Commentary on the book of Acts
The Gospels present the blessed person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His great work of redemption, His resurrection and ascension to glory as the solid foundation upon which Christianity is built. The Acts is a continuation of the work of the Lord Jesus, but in His servants, by the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is a history of the establishing of Christianity in the world, and is therefore transitional in character, emphasizing the means by which God gradually yet positively introduced the dispensation of grace to replace that of the law once communicated to Israel.
The book begins with the ministry of the twelve apostles, all of them still connected with their beloved nation Israel; then a strikingly independent work of the Spirit of God is seen in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who is commissioned to declare the Gospel to Gentiles, yet with the full concurrence of the other apostles. His name being changed to Paul, he is given special revelations from God as to the heavenly character of Christianity, and these take the foremost place before the book of Acts closes.
Verse 1 establishes the fact that Luke (a Gentile) is the writer, "the former treatise" being his Gospel (Lk.1:1-3). In that case Theophilus is addressed as "most excellent," manifestly a public official of importance. It may be likely that he gave up such an office when brought to God by the gospel, for he is not so addressed in Acts. Luke wrote of "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach." Acts therefore is a continuance of this same work of the Lord Jesus, though He Himself has been taken up into heaven. He had first given commandments to the apostles "by the Holy Spirit." Since He spoke by the Spirit then, He is no less capable of speaking by the Spirit now, though He is physically absent.
During a period of forty days after His death and resurrection He presented Himself as living to His disciples, the fact of His resurrection being attested by "many infallible proofs." Every reader may find these easily for himself if he cares to enquire into Scripture. This is absolutely basic to Christianity, being insisted upon continually through the book of Acts. Without it the apostles would have been as weak as water and their message futile: with it came a power and conviction that wrought marvellous and precious results. Those things of which He spoke "pertaining to the kingdom of God" were not, we may be sure, referring to its future state of glory and majesty, but rather to its present form as being identified with a rejected Messiah, as the following verses indicate clearly.
Notice, as to the introduction of the church dispensation, assembling together is a prominent feature of it (v.4-6), as will be seen throughout Acts. The Lord tells them to wait for the promise of the Father, as seen also in Luke 24:49. He speaks of this as their being baptized with the Holy Spirit, an expression used seven times in scripture. Only 1 Corinthians 12:13 explains it as being the uniting together in one body all believers, Jewish or Gentile, bond or free. It is a great blessing therefore that belongs to all believers unitedly, not simply a personal blessing, but true of the whole church of God since the Spirit has come.
Together they ask Him if this will mean the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. But He tells them it is not for them to know the times or seasons: this matter was in the Father's own authority. He did not yet tell them that a totally new dispensation was being introduced, but wisely leads them a step at a time. They would learn that times and seasons had nothing to do with the assembly, in contrast to Israel, and that Israel was to be set aside while the assembly was being called out from among all nations.
But they would receive power ("dunamis"), not authority, as the word "power" means in v.7, but vital energy, through the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them. This would enable them as witnesses to Him, beginning at Jerusalem, but spreading out to Judea and Samaria, then the far reaches of the earth, -- a wonderful contrast indeed to a kingdom confined to Israel.
Verse 9 of course overlaps the end of Luke's Gospel, the ascension being spoken of there also. The disciples witnessed this, and a cloud receiving Him out of their sight, the cloud indicating some measure of obscurity, for there are things concerning His bodily ascension to heaven that are beyond our present limit of understanding. Only in Acts do we read of the angelic appearance of the two men at this time. We can understand the disciples gazing up into heaven, but they would see Him no longer in this way. He will yet come in like manner to the same location, the mount of Olives, when He takes His rightful place of glory and majesty. There is no suggestion as to how long the time would be, and of course the rapture will take place before this. Meanwhile, the day of grace has lengthened out far beyond what we might have imagined.
Returning to Jerusalem, they gather in a room on an upper level, which was manifestly of a large size for 120 to be present at once, and for eleven to live there during their visit in Jerusalem. Prayer and supplication were paramount for the time. Mary the mother of Jesus is mentioned here for the last time in scripture, her name held in honor, but no undue place of prominence given her. It is precious to see "His brethren" mentioned. Before His death they had not believed in Him (John 7:5): evidently His death itself had broken down their stubborn wills.
Peter's addressing the company was based upon Old Testament scriptures, therefore his proposal is evidently correct, for the Spirit of God had not yet come. The scripture must be fulfilled, as he says, concerning Judas, who had been numbered with the apostles, but fell into iniquity, the reward of which purchased a field. Matthew tells us he hanged himself (Ch.27:5): it appears that the rope broke so that he plunged headlong, causing all his bowels to gush out. This was so well known in Jerusalem that the field purchased with the betrayal money was called "the field of blood."
Peter quotes Psalm 41:9 to the effect that another should take the office of Judas. On this scriptural basis they act, being careful that the man appointed must be one who had companied with them during all the time of the Lord's ministry on earth until His ascension, for he must be a competent witness to the resurrection of Christ. Evidently they chose the two men most qualified for this, then prayed concerning them that the Lord would indicate by lot His choice in the matter. Again, they no doubt depended on the instruction of Proverbs 16:33: "the lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." After the Spirit of God had come, this would be no longer the way of God's making His mind known. Some have objected that Peter and the apostles were not guided by God in this matter, but scripture makes no comment one way or the other, and it is wiser that we leave the matter as scripture does.
The feast of Pentecost in Israel looked forward to the very day on which God had decreed that the Spirit of God should come to form and indwell and empower the Church of God, which Christ had declared He would build (Matthew 16:18). He is the promise of the Father (Ch.1:4); He is sent by the Son from the Father (John 15:26); He has come of His own volition (John 16:13); for He is God. The disciples were with one accord in one place, a precious indication from the very beginning of the unity of the church of God.
No arrangements or efforts of men had anything to do with this startling event: it was absolutely a work of God. A sudden sound from heaven came as a mighty, sustained breathing, filling the house where they sat. This was virtually the public birthday of the church, a matter once to take place, and never again. Of course the Spirit of God is invisible, therefore visible signs were necessary to emphasize the reality and power behind this. Cloven tongues like as of fire sat upon each of them. The Spirit had come to Christ at Jordan in the form of a dove (Luke 3:22), the symbol of peace and love, indicating God's perfect complacency in Him. Fire however reminds us of the holiness of God in judgment: one of the first effects of the Spirit's coming to believers is to produce a serious self-judgment, for the Spirit stands in contrast to the flesh.
Tongues of fire were sent to indicate the various languages the disciples were given ability to use at this time, with the object of bringing about an understanding between those who normally were far apart. When they were thus filled with the Spirit of God, they spoke their own thoughts in languages they did not normally understand. It is evident they were speaking the things that they had seen and heard as to the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection.
A matter so marvellous as this could not but be quickly publicized, and the more so since the feast had brought many Jews to Jerusalem from "every nation under heaven." They recognized that the disciples were all Galileans and were astonished to hear them speak in languages of the various nations in which the visitors were born. Many of these are listed, whether all of them or not; but the people bear witness that they speak in their tongues "the wonderful works of God." Bearing witness to Christ and His death and resurrection, they of course knew perfectly well what they were saying, but were miraculously able to express it in a language they did not normally know. Their hearers too understood what they were saying. These two things must be expected when the true gift of tongues is in use. In effect this would wonderfully reverse the action of God in confounding men's languages at the time of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:5-9). In the church there was to be understanding and fellowship now between those of nations for years far apart. The Spirit of God was the power to accomplish this.
Some were amazed and questioning, others contemptuous and mocking, accusing the disciples of drunkenness. Honesty would at least make a little inquiry before such accusation. It is Peter who, with the eleven, stands up to speak. How fully he is recovered from his painful experience of having denied that he knew the Lord! He addresses the men of Judah first, but includes all who were then living at Jerusalem. At the third hour of the day (9.00 a.m.) it was rather foolish to suppose a large number of men to be intoxicated. "But this is that," he says, "spoken by the prophet Joel." The verses he quotes (Joel 2:28-32) were not completely fulfilled in this Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit of God, for verses 19 and 20 at least will be fulfilled only at the time of the tribulation period. His words, "this is that" however indicate that, consistently with that prophecy, God was accomplishing an unusually striking work. Such partial fulfillment are not unusual in scripture. For the church is "a kind of first-fruits of His creatures" (James 1:18), and she has received blessings now in a heavenly and spiritual way that are anticipatory of those Israel will receive on an earthly level.
God was making clearly evident the fact that He was speaking by the power of the Spirit; and he who listened and responded by calling upon the name of the Lord would be saved. Peter then presses upon Israel the facts concerning this Lord Himself, "Jesus of Nazareth." He does not preach Him as the Son of God (as Paul did immediately after his conversion -- ch.9:20), but as "a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs," miracles evidencing divine power; wonders emphasizing their effect upon men; signs being significant of spiritual truth. Of these things the people themselves were witnesses.
Why had He been crucified? He had been "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." On God's side it was marvellous grace; but on man's side, they had wickedly taken and crucified Him. Now God had raised Him from the dead, for the power of death could not possibly hold Him, as prophecy had foretold concerning the Son of David, the Messiah.
It was God who put into David's lips the words of Psalm 16:8-11, who speaks, not primarily as to himself, but as representing the Messiah of Israel. His heart rejoicing, His tongue glad, His flesh resting in hope, was because of the certainty of resurrection. His soul would not be left in hades, which is the unseen state of separation from His body. Also, "thine Holy One" would not see corruption. This of course refers to His body: though being in a state of death because the spirit and soul had left it, the body would not see corruption.
In men's bodies, derived from Adam, immediately death takes place corruption sets in. Not so in the body of the Lord Jesus: it was reunited with His spirit and soul without corruption having touched it. Verse 28 speaks of the great resultant joy of this, in life beyond death. That scripture in the Old testament then could not possibly apply to David personally; and Peter applies it with clear and beautiful precision to the Lord Jesus. David himself had long since died and his body given to corruption. But as a prophet he spoke of Him whom God had sworn would sit upon David's throne, being One of David's seed according to the flesh. This was Israel's true Messiah, Jesus, whom God had raised up, and of whose resurrection the disciples were competent witnesses.
Not only was He raised from the dead: God had exalted Him by His own right hand of power; and from that place of excellent majesty He had received from the Father the gift of the Holy Spirit, sending Him forth upon His disciples. Then he applies another striking and appropriate scripture from David's pen, "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand until I make thy foes thy footstool" (from Ps.110:1). This can refer to no-one but the Lord Jesus, who is therefore David's Lord, and prophesied of, not as immediately taking His throne, but being seated at God's right hand for a definite time before God would subdue His enemies under His feet. For those who have faith this is transparently clear. The conclusion is triumphant and inescapable: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Israel had rejected Him, but God has raised a solemn issue with them by raising Him from the dead and giving Him the highest place of glory and honor.
The power of the Spirit of God in this address itself produced serious response among the people. Pricked in their heart, they inquired of Peter and the apostles as to what they should do. Where conscience is seriously affected, the answer is near to hand. First they are to repent, which refers specifically to their previous treatment of their own Messiah; then to be baptized, publicly reversing their previous public rejection of Him. This was important as regards Jews. Gentiles were not told to first be baptized before receiving the Spirit of God (Ch.10:44-48), but were baptized afterward. They had not (as Israel) been guilty of publicly rejecting the promised Messiah, for no such promise had been given to Gentiles. Being baptized to the name of the Lord Jesus, Jews would have their glaring public sins remitted publicly. This outward ordinance only accomplished outward results: it is no proof of a vital inward work of the Spirit of God. Of course, true repentance is a vital work of the Spirit, and this would result in Jews being willing to be baptized. If a Jew would not be baptized one would seriously question whether he had actually repented.
The promise Peter affirms as being for them and their children. and not confined to Jews in their land. but extending to those also who had been scattered abroad. In the coming kingdom, Israel will be blessed only in their own land, but here is grace including them outside the land.
Verse 40 assures us that Peter spoke much more than is recorded here, but specially stressing that they save themselves from this perverse generation. By being baptized they saved themselves from identification with the generation that was guilty of the rejection of Christ. In this way baptism saves: it does not save souls.
Receiving Peter's word, three thousand were baptized that day. How this was accomplished by the disciples we are not told. There is no hint of people being questioned as to the reality of their faith, and no time for proving its reality. Actually, they acknowledged the counsel of God against themselves by thus being buried (figuratively speaking). In order to be buried, it is only necessary that one should be dead: he is not buried because he has life, nor in order to receive life. However, being "unto Christ," who is raised, baptism points to life beyond death.
As we have observed, the proof of reality of faith is not seen in baptism, but it is seen in the steadfast continuance mentioned in verse 42. Of first importance in this matter is the apostles doctrine. This teaching was fundamental to everything. Not having been written yet, it could only be communicated by word of mouth. What the Lord had spoken came back to them by the power of the Spirit (John 16:4), and to this was added what they themselves had witnessed of Himself, of His death, resurrection and ascension. Apart from this, Christianity would be nothing. Then fellowship is linked with doctrine: they continued enjoying together the truth of Christ. Breaking of bread in remembrance of the Lord also formed an important part of their lives. In the freshness of faith and first love it seems likely they did this every day. Later on this appears to have become more settled as an observance on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Another marked feature of their very life was continuance in prayers, a fact seen prominently throughout the book of Acts. This is the supply line through which power was received from the Spirit of God to accomplish what God intended.
These four vital matters seen in the inception of the church, are as fundamental to her blessing today as they were then. At that time these things occasioned serious thoughts on the part of the general public: they could see it was no matter to be treated lightly. Also many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. as the Lord had foretold. This was God's public bearing of witness to the truth of that which the apostles spoke (Heb.2:4). a clear proof that this new dispensation was being introduced by God Himself. After Christianity had been established, such signs and wonders were no longer necessary.
The living energy of the Spirit of God implanting genuine love in the hearts of God's people led to their spontaneous desire to be together and share everything in common. This was no designed communal living, as has been tried by men time and time again, usually ending in disruption and worse. Those with possessions sold them, so that all could be shared. We shall see this referred to again in Ch.4:34-37. So long as all would be fully subject to the leading of the Spirit of God, this would be beautifully successful.
But it did not continue because of men's selfishness entering in, as was sadly shown in Ch.5:1-2. Still, the evidence is clear that the power of the Spirit of God was sufficient for it, and later history is to our shame. Not that we can regain such a thing, for it would certainly no more continue now than it did then; and the identical thing can never be regained by human arrangement; for all was totally spontaneous at the time.
With one accord they continued daily in the temple, for it was Israel's center of worship and as yet God had not called them to separate from it; but they broke bread in homes, not in the temple: it seems the word "daily" may apply to this too. Of course 3000 could not be all together in a home: no doubt there were many gatherings, yet in a true spirit of unity. Eating with gladness and singleness of heart tells us that the common routine of life had taken on a fresh, delightful fragrance because of their common joy in the Lord.
Their praise to God was spontaneous and genuine; and at this moment the people generally looked upon them with favor, which was of course not shared by the leaders (Ch.4:1-2). The Lord also added to the assembly daily those who were being saved. They were not left to "join the church of their choice." The Lord had added them to His church. The doctrine concerning the truth of the assembly as the one body of Christ was not yet taught, as later Paul taught it; nor was it yet understood how great a change God was accomplishing in regard to introducing the dispensation of the grace of God; but the Lord Jesus was doing what He had promised before: "on this Rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18).
In this great work the apostles were not dealing only with large numbers. As Peter and John went to the temple, not to speak, but at the mid afternoon hour of prayer, they contacted a man lame from his birth, laid at the gate of the temple, who begged from them. Drawing the man's attention to them, Peter tells him he has no silver or gold, but will give what he has. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth the man is healed immediately of his lameness, and not only healed, but given strength to use limbs that had not before been so used. Of course this was absolutely miraculous, the man leaping up, standing, walking, entering with them into the temple, walking, leaping and praising God.
Notice, Peter had not called a healing meeting: it was a matter done personally outside, yet visible to all. The people too were well acquainted with the former condition of the man, so there could be no deception: they were filled with amazement.
When Peter healed the man, he doubtless had no thought of gathering a crowd by this means, but people gathered spontaneously, wondering at what had happened, and Peter took advantage of the occasion to speak to them, first of all disabusing their minds of any thoughts of exalting Peter or John. Admirably He speaks of "the God of Abraham, and of Isaac and of Jacob" (to whom all Israel gave highest respect) as having glorified His servant Jesus, whom Israel had been guilty of delivering up to death in spite of Pilate's having pronounced Him innocent. They knew Pilate's strong objection to condemning the Lord to death, and that they, the Jews, had demanded this.
They had denied the Holy and Just One, Israel's Messiah, and had chosen a traitor and murderer instead. But having killed the Prince of life, now they are faced with the fact that God has taken solemn issue with them in raising Him from among the dead. Of this the apostles were bold, decided witnesses.
Further proof that He is living, though absent, is the fact that His name has been the power by which the lame man had been healed, a man they knew. Peter, by faith, had used that name with such amazing results. It was not in Peter, but in the name of Jesus that tho power was. The man was presented, not only healed, but strong and in perfect soundness of health before them all.
When Peter voiced verse 17 he no doubt had in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). For sins of ignorance there was a sacrifice available for Jews (Leviticus 5:14). In fact, that sacrifice was accomplished by their Messiah at the very time they were guilty of crucifying Him. God had before declared this by His prophets. What they needed therefore was faith in this gracious Substitute, the one sacrifice to take away their sins.
In repenting of their former attitude toward the Lord Jesus, they would be converted to Him, having their sins blotted out. The verse ends with a promise, however, not "when," but "so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and He may send Jesus Christ, who was foreordained for you" (J.N.D.trans.). Jesus had returned on high because rejected by the Jewish nation. Yet if the nation itself would repent and be converted to Him, God was ready to send Him back to introduce the times of kingdom refreshing. Of course, this promise was given in perfectly good faith, yet at the same time God knew that the nation as such would not change their mind concerning Christ. However rebellious Israel was, God would give them full opportunity to repent. This is seen throughout these first chapters in Acts until Chapter 7, when the Spirit's testimony through Stephen is publicly and absolutely rejected by the nation. The heavens must receive Christ until the times of the restitution of all things prophesied throughout the Old Testament. How little did Peter, or those who heard him, realize that this might be delayed for about 2000 years!
The time of the restitution of all things of refers to "the world to come," the millennial age; but in the meanwhile Israel has continued in unbelief and the Gospel has spread out to nations the world over, adding great numbers to the church of God. God has overruled Israel's rebellion for the blessing of hosts of Gentiles.
In verse 22 Peter quotes Moses (Deut.18:15-19) as telling that God would raise up a prophet of the Jewish nation, similar to Moses, but having such authority that His words would allow no ignoring of them. Anyone who would not hear that prophet would be destroyed from among the people. This could apply to no-one but Christ. Leaders in Israel knew of that scripture, and had John the Baptist questioned if he were that prophet (John 1:21); but John bore witness to the fact that the Lord Jesus was far greater than he (John 3:38-31), and the evidence of Christ's own life and ministry was transparently clear. John did no miracle, but the miracles of the Lord Jesus were tremendous in number. In fact, Israel knows that neither before nor since has there been such a prophet.
