of himself, he or she should remember, “It was the goodness of God that led Cornelius to repentance.” (See Romans 2:4). Remember, Jesus was building His church (Matthew 16:18) and it was time that the church would reach into the Gentile world. (See Acts 1:8). It was the time that God had chosen for Peter to use the authority (the keys) given to him to open the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles. But, God had chosen Cornelius before He created the world (Revelation 13:8; 17:8) to be the conduit through which that grace would flow.
A TRANSFORMATION ALSO IN PETER’S LIFE
While Cornelius was being led to that which was about to change his life, there was at the same time something very interesting occurring in Peter’s life. He was about to be used in a powerful way, and he was about to learn a great lesson.
Acts 10:9-20 “9The next day, as they (the 3 men sent by Cornelius) went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.
10Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 14But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’ 15And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 16This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.17Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. 18And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. 19While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. 20Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.’”
As we consider what was taking place here, we should also consider our own lives. Many times we have the idea that things happen by chance. But Cornelius’ conversion, and Peter’s, life changing experience dispels such thinking. It was God that brought about these both things.
First, God had prepared the heart of Cornelius and now directs him to follow the command of the messenger He had sent.
Second, God was working in the life of Peter. Peter needed to understand that God’s love for man wasn’t limited to the Jew. Even though He had chosen Israel as His people, He was not excluding Gentiles from salvation. Peter’s understanding of this would have been impossible except for the overwhelming influence of the Holy Spirit.
[We of the church today might well appreciate what occurred between God, Peter, and Cornelius. Many times even Bible-believing, God-loving Christians shut out people of other races, nationalities, community stature, and people of other denominational persuasions. God, however, is no respecter of persons. Out of all humanity He redeems people. (See Revelation 7:9)].
Third, God brought Peter, Cornelius and certain Christian brothers from Joppa, together (10:23). God would use these Christians brethren as witnesses of the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit, as had they (10:44; 11:1). God was in control of all that was happening.
The barrier broken down
Verses 27-35 “27Talking with him (Cornelius), Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?’ 30Cornelius answered: ‘Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31and said, Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.’ 34Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts (redeems) men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’”
Peter’s Spirit Empowered Message (10:36-43)
“36The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— 37that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
Peter’s message was that—Jesus’ Death; was for the satisfaction of God’s righteous judgment against sin; His Resurrection; was proof that God accepted His sacrifice; and His Ascension; declared that the means of salvation had been accomplished; nothing more needed or could be done.
Salvation accomplished / Acts 10:44-48
“44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “47Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
The Christian Jews who had accompanied Peter were astonished that the Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit as had they, at Pentecost, and as had the Samaritans. That God’s spirit would fall upon Jews, God’s chosen people was phenomenal; that He would fall upon Samaritans who had prostituted their Jewish heritage was difficult to understand, but to now fall on Gentiles, how could that be? Yet it could not be argued against because the evidence was that these born again Gentiles spoke in other tongues (languages) as had they and has had the Samaritans.
The Baptism of Cornelius and his household / Verses 10:46-48.
Addressing the astonishment of His companions, Peter asked;“47Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
Before moving ahead into chapter 11 we should note the order of Cornelius’ salvation, and the salvation of his household.
1) He and they were convinced and convicted of their sin.
2) Being convicted they reached out to God in repentance.
3) They were saved.
4) They were baptized in testimony of their salvation.
As we progress through Luke’s letter we will find this to be the order of every person’s salvation. Always baptism follows salvation, never the reverse.
Chapter 11 / Acceptance of Gentiles as equals by the Church
11:1-3 / 1Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, “3saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!’”
Change sometimes takes time, and so it was with the apostles who had remained in Jerusalem and with those of the church who had been saved out of Judaism. They had heard what had happened in Caesarea; that Cornelius and his household had come to faith and that Peter had shared meals with them. They accepted that salvation had come to Cornelius and his house-hold (Gentiles) and that they had received the Holy Spirit as had they, but had a hard time accepting them as equals. (See Galatians 2:11-13).
In defending his action Peter recited what had happened; his vision of the sheet let down from heaven filled with various types of animals and the Lord’s command to eat of them, both the clean and the unclean (a representation of Jews and Gentiles); the appearance of an angel to Cornelius; the messengers from Cornelius; the Holy Spirit’s command that Peter accompany them back to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius; and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household. Peter explained; the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles as I began to speak. Seeing this, I remembered the word of the Lord “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
Such a detailed account given in the power of the Holy Spirit led those who had confronted Peter to conclude; Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (vs. 18b). To oppose or resist would obviously be to oppose the Lord and the expansion of His church.
In verses 19-20 Luke gives us added information concerning Gentile converts. We read; “19Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.
As Philip, Peter and John were working in Caesarea, the Christians who had been scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch went about testifying about God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace. Being Jews, they witnessed in Phoenicia and Cyprus only to Jews. But certain of them who were from Cyprus and Cyrene traveled to Antioch and there they witnessed to Greeks also. Even though Luke does not tell us why they only witnessed to Jews in Phoenicia and Cyprus and then also to Greeks in Antioch we can surmise that it was because of the influence of the Holy Spirit. Remember, Jesus had said that after He would send the Holy Spirit to indwell them they would become His witnesses throughout the whole earth (See Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
From verse 21 we read that because of their faithfulness “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (vs. 21).
From verses 11:22-24a we read; “22Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.
This was the same Barnabas of Acts 4:36, who, having land sold it and brought the proceeds to the apostles for distribution to those who were in need. From that passage we are told that previously his name was Joseph, but because the apostles saw him as a man who had a spirit of consolation, of comfort, they gave him the name Barnabas, a name that was associated with that type character. Because he was of such character and by demonstration a man of faith and filled with the Holy Spirit (vs.24) what better man could the church at Jerusalem have chosen to send to Antioch? The same animus that the church originally held against Gentile converts of Caesarea would have existed in Antioch, Jews and Gentiles needed to be bonded together in the common faith.
Luke informs us in 11:24b-26 “that a great many people were added to the Lord”. So many, 25that Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
We should recall that a few years earlier God had called Saul out of the number of the lost (the unregenerate) to be His apostle to the Gentiles (See Acts 9:1-15). He was then led by the Spirit into the deserts of Arabia to be prepared by the Lord Himself for that mission (See Galatians 1:10-18).
For a full year, Barnabas and Saul remained in Antioch teaching both the Jewish and Gentile converts. The Holy Spirit was at work. Together, Barnabas and Saul, gifted by the Holy Spirit, were effectual teachers of all of the believers, both Jew and Gentile. It was there in Antioch, and at that time, that the followers of Christ began to be called Christians (11:26). Barnabas and Saul were being also being fashioned into a team that would be sent out by the church (Acts 13:1-14:28) on a missionary journey that would take them as far away as the Island of Cyprus. In the many cities that they passed through they ministered to both Jews and Gentiles encouraging churches that had already been established and establishing others.
11:27-30 27And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
At the end of the year, before Barnabas and Saul were sent out, certain prophets came from Jerusalem, among them Agabus, whom by the Holy Spirit told of a coming famine that was to affect the known world (11:27-28). Word of this moved the disciples, both Jews and Gentiles, to take up a collection for the Christians of Judea who were in need.
Old antagonisms, between Jew and Gentile were being over-come with genuine love and compassion. To the man, each disciple of Antioch, according to his ability, contributed to this gift and Barnabas and Saul were chosen to deliver the gift to the church at Jerusalem (11:29-30).
From the human standpoint, such a bond of love and compassion would be of great necessity, because at this same time Herod had killed James, the brother of John and seeing that this pleased the Jews (The unconverted Jews) had put Peter in Prison.
Chapter 12 / Satan finds allies in Herod and unregenerate Judaism
Parenthetical; before moving ahead we should consider Satan’s hatred of God and his attempts to destroy the church. We recall that he tempted Jesus (the churches head) to step out of His Father’s will (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13); That he put treason into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:27); That he will someday enter into hearts of the Antichrist and the False Prophet to cause men to worship him rather than God (Revelation 13); and that presently, in this age (the church age) he works through men to destroy physically all those who are witnesses of the grace of God, or failing that, to destroy their testimony. (End of parenthetical).
Back to the narrative; “1Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover” (Acts 12:1-4).
Neither Harod nor the Jews understood that they were being used of Satan. He influenced them through their own lust and desires. Harod wanted to hold onto his office of king by pleasing the Jews (and indirectly Ceaser Augustus-the emperor of Roman). The ruling council of the Jews (the Sanhedrin) wanted to hold sway over the people, and the people themselves thought that they were pleasing God by putting an end to this blasphemous (their thinking) group of people, who called themselves followers of Christ, a.k.a. Christians.
So it goes today, many Christians are being killed for their stand for Christ and many others are being persecuted in one way or another.
Luke writes that Herod had James killed and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he put Peter in prison thinking to hold him until after the festival of unleavened bread had ended, seven days after Pentecost (Easter). He intended also to have Peter killed. But, it wasn’t Peter’s time and Luke tells us that God miraculously intervened and Peter was loosed from his chains and imprisonment. We read;
“5Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands. 8Then the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and tie on your sandals’; and so he did. And he said to him, ‘Put on your garment and follow me.’ 9So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11And when Peter had come to himself, he said, ‘Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people’” (Acts 12:5-11).