More than this, all the prophets from Samuel onwards testified of Christ and the time of His advent, foretelling many circumstances attending this great event, things that were undeniably fulfilled.
Now Peter appeals to the people on the ground of their being the children of the prophets as well as children of the covenant God made first with Abraham. He does not speak of the covenant of law given by Moses, but of God's unconditional covenant of promise to Abraham and his seed. His quotation "in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" finds its answer only in Christ, the one seed of Abraham (Gal.3:16), by whom alone blessing could come and will yet come to all the kindreds of the earth.
We may not be certain as to how fully Peter understood that this prophecy was broadened to include Gentiles, but his own words have this implicit in them, for he says, "unto you first God having raised up His servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning every one of you from his iniquities." Later it was a difficulty to Peter to think of even entering a Gentile home, so that he required a clear and convincing revelation from God to do so (Acts 10:28).
The religious leaders were greatly agitated by the public speaking of the apostles, and the Sadducees particularly, for one of their cardinal doctrines was the denial of any resurrection. They were evidently horrified at the thought that God would dare to raise Christ from amongst the dead when they did not believe in resurrection! But pre-conceived falsehood will blind a man with unreasoning prejudice. Peter and John were then imprisoned until the next day. However, their word had been most effective in the two hours or so they had been able to speak, and many believed, so that the number of men only had become about 5000, a marked increase since the day of Pentecost, when 3000 souls (not men only) were converted (Ch.2:41).
The arrest of Peter and John warranted a large gathering of the Jewish rulers, elders and scribes, including Annas and Caiaphas (virtually a joint high priest with Annas). These were the same who had condemned the Lord Jesus to death. Of course it was the preaching of Jesus risen from the dead that aggravated them, but they could not ignore the striking miracle of the healing of the lame man. They interrogate Peter and John as to this first, but they can only expect one answer to the question of "by what power, or by what name" they had done this miracle. Their gathering therefore was a God-ordained means of their hearing the truth concerning Christ risen from among the dead, which they did not want to hear.
Being filled with the Spirit of God, Peter speaks to them of "the good deed done to the impotent man," inferring certainly that a good deed must have a good source. This he declares in no uncertain terms, a message for the leaders and for all the people of Israel, that this was done by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom they crucified, whom God raised from the dead.
The words of Peter in verses 10 to 12 certainly ought to have burned into the hearts and consciences of the council. No cunning lie could ever have given Peter such straightforward boldness. He preaches not himself, but Christ, the Stone despised by these very builders, but established by God as head of the corner. No doubt they knew of this scripture (Psalm 118:22); and the application was so clear they could answer nothing to it. Then Peter concludes his brief and telling message with the firm declaration that there was no salvation in any other name save Jesus Christ: His was the one name given under heaven by which Israel must be saved. What a contrast is this precious confession of Peter to his former denial that he even knew the Lord!
The council is virtually struck dumb. Not even the high priest has a response. They knew these men were uneducated common laborers, and marveled at their knowledge and boldness; but were reminded that they had before companied with Jesus. The healed man standing with them was a witness they could not ignore. They are totally at a loss as to how to answer Peter and John, so ask them to leave the room while the council conferred together.
Their consultation only confirms their impotence, for there is no concrete suggestion as to what they should do. The facts were plain: a notable miracle had been wrought in the name of Jesus they would have liked to deny it, but this was impossible. Yet they agree to threaten Peter and John, demanding that they desist from speaking to anyone in the name of Jesus. Sad is the stubbornness of men that is determined not to admit their plainly manifested guilt! To defend themselves they demand that God keep silence!
Peter and John were not intimidated by such an ultimatum. They appeal to the honest judgment of the rulers themselves. Was it right for Peter and John to give the rulers a place superior to God? What God had revealed to them, and what they had seen and heard, they were impelled to speak. The issue is clearly raised. The rulers knew that they had no just cause to punish them. Fear of the people's opinion restrains them too, for the man's illness had been long established before his being perfectly healed. Nevertheless, before letting the Lord's servants go, they further threaten them, vainly hoping to intimidate them.
"They went to their own company." Precious relief from the company of the ungodly! Their report of the ominous threats of the chief priests and elders does not in any way dismay the disciples. Rather, their hearts and voices are lifted up in praise to the Lord. They give Him, Jesus, the place of sovereign glory as God the Creator. Their quotation from Psalm 2 is not directly applicable, for it refers to the bitter enmity among Gentiles, Israel, kings and rulers at the time of the coming tribulation. Yet the rulers of Israel were already showing that animosity. Herod and Pilate also, Gentile rulers, had shown the same hostility to the Messiah of Israel, God's holy servant Jesus, in rejecting and crucifying Him. But in beautiful triumph the disciples add, "to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." The vanity of the enmity and pride of man is tragic: it is God in control, not they.
The fervency of the disciples' desire to honor the Lord Jesus is only increased by the persecution. The threatens of the enemy they refer to the Lord, and entreat Him to give His servants boldness to speak His word, together with giving further healing, signs and wonders done in the name of His holy servant Jesus. Notice the emphasis on this in these early chapters, that Jesus is the servant of God, the Messiah. Paul, as soon as he was converted, preached Him as the Son of God (Ch.9:20). He had seen Him in heaven: they had known Him in His blessed path of service on earth.
The unity and reality of their prayer brings the striking response from God of shaking the building in which they were. This is symbolical of the deep stirring of the Spirit of God in their souls: they were all filled with the Spirit, which gave boldness in speaking the word of God. Such a miracle today would likely so enthuse us that we should forget to proclaim the word.
The unity of the early church was so precious and real (in sad contrast to the many divisions of our day) that no individual considered even his possessions as being his own, but to be common property in the assembly. This was fully spontaneous, not an arranged matter. Such was the reality of their united submission to the activity of the Spirit of God.
This was accompanied by great power in the witness of the apostles to the truth of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace upon all the disciples. It is little wonder that many have deeply wished for a return of those days, but too many have sought it tragically in vain: the energy of men can never duplicate this, though there have been many imitations, all of them failing.
Necessities were not lacking for anyone; for those who owned real estate sold it and contributed their gains to the common fund. Distribution was made to all according to need, the apostles evidently taking charge of this.
Particular attention is drawn to Joses, surnamed Barnabas, a Levite of the country of Cyprus. Levites in Israel received tithes of the people (Heb.7:5), but grace so wrought in the heart of Barnabas that he sold land in his possession and gave the proceeds to the apostles for the common fund.
Where God is working, however, the opposition of Satan soon becomes apparent. The evil begins (as evil always does) in an underhand manner, but is quickly exposed by God. Ananias and Sapphira certainly did not expect to have their sin discerned as it was. Evidently because others were doing it, they sold land, bringing part of the price to the apostles on the understanding that it was the full price. The power of the Spirit of God present at the time did not allow the falsehood to pass. God revealed the matter to Peter, who speaks most solemnly to Ananias of the wickedness of his lying to the Holy Spirit. He makes it very clear that Ananias had perfect right to keep all the land it he chose to, and when it was sold had a right to keep all or part of the proceeds. But to falsely claim to be giving all was wickedness in the eyes of God. He had lied, not merely to men, but to God.
The immediate result was fearsome. Ananias fell down dead. God is jealous of His own glory in the church. When it was established in power, such was His immediate judgment of falsehood. One wonders, if the same were done today, how many professing Christians would suffer such a fate! Because of great departure today God does not deal so summarily with evil, but the assembly is still responsible to maintain proper godly discipline whenever evil has become known.
The fear of God struck deeply into many hearts on this occasion. The man was immediately carried out and buried. Evidently government did not require the many preliminaries it does today. Sapphira, ignorant of what had transpired, came in about three hours later. In answer to Peter's question, she affirmed that the land was sold for the price Ananias had reported. Peter solemnly reproved her agreeing together with her husband to tempt the Spirit of the Lord, and told her she was to be buried just as her husband was. How little they were profited by the money they withheld! Great fear gripped all the church as well as others who heard of the matter. Dishonest people would no doubt think twice before linking themselves with the disciples. The church itself too was to be impressed with the truth and holiness of the God with whom they had to do.
This manifestation of God's holiness issued in further manifestations of His power in many signs and wonders by the hands of the apostles. Their unity ("with one accord") is again noted. Those unsaved did not dare to join themselves to them, though recognizing God's presence with them. On the other hand, great numbers of believers were added to the Lord, men and women.
The many miracles accomplished through the apostles led people to bring their sick in beds into the streets with the hope of their having Peter's shadow fall on them as he passed. Crowds also came from cities in the area of Jerusalem, bringing those sick and those afflicted by unclean spirits. As when the Lord Jesus was on earth, the result was healing for every one. Notice that no such thing as a healing meeting was held, but great numbers were healed apart from meetings at all. Nor were some selected to be put into a healing line and others ignored. All were healed, none going away disappointed.
The high priests and others with him (Sadducees) could not but be bitterly antagonistic to this evident perpetuation of the work of the Lord Jesus whom they had crucified, and whose resurrection was a terrible affront to their false doctrine. They imprison the apostles (how many of them we are not told: perhaps all of them).
The intervention of God on this occasion is amazing. The angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and told them to return to the temple and speak "to the people all the words of this life." With what calm fortitude and power they would do this! Early in the morning they are teaching there.
Ignorant of this, the high priest and his friends called the council together, and the senate, an August, imposing company, only to find that they had no-one to put on trial! The officers report that the prison was locked, the guards standing before the doors, but the prisoners gone. God had evidently rendered the guards insensible to what was happening in their presence. This causes the leaders both embarrassment and worry as to what might develop from this. However, a messenger informs them that the men they put in prison were teaching in the temple. God had not allowed them to hide, for the leaders must have their unholy authority challenged. The captain and officers again go and arrest the disciples, being careful not to be violent on account of their fear of popular opinion. Of course the disciples offer no resistance. The high priest's accusation is interesting. He is angry that they have disobeyed his command not to teach in the name of Jesus (though he will not use the name "Jesus"), and that they have filled Jerusalem with their teaching. But he adds that they "intend to bring this man's blood upon us." Had he forgotten that they themselves, with all the people, had told Pilate, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Mt.27:25)? They had admitted fully before Pilate their responsibility for His death. Now they would like to slip out of the responsibility by ignoring it, and by crushing every testimony to the facts. Peter therefore speaks more decisively to them than he had before, with the other apostles fully backing him up. He had asked them before to judge what was right (Ch.4:19): now he tells them positively, "We ought to obey God rather than men." If they refuse to judge honestly, the apostles will not accept their ultimatum to disobey God.
Verses 30 to 32 add to this another clear, concise declaration of the vital facts that were so unwelcome to the council. "The God of our fathers," the God all Israel professed to serve, had raised up Jesus, whom "ye slew and hanged on a tree." They knew this was true: they had plotted and insisted on His crucifixion.
They of course knew also that their watch had reported the stone of the grave rolled away by an angel, revealing that the Lord's body was gone. The apostles go beyond this in their witness. God had exalted Christ by His right hand, a Prince, One set in dignity above the people (not yet in kingly authority, but exalted), and a Savior, the only One in whom Israel can find salvation from their sins and from the bondage of sin. Notice too that it is He who gives repentance to Israel. Receiving Him would involve very definite repentance, which was no doubt not a popular subject for the chief priests.
The apostles declare themselves as witnesses of these things, adding that the Holy Spirit was also a witness, He having been given by God to all who obey Him. This was a matter the leaders did not have the temerity to deny, for the power the apostles had was more than natural; but they ignore it. In fact, being cut to the heart (not pricked in their hearts -- ch.2:37), they consult together with the purpose of killing the apostles. Such is the folly of unrepentant wickedness!
But on this occasion God overrules the matter in sovereign grace by having a doctor of the law there, a prominent man, who gives advice which is at least sensible and logical. He shows no inclination to believe the Gospel, but warns Israel not to make a blunder in dealing with these men. He presents two examples of men who had not so long before exalted themselves, influencing others to follow them. Notice that Theudas had boasted himself to be somebody. This was noticeably absent so far as the apostles were concerned: they only exalted Christ, not themselves nor any other individual on earth. In each case these proud leaders met an untimely end and their followers were scattered.
Gamaliel therefore gives good advice based on these facts, advising the council to leave the men alone, for if their work was merely of men it would come to nothing. On the other hand, if it were of God they could not overthrow it, and would be fighting against God. Did Gamaliel perhaps entertain some thought that it could be God's work? At least he was telling them to consider the possibility of this.
They agree to his wisdom, yet cannot refrain from venting their bitter feelings by beating the apostles before letting them go. If they were God's servants (the possibility of which had been admitted) then how culpable was their guilt in treating them in this way Again also they issue the ultimatum to the apostles not to speak in the name of Jesus. The apostles had already answered this most decisively (v.29).
Allowed to leave, they do so rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. How good to see them taking to heart His own words spoken to them before, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Mt.5:11-12). What a complete contrast to men's natural reactions Daily in the temple and in homes they continued to disobey the religious authorities by teaching and preaching Jesus Christ. By the power of the Spirit of God they are not in the least intimidated by persecution.
A second time, however, difficulty arises from within Satan's enmity from without was clearly evident. In Ch.5.1-3 Satan had sought to underhandedly get in among the saints, but this had been exposed. Now he attempts another method, but still working on motives of selfishness concerning material things.
The Grecians (or Hellenists) were Greek Jews, not normally resident in Israel. Friction too easily arises between those of varying cultures, even though in this case both were of Jewish origin. They claimed their widows were neglected in the distribution of necessary provisions, therefore that the Hebrews were favored.
The apostles face this matter wisely. Thy had themselves been sent of God to preach the word, not to care for temporal matters. Therefore they ask the assembly to decide on seven reliable men, "full of the Holy Spirit," whom the apostles could appoint to take care of these things, while they gave themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Notice that the assembly may rightly decide who is to take care of temporal matters, the service of a deacon. In reference to spiritual things, the ministry of the word and government in the assembly, the assembly does not at all decide: this is God's decision, to be recognized by all.
God's grace overruled the whole matter of the friction between Jews and Hellenists in a beautiful way, for evidently all seven chosen (to judge by their names) were Hellenists. The Hebrews gave way completely, to allow those who had complained to have charge of the distribution. Yet they chose men who had spiritual qualifications. We read more of Stephen and Philip later, both of whom manifestly used the office of a deacon well, purchasing to themselves a good degree and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus (1 Tim.3:13). The seven men were set before the apostles, who prayed for them and laid their hands on them, in this way expressing their fellowship with the work they were to do.
This emergency having been met in a spirit of faith and grace, by the power of the Spirit of God, the blessing of the word of God increased, the number of the disciples multiplying greatly. A great company of priests are mentioned as included in this expansion. This was no light matter when the high priest and others prominent among them were so bitterly opposed to the name of Jesus. Their confession of Him would no doubt terminate their official position as priests, but they would learn later that they had a better priesthood in common with all the beloved saints of God (1 Pet.2:4-5), not official, but spiritual and real.
Of Stephen we read in verse 5 that he was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. Added to this in verse 8 is that he was full of grace and power (J.N.D.trans.), so that he did great wonders and miracles among the people. This is a precious example of God's working effectively apart from the circle of the apostles. His work arouses the strong oposition of those of the synagogue of the Libertines and other Hellenists from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. Though having been scattered, they were zealous of Judaism and incensed against another Hellenist who would dare to preach the name of Jesus.
Their disputing with him however only exposed their own ignorance compared to the wisdom and spirit God had given him. He was speaking in measure like his Master, whose wisdom silenced Pharisees and Sadducees so effectively that they determined that He must be crucified.
The results are similar here. They found men whom they prompted to speak falsely in accusing Stephen of speaking blasphemously against Moses and against God. Notice, Moses is more important to them than God: in fact, God is left out entirely in verse 13, and the temple and the law added. Using this wicked procedure they excite the people and scribes and elders, so that Stephen is caught and brought before the Jewish council, as the apostles had been before.
The charges of the false witnesses would have meant nothing whatever to the Roman court, but the Jewish council was already antagonized to the name of Jesus, and ready to use any excuse to silence His witnesses. Adding to the false accusation of Stephen's speaking blasphemous words against the temple and the law, they specifically charge him with saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the ritual of the law given by Moses. It is evident they were twisting Stephen's words, but even if the charge were true, it was no reason for putting a man to death. Very likely he had spoken before as he did during his subsequent address to the council, to the effect that the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands; and probably repeated the prophecy of the Lord Jesus that Israel's temple would be destroyed, with not one stone left upon another. For they had given the temple the place that by right only belongs to the great Founder of the temple, the Lord Jesus Christ.
At this moment God bears remarkable witness to His servant, causing his face to shine as that of an angel, just at the time when all those of the council were intent on watching him. No doubt Stephen himself was not conscious of this (Cf.Ex.34:29), though he would certainly know the reality of the power of the Spirit of God virtually enfolding him.
ACTS - Chapter 7
The high priest only asks the question, "Are these things so?" Then God provides room for Stephen to speak without interruption for some time. This stands in striking contrast to the way in which the Lord Jesus was mainly silent before His accusers. Stephen is able in a most masterful way to summarize the whole history of Israel from the viewpoint of God's many visitations to the nation, yet of Israel's consistently stubborn refusal of God's testimony, culminating in their rejection of His Son.
He begins with the personal call of Abraham by the God of glory, a basis all would fully acknowledge, God calling him out from his own kindred as well as his own country to a land not known to him then, but which God would show him. This very fact should have impressed the Jews that God does not always leave men in the circumstances to which they have been accustomed. But Abraham too was slow to respond fully to the call of God at first, only coming to the land after his father had died (v.4).
Also, he was given no actual possession in the land, though it was promised to him, but he was a pilgrim, another salutary lesson for those who claim to be sons of Abraham. God's sovereign wisdom is impressed on us too in His promising the land to Abraham's seed at a time that he had no child. Abraham therefore ought not to regard matters from the narrow viewpoint of his then present circumstances. In this too Israel was failing when Stephen spoke.
More than this, God promised, not immediate great blessing, but that Abraham's seed should be brought under bondage and suffer oppression for four hundred years. There would be long suffering therefore before exaltation. Then the oppressing nation (Egypt) would be judged by God, and Israel eventually brought to serve God in the promised land. The significance of this Israel ought never to have forgotten, just as we today should takes its lessons to heart. We must expect suffering before exaltation.
The covenant of circumcision then given to Abraham (v.8), to be applied to his seed, was a sign that no promise of God could apply to man as he is in the flesh: the flesh must be cut off, to have no part in God's counsels. Yet the Jews were at Stephen's time boasting in the mererite of circumcision, in virtual opposition to its significance.