During the wee hours of the morning Peter made his way to the house of Mary, the mother of John/Mark and reported what had happened the previous night (12:12-17) and then departed to another place, possibly into Asia Minor (1st Peter 1:1) where he ministered for some time.
We read from verses 12:18-19 that when it became daylight the soldiers, who had been assigned to guard Peter, were greatly perplexed concerning Peter’s disappearance. When questioned by Herod they had no plausible answer and in his anger he had them put to death. After executing the soldiers Harod left Judea and went into Caesarea, the capital of the Roman providence of Judea to nurse his wounded pride. While there he became displeased with the leaders of Tyre and Sidon, who, in an attempt to win his favor befriended Blastus, Harod’s chamberlain (minister of state). Blastus arranged an appearance before him and on a set day, Harod, in royal apparel sat upon his throne and made an oration (great speech) addressing his displeasure with them. As he spoke, they shouted out, it is the voice of a god, and not a man. Instead of denying that he was a god by saying that I am just a mortal man; I am not to be worshipped, give true God the glory, he accepted their feigned worship and immediately died being eaten of worms. (See Acts 12:19b-23).
Luke tells us that in spite of James being killed and persecution against Peter “24 the word of God grew and multiplied” (12:24), and that “25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem (to Antioch) when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark” (12:25).
Chapter 13 / Chosen by the Holy Spirit and Sent Out
Acts 13:1-5 1Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. 4So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.
Verse 2; As the above five named prophets and teachers fasted and ministered to the Lord, the Holy Spirit spoke to them saying; “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”.
What is significant about this, that the Holy Spirit spoke to these men?
Up to this point, it was the Lord Himself who had talked with His disciples (Acts 1:4-8). An angel directed Philip to go to Gaza (Acts 8:26), but now we read that it was the Holy Spirit that spoke to the above mentioned 5 men. In that some of the 5 were prophets it is most probable that He spoke to one of them (Simeon, Lucius, or perhaps Manaen) and then said prophet relayed the message. However it was; it was the Holy Spirit that spoke.
And it is important to note that the Holy Spirit said “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”. From this point on in Luke’s letter it will be the Holy Spirit that directs all the called in their activities.
[The Holy Spirit is the third person of the God head; Father, Son and Holy Spirit].
Why is this important; because from this point on it is the Holy Spirit that speaks to God’s chosen ones, Not the Lord, nor angels. Many today of the professed church, claim that the Lord appeared and spoke (speaks) to them, or that an angel spoke (speaks) to them, but this is not supported by Scripture. Jesus told His disciples that He would send His Spirit and when He (not Jesus, or an angel) was come He would comfort them, teach and guide them into all truth. Consider His words; “25These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:23-26 NKJV).
[During the time of the establishment of the church (the first century) it was the Holy Spirit that spoke to chosen ones, Spirit to spirit (Romans 8:16). Today, He speaks to the Christian through the written word of God, the Word that He Himself inspired (2nd Timothy 3:16)].
13:2 The Spirit’s Command; “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”.
Again, it must be stressed that it was the Holy Spirit that had called and separated Barnabas and Saul to be the church’s first sent missionaries. And, it is also interesting, that it wasn’t by Peter or any other of the apostles who were still in Jerusalem that they were sent; it was from the church at Antioch. 13:3 “Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away”.
What was the purpose of the 5 laying their hands on Barnabas and Saul? Barnabas and Saul already possessed the Holy Spirit, so the laying on of hands didn’t pass the Holy Spirit to them. Nor was it additional understanding, they were, after all teachers, of the grace of God. The purpose was; that by this action, they being representatives of the church, were declaring to Barnabas and Saul, and to the entire church, that the church was partnering with them in this missionary endeavor. It was a blessing.
Verse 4-5 “4So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant”.
Luke again, says that they were sent out by the Holy Spirit. Even though we just read in verse 3 that they were sent on their way by the church, Luke stresses that it was the Holy Spirit that was behind the sending.They also had John-Mark as their assistant. Mark was the son of a certain woman named Mary (Acts 12:12), also identified as John-Mark (Acts 12:25). Mary, his mother was a sister of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). It was to his mother’s house that Peter went when released from prison by the angel (Acts 12:12). Peter referred to him as being his son in the faith, probably because he was brought to the Lord under his ministry (1st Peter 5:13).
Although John-Mark started out with Barnabas and Saul he left them at Perga, in the province of Pamphylia, and returned to Jerusalem (13:13). No reason is given for this by Luke, but whereas Barnabas seems to have been the leader in this journey, up until they reached P? ?phos, Saul takes the name of Paul, and from that point on he is always mentioned first. Perhaps John-Mark was jealous for his cousin, but whatever the reason, it would later cause a riff between Paul and Barnabas. Remember, Satan walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1st Peter 5:) and it wouldn’t have been any different with the young John-Mark.
This was certainly true of a man named Bar-Jesus, a sorcerer and false prophet. We read from 13:6-13; “6Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10and said, ‘O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.’ And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Sergius Paulus, the proconsul (the governor) of the Isle of Cyrus appointed by Rome, was a prudent (an intelligent) man, who had sought out Bar-Jesus, whom he thought was a prophet of God. Bar-Jesus had his reasons for entertaining Sergius Paulus (possibly, some financial or political gain), but Satan was using him. When Barnabas and Saul came into P? ?phos Sergius Paulus called them unto himself desiring to hear the word of God, but Bar-Jesus a.k.a. Elymas tried to prevent that meeting. Satan was using Bar-Jesus’ ambitions to cause him to prevent Sergius Paulus from hearing the word of God and be converted. Paul however, by the power of the Holy Spirit was able know what was in Bar-Jesus’ heart and laid this charge on him;”O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?”
“Will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord” indicates that Bar-Jesus was using his sorceries on others also, not just Sergius Paulus, perhaps on all the citizens of the Isle of Cyprus, certainly on those of the city of P? ?phos. Satan was trying to prevent the spread of the gospel. But, exactly the opposite happened in the life of Sergius Paulus (and perhaps, many others). When he saw what happened to Bar-Jesus, that he was blinded for a period of time following Saul’s proclamation, he believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. Salvation had come to the Isle of Cyrus.
Verse 13; we learn that it was during this time that Saul took the name Paul (13:9) and it was at this time that Luke begins to name Paul ahead of Barnabas in all of their endeavors. God had called Paul to be His witness to the Gentiles (9:15) and from this point on, the ministry took on an even more decidedly Gentile slant. And, it was at this time that John-Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.
Verses 14-15; “14But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 15And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on”.
Antioch in Pisidia was a Roman colony populated by both Jews and Gentiles and even though it was a Roman colony the Jews were allowed their synagogue (their worship center) and it was to this center that Paul and Barnabas went on the Sabbath day. The worshippers of this synagogue followed the established practice of reading from the law and the prophets. After this was accomplished Paul and Barnabas were given an opportunity to speak, and Paul standing up, delivered this message;
“16Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. 18Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.
20After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ 23From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus— 24after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.’
26Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent. 27For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him. 28And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. 29Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. 30But God raised Him from the dead. 31He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. 32And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. 33God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’
34And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’ 35Therefore He also says in another Psalm: ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’ 36For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. 38Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: ‘41Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, A work which you will by no means believe, Though one were to declare it to you’” (Acts 13:16b-41 NKJV).
Paul began his testimony by saying that God had chosen Israel as His earthly people and then laid out their history, how that God had exalted them by bringing them out of Egyptian bondage and suffered them in their unbelief for forty years of wilderness bondage before bringing them into the Promised Land. Paul said that following their entrance into the Promised Land God gave them judges to lead them until they requested that kings lead them instead. God gave them their request, said Paul, giving them their wanted kings, beginning with Saul who was disobedient to Him and then David, their righteous king.
From the kingship of David, Paul made an easy transition to Jesus, the promised descendent of David who would sit on David’s throne and rule Israel. After this brief introduction of Jesus, Paul told of the ministry of John the Baptist who introduced Jesus as not only being Israel’s Messiah, but also the Savior of the world, the Messiah and Savior they had killed. But, said Paul, death and the grave could not keep Him and He was resurrected to newness of life.
By this time, a few months after Paul and Barnabas had began their journeys, Paul knew the attitude of most of those to whom they testified (mostly Jews) and finished his discourse by saying; “40Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: ‘41Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, A work which you will by no means believe, Though one were to declare it to you’
These words were not received well by most of the Jews, on the next Sabbath, when Paul was again called on to speak by the Gentile populace, the Jews were filled with envy, and spoke against Paul’s message, contradicting and blaspheming much of what he had said the week before (vs’44-45). We read; “44On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul”.
However, this emboldened Paul and Barnabas, who said; “46 It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:46-47 NKJV).
Paul and Barnabas were not intimidated. The explained that they felt obligated to offer salvation, through Christ, first to the Jews there at Antioch in Pisidia, but because of their rejected they were compelled, by God, to go to the Gentiles.