Now Stephen places special emphasis on the twelve sons of Jacob, the immediate father of the twelve tribes. Was theirs an illustrious, beautiful history? Far from it! If Israel desired to boast, let them consider what their fathers did to their own brother Joseph. Moved with envy, they rejected and sold him (v.9). Yet God preserved him and in fact exalted him to a place of great authority in Egypt. Could God not do similarly (or more greatly) in regard to Jesus whom Israel rejected?
God's sovereignty again shone out in the great famine that caused Joseph's brothers to journey to Egypt for food. In fact, God would yet bring Israel to such a state of desolation that they too would be virtually forced to look for help to the source which they would find to be none other than the Jesus whom they had crucified. Only the second time, after some real distress and exercise of soul did the brothers have Joseph reveal himself to them (v.13).
The move of Jacob and his family to Egypt introduces a new epoch in Israel's history, the growth of the nation under circumstances of intense pressure and bondage. Jacob himself died outside the land, his body being carried back for burial, indicating that God still considered it Israel's land. The burying place had been purchased by Abraham. All of this history was intended to make the Jews consider seriously how God Himself was dealing with them.
God had sworn to Abraham that his seed would be afflicted four hundred years by an oppressive nation, but that He would bring them out with great substance (Gen.15:13-14). As the end of this time drew near a new Pharaoh arose who greatly increased the oppression, commanding the drowning of every boy born to the Israelites. Yet God intervened in this very thing, Moses being born at this time (v.20), a child "lovely in the sight of God" (N.A.S.B.), hidden and nourished by his parents for three months, then adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. Certainly neither she nor Satan had any idea that this child was ordained of God to be Israel's deliverer, though the Egyptians unwittingly helped this matter along by training Moses in all their wisdom, he becoming mighty in deeds and words.
It was not by Egyptian wisdom that Moses delivered Israel, but he knew well what he was dealing with when the time came for God to bless him with spiritual power to accomplish such a deliverance. In fact, God was showing Egypt that He could use them to overrule their own decrees in a way that should greatly humble their pride.
At forty years of age (v.23) Moses became concerned about his own brethren, the Jews. This was God's working in his heart, though in killing an Egyptian who oppressed an Israelite, he was not acting in God's way. Verse 25 is interesting as to this: he expected the Jews to understand that he was concerned about their deliverance, and that God was actually moving him. But they did not understand, just as Israel did not understand that Jesus would be the great Deliverer of the nation.
Just as Moses was not understood when taking a stand with Israel against their oppressors, so also he was not understood when he sought to restore or promote unity among Israelites. All they could see was selfish motives, and the man who did wrong to his neighbor rudely repulsed Moses with the cutting words, "Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?" His following words, questioning if Moses would kill him as he did the Egyptian, alerted Moses to the fact that his killing the Egyptian was known, and would not be hidden from Egypt's authorities. He fled the country and became a stranger in a strange land for no short time (v.29). Israel was not ready to be delivered for another forty years, and Moses was required to learn in solitary experience what would eventually fit him for public service.
God's intervention is again seen in His speaking to Moses from the burning bush. His words caused Moses to tremble. Would Israel not tremble now that God had spoken to them in the person of His Son? Moses' shoes must be removed as a confession of his own dependent weakness before God. God had seen the affliction of His people, taking full cognizance of all that they endured, and the time had come for His delivering them. Now He was sending Moses to this end, the same Moses whom Israel had refused forty years earlier, saying, "Who made the a ruler and a judge?" How consistently this could be applied too to Israel's refusal of the Lord Jesus, who will yet be their welcomed Deliverer.
Moses did deliver Israel (v.25 etc.), borne witness to by God's showing through him many signs and wonders in Egypt first, in the exodus through the Red Sea, and through their amazing sustenance for forty years in the wilderness.
Stephen lays great emphasis on the history of Moses, certainly showing that he had more respect for Moses than the Jews actually did, though they had so boasted in Moses and charged Stephen with blaspheming him. This was the same Moses, he says, who was with the assembly in the wilderness, and through whom, at Mount Sinai, they had received the living oracles, the ten commandments. How had Israel responded to him then? At the very time Moses was receiving the two tables of stone on the mount, Israel was again refusing him and demanding of Aaron some type of gods they could see, putting folly into execution by their making a golden calf, offering sacrifices to it, and taking pleasure in their idolatrous works.
Verses 42 and 43 cover a long space of time, indicating Israel's persisting in wilful, selfish ways, neglecting in their forty year wilderness history the honest offering to God of their slain beasts and sacrifices. Likely they killed beasts and offered them in sacrifice, but not to God. Later, in the land, they adopted the gods of the dispossessed idolaters, Moloch and Remphan making images of these to worship. Stephen says little more than this about Israel's history in the land, but adds the solemn warning of God that He would carry them away beyond Babylon, which the Jews knew had been fulfilled in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. This history of rebellion and of God's often intervening in discipline ought to have taught the Jews to learn by their fathers' experience.
Stephen has well answered their accusations against him concerning Moses. Now in verse 44 he addresses their charge concerning the holy place. This began with the tabernacle that God ordered Moses to make precisely according to His plain directions. The tabernacle remained as God's dwelling place among His people when Joshua led them into the land, and until the days of Solomon.
Stephen speaks of the tabernacle continuing till the days of David, who desired to build a temple, but God did not allow him to do this (2 Sam.7:5-7), having reserved this honor for Solomon. This was a reminder to the Jews that they did not always have a temple. Was it of greater importance than the God who had brought Israel out of Egypt? Indeed, Israel seemed to think that God was confined to their temple!
Therefore, Stephen's words now cut right to the heart of the matter. "The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands" (N.A.S.B.). Also He quotes their own scriptures to clearly indicate this: "Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet: what kind of house will you build for Me? says the Lord: or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?" (N.A.S.B.). Is God to be contained in a trifling part of that which His own hands have created? The One who had indisputable rights in regard to the temple had already been rejected and crucified by Israel. How can they speak so piously of the house while rejecting its true owner?
There is no doubt of Stephen's being directly led of the Spirit of God to speak as he does, including his now solemnly fastening upon Israel the serious guilt of their having always resisted the Holy Spirit: in this regard the nation was now imitating their fathers. His first words in verse 51 are precisely those of many prophets of the Old Testament, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears." Stubborn rebellion had been too consistently the character of Israel. They could glory in their literal circumcision, but its significance had no effect on their heart and ears.
He questions as to which of the prophets their fathers had not persecuted. They knew the answer well, but considered themselves free from such guilt, thinking they would not have done this if they had been living then (Mt.23:29-30). But he reminds them that they had just before betrayed and murdered the One of whom all the prophets foretold, "the Just One," who was in fact Israel's true Messiah. He adds to this that they had received the law by the disposition of angels (not merely from Moses), and had not kept it.
The truth of Stephen's charge, which should have subdued the Jews in broken self-judgment, had the effect rather of stirring them to prove his words true in their treatment of yet another prophet of God -- himself! As their tempers flare in bitter hostility, however, Stephen looks up steadfastly into heaven. There God reveals to him the majestic sight of the glory of God and Jesus standing on God's right hand. Wonderful encouragement for this faithful man of God!
He bears witness to this marvellous revelation, the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. His enemies, defeated as they know they are, can only resort to the folly of stopping their ears and violently silencing the witness of God. The Romans denied the Jews the right to execute capital punishment, but on this occasion the Jews took advantage of the absence of the Roman governor from Jerusalem at the time; and Stephen was murdered without any trial, taken outside the city and stoned to death. A young man named Saul is mentioned as the custodian of the clothes of the witnesses of Stephen's death.
His words at the end are beautifully similar to those of the Lord Jesus at His death, but it is the Lord Jesus to whom he prays "receive my spirit." What calm, blessed victory of faith is this! Then, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Wonderful grace indeed, so like the words of his Master on the cross. But Stephen cannot say, "they know not what they do;" for the Jews now had an unmistakable witness to the resurrection of Christ in the powerful ministry of the Spirit of God, and they deliberately rejected it. They had refused Christ as the Man of sorrows on earth: now they refuse Him as glorified by God in heaven. "Much more shall not we escape if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven" (Heb.12:25). We are told simply of Stephen that "he fell asleep," for the sting of death had been taken away by the death of His Lord: now death for the believer is merely "sleep."
This is a great turning point in the book of Acts. Israel has publicly, positively refused the appeal of Spirit of God to reconsider their rejection of Christ. The gospel therefore is to go to the regions beyond, and that nation as such meanwhile has been given up to a state of sad desolation.
As a wild beast tasting blood, the Jews were the more inflamed by the martyrdom of Stephen to greatly persecute the Church of God at Jerusalem. For this reason believers were scattered through Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Even the persecution at this time did not exercise them to leave and carry the gospel elsewhere, as the Lord had commanded them (Mk.16:15), but where they failed, the Lord had others to do the work.
Devout men buried Stephen with great lamentation. They may not have been Christians, but at least were God-fearing and honorable. In contrast, Saul excelled in his zealous persecution of believers, forcibly entering houses to take them prisoner. This did not however stop the preaching of the word by those who were scattered from Jerusalem.
Philip (one of the seven chosen as deacons -- ch.6:5) was by no means intimidated either, but went down to Samaria where he preached Christ. Though the apostles were slow to do this, Philip showed the same gracious spirit as his Master (John 4), not despising the Samaritans, as was common among the Jews (Jn.8:48). The energy of this man's faith is beautiful, for he evidently acted alone, not "tarrying for the sons of men." How he attracted the interest of the people we are not told, except that he preached Christ to them. We may remember that Christ Himself had awakened a large interest in Samaria (John 4:39-42): now when this same Lord was preached, God had prepared hearts to respond to this blessed message. His preaching also was attended by God's witnessing with the miracles of casting out demons and healing of the sick. Notice, it was not that Philip held a healing meeting; rather his speaking is first emphasized, then the miracles added.
It is of interesting importance that when Peter went later to Gentiles, there is no mention of healing at all (Ch.10:34-48), but Samaritans, though a mixed race, claimed a Jewish status because there was no doubt of Jewish blood among them. "The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks (Gentiles) seek after wisdom" (1 Cor.1:22).
Since the Jews of Jerusalem had no dealings with the Samaritans (Jn.4:9), they were not present to oppose the preaching of Christ or to hinder the great joy of the city. For even when Christ was there, no miracles are recorded: now by the power of the Spirit of God Philip performed many miracles, casting out many demons and healing many who were sick.
Such striking miracles as this impressed a sorcerer named Simon, who had before greatly influenced the people of Samaria by his Satanic sorceries, claiming to be a great man himself, and leading the populace, whether low or high, to consider him the great power of God. This had continued a long time, but the superior power of God in Philip's preaching and miracles wrought in such a way as to produce faith in great numbers, and they were baptized, both men and women.
The evidence was convincing so far as Simon was concerned: he also believed and was baptized, but it was plainly only a superficial type of belief, as subsequent history shows. He continued at first with Philip, but wondered at the miracles and signs. Why should he wonder if he had faith that Jesus was actually the Son of God and actually risen from the dead? Were such miracles not simple enough for Him?
We have seen in Jerusalem that Jews were promised on repentance and baptism that they would receive the Spirit of God (Ch.2:38). Yet here were Samaritans who had repented and been baptized, but had not received the Spirit. This was the reason for the apostles Peter and John coming down when they heard news of God's work in Samaria. Only after they had prayed for them and laid their hands on them did the Samaritan disciples receive the Holy Spirit. This guarded against any possibility that the Samaritans would consider their blessing independent of that which Jerusalem had received. We shall see later also that only on two other occasions was the Spirit received with public signs, and then only with the presence of at least one apostle (Ch.10:44-46 and Ch.19:1-7).
In this way the work was fully connected: the Church of God was one. The laying on of hands speaks simply of identification with these disciples. If God could publicly receive Jews at Jerusalem, He could also graciously receive Samaritans in spite of their having embraced a center contrary to God's center, the temple at Jerusalem: God no longer deals on the basis of law, but of grace.
Philip the evangelist is now put in the background, as the Spirit of God begins a work of another kind, using a most unexpected workman. Saul was filled with strongest animosity toward the disciples, determined to crush Christianity out of existence. He secured authority from the high priest to go to Damascus, in Syria, with the object of taking prisoner any Jews who had embraced Christianity, and bringing them to Jerusalem to face imprisonment or martyrdom. He was not deterred by the fact that Syria was a foreign country nor did he consider extradition proceedings necessary: he was a bold, determined man.
However, he had forgotten heaven's authority, and the light suddenly shining from heaven was more than he expected. It was the light, not an exertion of great power, that prostrated him to the ground. Then a penetrating voice, impossible to be ignored, deeply searches his conscience: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" Whoever is speaking, Saul knows that He is Lord, but questions as to His name. The answer, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" must surely have produced a tremendous upheaval in the heart of the proud, zealous, prejudiced Pharisee! This was the Man whose name he was determined to banish from the earth!
Saul is evidently stricken virtually dumb, and the Lord tells him to arise and go into the city (Damascus), where he would be told what to do. Those with him heard the voice, and were speechless also. Chapter 22:9 evidently indicates that they did not understand what was said, though aware of a voice speaking. The message was intended for him alone. The Lord knows how to impress His truth on individuals, who realize the message to be specifically for them. The effect of this is striking. Saul is unable to see when he stands up. Like other Pharisees (John 9:41), he thought he was a highly enlightened man, but God teaches him that the light of which he boasted was darkness in contrast to the light from heaven. For three days also he neither ate nor drank. We can hardly imagine the greatness of the revolution taking place in his soul.
But though it was primarily with the Lord he had to do, he must learn also that he cannot be independent of the people of God. The Lord therefore sends a disciple, Ananias, to inquire for Saul of Tarsus, of whom He says, "for behold, he is praying." He also adds that Saul has received a confirming vision of a man named Ananias coming to him, putting his hands on him, that his sight may be recovered. The putting on of his hands did not in itself have supernatural power: rather, God saw fit to show His power in conjunction with the expressed fellowship (which is involved in the putting on of hands) of a believer. The Lord's revelation to Ananias therefore was accompanied by a vision given to Saul, so that there could be no mistake.
When Ananias protests that he has heard from many witnesses of the evil Saul had done to the saints in Jerusalem, and of his coming to Damascus with the intention of taking Christians captive, the Lord insists that he go because Saul was a chosen vessel to bear His name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel (notice Gentiles first). Moreover, the man who had made others suffer would be shown by the Lord what great things he must suffer for Christ's name's sake. Subsequent history proved this, and with the fullest acquiescence on the part of the sufferer (2 Cor.12:10).
Ananias willingly obeys, and in coming into the house unhesitatingly identifies himself with Saul by the putting on of his hands and calling him, "brother," telling him that the Lord Jesus who had appeared to Saul had sent Ananias, that Saul might have his sight restored and be filled with the Spirit of God. The result was immediate as regards his sight, which reminds us that seeing the truth today is vitally connected with the fellowship of God's people, the church. He was then baptized. No mention is made of the time that he actually received the Spirit, but no doubt this was true immediately after he was baptized, for he was Jewish (Acts 2:38). No suggestion is made of any marked demonstration of his having received the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues. These things are only spoken of when a number were together (Acts 2; 8; 10; 19).
When Saul received his sight, his fast was ended and he was strengthened by the eating of food. Then he remained some days with the disciples in Damascus, not returning to Jerusalem, as he had planned. Nothing more is said of the men who came with him. But immediately in the synagogues of Damascus he preached Christ as the Son of God (not only as Lord and Christ or as God's Servant, as Peter had done).
The change in the man amazed his hearers, who were aware of his cruel intentions against believers. But as he preached Christ his strength so do so was increased. Jews in Damascus were confounded by the clarity of his proofs (no doubt from scripture) that Jesus was in reality the Christ.
Verse 19 has spoken of his being with the disciples in Damascus only "certain days," while verse 23 speaks of "after many days." Galatians 1:15-19 clarifies this. Between the two verses he had gone into Arabia, then returned to Damascus, so that it was three years before he went to Jerusalem. How long Saul (later named Paul) was in Arabia we are not told, nor of anything he did there; but on his return to Damascus he evidently resumed his preaching, for the Jews plotted to kill him, watching the gate of the city, where he was most likely to be caught. The disciples, knowing of the plot, let Saul down by the wall in a basket during the night, so that he escaped out of their hands.
Though it was three years before his returning to Jerusalem, when he sought the fellowship of the disciples there, they were afraid of him, for they had known him before, and thought he sought to destroy them through working from the inside. Barnabas however bore good witness of him as regards his striking conversion and subsequent preaching the faith he once destroyed. We are told that he brought him to the apostles, evidently only Peter and James, for he saw only these two apostles during his fifteen days there (Gal.1:18-19).
In this short time his preaching and disputing with the Hellenists awakened such bitter animosity that they plotted his death. The brethren however, becoming aware of this, arranged for his transfer to Caesarea, from which place he took ship to his native city Tarsus, in Asia Minor. What he did in Tarsus is not told us, but it was there that Barnabas went later to find Saul (Ch.11:25).
At this time the persecution abated in Judea, Galilee and Samaria (in all the land of Israel), and the time of respite gave occasion for the assemblies to be built up and multiplied, walking in the tear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Now our attention is drawn back to Peter, who was traveling to various places within the land of Israel. Coming to Lydda (between Jerusalem and Joppa), where there were believers, he found a paralytic man who had been eight years in bed. His words to him provoked an immediate response: "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you: arise, and make your bed." The man was healed and strong enough to arise without delay. This is intended to picture the fact that God had not cast away His people Israel, though the nation has been publicly set aside because of their rejection of the Messiah. This healing is both a pledge and a type of the future healing of Israel. Aeneas means "to praise," speaking of Israel's eventual adoration of their true Messiah Jesus. The miracle turned many to the Lord, just as Israel's conversion in a coming day will greatly affect others.
Peter is then called to Joppa because of the death of a godly sister, Tabitha (or Dorcas), whose good works had been a precious testimony to all who knew her. How many have been greatly blessed through the godly in Israel in the past, and yet that godliness was dying out of the nation because of their rejection of Christ. The sorrow of this is portrayed by the weeping widows.
Peter puts them all out, for her revival is to be solely God's work, not that of concerted effort by numbers, just as Israel's revival will be virtually life from the dead, a miracle of God. Kneeling, Peter prays, utterly dependent on the grace and power of God, then calmly tells Tabitha to arise. It is a striking picture of how godliness in Israel will be wonderfully revived in a coming day. Because of this many turned in faith to the Lord Jesus.
Gentiles also must now hear the gospel. The heart of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, had been already prepared by God, having a wholesome, genuine fear of God that proved itself in kind works toward the Jewish people, a man of consistent prayer. Though the apostles had been told to go to Gentiles (Lk.24:47), it was no easy matter for them to begin this, and God gave two visions, confirmatory of one another, to persuade Peter to go. Cornelius was given a vision of an angel, who told him his prayers and alms had come up for a memorial before God (v.4). Therefore there is no doubt that Cornelius was already born again, for only the new life can have God's approval in this way.