Verses 48-50 / two different reactions; “48Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. 49And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. 50But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. Gentiles believed and were saved, but most of the Jews would not believe and be converted. In fact they rose up in persecution against Paul and Barnabas and drove them away from the region.
Undaunted “51 they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”.
One thing more, before traveling with Paul and Barnabas into Iconium and points beyond; “48Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed”.God’s election to salvation is clearly stated here; the words “were appointed” come from the verb tass?, a military word meaning “to arrange” or “to assign.” Luke used this term here, to show that God’s elective decree included Gentiles.
Chapter 14 / Jewish Opposition Grows
In Antioch of Pisidia there was a mixed reaction to Paul’s message of justification by faith, and when the Jews had gone out of the synagogue, many of the Jewish proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas asking that Paul preach this same message the next Sabbath day, to them. On that next Sabbath, when a large crowd had gathered to hear Paul, the unbelieving Jews were moved with envy and spoke against what Paul was preaching. We read that being stirred up by the unbelieving Jews, “the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region (13:50).
Leaving Antioch of Pisidia they went to Iconium, located in Galatia. We read from 14:1-7; “1Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. 2But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. 3Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone (kill) them, 6they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. 7And they were preaching the gospel there.
As in Antioch of Pisidia, many Jews and Jewish proselytes believed, but the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles of the city. Even though the Holy Spirit was convincing and convicting many people of their sins bringing them to repentance and commitment, Satan was working in the hearts and minds of others to oppose not only Paul and Barnabas, but God Himself. Satan was finding willing accomplices in both the Jews and in the Gentiles. This would be the pattern throughout the remainder of Luke’s letter. We have to remember that before regeneration, all of mankind is in a fallen state and at enmity (war) with God. Paul and Barnabas came preaching the good news (salvation by grace), and yet they were angrily expelled out of Antioch in Pisidia. Opposition arose in Iconium, as it would in Derbe and in Lystra.
After the apostles had been in Iconium for a considerable time (vs.3) the citizens of the city were divided, some held with Paul and Banabas, but many held with the Jews and Gentiles that were opposed to the gospel. These, banded together and despite-fully abused them and made an attempt to stone them. Being aware of what was being planned, Paul and Banabas fled to Lystra, Derbe, and the surrounding area, where undaunted, they preached the gospel.
At Lystra they met a man who had been crippled from birth, who had never walked. As Paul was giving testimony to God’s grace he observed this man listening intently and perceiving that he had faith to be healed said with a loud voice, ‘Stand up straight on your feet!’ And he leaped and walked”. (See Acts 14:8-10).
But, “11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lyc??nian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us!” 12They began to call Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes, because he was the main speaker. 13 The priest of the temple of Zeus, which was just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the gates. He and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices”.
These Gentiles, having no understanding of true God, were worshipping Zeus and Hermes, mythical gods of their imagi-nations. When they saw the crippled man, who had been crippled from birth, leaping and walking by command of Paul, they believed that their gods had appeared among them in human form.
Those who had witnessed this miracle began calling Barnabas; Jupiter—the supreme god of the Romans, and Paul, Mercurius—the Roman god of commerce. [Jupiter, was the Latin name of Zeus and Mercurius, was the Latin name for Hermes]. Even their priest was so overcome with euphoria that he attempted to offer a sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas (v.13).
[A parenthetical; It is interesting that even today when missionaries journey into remote areas they find people worshipping various gods, gods of their imaginations and inventions. This is interesting, in that, even uniformed people have a desire to worship a deity. This is what is different between man and all other forms of life. Man was created a spiritual being; all other forms of life, including animals were not].
Verses 14:14-18 / The apostles response; “14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” 18And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them”.
Paul and Barnabas shouted out that they were not gods, but human like them, they must stop their attempts at worshipping them. They challenged them to turn from their imagined god’s to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, that even though in bygone generations He left their ancestors to themselves He did not leave them without witness. It was He who gave them rain from heaven and fruitful seasons. But, even after this testimony and admonishment it was hard, if not almost impossible to stop the multitudes from sacrificing to them”. Spiritual darkness prevailed in the hearts of most of the multitudes, opening the door for what followed.
Verse 19; “But some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds by persuasion. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the town, thinking he was dead”.
Satan, realizing that spiritual darkness ruled in the hearts of most of the multitudes took the opportunity to incite them, through Jews who had come from Antioch and Iconium, to kill Paul by stoning him. They followed through with this diabolic deed and thinking that he was dead dragged him out of the city. Whether or not Paul actually had been killed the Jews at least thought him to be dead. Verse 20 tells us that “when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe”.
What amazement there must have been in Lystra, and in the city of Derbe. Having been stoned and left for dead, Paul was well enough to go back into Lystra and the next day travel to Derbe, where he was found with Barnabas preaching the Gospel and teaching many people. The tables were turned on Satan, he attempted to silence Paul and discourage Barnabas, but instead, many others came to the Lord for salvation in Derbe and as Paul and Barnabas made their way back to Antioch many others who previously had come to faith were encouraged in their faith.
We read from 14:21-28; 21And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” 23So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.
Verses 27-28; Arriving back in Antioch they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. They remained in Antioch for a period of time, before they would be sent out again. During this interval Paul would write a letter to those who had come to faith in Galatia (his letter to the Galatians) encouraging and instructing them in their walk.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians
During the period that Paul and Barnabas ministered in Antioch, after they had returned from their first missionary endeavor, word reached Paul that false teachers were troubling the fairly young converts in Galatia, insisting that while salvation was of Christ, works were necessary for salvation and a righteous walk before God (1:7; 5:1-10). In response to that report Paul wrote a letter addressing these issues. As we look into this letter we are given insight to what Paul and Barnabas had preached and taught in Galatia. Not only Galatia, but wherever they had gone, and it helps us understand the persecution by those who opposed their message. This was the same message (same gospel) that Paul had preached from the time of his conversion, and would preach until the time of his death. Seemingly the letter was written before the council in Jerusalem was convened in A.D 49 (Acts 15) to address these same issues.
By the time Paul received the report the Jewish Galatians were already beginning to yield (1:6; 3:1). They were returning to the bondage of the Law, ceremoniously observing days, months, years, and times believing that such observances made them right before God (4:9-10). Paul began his refutation of this error by pointing out that Abraham was justified by faith long before God gave the Law (430 years before) Paul also refuted the error that a believer is made spiritually mature by keeping the law.
Misunderstanding, or rejecting the gospel of Christ has persisted from the beginning of the church until present. Those of Paul’s time, of the past many centuries, and those of today who were (are) not led and enlightened by the Holy Spirit (1st Corinthians 2:9-14) were (are) held captive by spiritual darkness. Paul explains “14The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1st Corinthians 2:14 NKJV).
With this in mind we should turn to what this spiritual darkness has produced in many of the church age.
Salvation according to Mormonism
In Mormonism, salvation is defined in two unique ways. Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “Salvation is twofold: In General – that which comes to all men irrespective of a belief in Christ (in this life) – and, Individually that which man merits through his own acts through life and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:134 (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1956). General salvation, or resurrection from the dead, is known as salvation by grace and is provided to all people. It is synonymous with immortality since the resurrected person lives forever. The goal of a faithful Latter-day Saint is to achieve individual salvation or “exaltation,” which does not come easily. Thomas S. Monson, Mormonism’s current prophet, taught, “It is the celestial glory which we seek. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is a forever family in which we want membership. Such blessings must be earned.” (Excerpted from an Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign, May 1988, 56.) Source —— Carm / Matt Slick
Salvation according to Jehovah Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that salvation is possible only through Christ’s ransom sacrifice and that individuals cannot be saved until they repent of their sins and call on the name of Jehovah. Salvation is described as a free gift from God, but is said to be unattainable without good works that are prompted by faith. The works prove faith is genuine….Preaching is said to be one of the works necessary for salvation, both of themselves and those to whom they preach. They believe that people can be “saved” by identifying God’s organization and serving God as a part of it. They regard salvation to be a result of a person’s own decisions, not of fate. They also reject the concept of “once saved, always saved” (or “eternal security”); instead believing that one must remain faithful until the end to be saved. (Source —— Wikipedia).
Salvation according to Muslims
For a Muslim, the purpose of life is to live in a way that is pleasing to Allah so that one may gain Paradise. It is believed that at puberty, an account of each person’s deeds is opened, and this will be used at the Day of Judgment to determine his eternal fate. The Qur’an also suggests a doctrine of divine predestination…. The Muslim doctrine of salvation is that unbelievers (kuffar, literally “those who are ungrateful”) and sinners will be condemned, but genuine repentance results in Allah’s forgiveness and entrance into Paradise upon death. The Qur’an teaches the necessity of both faith and good works for salvation….It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and give zakat; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic.
To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah’s promised forgiveness and a great reward. (Source — Wikipedia).
Salvation according to Roman Catholicism
Salvation, in Roman Catholicism, is a process with many steps: Actual Grace, Faith, Good Works, Baptism, Participation in the Sacraments, Penance, Indulgences, and Keeping the Commandments. Basically, salvation is attained through baptism and good works. It is maintained by good works and participation in the sacraments. If lost, it is regained through the sacrament of Penance which only a Roman Catholic priest can administer. Add to this purgatorial cleansing after a person dies, and you can see that salvation is an arduous process.