He is told, not to go to Joppa himself, but to send men to bring Simon Peter from there, giving instructions as to where to find him. For it was important, on this occasion of publicly admitting Gentiles into the kingdom of heaven, that Peter should present the gospel to a number of them together. Cornelius chose two household servants and a devout soldier on whom he could depend, to carry the message to Peter (vs.7-8).
As they neared Joppa, the Lord was preparing Peter for their coming, causing him to go to the housetop to pray at about noon. Though he became very hungry, God did not allow him to eat, but while a meal was being prepared he fell into a trance, seeing heaven opened and a vessel resembling a great sheet knit at the four corners let down from heaven to earth. In this were beasts of every kind, domesticated, wild, creeping things and birds
Peter however resisted the voice that told him to rise, kill and eat. Obedient to Old Testament law (Lev.11), he had never eaten what was there forbidden as being unclean. But he is plainly told, "What God has cleansed you must not call common" (v.15).
What does the vessel with its animals symbolize? Peter recognized its meaning when later he spoke to Cornelius, "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean." (v.28). The vessel therefore symbolizes the church of God as including those people redeemed from every nation, whether cultured (domesticated animals), savage and unrestrained (wild beasts); repulsive and deceitful (creeping things); or influenced by
Satanic doctrine (fowls of the air). The vessel descending from heaven indicates that the origin of the church is heavenly: its being drawn up again into heaven shows the destination of the church to be heavenly. Three times the matter is impressed upon Peter's mind, implying a full manifestation of God's thoughts on this subject. For the dispensation of the grace of God fully sets aside the principles of legal requirements. The literal eating or not eating of certain meats has no longer therefore any spiritual significance, as 1 Timothy 4:3-5 insists.
Understandably Peter was in doubt, wondering why the vision was given. But he had not long to wait for an answer, for the men sent from Cornelius were at the gate asking for him. He does not go in response to their asking, however, but by the direction of the Holy Spirit, who tells him of the three men seeking him, and instructs him to go with the men without personal reservations, for God had sent them.
Peter's interest is greatly awakened, so that he questions the men as to the reason for their coming. In answer they highly commend the character of Cornelius, and inform Peter of his having been instructed by an angel to send to bring Peter to his house, in order to hear the message Peter had to give.
Of course Peter was fully ready to go, and after having the messengers lodged for the night in the home of his host, he accompanied them the next day on their return to Caesarea, together with other brethren from Joppa. There was wisdom in this, for Peter knew that his Jewish brethren would certainly require some witness as to a matter of such tremendous consequence to Jewish minds. He would be very thankful he had done this when he was later challenged as to his having gone into a Gentile's home, and having eaten with Gentiles (Ch.11:2-3).
Fully expecting Peter, Cornelius had already gathered together his relatives and close friends to hear the word of God. However, because of thorough reverence for the things of God, he made the serious mistake of falling at Peter's feet to worship him. Some men would proudly accept this, but not Peter, who knew that only the Lord is to be worshiped. Peter took him up, ordering him to stand, for he was just as Cornelius, a mere man, and not God. When John (in Revelation 22:8) fell down to worship an angel, the angel solemnly forbid him to do it.
Speaking to the gathered audience, Peter tells them they knew it was unlawful for a Jew to keep company with, or even come on friendly terms to the home of, one who was of a foreign nation. This was not precisely what Israel's law had said, but it was the interpretation the Jews generally had at this time accepted. The Lord sent Elijah to stay with a Gentile widow (I Kings 17:9). More importantly, God sent Joseph and Mary with the child Jesus to Egypt, where it would be impossible to keep this Jewish regulation. Moreover, the Lord Himself spoke in kindness to a Samaritan woman, she being surprised at this, for the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (John 4:9). But Peter's rigid thoughts had to give way to the Lord's revelation to him: he must not call any man common or unclean, of whatever nation he was. This was his reason for coming immediately without objection.
In answer to his question, Cornelius explains to him the experience of his seeing the vision of the angel in response to his prayer, and of the instructions he was given to send for Peter. The miraculous character of this was fully corroborated by the vision given to Peter, so that in this there was no possibility of deception, as in the cases of many who claim to have had visions. The gathering in the home of Cornelius therefore had been carefully arranged by God, and they were ready to hear all that God had commanded Peter.
Peter's opening words then are precious, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him." Evidently he had himself considered that God was a respecter of persons, for his education was such as to give Israelites a higher place in God's sight than all other nationalities. In the church of God all of this must be totally leveled; and God used this miraculous way of impressing such truth upon Peter.
He reminds them that they knew of the word of God sent to Israel by Jesus Christ, He who preached peace in the midst of the strife and confusion of the nation. The parenthesis he adds, "He is Lord of all," shows that the message was not to be confined to Israel. The facts of John's baptism and of the ministry of the Lord Jesus following this, beginning in and published throughout all Galilee, were well known through the land. Peter speaks of the public anointing of the Lord Jesus at Jordan when John baptized Him, the power of the Spirit of God therefore manifest in His many good works, healing of the sick, etc., proof of God's being with Him.
The apostles were witness of all these things that the Lord had done, and also of the cruel opposition of the Jewish leaders, who had slain Him, hanging Him on a tree. No doubt Cornelius had heard this too, but beyond that he needed the most vital news that Peter had to give him, that God had on the third day raised Christ from among the dead and showed Him openly. This was not however to the public generally, but to special witnesses before chosen by God, the apostles and others who actually ate and drank with Him following His resurrection.
Having a message of such tremendous import, Peter and the other apostles had been commanded by God to preach to the people and testify that this same Jesus has been ordained by God as Judge of the living and the dead. His resurrection is proof of this great prerogative (Acts 17:31). Notice that in all this matter there is great care given to back up everything with solid proof, God having first shown this in the two visions given at corresponding times to Cornelius and Peter, then in all that Peter speaks.
Peter's last words to Cornelius and those gathered in his house appeal to the united witness of all the Old Testament prophets, whose prophecies concerning the Messiah of Israel were unmistakably fulfilled in the blessed Man Christ Jesus. Yet they did not only establish the fact of His being Judge, but that whoever (Jew or Gentile) genuinely believed in Him would receive remission of sins. Marvellous message of grace!
As Peter was speaking God suddenly intervened by sovereign power and grace. The Holy Spirit fell on all those who were listening. They were not called upon to be baptized first, as Jews had been (Ch.2:38), but God here demonstrated His full acceptance of Gentiles in a public way that could not be mistaken. Gentiles had not been guilty of the public rejection of the Messiah, as had been the case with Israel, who were therefore required by baptism to publicly reverse their previous stand against Christ before God could publicly accept them.
The Jewish believers who came with Peter were astonished to witness the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon Gentiles: for just as Jewish disciples had spoken in other languages (Acts 2:4) at the reception of the Spirit, so now Gentiles do the same, indicating that national barriers are broken over and an understanding established between those of every nation, the result of the value of the sacrifice of Christ. These languages were understandable to some present at least, for they heard them magnify God.
Baptism is not by any means ignored, however, for it is the public badge of Christianity. Neither were they left to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be baptized. Peter by his question sets aside any objection that might be raised by Jews as to whether the Gentiles should be baptized. Actually God had decided it by His giving them the Spirit. Therefore Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Surely this was not any ignoring of the commission the Lord gave Peter and the other disciples in Matthew 28:19, as to baptizing "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." For when this formula was used, this was certainly baptizing in the name of the Lord. At their request Peter remained with them some days, certainly to further instruct them in the truth of God.
News of Peter's carrying the gospel to Gentiles had preceded him to Jerusalem. When he arrived there, therefore, he was faced by those who were specially zealous of the law, and who spoke accusingly of his entering the home of uncircumcised Gentiles and eating with them. This would not surprise him, for his attitude was just the same a short time before. Peter then rehearsed the entire experience to them, and the Spirit of God has seen fit to record this repetition of the matter from beginning to end. This certainly emphasizes the great importance of this means the Lord used of breaking down the barrier between Jewish and Gentile believers.
In Peter's report he mentions that it was six brethren who accompanied him, and these were present as he gave his report (v.12). Another thing not mentioned in Chapter 10 is that the angel who spoke to Cornelius told him that Peter would speak words to him whereby he and all his house would be saved (v.14). Cornelius, at the time, was certainly born again, for his prayers and alms had come up for a memorial before God (Chapter 10:4); but salvation is known only by the knowledge of Christ having died and risen again (Romans 10:9). This shows that new birth and salvation are distinct truths.
Peter then quickly reaches the climax of the evidence of God's working, telling them that as he began to speak the Spirit of God fell on those who heard the word, just as He had on the Jewish disciples at Pentecost. He quotes the Lord's words then as regards the baptism of the Spirit, and there can be no mistaking the manifest power and grace of God as controlling this entire matter. This being the case, how could he dare to withstand God by refusing to accept the Gentiles whom God had accepted?
With such evidence before them the Jewish disciples had no choice but to acquiesce in this display of the great grace of God: they made no more objections, but instead glorified God, acknowledging that He Himself had wrought in this, granting to Gentiles repentance unto life. This was a matter of tremendous consequence in the history of the Church.
Though Peter (apostle to the circumcision) had been chosen by God to first open the door to Gentiles in a public way, the Spirit of God worked remarkably in the dispersing of believers from Judea by persecution, who preached as they traveled. At first these preached only to Jews, traveling northward to Phenice, Cyprus and Antioch. Some of them, however, were from Cyprus and Cyrene, therefore Hellenists, Jews who resided outside their own their land. These did not have the same reserve as did Jews from Judea, and they spoke to Gentiles in Antioch, preaching the Lord Jesus. This word for preaching evidently does not imply any public proclamation, but simply conversing of Him to others.
The results were astonishing: the hand of the Lord was With them, and a great number were turned to the Lord. This was certainly the sovereign power of the Spirit of God at work. No doubt these workers realized intuitively that the gospel was of such a character as to include Gentiles, though they had not yet been given such instruction; and the Spirit of God fully justified their faith in this matter. At Antioch then a work began larger than that at Caesarea, an assembly formed largely of Gentiles, though with Jewish believers included Here therefore is illustrated for the first time the unity of both Jewish and Gentile believers in the church of God.
News of this great work came to the ears of the assembly at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas, a man of gracious character, whom they evidently considered to be one who could particularly help them. It was a good choice, for in seeing the grace of God to Gentiles he was glad (not with the cool reservations some Jews would have), exhorting them that with purpose of heart they should cleave to the Lord, not that they should keep the law. His character was that of goodness, not of stern legality, and he was full of the Holy Spirit. This expression indicates what was normally characteristic of him, a precious commendation indeed. His presence and ministry resulted in many more conversions to the Lord.
Evidently, however, he felt himself inadequate in the face of so great a work, and went to Tarsus to find Saul. This leading of the Spirit of God is full of interest; for God had decreed that Saul was to be an apostle to the Gentiles, and Barnabas apparently realized that Paul's attitude toward Gentiles would be a valuable asset, as well as his capable teaching. For a whole year they gathered with the assembly there, teaching many people. At Antioch we are told the disciples were first called Christians.
The unity between Jerusalem and Antioch was encouraged by the coming of prophets from Jerusalem. One of them, Agabus, prophesied by the Spirit of a great famine coming on the habitable earth, which in due time came to pass. Of course, this would be some time later, but the fact is mentioned here of the disciples' willing desire to send help to their Jewish brethren in Judea, and later Barnabas and Saul delivered this. This is mentioned here to show us the genuine work of grace in Gentiles that moved their hearts toward Jewish believers.
For a brief time again our eyes are turned toward Jerusalem and Peter, though Peter's work is no longer taking the prominent place it did at the beginning. Being the apostle to the Jews, he manifestly stands for the work of God among the Jewish people, and we are here reminded that though the Gospel is seen now to be going out to the Gentiles, God has not forgotten His people Israel.
Another Herod had taken the place of the previous one, and deciding to take the initiative in persecuting the church of God, he put James the brother of John to death. Though this James had been identified with Peter and John as prominent in various cases during the Lord's life on earth, yet nothing is said of him in Acts except in noting his presence in Chapter 1:13, and here his martyrdom. Why there was no exertion of supernatural power to deliver James (as there was in Peter's case) we do not know. However, it seems clear that this history is a foreshadowing of the fact of some Jews being martyred in the tribulation period, while some will be miraculously preserved to enter into millennial blessing. In fact, those martyred will have the more wonderful blessing, for they will live and reign with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20:4) in heavenly glory, while others who are preserved from death in the tribulation will continue on earth.
Since Herod saw that the Jews were pleased by his execution of James, he decided to further please them by putting Peter to death. Being apprehended, Peter was considered so important a prisoner that four groups of four soldiers were designated to guard him, the same as were set to guard the grave of the Lord Jesus. Peter was given this respite in prison because Herod considered the Jews' respect for the feast of the Passover, and waited until this feast was past to put him on public trial. But the church unceasingly prayed for him.
The night previous to his proposed trial two of his guards chained themselves to him on either side. Yet we are told he was sleeping, evidently not worrying about his predicament. The other two guards watched at the door.
However, the guards were totally ignorant of the light shining in the prison or of the angel's words to Peter to rise up quickly. His chains miraculously tell off from his hands. Told to gird and dress himself, he did so, and followed the angel. The experience was so amazing that he thought it was only a vivid dream. Passing through two wards of the prison, they faced the outer iron gate, which was no barrier whatever, but opened as an automatic door. Then being well clear of the prison Peter was left by the angel on his own.
Marveling at the wonder of God's so miraculously delivering him, he directed his steps to the home of Mary the mother of John Mark. This history is surely designed of God as an object lesson of the fact that there is absolutely no circumstance in which we may be placed that is too difficult for God to overcome. Naturally it was impossible for Peter to escape, but it was a simple matter for an angel to accomplish this by God's direction. If we should not be delivered from adverse circumstances therefore, it is because God has a wise reason for this, and His superior power and grace can enable us to endure what we must face. God could have as easily delivered James, but allowed him to be martyred instead.
At Mary's home many were gathered, praying for Peter. In answer to his knock a girl named Rhoda (meaning "a rose") came to the door to find who was knocking. When he answered and she knew his voice, she left him outside because she was so excited she wanted to carry the news immediately to all in the house. They would not believe her, though they had been praying constantly for him When she insisted, they thought it must have been his "angel," that is, his spirit; for rather than thinking he could have been delivered, they deduced that he had been killed!
There was a simple enough way to prove the matter, and they finally opened the door. Why should they have been so astonished, rather than simply deeply thankful for God's answer to their prayers? When Peter was able to silence their excited voices, he told them how the Lord had intervened to bring him out of prison, instructing them also to take the information to James (the Lord's brother). Rather than staying there, however, where he was likely to be looked for, he went to an unnamed place.
Back at the prison, when the day broke, we may imagine the amazement of the soldiers at finding the chains still intact and no doors or gates open, but Peter gone. Herod, frustrated by all this, examined the keepers and gave orders for their execution. While it was true that Rome strongly enforced their policy of making guards totally responsible for prisoners put under their charge, with death as the penalty for failure; yet the evidence of God's divine intervention was so clear that one would expect that if Herod were fairminded, he would not enforce this on this occasion. Evidently there was no renewed effort made to find and arrest Peter.
Herod then returned to Caesarea, which was the principal seat of Roman government in Israel. He appears to present to us some solemn foreshadowing of the coming Antichrist, who will in the tribulation period persecute his own people, the Jews, putting some to death, though others will be preserved by God from this. His end too, abrupt and dreadful, was consistent with his character of self-exaltation.
While Peter has been set free by the power of God, the man who had determined to have him killed is himself the victim of an untimely death because of his own pride. Residents of Tyre and Sidon, north of Caesarea, desiring to placate the displeasure of Herod toward them, use the influence of Herod's chamberlain. It is told us that they desired a reconciliation simply because of selfish motives. They came on an appointed day to hear an oration from Herod. They knew well his proud vanity. His royal apparel (according to the historian Josephus) had a silver texture and shone brilliantly in the sun. The unseemly flattery of the people in shouting that his voice was that of a god and not of a man, succeeded in its appeal to his pride. He was willing to insult the God who created him by his own accepting divine honors.
Immediately the angel of the Lord answered this with a terrible infliction: he was eaten of worms and died very soon afterward. It is recorded also by Josephus that Herod said at this time, "I whom you call a god am ordered to depart this life immediately. Providence thus instantly reproves the lying words you just now addressed to me, and I who was by you called immortal am immediately to be hurried away by death." Such was the tragic end of him whom men called "Agrippa the Great!"
But the word of God (which this poor dupe of Satan sought to silence) grew and multiplied. While men of every age batter their heads against its eternal truth to their own destruction, God's word prevails in magnificent power and beauty.
We have noted now the return of Barnabas and Saul from Jerusalem to Antioch after delivering the temporal ministry from the Antioch assembly. Nothing is said at all of Saul's even preaching the word at Jerusalem. They bring with them John Mark, who was the nephew of Barnabas (Col.1:10).
ACTS - Chapter 13
From this time our attention is drawn particularly to the work of Saul, whose name is in this chapter changed to Paul, meaning "little," for one who is the most greatly used of God is, in his own estimation "less than the least of all saints" (Eph.3:8). In verse 1 there is no indication that anyone had a place superior to any other. Five prophets and teachers are mentioned as being in the Antioch assembly, and Saul is in fact listed last. Simeon's name is Jewish, but his last name, Niger, (meaning "black") may indicate he was dark-skinned. Lucius was of Cyrene in the area of Libya.
Antioch now becomes the center from which the work spreads, no doubt because of its practical exemplification of Christianity in the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. The Spirit of God intervenes as these brethren are engaged in "ministering to the Lord" and fasting. There is evidently serious exercise to both give the Lord their allegiance and time, and to seek His guidance. The Spirit then clearly announces that Barnabas and Saul are to be separated for a special work. This call of God should be a very real thing to all whom God chooses to use. Human call or ordination of men has nothing to do with it. Yet when God shows His mind, then other saints should be glad to express their fellowship with what he is doing, as is the case in verse 3, for the laying on of hands was simply an expression of identification with their work.
They let them go; but it was the Spirit of God who sent them forth. Nothing is said of the results of their work at Seleucia or at Salamis or in the isle of Cyprus, though they preached the word in the synagogues, surely bearing in mind that the gospel is "to the Jew first."
However, a significant experience with a Jew is a striking sign of what was taking place in the Jewish nation as a whole. The deputy of the country, a Roman of prudent character, requested to hear the word of God from Barnabas and Saul. But a Jewish false prophet and sorcerer named Bar-Jesus ("son of Jesus" -- a deceitfully misleading name!) was present, opposing God's word in his trying to influence Sergius Paulus against the truth as presented by Barnabas and Saul. When the deputy had asked them to explain the things of God, it was certainly rude interference for Elymas to interpose his wicked objections.