In Catholicism, a person can gain salvation and lose it many times depending on the number of sins committed, their severity, and how much of the sacraments they participate in–in order to regain grace which enables them to do good works by which they are justified. Furthermore, justifying grace is infused into the Catholic upon baptism and via the sacraments. This grace can be gradually lost through venial sins or forfeited all together with mortal sins. (Source — Matt Slick of CARM).
We must understand that the message of the false teachers of Paul’s day and the false teachers of those cited above is different than the message presented in the Bible and in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul’s message was the same wherever he went, and we read from his letter to the Ephesians; “8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV). Paul’s claim (and the Bibles claim) was (is) that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone; works have no part of salvation. Works do follow salvation, but works are part of a Christian’s maturation not his (or her) justification.
[A believer’s part (work) in his or her maturation is being in constant communication with God, filling himself (our-selves) with God’s word and being faithful to His commands, things that are only possible after salvation has occurred].
As we consider Paul’s letter to the Galatians we need to remind ourselves that this same letter could have been written (and was, in part) to all of the other churches of that day, and was (is) applicable to the church down through these many centuries, including the church of our day.
To the Galatians, Paul wrote; “6I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9 NKJV).
To help the Galatians understand that it was not by the Law that they could be saved he told of the time when he found it necessary to confront Peter, who hypocritically did not practice what he believed inwardly. We read; “11Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
Going on with Peter, he said; “15We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. ‘17But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain’” (2:15-21 NKJV).
Paul accused Peter of sending a mixed message; living one way before his Jewish brethren, but differently when among Gentile believers. When among the Jewish believers he observed Jewish rituals (especially when it came to eating) but discounted that necessity when among Gentile believers. Peter’s fear of his Jewish brethren and his hypocrisy opened the door to doubt and misunderstanding, not only among those of Antioch, but throughout the church.
A little later on in his letter (3:1), Paul; wrote; “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly por-trayed among you as crucified? They had believed the truth, that salvation was in and through the sacrifice of Christ, but now they were wavering, looking once again to the law in order to live righteously before God.
It is certain that this is not what Peter intended, none-the-less it was the result. Others, who were not as scrupulous as Peter, false teachers—Judaizers, who had their own agendas journeyed into Galatia teaching that a person needed to not only trust in Christ for his (or her) salvation but that they needed to keep the law of Moses.
To cause his readers to refocus, Paul asked; “2This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3 NKJV). They had been born again through faith in Christ, not by works; were they now to keep their salvation by works?
In answer to his own question, Paul wrote;“6just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ 7Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Galatians 3:5-9 NKJV).
The false teachers (Judaizers) who had come to Galatia subverting the gospel, claimed that Moses was the true teacher and that for one to be righteous before God he must follow the Law of Moses. Paul however refuted this by taking them (the Galatian Jews and Jewish proselytes) further back in Jewish history pointing to Abraham, who by faith, not works was justified before God long before the Law was given to Moses and the children of Israel. (See Genesis 12:1-4a; Genesis 15:6)
From Genesis 12:1-4a we read “1Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 4So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him…. And from Genesis 15:1-6 we read; “1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’ 2But Abram said, ‘Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ 3Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!’ 4And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ 5Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6And he (Abram a.k.a. Abraham) believed in the LORD, and He (God) accounted it to him (Abraham) for righteousness.
Paul used of Abraham’s life to illustrate that salvation and righteousness was a matter of faith, not of works. He wrote; “6just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ 7Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’
He then wrote of the blessings found in faith and the curse of the Law: “9So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” But, “10 As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
[In essence if one is justified by the Law he (or she) must keep the entire Law, not offending at any point, for if the Law could save it must be kept perfectly. The Law is like a chain, broken at any point it is a broken chain.]
Paul went on “11But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.’ 12Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’ 13Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:6-14 NKJV).
Paul concluded that Abraham’s righteous came as a result of God’s promise to Him not because he had earned it. He wrote “17And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise” (Galatians 3:17-18 NKJV).
God’s promise stands; Abrahams righteousness was found in his faith, and all those who believe in God’s promise to Abraham, are also justified by faith.
Going on with his thoughts Paul asked; “19What purpose then does the law serve?” (3:19). And, then answered; “It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made;
The Law was given as a possible restrainer, as it showed those of Israel their sins. But it was temporary and served only until the Seed (man’s redeemer) was to appear, afterwards it no longer would be needed.
Paul wrote; “21Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:19-25 NKJV).