In answer to the cunning opposition of Elymas the Sorcerer Paul did an exceptionally solemn thing, clearly led by the Spirit of God to do so. His words were startling, exposing the condition of the man as being full of all subtlety and mischief, a child of the devil and an enemy of all righteousness. Normally we ought never to go this far in speaking to a man, but Paul was clearly led by the Spirit of God in doing so. He appeals also to his conscience as to his perverting the right ways of the Lord.
This was not all, however. Paul tells him what is proven true immediately, that the hand of the Lord upon him would blind him for a period of time (v.11). Similarly, because Of Israel's resistance to the truth as it is in Jesus, "blindness in part is happened to Israel" (Romans 11:25). Since that time, wandering in darkness, they have sought direction from any source but the Lord, looking for someone to lead them by the hand.
The deputy, deeply impressed, believed the teaching of the Lord. If Gentiles rightly consider the ways of God's government with Israel, they cannot but acknowledge its truth, its righteousness and its grace.
Though nothing is said of their work or of any experiences in Perga (meaning "very earthy"), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas there and returned to Jerusalem (not to Antioch in Syria, from which city they had left). Had Mark found the work in Cyprus more disturbing than he expected? Whatever the case, the apostle Paul was not happy about his departing from the work (Chapter 15:38).
Back on the mainland they come to Antioch in Pisidia (in present day Turkey), not actually such a great distance north of Antioch in Syria. Visiting the local synagogue on the sabbath day, they sit down. The regular custom of reading in the law and the prophets began the service. Then the rulers of the synagogue, recognizing Paul and Barnabas as Jews and men of evident ability, invited them to speak. Certainly this was the Lord's opening of the way for them.
Paul then gives them a brief, pointed summary of Israel's history, their having been chosen by God who brought them out of Egypt, bearing with their many failures in their forty year wilderness history, subduing seven nations before them in establishing them in the land of Canaan, dividing their inheritance to them by lot. From that time He gave them judges up to the end of 450 years until Samuel the prophet.
Then in answer to their own demand He gave them a king, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, for a period of forty years. Removing him, He gave them David, saying of him that he was a man after God's own heart who would fulfil God's will.
In all of this it is clear that God was from time to time changing His dispensational dealings with Israel, leading them from one point to another, and certainly having a definite end in view. In fact, Israel had recognized that David, being a man after God's heart who would fulfil His will, was a manifest type of their coming Messiah, the Son of David, whom Israel claimed to be expecting.
Paul comes directly to this vital point. There was no question that Jesus was of the seed of David. God had raised Him up as a Savior to Israel, according to His promise. Of course Israel refused Him because He did not come in the power and glory that they expected. Yet they had clear testimony given them through John the Baptist, who had fittingly preached the baptism of repentance in preparation of the way of the Lord. All Israel knew that John was a true prophet of God, who took the lowest place in deference to the greatness of Him to whom he bore witness, insisting that he was not worthy to loose the shoes of His feet. There was not the least doubt left as to who this was, for when Jesus came to him in the presence of all the people, he declared, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:20).
Paul's address then makes clear that God had given a progressive revelation to Israel, which manifestly had the person of Jesus the Messiah in view. He presses upon them as children of the stock of Abraham (and including also all among them who feared God), that the word of this salvation was sent to them.
Though the word of God's salvation was sent in great grace to Israel, yet Paul declares plainly to the Jews that the rulers in Jerusalem, refusing to recognize Jesus or to bow to the truth of their own scriptures that were read every sabbath day in their services, had actually fulfilled their scriptures in condemning the Lord Jesus. Not being able to bring any charge of guilt against Him, they had yet demanded that Pilate should deliver Him to death. Without realizing it they had done precisely what scripture had said they would do. His betrayal, His crucifixion, the piercing of His hands and feet and side, and many other details spoken of in prophecy were fulfilled to the letter, then His removal from the cross, being laid in the grave.
"But God raised Him from the dead." This too had been prophesied, both in the Old Testament and by the Lord Himself. Many witnesses also had seen Him after His resurrection, during many days, specifically those who had come with Him from Galilee.
Therefore it was the great privilege of Paul and Barnabas to declare glad tidings to Israel first that God had fulfilled His clear promise to Israel in raising up Jesus (not "again," for this does not refer to His resurrection, but to His incarnation): "this day have I begotten Thee." The expression "Thou art my Son" is that which has been true of Him from eternity past. His being begotten "this day" refers to the day of His incarnation in Manhood. He is God's Son: He did not become Son, but is now the Son incarnate.
In verse 34 Paul specifically speaks of His resurrection from among the dead, again quoting scripture, "I will give you the sure mercies of David" (Isaiah 55:3). This was written long after David had died, and is connected with "an everlasting covenant" in contrast to the temporary covenant of law. It must therefore be based on resurrection power connected with Him who is "Leader and Commander to the people," as Isaiah adds in Isaiah 55:4, that is, the Son of David.
Paul then quotes Psalm 16:10: "Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." This is most arresting as indicating nothing less than resurrection before corruption could set in. David wrote this, but after he had in his own generation served the will of God, died and saw corruption. Again, it was David's son to whom he had borne witness, He whom God raised from the dead and who saw no corruption.
Wonderful then is the message that Paul emphatically declares, that "through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." More than simply forgiveness, however, he declares that all who believe in Jesus are justified from all things. The law of Moses could not possibly forgive sins nor justify the guilty: it exposed and condemned sin, and declared all men to be guilty. To forgive is to graciously discharge one's offenses. To justify is to righteously constitute one not guilty. The blessed sacrifice of Christ alone can accomplish so marvellous a result, both removing the guilt of sin and crediting the believer in Jesus with a righteousness that can never be taken from him.
Appropriately this message of great grace is followed by a solemn warning as to the results of despising such grace. Habakkuk 1:5 is quoted to emphasize the fact that God had foretold that Israel would refuse to believe the reality of what God Himself would work, though declared plainly to them. They might indeed wonder at the marvel of it, but with no faith in the living God, therefore having only the ominous prospect of perishing under the judgment of God.
Verse 42 is evidently more correctly translated in J.N.D's version, "And as they went out they begged that these words might be spoken to them the ensuing sabbath." Of course it would be Jews and proselytes in the synagogue, and Gentiles would not be aware of what had been spoken, but would surely hear about it before the next sabbath. The effect on many of the Jews and proselytes was so immediate as to cause them to follow Paul and Barnabas, and they would not likely keep silent as to what they had heard. Paul and Barnabas used the occasion to give them the spiritual help they needed, urging them to continue in the grace of God.
Paul's first address at Antioch in Pisidia had awakened such interest that on the following sabbath day, not only Jews, but almost the whole city assembled to hear the Word of God. The power of God was manifestly behind this awakened interest, as the Jews should have discerned. Yet, when they saw the crowds present, they were filled with envy rather than with like concern to learn the truth of God. This selfish Jewish sectarianism blinded their minds to the preciousness of the grace of God, and through it they ignorantly sentenced themselves to a state of desolation. Selfishness always defeats its own ends. Opposing what Paul was speaking, they not only contradicted, but blasphemed (verse 45), which indicates their contempt for God Himself, so intent were they in maintaining their sectarian pride.
The words of Paul and Barnabas to them were therefore bold and decisive. Because Jews were the nation chosen by God, it was right and necessary that the Word of God should first be declared to them. But in rejecting that Word, they were judging themselves as being unworthy of everlasting life. They were choosing death. "Lo, we turn to the Gentiles" were solemn words that no doubt stirred the Jews to more bitter hostility. Of course some of them had been saved, but the many were opposed. Paul's turning to the Gentiles was consistent with Old Testament scripture. He quotes Isaiah 49:6, the words of God to the Messiah, "I have set Thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." Certainly the Jews had nothing to reply to this, but their minds were set: they would not be changed by their own scriptures.
The grace of God wrought mightily in the Gentile audience: they were glad and glorified the Word of the Lord. The sovereign election of God is indicated here very decisively in the words, "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." The Word of God was making itself manifest and those who were elect of God responded. The entire region then was blessed with the publishing of the Word of God.
The Jews, refusing the gospel themselves, were determined also that it should not be preached to Gentiles. This is a sad indication of the perversity of man's natural heart. For, despising the Gentiles as they did, why were they not glad that Gentiles were receiving what they considered poisonous doctrine? But they were moved by blind, unreasoning hatred toward the name of Jesus, for that very name was a challenge to their national pride. Cunningly they stir up devout and honorable women, not the lower classes; for women are more likely to become excited where religion is concerned, and to influence men. The chief men of the city were the special object of this influence. Of course the Jews could point to the fact that Paul and Barnabas had only newly arrived in the city and were causing unwanted commotion. Paul and Barnabas were expelled out of the city.
However, they left behind them many new believers. While they solemnly shook off the dust of their feet in leaving to go to Iconium, the disciples remaining there were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Persecution could not take this away.
Iconium was also in Asia Minor: here they entered the synagogue and the Spirit of God gave them grace to so speak as to vitally influence a great number, both of Jews and Gentiles, to believe the gospel. It was plainly not always they were given power to speak in this way, and this could not be done by some special self-effort: it is dependent entirely on the energizing power of the Spirit of God. If we desire this, let us pray for it and depend on God for it.
Unbelieving Jews again at Iconium used their evil influence to cause bitter animosity. The apostles were however not expelled from the city and continued a long time preaching the Word in the face of such persecution. The Lord also gave special witness to the truth by granting signs and wonders to be done through their instrumentality. Notice the word "therefore" in verse 3. The opposition was a reason for their remaining there, so long as it did not erupt in violence.
Being favored with the manifest working of God among them, the residents of Iconium became divided into two camps, many siding with the Jews against Paul and Barnabas, many others taking a stand with the apostles. We may wonder at Gentiles siding with Jews, but this happens in cases where there is a common enmity against the Lord Jesus Christ. When both Gentiles and Jews made plans to resort to violence, however, the apostles were given information as to it and left the city to go to Lystra and Derbe. This was the wise course, for violence once begun would not quickly stop until it had affected many more than the apostles. More than this, now that a testimony to Christ had been established in Iconium, the Lord uses persecution to send His servants to other parts to proclaim His name. "There they preached the gospel."
Nothing is said of whether many at Lystra turned to the Lord, though we read of one particular man, a cripple from birth. Verse 21 however implies that some disciples were there on Paul's return later. The crippled man was apparently riveted by Paul's message, and Paul, perceiving some evident reality of faith in the man, told him to stand upright on his feet. Immediately he leaped and walked.
An amazing miracle of this kind surely ought to have drawn people's attention to the message that Paul brought. But Satan cunningly took advantage of this to deceive the superstitious residents of the city, who conceived the idolatrous notion that Paul and Barnabas were gods come down in the form of men. Rather than listening to them, they wanted to worship them, even naming Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury. Mere excitement carries men to foolish lengths. If it was true that these men were gods, why were they not quiet, desiring to listen to them? An idolatrous priest of Jupiter is ready immediately to offer sacrifices to them.
Certainly Paul and Barnabas wanted no identification with that kind of thing, and they used all their persuasive powers to disabuse the people's minds of this deception. They even tore their clothes (not exactly the actions of heathen gods) and cried loudly against any worship of themselves (verses 14 & 15), insisting that they were men similar to the Lycaonians, and were preaching that they should turn away from these idolatrous vanities to the living God, Creator of all things, heavenly and earthly.
As a matter of striking interest they remind these people that God had for ages borne with all nations (Gentile nations), allowing them to walk in their own ways. Of course He had been dealing with Israel specifically for centuries, as Amos 3:2 declares, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." Yet through ages past God had given witness to His own grace and faithfulness by His providential care of all nations, giving them rain from heaven and fruitful seasons of blessing, supplying material needs and giving occasion for gladness. These things men commonly take for granted, while complaining about occasions of need or trouble, forgetting to give their Creator credit for anything.
If, after all His long patience and forbearing, God has sent a message of marvellous grace to the nations, surely they ought to be ready to receive it. But with great difficulty Paul and Barnabas restrained the people from their purpose of sacrificing to them.
Very quickly, however, by the hostile influence of Jews who came from Antioch and Iconium, the fickle minds of the people were totally turned around, so that they were fully prepared to murder their god Mercury! They stoned Paul and carried him outside the city, leaving him for dead.
But God had further work for him. While the disciples stood around him, no doubt deeply grieving (for it is not even said they were praying), he not only moved as showing evidence that he was alive, but stood up and walked with them into the city. In a case like this too we should expect more than a brief period of recuperation, but after a night's rest he was ready to walk with Barnabas to Derbe and preach the gospel there God's miraculous intervention is evident in this. How long they remained in Derbe we are not told, but they taught many.
Though Paul had been stoned and left for dead at Lystra, he and Barnabas boldly return there after their stay in Derbe, undoubtedly guided by God. We may wonder how the citizens of Lystra felt in seeing this man they had stoned to death now preaching again in their city. Did they wonder if he was Mercury after all? Very likely Timothy was converted on either the first visit to Lystra or on this second occasion (Compare Acts 16:2, 1 Tim.1:2, 2 Tim.3:10-11).
Their main object in returning to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch was to confirm the disciples in the knowledge of Christ and of the Word, encouraging also their continuing in the faith. One important factor in this was preparing them for the fact that they might expect much tribulation, and urging them not to be stumbled by this. Together with this, they appointed elders in every assembly. Such appointment manifestly required apostolic authority: the assemblies did not do this themselves. Paul did delegate such authority to Titus (Titus 1:5), and possibly to Timothy also (1 Tim.3:1-7), but today there is no authority left in the church to make such appointments. Certainly there are still those who have the qualifications of elders, and their godly capacity for this should be recognized by saints, but no one has the right to officially appoint anyone to this position. This was done for the establishing of the early church, just as apostles were appointed by the Lord for this establishing, but the appointment was not intended to continue.
Commending the disciples to the Lord Himself, Paul and Barnabas leave and pass through Pisidia and Pamphylia, preaching the Word in Perga, then passing into Attalia. They had before visited Perga (Chapter 13:13), but nothing is said of any results of their work there. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch in Syria. They had started from there, being recommended to the grace of God, not to the work, but for the work God had called them to, and which they fulfilled. Man's appointment had nothing to do with this, but the fellowship of the saints in it was of valuable encouragement.
There they gathered the assembly together and reported all that God had accomplished through them, particularly in His opening the door of faith to the Gentiles. Antioch was to be no longer the only assembly that was largely of Gentile character: the work was spreading by the pure grace of God. Paul and Barnabas then remained a long time at Antioch.
However, here at Antioch a matter arose of deeply serious significance, and it was clearly God's wisdom to have Paul and Barnabas there at the time. Men from Judea, professing the knowledge of Christ, came to Antioch, teaching the Gentile saints that they must be circumcised in order to be saved. Of course, such mixing of Judaism with Christianity would corrupt the whole character of the gospel of the grace of God, and Paul and Barnabas, discerning this, withstood this effort of the enemy.
Since the men came from Judea, then Jerusalem was the place that this matter should be faced, and the brethren purposed that Paul and Barnabas and others with them should go there to consult with the apostles and elders as to this question. Paul was not merely sent by the brethren, however. In Galations 2:1-2 he speaks of his going up "by revelation." This was God's clear leading, though on a later occasion God warned him by the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem (Chapter 21:4).
On their way they passed through Phenice and Samaria, reporting to the assemblies the work of God in the conversion of Gentiles, which caused great joy to the brethren. Would they want such joy as this dampened by the introduction of Jewish ritual?
Though Paul was known only by report in Judea (Galations 1:22-23), the assembly in Jerusalem received him and Barnabas as did the apostles and elders. Here they reported also the working of God among the Gentiles, but no great joy in this is recorded on the part of some believing Pharisees. They, in common with the others who had gone to Antioch, demanded that the Gentile converts should be circumcised and commanded to keep the law of Moses.
The apostles and elders (not all the assembly) came together to consider this serious matter of whether Gentile believers should be circumcised and commanded to keep the law of Moses. It will be observed here that Paul did not take a prominent part, though in Galations 2:1-5 he makes it clear that he would not in the least give in to these Judaizing teachers. But the matter must be settled by those in Jerusalem, since the protested doctrine had issued from there.
At first there was much disputing, for men's reasoning minds like to take the platform. Then Peter speaks, and the perspective of the meeting is turned in the right direction when he reminds them (not that men's preferences had anything to do with it, but) that some time before God who knew men's hearts, had given Gentiles (Cornelius and others with him--Ch.10:44) the Holy Spirit. This in fact was altogether without their being circumcised, and even before they were baptized.
God Himself had wrought in such a way as to eliminate the difference between Jewish and Gentile believers, purifying their hearts by faith (not by ordinances). Could they dare to ignore the immense significance of this? If so, this was tempting God, opposing what He Himself had done, and putting a yoke on the neck of Gentile believers which Israel had not been able to bear, either in the past or in the time then present. The yoke of law was intolerable, altogether contrary to the yoke of the Lord Jesus which is easy, and His burden light (Mt.11:30).
Peter goes further still in verse 11, for the attitude of these Judaisers indicated that they were not clear as the principles of their own salvation. He tells them, "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved even as they." Jewish believers therefore would be saved in the same way as Gentiles, exclusively through the grace of the Lord Jesus, not by the addition of circumcision or of law-keeping. This being true, certainly Gentiles could not be expected to conform to Old Testament laws and ordinances.
Peter's words quietened the audience, so that the way was opened for Barnabas and Paul to declare the marvels of God's work among the Gentiles through them. Notice that Barnabas is mentioned first in this case. Paul, though fully capable of taking the foremost part, did not do so. They do not take up the doctrinal questions, to refute the arguments of the judaizing party, but leave that to Peter and James, who were resident at Jerusalem. Still, the Jews must not be allowed to treat lightly the reality of God's work in Gentiles, so that they rightly emphasize this.
The disputing now being silenced, James is given grace to speak authoritatively for God. His epistle makes it clear that he had no lax, careless character, and he was evidently highly respected by the Jews of Jerusalem. He refers back to the words of Simeon (Simon Peter) in rehearsing the facts of God's intervention in visiting the Gentiles to take from among them a people for His name. Then he brings scripture (the Old Testament) to bear in this matter, quoting from Amos 9:11-12, which shows that Gentiles would be blessed in having God's name called upon them, in connection with the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David. Of course, Christ is the true Prince of the house of David, and in Christ alone Gentiles as well as Jews find blessing.
This scripture will have its complete fulfilment in the age to come, the millennium, yet God's dealing now with Gentiles is perfectly consistent with this great prospect, so that the Spirit of God moves James in this consistent use of the prophecy.
Verse 18 is used in a pointed way to back up the significance of all this, "Known unto God are all His works from eternity." God was not taken by surprise, but had ordered these matters in this way in eternity past. Of course, mankind did not know anything of this until God revealed it, but when He sees fit to change His dispensational dealings, people should be gladly willing to submit to this.
James then pronounces the decision that the Jewish saints must not trouble Gentiles who have turned to God, by introducing Jewish religion. Though James pronounces this, it is manifestly God's decision, not the decision of James, nor even of the gathered brethren. Certainly there was to be unity among Jewish and Gentile believers, but Gentiles were not to be made Jews, no more than Jews were made Gentiles: they were united on a basis far above that of human relationships.
In pronouncing his sentence that Gentile believers are not to be put under Jewish law in any way, James does, however, suggest that the brethren write to Gentiles of three things connected with God's creatorial rights that were too commonly abused among the Gentile nations. They would ask them, first, to abstain from pollutions of idols. To recognize an idol in any way was a direct insult to God, for the idol usurps God's place. Secondly, fornication must be avoided, for this is a serious violation of those relationships God has established for the blessing of mankind. Thirdly, they must not eat things strangled, nor blood, for God requires that the blood of an animal must be shed before the flesh may be eaten. The blood is the life, and we must show this respect for God's rights as the life-giver. Disregard of this is despising God. These things were not merely Jewish laws but were basic in creation from the beginning.
If some were envious for Moses' sake, James adds that there were those who preached Moses in every city (In Israel at least, and many among the Gentiles), so there was no lack of the law being proclaimed. But how much higher is Christ than Moses.' Let Christians devote themselves fully to Christ, not to the law. This is the only effective way of producing real fruit in people's lives for God's glory.
How thankful may we all be for a clear decision being made at this time on the part of the apostles and elders, together with the whole assembly, to send chosen men to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, bearing a plainly worded letter that would fully relieve the saints in reference to the false teachings of the men who had previously come from Judea. Of course, it is likely that some individuals were not happy about the outcome of the meeting, but these had been silenced by the power of the Spirit of God, and the decision was a true assembly decision, directed of God.
The letter was addressed to the brethren who were of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, who had been troubled by those who had come from Judea, teaching that the Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law. The letter adds, "to whom we gave no such commandment." In view of this, it seemed good to them, being gathered with one accord, to send chosen men with Barnabas and Paul. Notice, it can be rightly said "with one accord," even though some had opposed; for their opposition had been shown to be against God, and the unity of the brethren was maintained in the face of this, the opposition silenced. Their appreciation of Barnabas and Paul is good to witness, as they speak of them as men who have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. They express their confidence also in Judas and Silas to tell them the same things by word of mouth.
Verse 28 considers the matter as being of greatest importance in that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit (first), then "and to us." No slightest question can remain as to the definite leading of the Spirit of God in this matter, and that the apostles and elders were acquiescent in this leading. No greater burden was to be laid on the Gentiles than things that were necessary, which we have seen are an acknowledgment of God's creatorial rights.
Coming to Antioch, these brethren gather the assembly together to hear the reading of the letter sent to them, which is such a consolation as to make them rejoice. Judas and Silas also became of great encouragement to them, in contrast to others who had before come from Judea, for they confirmed the message of grace sent in the letter, while exhorting and strengthening the disciples by the ministry of the Word.
After remaining there for a time, however, Judas and Silas were let go from the brethren back to the apostles in Jerusalem. Verse 34 in the KJV is said to be not included in the most reliable Greek manuscripts. It may have been added by copyists who thought this was the way to account for the presence of Silas at Antioch in verse 40. But is it not easily possible that after his returning to Jerusalem he had decided to come back to Antioch? This would be specially understandable if his contact with Gentile believers had awakened a vital concern within him for the blessing of Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas remained some time in Antioch, teaching and preaching along with many others, for the large interest awakened among Gentiles required establishing teaching.
After some time in Antioch, Paul proposed to Barnabas another visit to the brethren in the cities where they had previously preached the Word. Barnabas expressed himself as determined to take John Mark with them again. However, Paul considered this not good in view of Mark's having before drawn back, leaving the work soon after starting Out. Perhaps Barnabas felt that his nephew might be strengthened if he came on this second occasion, but evidently Paul did not think that he was ready at this time. Later Paul speaks of Mark as being profitable to him for the ministry (2 Tim.4:11), but at this time he had a different opinion. Barnabas was not willing to accede to Paul's exercise in this, and so decidedly disagreed with Paul that he refused to go with him, but took Mark and left for Cyprus, his own previous home (Acts 4:36). It is sad that we read no more of his history following this, though we do read of Mark. Paul, choosing Silas to accompany him, was recommended by the brethren to the grace of God. This is not said concerning Barnabas, who apparently did not go, as Paul did, to revisit the assemblies they had established in Syria and Cilicia.
Coming to Derbe and Lystra, where he and Barnabas had been persecuted before, Paul was favorably impressed with the young man, Timothy, who had evidently been converted through Paul on his first visit (Cf.1 Tim.1:2). Though of a timid nature (2 Tim.1:6-8), he was evidently considered by Paul as a dependable worker, having a good report of the brethren. This is always an important matter if one is concerned about doing the work of the Lord. But Paul also considered the consciences of the Jews in this case. Timothy, though having a Gentile father, was the son of a Jewish mother. Since he had not been circumcised, Paul took care of this matter before taking Timothy with him in the work. Thus Paul was becoming as a Jew toward the Jews (1 Cor. 9:20). On the other hand, he would not allow Titus, a Gentile, to be circumcised when Jewish believers demanded that Gentile believers should submit to this (Gal.2:3-5).
As well as confirming the assemblies, they bring them the information from Jerusalem concerning the gathering of the apostles and elders, for these assemblies were largely Gentile. Their work continued to be greatly blessed of God, with assemblies established in the faith of God as well as being increased in number daily. These amazing results emphasize the way in which God had prepared Paul as eminently fitted to carry the gospel to Gentiles.
However, they were not to expect God to work in the same way everywhere: they must be distinctly led of God in where they went as well as in what they did. They are spoken of as having passed through Phrygia and the regions of Galatia, but with no mention of results there. Yet it seems as though the Galatian assemblies must have been established at this time, though they soon after accepted from others the insidious Judaizing doctrines of legalism which occasioned Paul's epistle to them (Gal.1:6).
Having come to Mysia, they planned to go into Bithynia, but this was not God's leading, though we are not told why: the Spirit of God stopped them. The apostles had been told to "go into all the world and preach the gospel," and yet they could not take this command as a warrant for going wherever and whenever they desired: they still had to depend on God's leading, though pliable enough to be willing to go to any place in the world.
They "came down" to Troas, which implies that Luke, the writer, was there at the time. There seems no doubt that God arranged this matter so that Luke could be present to accompany them to Philippi, where evidently Luke remained when Paul and Silas left (v.40). But Luke says nothing of his own work. Paul received his vision only after coming to Troas, a vision of a man of Macedonia urging them to come to help them. Though Paul might think there was more work for him to do in Asia, yet God made clear to him that he should go to Europe. To have a Gentile companion for this was certainly a wise provision given him of God, for Luke writes, "we endeavored to go into Macedonia." They had no question as to God's leading in this. The weather was evidently favorable for them to sail from Troas directly to Samothracia, then to Neapolis, and finally to Philippi. Yet they stayed in the city for some days before the Lord opened the way for their proclaiming His Word.
Since there was apparently no synagogue in the city of Philippi, Paul and his company took advantage of what opportunity they could for announcing the gospel. Hearing of a women's prayer meeting by the riverside taking place on the Sabbath, they went out and sat down among the women and spoke to them of the Lord Jesus. At least one woman responded favorably, her heart being opened by the Lord. Lydia had come from Thyatira in Asia Minor, a seller of purple, possibly connected with "a guild of dyers" mentioned on inscriptions from that period in Thyatira. She worshiped God, likely indicating her to be a proselyte of Judaism.
She was baptized and her household, though nothing is said of how the hearts of those in the household were affected. Her attitude was most commendable, however, for she asked them, on the basis of whether they considered her to be faithful to the Lord, to stay in her house. Her whole heart was in this, and it does not need to be mentioned that they accepted her constraining invitation.
A distressing experienced followed this, that led to great blessing. A girl possessed by a Satanic spirit of divination, and who was taken advantage of by avaricious promoters, followed Paul and his companions, advertising them as servants of the most high God, come to show the people "a way of salvation," not the way. It is always Satan's method to draw attention to the servants rather than to their Lord. Paul bore with this unseemly activity for many days, but finally commanded the evil spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of the girl, which took place the same hour.
Her promoters were of course angry at losing the means of their wicked financial gain, and forcibly brought Paul and Silas to the court (Luke and Timothy possibly not being with them at the time). Their charge had nothing to do with their actual reasons for arresting them. The girl had declared Paul and Silas to be the servants of the most high God, but their accusers first denounce them because they were Jews, and secondly, because they said they were greatly troubling the city, then thirdly, that they taught customs which these alleged to be unlawful for Romans to receive or observe. They have no specific charge of criminal activity.
This was actually rabble rousing, and the crowd joined in, probably mainly because Paul and Silas were Jews. It may be, in fact, that they had purposely not arrested Luke because he was a Gentile. The magistrates, influenced by the fickle crowd, unjustly commanded that they should be beaten with many stripes, before any suggestion of a trial. Then they were put in prison, in custody of a jailor who was given strict orders to keep them safely. He therefore put them in the closest confinement the prison afforded, with their feet held fast in stocks.
But at midnight the prison echoed with a most unusual sound, the prisoners hearing Paul and Silas praying and singing praises to God. Far from being discouraged by their sufferings, they acted on the Lord's words, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Mt.5:11-12).
God too responded in an unexpected way, causing a sudden tremendous earthquake to shake the foundations of the prison, with the result that all the prisoners were released from whatever restraints that held them. It is amazing, however, that none of them attempted to escape.
The jailor, likely complacent in thinking the prisoners secure, was asleep, but the earthquake evidently awakened him. A startling sight met his eyes, the doors of the prison being open. Of course, he would expect all the prisoners to have escaped, and that his life would be forfeit for negligence in keeping them secure. He was therefore ready to commit suicide with his own sword. It hardly seems likely that Paul saw him in the dark, but Paul was nevertheless guided of the Spirit of God to call loudly to keep him from his purpose, telling him that all the prisoners were still there. How did Paul know this too, except by the Spirit of God?
The jailor called for a light, and springing (rather than just walking) into the prison, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. This was an unusual attitude for a hardened prison official! But God was working in his heart, so that he was brought under the solemn conviction that he was a lost man. The character and testimony of these unusual prisoners had clearly affected him, and he asks, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
The answer to the jailor's question is simple in this case, an answer that can only be appreciated by one who realizes himself to be guilty or lost, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house" (v.31). The Lord had deeply worked in the man's soul to bring him to genuine repentance. This is always necessary if there is to be any desire for or knowledge of salvation. Faith in the Lord Jesus would save him, not only from his own guilt, but from the ungodly world with which he was identified, and would save his house from this situation too. The fact of his being brought to God puts his entire house in a sanctified (or separated) position, as 1 Corinthians 7:14 plainly teaches. In this way the house is saved, though it remains imperative that each individual in the house must personally receive the Lord Jesus in order to have eternal salvation.
Paul and Silas spoke more of the Word of God to him and to all who were in his house, though it was the middle of the night. The effect of the Word was striking: the jailor in unaccustomed compassion washed their stripes to ease the severity of the pain. He and all his were baptized, taking the outward position of Christian profession. The jailor knew there was no reason to return Paul and Silas to the stocks, but took them into his own house and fed them, all his house rejoicing because he had believed in God (v.34).
In the morning the magistrates sent orders to release Paul and Silas (v.35). They knew no charge could be sustained against them, yet had without trial ordered them to be scourged, and wanted to dismiss the matter as quietly as they could. When the jailor told them they were free, Paul objected because of the evident dishonesty of the magistrates, and insisted that the magistrates come themselves, since they had openly beaten them (v.37). This was a lesson the magistrates needed, though it would in some measure humble them to have to ask the prisoners to leave.
They had beaten them because they were Jews. Now they learn that they are actually Romans (Jewish, but of Roman citizenship), and the magistrates fear that there might be serious repercussions for them. Their fearfulness impelled them to entreat Paul and Silas not only to leave the prison, but the city (v.39). It is good to see that Paul and Silas were not at all defiant, but submitted to this urging, as being the true servants of God.
They take time, however, to return to Lydia's house, there seeing the brethren and encouraging them before they leave. Luke says nothing of himself, but it is clear that he remained in Philippi, for in verse 40 and in Chapter 17:1 he uses the word, "they," not "we," as in verses 10 and 13.
From Philippi Paul and his company travelled westward in Greece to Thessalonica (also in Macedonia). A Jewish synagogue being there, they attended this for three sabbath days, reasoning with the Jews from their own scriptures, showing from these that the Messiah promised of God must necessarily first be a sufferer before He could reign; in fact must suffer death and be raised again. The scriptures were definitely clear about this matter; and Paul goes further to declare that Jesus was this Messiah (Christ), for certainly His history fulfilled the Jewish scriptures in perfection.
Some of the Jews believed, but also a great number of devout Greeks, for these did not have the same preconceived misconceptions as did the Jews generally. Not a few women of prominence are specifically mentioned.
The unbelieving Jews, however, not only refused the message, but through envy enlisted the help of the lowest type of ruffians to incite a virtual riot. They made the house of Jason their target, for Paul and Silas had been welcomed there. Not finding them there, they arrested Jason and other believers with him and took them to the rulers of the city. Their accusation is that Jason has received the men who had turned the world upside down. As to their accusation against Paul and Silas, they claim they were contravening Caesar's decrees (not that the accusers had any regard for Caesar, but they adopted the same contemptible tactics that the Pharisees had in accusing the Lord Jesus). Their only specific charge is that that these men say there is another king, Jesus.
When the Jews bring Jason before the rulers charging him with harboring Paul and Silas in his home, the rulers were troubled, but not so cruelly unjust as the Philippian rulers were in having Paul and Silas beaten. They only take security from Jason and the others and release them. The Lord had seen fit that Paul and Silas were not found by their persecutors. The brethren considered it unwise that Paul and Silas should remain at the time, however, and sent them away by night to avoid further trouble. We know from Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians that the assembly left in Thessalonica suffered serious persecution after this; but though so young in the faith, they maintained an exemplary witness to Christ and the gospel apart from the presence of Paul and Silas to encourage them (1 Thess.1).
Traveling westward they came to Berea, and again entered the synagogue to teach. The Jews in this case were more honorable than those in Thessalonica, for rather than rejecting the message out-of hand, they listened to the word spoken, and searched the Old Testament scriptures daily to find Out if the message was substantiated by God's Word. Therefore many of them believed. Here again women of prominence are mentioned (Greeks) and men also, not a few. In this case, as in Thessalonica, though the work began in the synagogue, it was by no means confined to Jews. The Spirit of God has not deemed it necessary to inform us, however, as to how the work progressed in Berea later.
How long they were there we are not told, but it was evidently only a short time before the militant Jews of Thessalonica, hearing of the Word preached in Berea, came there to stir up the people against the Lord's servants. They not only rejected the message of grace themselves, but were determined that others must not even hear it.
Again wisdom dictates that Paul should leave Berea: he went toward the sea with others who evidently knew the territory, but left Silas and Timothy behind. It may be that they considered it best to go by way of the seacoast to Athens, some distance south of Berea. Paul's guides, however, returned back to Athens, with instructions from Paul for Silas and Timothy to come soon to Athens.
Alone in this idolatrous city, Paul's spirit was profoundly stirred by the sight of people's devotion to Satanic delusions. Therefore, he disputed with Jews in the synagogue: evidently they were guilty of entertaining idolatry; but he also disputed with others of a devout character in the markets, anyone who would be willing to meet with him. His message concerning Christ was so strange and new to the learned philosophers who encountered him that they wanted to find out more of what he was talking about. Epicureans were followers of Epicrus, who taught that the object of men should be happiness and pleasure, and forget about absolute truth. They are the hedonists of our own day. Stoicks, on the other hand, were at the opposite pole, fatalists who say that what is to be will come, and therefore we should just grit our teeth and take it. They recognize there is a God, but have no knowledge whatever of His love.
Paul's preaching Jesus and the resurrection was therefore totally strange to them, so novel that they asked him to address them at Areopagus, the highest court in Athens. Athens prided itself on its philosophy, with people spending all their time in telling or hearing something new. Their condition is aptly described in 2 Timothy 3:7: "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." At least on this occasion they were willing to listen to truth that is absolute, which calls for the full submission of faith on the part of all people.
Paul's opening words are not however as weak as the King James version translates them. Rather, he says, "I perceive that in all things ye are given up to demon worship" (v.22--J.N.D.). This is the very essence of idolatry. They knew they had many gods, and Paul knew that behind all of these so-called "divinities" was demon influence. He made use then of an inscription on one of their altars, "To the Unknown God." How pathetic is the gross ignorance of intellectual men! Admittedly not knowing God, they invent fictitious gods of every kind! They did give the unknown God the honor of an altar, but they did the same for idols too. The One they ignorantly worship Paul boldly declares to them. Some would say that He is not only unknown, but unknowable; but sober, thinking people would surely have their interest awakened.
The God unknown to the Athenians is the Creator of all things, the Lord of heaven and earth. Men's temples are nothing to Him: He is certainly not confined in them. Nor is He worshiped by means of the works of men's hands, as though He depended on man for His sustenance. On the contrary, He is the great Giver, not only of material things such as engage people's most serious attention, but of life and breath, the fundamental entities of our very existence.
More than this, He has made of one blood all nations of mankind, though He has distributed the nations in different quarters of the earth according to the times and boundaries He has before appointed. Jews and Gentiles are fundamentally the same, all nations on the same level; but human blood is totally different than that of other creatures, as their flesh is different (1 Cor.15:39). But God has dealt as He has with men that they might seek the Lord, if it may happen that they will feel after Him and find Him. Paul adds that He is not far from every one of us, indicating that if one honestly seeks God, God will reveal Himself.
In fact, man's very existence is bound up with God, however little he realizes it. "In Him we live:" He is the source of our life; "and move:" He sustains all of our activities; "and have our being:" our existence is totally dependent upon Him. Paul quotes a Greek poet as saying, "For we are also His offspring."
From the viewpoint of creation, this is true: therefore it was foolish to think of God as compared to gold, silver or stone images, the work of human artistry. If men -- living, animate, intelligent beings -- are God's offspring, then certainly God is at least as living and intelligent as they!
Yet for centuries God has, in wonderful patience, overlooked human ignorance in worshiping idols. Now, however, He is dealing in a direct and serious way with mankind, commanding all everywhere to repent. For He has manifested His truth and justice toward man in the Man whom He has ordained. Paul does not speak of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus here, but of the startling fact of His resurrection from among the dead. This stands as a striking proof of the fact that this same Jesus is the One by whom God will judge the world in righteousness. More than this, God had already appointed the day.
Paul does not speak of salvation, but of repentance, for it was this message that the Athenians manifestly needed. The repentant jailor in Chapter 16:30 was concerned about how to be saved, and received his answer; but these in Athens must be awakened to a serious sense of their need: otherwise salvation would have no meaning to them.