Hopefully this letter will help us better understand God’s mes-sage to mankind, “16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18 NKJV) that salvation is by faith in His promise.
And, hopefully this letter has shown what Paul’s message was, and would be throughout his ministry. We need to remember his beginning words; “8But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9 NKJV).
Faith leads to salvation. Trust in ones works (of any kind) for salvation end in death, eternal separation from God.
Chapter 15: Distortion of the Gospel and the Resolution
Verses 1-2 “1And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ 2Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
Hearing of what had happened on Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journey and of what was happening in Antioch, “that many were being turned from Judaism to faith in Christ” certain false teachers (Galatians 2:4) went to Antioch with the purpose of confusing what was being taught. They said that having faith in Jesus for salvation was not enough, that one must also observe the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Their issues were the same issues Paul had addressed in his letter to the Galatians and would address in letters to other churches. Satan’s tactics, since the Garden of Eden, has been the same; to distort God’s word.
Paul and Barnabas passionately rejected their claims and the church determined that they and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
Verses 4-5 “And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. 5But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
Luke writes (15:5) that many of the believing Pharisees had a hard time of letting go of their Jewish teaching, “that one must be circumcised and that one must keep the Law of Moses” if they were to be saved. They were confusing the old covenant with the new covenant.
Were these Pharisees true believers? The word “believe” is translated from the Greek word pist?u?, pist-yoo-o, with a meaning of “to have entrusted one’s well being to Christ.” If they truly had been redeemed (born again), it seems they were, they had a difficult time separating themselves from the law, which they had been taught from youth, not much different than many today.
My own father had a difficult time understanding that salvation was by the grace of God – that is, by the unmerited favor of God. He held that, yes, one had to trust Christ for his or her salvation, but that one also had to work at his salvation to be saved. Personally, it took considerable time for me to shed the belief that for one to be saved, he or she must be baptized “with water”. We should be baptized (and I was), as it is commanded of the Lord, but it is in response to our salvation, not the means, or even part of the means, by which we are saved.
Salvation, as borne out by Scripture, is by grace alone. It is not grace plus works (of any kind), or it would not be by grace. Paul writing of this in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote; “8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NKJV).
[How difficult it is for many Christians of our day, to shake off old beliefs and/or customs with which they (we) were raised. But the Bible clearly states; it is by grace (the unmerited favor of God) through faith that one is saved, not of oneself; salvation is the gift of God; Not of works.]
[Paul was not – and we should not – diminish the importance of the law, as it was (is) a schoolmaster to both the Jew and the Gentiles (ourselves included) showing them and us the righteous character of God and our sinful nature, and our need of a Savior. Circumcision was part of the Mosaic Law, and some of the early Christian Jews could not shake the belief that this was part of salvation, especially those who were steeped in Judaism].
Verses 6-11 / Having heard Paul and Barnabas’ report there was a great dispute about what Gentile believers be required to do. After much argument, Peter rose up and said to them; “7Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
Notice what Peter said, “We apostles have concluded that we Jews shall be saved in the same matters as they. That is, apart from the Law-through faith”. Peter’s words silenced the Christian Pharisees who were struggling with this issue giving Paul and Barnabas an opportunity to tell the church what the Holy Spirit had accomplished through them, we read; “12Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles”.
Their testimony opened the door for James, who said; “14Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘16 After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up 17So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does all these things. 18 Known to God from eternity are all His works. 19Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 21For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.’
The Jewish believers respected James, knowing that he was the Lord’s half-brother and that he was ascetic and scrupulous in keeping the law. They looked to Him for support, knowing his legal qualifications as well as his personal qualities. He reminded the council of what their own prophets (Mic. 4.2 and Zech. 8.21-22) had written concerning the Gentiles, that God would also include the Gentiles as His people. His aim was to shift the discussion of the conversion of the Gentiles from a proselyte model to an eschatological one, taking out from among the Gentiles a people for His name. This change is what was to concern the Church. The Gentiles were to become part of the called-out assembly free of Jewish traditions and laws.
James then gave His Holy Spirit inspired conclusion, that such an imposition (the circumcision of the flesh) for salvation was not just. He did however conclude that the Gentiles should abstain from those things that would be upsetting to their Jewish brothers. This pleased the apostles, the elders, and the whole Church, and they determined to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote and sent this letter by them:
“23From The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. 24Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’—to whom we gave no such commandment—25it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell”.
Again we find that even though Satan tried to circumvent the truth through the misunderstanding and prejudices of some of the Jewish Christians “the believing Pharisees,” the Holy Spirit was able to bring confirmation of salvation by grace to the Church, and the Church was edified. The Church, instead of being torn apart, was lifted up.