Some mocked at the report of the resurrection of Christ; yet others delayed their decision, indicating they would hear Paul again. There was no direct persecution at Athens, however, for the city was tolerant of everything as a rule, and Paul had evidently not had any Jewish audience. The grace of God did nevertheless work in some hearts, both a man and a woman mentioned by name, and others too believing, though not named. Yet we do not read of any further work at Athens or of any assembly being established there. Thessalonica stands in refreshing contrast to Athens, a devoted persecuted assembly being sustained of God there.
Paul leaves Athens and is directed to Corinth, a city as loose and licentious as Athens, but where the gospel nevertheless found a response. There he found a Jew named Aquila who had come with his wife Priscilla from Italy. They had been forced out of Rome by an edict of Caesar against Jews. There is no indication of whether they were Christians at that time, but because Aquila and Paul were both tentmakers, they worked together, Paul staying with the couple in their home. At least they were certainly Christians before Paul left Corinth.
While at Athens there was no mention of Paul's contact with Jews, at Corinth it is Jews first mentioned, as he reasons in the synagogue, but with Gentiles also, not without some good results.
Silas and Timothy eventually came from Macedonia. During the time Paul was in Athens Timothy had evidently returned to Thessalonica for a time to give needed encouragement to the suffering assembly there (1 Thess.3:1-3).
When Paul puts the urgency of the truth before the Jews at Corinth, the Jews "opposed themselves:" not only did they oppose Paul, but opposed their own best interests, and added to this blasphemy against the God they professed to serve.
This was decisive. Paul shook his clothing, in picture shaking off any further responsibility to persuade them, and pronounced them responsible for their own destruction. He was clean, that is, he had fulfilled his duty in witnessing to them: he leaves them to their own folly, while announcing his decision to go to the Gentiles. Leaving the synagogue, he goes only next door to the house of Justus, a true worshiper of God.
However, Crispus, chief ruler of the synagogue, with his household, took a stand of faith in Christ, as did many Corinthians, these being baptized. Paul later says that he baptized only Crispus and Gaius of the Corinthian assembly (1 Cor.1:14): the rest were no doubt baptized by his helpers or local brethren, after they themselves had been baptized.
In contrast to Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Athens, Corinth claimed a long protracted stay by Paul and his company. The Lord clearly ordered this, encouraging Paul in a vision to speak plainly, not holding back, promising His protecting hand over him to preserve him from violent persecution, saying that He had many people in that city.
Paul therefore continued eighteen months, teaching the Word of God there. There is no doubt the Corinthian assembly needed solid teaching, for their city was notorious for the careless, licentious living of its inhabitants, and even the assembly later needed the serious reproving and correcting of their condition by Paul's two letters (1st and 2nd Corinthians).
An attempt by the Jews during this time to have Paul condemned by the Corinthian judicial system was frustrated by God's having in power a man who was not inclined to listen to nonsense. Of course, Gallio may have had little regard for Jesus, but at any rate he recognized the charge of the Jews to be no proper charge at all, for their accusation was simply that Paul was persuading men to worship God contrary to Jewish law. The charge itself was not true, but whether it was or not, Gallio knew that this had nothing to do with the laws of his own country. Paul was not even called upon to defend himself. The judge summarily dismissed the case by reproving the Jews for their unreasonable ignorance.
The multitude took advantage of this to take sides against the Jews, beating Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue before the judgment seat. Later Sosthenes is found as a believer (1 Cor.1:11), but apparently at this time he was opposing Paul. Perhaps his beating was the means God used to awaken him. As to Gallio, this was nothing to him: he was apparently not inclined to be too judicially zealous where Jews were in question.
The opposition having proven ineffective, Paul remained still for a good length of time before sailing to Syria, taking with him Priscilla and Aquila. Because it would seem strange that Paul, with his New Testament knowledge, would make a Jewish vow, some have considered that this must refer to Aquila, who was likely not so mature in the faith of Christ. The Lord Himself had long before warned against making vows (Mt.5:33-37), though this was likely not written by this time. Of course Aquila might have made the vow before his conversion, and cut his hair when the vow came to its conclusion (Cf.Num.6:13-18).
Coming to Ephesus Paul left Priscilla and Aquila there. Only briefly apparently he spoke in the synagogue, reasoning with the Jews. No results of this are mentioned, but being desirous of being present at Jerusalem for an ensuing feast, Paul left in spite of being invited to remain, but promised to return if God so willed. Nothing is said as to whether God was leading him to go to Jerusalem at this time, but landing at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem, only briefly visiting the saints before leaving for Antioch.
Paul's help at Antioch was evidently much more appreciated and profitable than at Jerusalem. He remained some time there before then traveling through all the region of Galatia and Phrygia to confirm the work established there, strengthening the disciples by the ministry of the Word.
After Paul had left Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, began to speak in the synagogue. His eloquence and knowledge of the scriptures, together with a fervent spirit, could not but attract attention to his message. His knowledge however did not go beyond what John the Baptist had taught, which called upon Jews to face the fact of their having solemnly broken the law of God and to honestly confess their sins in view of having to face the promised Messiah.
Aguila and Priscilla, hearing him speak, must have been overjoyed to be able to instruct him as to the marvellous sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus, His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God.
Having fully accepted John the Baptist's message, Apollos was ready for the matchless grace of the Lord Jesus, the precious answer to the confessed need of his soul and of all mankind, Jews and Gentiles. Clearly also, he was a vessel prepared by God to carry this message of grace to men, particularly the Jews.
Leaving Ephesus, however, he went to Achaia, the southern province of Greece, being given a letter of commendation from the brethren at Ephesus. Here he was of very real help to the disciples, while also speaking with such power as to convince the Jews of the truth of the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, using the Old Testament scriptures to this worthy end. In this same chapter Paul had planted the assembly at Corinth, now Apollos does the watering (1 Cor.3:6).
Paul returned to Ephesus, as he had promised. Of course there was an assembly there already, as chapter 18:27 intimates; but he found certain disciples who, at his questioning, tell him they had not even heard that the Holy Spirit had come. They had been baptized, but only with John's baptism. Therefore they were Jewish, of course. No doubt they had believed John's message that announced the Messiah as coming after him, but they had not been baptized to the name of the Lord Jesus. This shows clearly that Christian baptism is totally distinct from that of John. We have seen in Acts 2:36-38 that Jews were required to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ before they would receive the Holy Spirit.
Here now are Jews outside their own land. The Old Testament had never intimated that Jews would be blessed anywhere but in the land of promise. Could these then be publicly received as Christians by the gift of the Spirit? God gives the answer plainly when Paul baptizes them and lays his hands on them as an indication of fellowship. This is the fourth occasion of a public bestowing of the Spirit of God with such signs as speaking with tongues. Each of these occasions involves a different class of people; first Jews at Jerusalem (Ch.2); secondly Samaritans (Ch.8); thirdly Gentiles (Ch.10); and in this case Jews outside their own land.
There were about twelve men here: the number of women is not mentioned, for it is the public side of things emphasized. This reminds us that whenever we are told of the public giving of the Spirit, this was always to a number of people, never to an individual. Also, there was always an apostle present, for the work must be maintained in unity with other assemblies: there must be no independency of assemblies. Certainly these would then be found in the fellowship of the assembly at Ephesus, though at this time the Jewish disciples were apparently also continuing to attend the synagogue (v.9).
For three months Paul continued to speak in the synagogue, so long as there was any willingness on the part of the Jews to listen to his message. This comes to an end, however, when a number became hardened in opposition. Then it became necessary for the disciples to be separated from the synagogue. Paul himself, however, was evidently welcomed to a school operated by a man named Tyrannus, where he continued disputing daily with others who attended there. For two years this was maintained, the school evidently being so well known as to attract the attention of all the people, particularly when a message so marvellous was being declared. From this center the Word went out to all Asia, at that time a Roman province in present day Turkey.
At this time in Ephesus God backed His Word by working special miracles through Paul, with napkins and aprons which had touched him being brought to the sick, who were healed only by this contact, some also having evil spirits dismissed from them. This is so unusual as to be the only case of this kind recorded in scripture, though many were healed before this in only touching the hem of the garment of the Lord Jesus (Mt.14:36). Certain would-be healers have attempted to imitate this, but this is not faith.
Of course this could not but attract attention, and we are told of itinerant Jewish exorcists, men evidently claiming the ability to expel evil spirits, who recognized greater power than their own in the name of Jesus. Seven sons of one man attempted then to merely imitate Paul, adjuring evil spirits "by Jesus whom Paul preaches." This brings opposite results from what they expected. The evil spirit acknowledges Jesus and Paul, but despises the exorcists, causing the possessed man to assault them severely, tearing off their clothes and injuring them. Let no-one dare to use the name of Jesus in this way without having a true knowledge of Him.
These things were soon made known to both Jews and Greeks who lived at Ephesus, awakening a serious fear of God in recognizing the holiness of the name of the Lord Jesus. Believers were made to realize that faith in Christ was no light matter. Ephesus was a renowned center of magic arts, this no doubt having attracted the sons of Sceva. But believers now confess their unholy association with these things, with many bringing their books and publicly burning them. Their cost had been fifty thousand pieces of silver, but they rightly suffered the loss of this rather than selling the books to others. Such was the precious power of the Word of God.
The Word having achieved such results, Paul purposed in his spirit (not by the Spirit of God) to go to Jerusalem after seeing Macedonia and Achaia. After that he desired to visit Rome also. (This did take place, but not in the way he expected.) Yet he delayed his going to Macedonia and Achaia, evidently because he feared what he might find at Corinth (2 Cor.1:15-23). He did however send Timothy and Erastus before him (1 Cor.4:17), probably hoping that their ministry would help to correct wrong practices there before he himself came.
However, Satan could not stand by and see one of his great strongholds attacked and weakened by the power of the Spirit of God. He succeeds in working upon the greed of Demetrius, a silversmith, to suggest to him that Paul's doctrine was robbing him of customers for his idolatrous silver shrines. Calling together other such silversmiths, he impresses them with the need of protecting their financial interests. This is his first consideration, though he adds that Paul's teaching was also endangering the magnificence of their great goddess Diana. He knew well that this latter accusation would likely have more weight with the people. His fellow-tradesmen recognized this too, and being angry at the prospect of losing any trade, began an uproar by crying out in the streets, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians."
Men's protest demonstrations have often since that time occasioned the same senseless confusion. Some were able to catch two of Paul's traveling companions, rushing with many others into the city theatre, the place teeming with a milling, noisy crowd. Such a crowd being gathered together, Paul saw this as an opportunity to speak to them, and intended to go in. The disciples, however, wisely dissuaded him from this. In fact, he was further urged not to go in by certain "Asiarchs" who were his friends. These were elected officials, who, at their own expense, furnished festivals in honor of the gods. The fact of their being Paul's friends indicates clearly that, though Paul faithfully declared that gods made by hands are not gods at all, yet he was not offensive in contesting against such idolatry.
It is good to see that God took care of the matter without the help of Paul. The Jews, however, sought to take advantage of the situation by advancing one of their number, Alexander, to take the platform. Paul later wrote of him to Timothy, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil" (2 Tim.4:14). His intention to antagonize the people against Paul was defeated when the people realized he was a Jew, and for two hours the senseless uproar continued.
After two hours of riotous confusion, the town clerk of Ephesus was eventually able to gain the attention of the people and to quieten them. At least he was a reasonable man, and appealed to the fact that everyone knew that Ephesus worshiped Diana and the image that (they claimed) fell down from Jupiter. The image was manifestly a man-made thing, symbolizing the generative and nutritive powers of nature, and for this reason having many breasts. Its base was a block covered with mystical inscriptions and animals. But idolatrous men will accept any kind of superstitious deception.
He calls for calmness and refraining from any rash action, telling them that the men they had caught (Gaius and Aristarchus) were neither temple plunderers nor blasphemers of their goddess. He knew that these men were not agitators, but that Demetrius was causing the agitation. He tells them therefore that if Demetrius and the other craftsmen want to lay a civil charge against anyone, the courts were fully available, and attorneys also. If there were other matters (political for instance), these would require a duly arranged assembly in subjection to proper government. For, as he says, the Roman authorities would likely closely question the reason for such an uproar, and they could give them no satisfactory answer. It was certainly the Lord's mercy that the matter ended in this way.
Finally Paul follows Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia, leaving a field of labor that had been most fruitful. How long he spent in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea we are not told, but he gave them much exhortation. This of course took place well after his second letter to the Thessalonians. Following this, Luke says "he came into Greece." Luke was evidently there, and joined Paul's party when he left (vs.5-6). What places he may have visited in Greece (or Achaia) we are not told: we know only of an assembly at Corinth. This visit was also following his second epistle to the Corinthians. But nothing is mentioned as to how he may have met conditions existing there, concerning which he had been seriously apprehensive (2 Cor.12:20-21). But he remained three months in Greece before beginning a trip toward Syria by way of Macedonia again.
Seven names of those accompanying him are listed in this case, from four different areas. This is a lovely testimony to the unity promoted by the Gospel of Christ among those of differing backgrounds and cultures. These seven and Paul left Philippi before Luke and whoever was with him. No doubt Luke, who had previously spent some time at Philippi (after Acts 16:40), was desirous of having a longer visit there, which included "the days of unleavened bread," that is, the week following the Passover. Of course Luke, being a Gentile, would himself attach little importance to this, but his consideration of the consciences of his Jewish brethren is beautifully evident (See Romans 14:1-6).
Luke's journey to Troas took five days, a slow trip compared to that from Troas to Philippi some time earlier (Acts 16:11-12), There they remained a full week with the assembly, ending with the Lord's Day, when the disciples came together to break bread. Though in Jerusalem at the beginning the breaking of bread was observed perhaps every day (Acts 2:42-46), yet evidently it became normal to observe this every first day of the week.
Paul however used the occasion to preach to the gathered saints, continuing until midnight. There was evidently a great deal on his heart at the time. Many lights are spoken of in the upper room where they were gathered. Doubtless the upper room reminds us of heaven, the true home of the Church, with its abundance of light for the instruction of saints. At least it was not lack of light that induced sleep on the part of Eutychus.
In this young man (whose name means "prosperous")we are no doubt intended to see a picture of the Church when it would reach a prosperous state and become weary of Paul's ministry. For when circumstances are hard and rigorous we are usually more awake to the truth, while earthly prosperity tends to make us self-satisfied and insensitive to our need of the full truth of the Word of God, particularly truth of heavenly character such as Paul ministers. Then we easily fall from our high position and suffer drastic results.
Though the Church has been asleep to Paul's ministry, falling and becoming virtually "dead", yet the remedy for such a condition is to be found in Paul's ministry. Paul embraced Eutychus, saying, "His life is in him." Evidently his life was restored through Paul's embrace, a miraculous intervention of God, for he had been actually dead. Thus, in the writings of Paul today there is power as well as grace to accomplish some true recovery from a practically dead condition in the Church. After his revival the breaking of bread took place as well as eating, then continued ministry until the break of day. In these last days God has given some reviving of the truth of the assembly and provides for our present comfort the breaking of bread and fellowship, as well as sufficient ministry until the break of day (the coming of the Lord). This is concluded by the thankful expression, "they were not a little comforted." What reason indeed we have for such encouragement in our day!
Leaving Troas the company sailed to Assos, about 25 miles down the coast, but Paul decided to walk that distance, arranging to meet the others there. It seems that his reason for this is explained in his address to the Ephesian elders soon after, when they had arrived at Miletus and sent for the elders to come to meet him. It was a long distance for them (36 miles) but Paul was manifestly deeply concerned in heart in all that he had to speak to them. His own long walk alone gave time for meditative consideration of these things. He did not himself go to Ephesus, for he was anxious to get to Jerusalem by the time of the feast of Pentecost, when many would be present. He evidently felt that he could make some profitable impression on the Jews, though he had no assurance from God of such results. His love for his own nation evidently influenced him greatly, rather than the leading of God.
Ephesus was of special concern to him, however, and this assembly is particularly a representative assembly (Cf.Revelation 2:1), its name meaning "one desire." He speaks most earnestly to the elders, reminding them of his character and conduct among them from the first day of his coming to Asia. How few indeed would be able to speak as he did of such service to the Lord carried on in all humility of mind, with many tears and trials occasioned by the persecuting efforts of the enemy. He first speaks of himself as being a servant of the Lord. This involves genuine subjection and lowliness of heart.
His faithfulness as a teacher is seen in verses 20 and 21. He kept back nothing that was profitable to them, as some men do in order not to offend, or risk their popularity. No doubt he sought to speak what they were able to bear (Cf.Mark 14:33; John 16:12), for this is godly wisdom, but would not hold back anything just because it might hurt. His teaching was both public and in the homes of the people. His basic message for both Jews and Gentiles was "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." In the proclamation of the Gospel this is a message that does not change.
When he speaks of going "bound in the spirit" to Jerusalem, it is his own spirit he is speaking of, not the Spirit of God. So deep was his genuine love for Israel that this urged him forward in spite of warnings given by the Holy Spirit "in every city" that his going there would issue in imprisonment and suffering. Notice that he fully believes that it was the Holy Spirit who was giving these warnings.
But none of these things could move him from his purpose. His devotedness itself is precious, though we may question if it was rightly directed on this occasion. Bonds and afflictions would not diminish his joy, though his course might soon be finished. Also the ministry he received from the Lord Jesus was of such vital, valuable character that it had a compelling influence in his soul to lead him in fervent desire to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. He was not only a servant and a teacher, but a minister and evangelist, and as verse 25 tells us, a preacher. Notice that though he particularly emphasized the Gospel of the grace of God, yet he preached the kingdom of God. There is a fine distinction here: he does not say he preached "the Gospel of the kingdom" (Cf.Matthew 25:14). The kingdom emphasizes the authority of the King, which will be the Gospel preached in the Tribulation period; while Paul's ministry emphasized the grace of God, the special message of the present dispensation.
Though Paul emphasized the Gospel of the grace of God, yet he no less insisted on the authority of the Lord Jesus which is involved in the kingdom of God, for that kingdom has an important present aspect that we cannot ignore. Now he tells the Ephesian elders that he knows they will not see his face again, a fact that gives more solemn weight to his message for them. They themselves could bear witness that he was pure from the blood of all men. None could accuse him of neglect in warning them and presenting to them the truth that would deliver them. He had been a faithful watchman (Cf.Ezekiel 3:17-21), not avoiding the declaration of the entire counsel of God.
The plain, foundational facts he has told them form a solid basis for his earnest exhortations, which begin with his urging them to pay close attention to their own spiritual condition, then to that also of all the flock, for it was the Spirit of God who had given them the responsibility of overseership. They are told to "shepherd" the church of God, which involves both providing food, care and guidance. The sheep had been "purchased with the blood of His own," that is, God's own Shepherd (Cf.Zech.13:7), and therefore of priceless value to Him. This fact should move our hearts in diligent, tenderest care for all the flock of God. We have seen Paul in many characters in this address, and added to these is that of pastor in this verse.
Then he speaks as a prophet, with absolute knowledge that, after his departure from this life, grievous wolves (heartless unbelievers) would infiltrate among the flock, to cause great damage. Nor only this, but men from among themselves (even believers) would take a prominent place, speaking perverted things with the object of drawing disciples to follow them. They would no doubt use the scriptures, but give the Word such a twist that its plain, simple truth would be lost. How sadly both of these things have taken place in the Church, and on how wide a scale in our day!
He therefore presses two things on their consciences, -- "watch and remember." We must be alert to recognize danger when it raises its head, so that it may be properly dealt with. We must also not forget the truth we have learned in the past, by which to meet such things. In this case Paul had spent three years in his instructing and warning the saints. Today we have no less help in his writings, which are as urgent as were his tears.
Now he commends them, not to the Church, nor to specially appointed leaders, but to God Himself and to the Word of His grace. How vital it is that every believer should learn to depend personally and utterly upon God and upon His Word. This is our only real protection, but also it is the vital means of building up the saints, as well as giving an inheritance among all those who are sanctified, that is, set apart to God from all that is contrary to His Word and will. We must not overlook the living power in the Word of God itself. It is our one tangible means of protection and strength in an adverse world.
Now he can honestly appeal to the fact of his own character and conduct among them. He had not coveted the property of anyone, a marked contrast to many popular religious leaders today. They all knew that he had worked to support himself and others who were with him in spite of his having a right to refrain from secular employment (1 Cor.9:11-14).
He had not only told them, but had shown them by diligent example that they ought to engage in labor for the support of the weak, not merely for their own support, and in this case to remember the words of the Lord Jesus in saying it is better to give than to receive. This exact expression is not recorded in the Gospels, but the truth of it is evident in many of the recorded words of the Lord, as for example Luke 6:30-38.
When time for parting had come, Paul kneeled down and prayed with them all, a fitting conclusion to his stirring message. They were deeply affected to the point of tears, embracing and kissing the apostle. Their deepest sorrow, however, was not because of the impending danger that threatened the flock of God, but because he had told them they would not see his face again on earth. Too frequently we think more of the Lord's servant than we do of his message. Then they went with him to see him embark on the ship.
From this point onwards there is no record of the work of God spreading as it had previously through Paul's energetic ministry. In fact, we read of no conversions until Chapter 28:24, though we may be sure there were other cases; but Paul himself becomes confined, as his work does too, as a result of his purpose to go to Jerusalem in spite of being warned by God not to go. We may fully recognize his consuming love toward his people Israel, and his earnest desire to see them turned to the Lord. It was this that moved him mightily in going to Jerusalem. However, it is a mistake to trust our devotion to God and to the interests of His people, no matter how deep this may be: we can trust only the Word of God for guidance, as for everything else.
Leaving Miletus they came with a straight course to Coos, then to Rhodes and Patara. Changing ships, they sail to Phenicia, pass by Cyprus to Syria, landing at Tyre. God put no hindrances in the way on their journey. Indeed, for a man taught of God, as Paul was, the Word of God should have been enough. Smooth circumstances could not change this. Finding disciples at Tyre, however, they remain seven days. Evidently these had not known Paul before, which makes the more unusually striking their telling him, through the Spirit of God, that he should not go to Jerusalem. This is so clear and unequivocal that we can only marvel that the apostle paid no attention to it. Having his mind fully made up, it seems he would allow nothing to change it.
The affections of the disciples here were very real. They all, (including women and children) accompanied Paul and his companions out of the city to the shore where the boat was docked. There they kneeled down on the shore and prayed. The witness of the impending imprisonment and sufferings of Paul produced a serious effect on all the company. Many details are spoken of in the history that appeal to human interest. While the one company boarded the ship, the other returned home again.
Ptolmais was the end of the journey by ship. Here they remained with the brethren only one day, then proceeded by foot to Caesarea, not far distant. Philip the evangelist had come there after the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:40): now this was evidently his home. His house was large enough to accommodate all of
Paul's company, and they remained with him for many days. Though nothing more is said of Philip's work, he was still called "the evangelist," and he had four daughters who prophesied, a lovely commendation. Of course it is not at all implied that they were public speakers, for prophesying may certainly be done in private circumstances. This is a valuable gift for sisters to cultivate.
Observe that Paul had much time on this journey to consider whether he actually ought to go to Jerusalem. Now we read of a brother, a prophet named Agabus coming from Judea to Caesarea. Binding his own hands and feet with Paul's girdle, he prophesied that in such a way the owner of the girdle would be bound by the Jews and delivered to the Gentiles. This is just what happened to the Lord Jesus, and no doubt Paul thought of this, not in such a way as to dissuade him from going, but the opposite. He would apparently not seek to avoid being treated in the same way as was his Lord. Though both his friends with him and the saints of Caesarea entreated him not to go, he told them he was prepared, not only to be taken prisoner, but the die at Jerusalem. Of course it was there that the Lord Jesus had died . But none of these prophecies had mentioned death for Paul. Yet he had been plainly told, through the Spirit of God, that he should not go up to Jerusalem (v.4). The saints then say nothing more but to commit the matter to the will of the Lord.
The company is enlarged on this last leg of the journey with disciples from Casesarea attending them, and an early disciple, Mnason of Cyprus, who evidently had a home at Jerusalem, where he entertained Paul and his company. Arriving at Jerusalem, they were received gladly by the brethren, at least those whom they first met. Paul then loses no time in meeting with James and the elders, informing them of the great work God had performed among the Gentiles by his ministry. This made no little impression and they glorified God for it.
Though James and the elders at Jerusalem rejoiced for the work God had done among the Gentiles, yet they felt it important that Paul should clarify a matter that was causing thousands of believing Jews some serious concern. They had heard that Paul was teaching Jews among the Gentile nations to forsake Moses by no longer circumcising their children and by giving up the ritualistic customs of the law. We may be sure that Paul did not object to the fact of Jewish children being circumcised, for he himself had circumcised Timothy because his mother was Jewish (Acts 26:1-3); but he did teach that the mere outward fact of circumcision gives one no spiritual advantage (Cf.Romans 2:25-29). On the other hand, his letter to the Hebrews is clear enough that Christian Jews ought to leave the camp of Judaism and go forth to the Lord Jesus alone (Heb.13:12, 13).
James and the elders, however, do not question Paul about this, but assume that his thoughts are not so different from theirs. They urge him to identify himself with four men who were under a vow, likely the vow of Nazariteship (Num.6:1-21), at the conclusion of which the participant was to shave his head, then offerings were to be made for him. Of course Paul knew that the Lord Jesus had done away with such vows (Mt.5:33-37) in introducing the grace of God to a condemned world, but he probably applied the principle here, "unto the Jews I became as a Jew." In this case, however, it seems that principle is carried a little too far; but he was in a predicament in which he probably saw no other way out. When we are in a wrong place we shall find ourselves virtually bound to do the wrong thing. The elders expected this to prove that Paul was not guilty of the charges laid against him, and that he himself kept the law of Moses.
They confirmed what they had agreed before as to the Gentile converts, that they were not expected to observe any such things, though urged to keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood and from fornication. It is of interest that they evidently saw no inconsistency in requiring Jews to do what Gentiles were not asked to do. They were very slow to give up the Judaistic system of things.
With the four men then Paul entered the temple, submitting to the ceremonial purification in view of an offering being offered for all of them. Certainly Paul knew better than this as his epistle to the Hebrews declares plainly in Chapter 10:12-18, but no doubt by this means he hoped to gain the ear of the Jews.
This was of no avail, for Jews from Asia, recognizing him, caught him and cried out to inform the people that this was the man who was teaching against Israel, the law and the temple. They added that he had brought a Greek into the temple, which was only an assumption since they seen him in the city with Trophimus, an Ephesian.
The uproar they caused, however, defeated their own purpose. They might have killed him more easily in a more covert way, but the noise drew the attention of the Roman captain of the band, who quickly intervened, taking centurions and soldiers with him, so that he rescued Paul from being beaten to death. Taking him prisoner, he demanded who he was and what he had done. Paul had no opportunity of answering this, for a multitude of voices answered from the crowd, only leaving the matter in confusion.
When the captain gave orders that Paul should be taken into the castle, the soldiers had to carry him up the stairs because of the violence of the crowd in demanding his death. The faith of Paul is seen remarkably here, however, when he asks permission to speak to the captain with the desire of addressing the people. The captain was surprised that he could speak Greek, for he had already supposed that he must be a terrorist, and likely a specific one -- an Egyptian -- who had before raised an uproar, attracting a following of four thousand men who were murderers. He could not understand such a tumult over one who was not a rabble rouser.
Paul corrected this by giving his Jewish background and as born in Tarsus of Cilicia; then asked permission to speak to the people. When the crowd was in such a state of excited hostility, it seems amazing that Paul would desire to speak to them. Yet the captain allowed him to do so. God miraculously quieted the crowd as Paul stood and beckoned with his hand at the top of the stairs.
The crowd having been quietened, Paul speaks with fullest respect for those he addresses, and doing so in the Hebrew language, he attracts more serious attention. He has been practically convicted by the crowd without being heard, so that he asks them to hear his defense. Jewish, and born in Tarsus, yet he had spent his earlier years under the instruction of Gamaliel, a renowned teacher of the law, which he calls, the law of our fathers, in which he was well grounded and taught, being zealous toward God, as he credits them with being also.
His zeal was well proven in his persecuting the followers of Jesus "unto death," taking both men and women prisoner, to be tried and punished at Jerusalem. He reminds them that the high priest and all the elders could bear witness to this. They had given him letters to Damascus authorizing him to arrest Christians and bring them to Jerusalem. Nearing Damascus on his journey, he tells them, he fell to the ground when a great light from heaven encircled him, followed by a voice, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" How could he possibly ignore this voice? He asked, "Who art Thou, Lord?" and received the astounding answer, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." His companions saw the light and heard someone speaking to him (Acts 9:7), but evidently did not understand what was said, which may be the explanation of the words, "they heard not the voice."
How perfectly normal then that he should ask the Lord what he should do. But the Lord did not give him instructions independently of His own followers. He is told to go into Damascus and there he would be told what he was appointed to do. Blinded by the light for the time, he needed the help of others to find his way. He does not mention here that he was three days in this state, but speaks of the visit of Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews. By God's clear direction he came to Saul and at his word Saul received his sight back again.
The message he brought was most striking too: "The God of our fathers hath chosen thee." How could he escape the reality of this call of God? This was no mere visionary impression Saul had received. Rather, God had intervened so decidedly in his history that this was impossible to be ignored. This choice of God involved three vital matters to affect the soul of Saul himself: first, the knowledge of God's will; secondly, that he should actually see "that Just One," the Lord Jesus; and thirdly, that he should hear the voice of His mouth. God had special work for him to do, for which no-one else was chosen: therefore he would be specially prepared. He was to be a particular witness of God to all men of what he had seen and heard. The reality of this had wonderful effect in enabling him to continue steadfastly through every kind of adversity, declaring the truth he knew.
Ananias further instructed him to be baptized to wash away his sins. This has nothing to do with God's cleansing of sins by the blood of Christ, which is a vital, eternal matter for all who receive Christ as Savior. But it is rather a public washing away of those sins of which Saul had been guilty in publicly opposing the blessed name of the Lord Jesus. That is, in the eyes of men he would wash away his sins by baptism, not in the eyes of God, for this is only by the blood of Christ. In baptism he was taking a public stand contrary to his former course.
Verse 17 of course took place a good deal later. Jews would understand God's intervening by a trance to speak to a man: they even sought such signs (1 Cor.1:22). The message of the Lord Jesus to Paul however was most decisive, as he tells them: he was told immediately to leave Jerusalem, for the Jews would not listen to him. However, he was using this to seek to persuade them that though he had been told to leave, his own earnest desire was for the pure blessing of Israel; therefore he records his entreating the Lord, reminding Him of his previous enmity against Christians and of his prominence in the martyrdom of Stephen. Could Paul possibly think that, though his arguments would not change the Lord's mind, yet by reporting them he might change Israel's mind? This does show his love for his nation, but not a full subjection to his Lord. As he says, the Lord's answer was a summary command, "Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles."
Just as the Lord had stopped Paul's arguments, so Israel abruptly stops him in his testimony. He finds that the Lord's words were absolutely true: the Jews would not receive his testimony. Having rejected his Lord, they reject him too, crying out for his death, demonstrating in vicious hostility. The chief captain then has him brought inside the castle. He could not understand by all Paul's words why the Jews were so inflamed, and thought they must have a more intelligent reason. He expected therefore that this might be forced from Paul by scourging him. Of course this was thorough injustice, but it has been practiced by many since that time.
With foreigners the Romans were not so careful about being just, but Paul knew that it was not lawful for them to scourge a Roman citizen before he was found guilty: he appealed to the centurion on this ground, and the centurion reported this to the chief captain, who was surprised to hear that Paul was a Roman. He himself had had to pay dearly for his citizenship, he says. Paul answered that his own citizenship was acquired by birth. Thus the scourging, which would have accomplished nothing anyway, was avoided. The chief captain too was apprehensive about the fact of his having bound Paul without evidence of wrong-doing. However, at least Paul's safety was secured in this way.
The next day, in order to find out what clear accusation the Jews had against Paul, the chief captain ordered the chief priests and the Jewish council to appear before him, and brought Paul in to face them.
In this hearing the chief captain did not take the place of an adjudicator, nor was there any other judicial authority present to keep order. Paul then takes advantage of the occasion to speak earnestly to the council, to tell them he had lived in all good conscience before God until that day. No doubt this was true, but he was on the defensive rather than bearing witness to the Lord Jesus.
Neither the high priest nor the council had anything to say in regard to a concrete accusation against him. But the high priest commanded others to strike Paul on the mouth. This was so blatantly unjust that Paul did not restrain himself from speaking unadvisedly with his lips, calling the high priest a whited wall and telling him that God would smite him. Otherwise his words were most telling, "sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?"
Challenged for having spoken as he did to "God's high priest," he had to withdraw his words, saying he had not known the man was high priest, for the law had said, "Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." It can hardly be honestly said that Ananias was God's high priest, for he had been appointed by the Romans. Yet, Paul recognized his place of rule.
Paul however did not wait passively for any charges to be brought, but seeing that both Pharisees and Sadducees were present, he made the bold assertion, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." No doubt this was an astute move, for it achieved the result Paul desired of causing division among his enemies, for the doctrine of resurrection was one as to which Pharisees and Sadducees opposed each other. Of course Paul still fully believed as the Pharisees did in regard to resurrection: in fact he went further than they, for he knew Christ as raised from among the dead. Actually, while he had been raised a Pharisee, yet he was no longer of the sect of the Pharisees: he was a Christian.
The Pharisees were influenced by his words to relax their enmity, while the Sadducees were all the more determined in their opposition, being resentful even of the suggestion of an angel or spirit speaking to Paul, for they denied their existence. Paul then became the center of conflict between them, and the chief captain had to command his soldiers to rescue him from the violence of their contention.
The night following Paul's imprisonment it seems likely that he was feeling discouraged. Did he not reflect on the fact that he had come to Jerusalem in spite of God's warning him not to, the resulting refusal of the Jews to listen to him, then his mistake in the way he answered the high priest, and finally his calling himself a Pharisee rather than bearing witness of Christ? All this stemmed from his coming to a place God had not sent him. How he needed the merciful help of his Lord now! Wonderful is the grace of the heart of the Lord Jesus in His standing by Paul that night, to encourage him: "Be of good cheer, Paul." He credits him too with having borne witness to Him in Jerusalem, as he did from the stairs of the castle, and tells him he will do so in Rome also. This did not take place for over two years, however (ch.24:27). The Lord will not forsake His servant, whatever may be the sadness of his failure which was mixed with his fervent devotedness to his Master.
The hostility of the Jews had now been stirred to a fever pitch. Likely it was men of the Sadducees who bound themselves under a curse to eat nothing till they had killed Paul. But the Lord had settled that matter before: He had told Paul he would bear witness of Him at Rome! In spite of the curse, one is doubtful that those men (over forty of them) died of starvation! But their terroristic plan did not work. It was a bold plot to take the chief captain off guard, having him in good faith bring Paul to the Jewish council again as though they desired to enquire more perfectly of him, they being ready to kill him on the way. Their murdering him at the time he was a prisoner of the Roman guard would be a most serious criminal offence, but they evidently thought that their large number could accomplish it and escape the consequences.
The Lord had His own way of thwarting this. Whatever attitude Paul's sister had toward him, at least her son had right feelings when he heard of this plot, for of course many of the Jews would know of it. He visited Paul in the prison and warned him of it. This led to the chief captain's learning of it from the young man, who was warned to keep completely silent about his having disclosed this.
The chief captain wisely decided, as God had decided long before, that Jerusalem was no place for Paul. He had come there of his own volition, but was to be carried out as a prisoner -- not to die there, as he had expressed himself willing to (Ch.21:13). It seems astonishing that the chief captain ordered so large a guard for Paul in sending him to Caesarea, -- two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen. This was a virtual army prepared to leave at the third hour of the night (9.00 p.m.). Such activity would certainly awaken the attention of the people, though they may have remained ignorant of the reason for it.
Paul had come from Caesarea on foot, but has the honor of riding back, willingly or not. The chief captain, Claudius Lysias, sent with the company a letter to Felix the governor, explaining the reason for his sending Paul. He knew the Jews had been on the verge of killing Paul, not taking him to be judged by their law, as Tertullus later stated (Ch.24:6). It had required an army to rescue him. When later he says he brought Paul face to face with the Jewish council, he perceived that their only accusation had to do with the Jewish religious law, but of no such importance as to call for a sentence of death or even of imprisonment.
Yet he adds that he had heard the Jews were plotting to kill Paul while in custody, and therefore was sending Paul to Felix, while telling his accusers that they could go to Caesarea also to accuse Paul before Felix.
The soldiers went as far as Antipatris, not so far distant from Caesarea, then left the horsemen to take Paul to Caesarea, while they returned to Jerusalem. The horsemen in due course delivered Paul to Felix along with the letter from Lysias. Paul was then kept in Herod's judgment hall until his accusers should come to face him at the court of Felix. Thus the project was completed without the knowledge of the men who had plotted Paul's death, and they would have an unwelcome surprise in hearing that their enemy was no longer in Jerusalem.
The Jews did not delay long just taking enough time (5 days) to make plans by which to influence Felix against Paul. The high priest and elders of the people came down, bringing with them an orator named Tertullus, whose name means "triple-hardened." He took the lead in speaking, beginning his flowery discourse by flattering Felix contrarily to what he, or any of the Jews would have done behind the governor's back. He speaks of Israel enjoying great quietness through the authority of Felix, yet it had been they who had disquieted Jerusalem in their violence against Paul.
He first makes three charges against Paul personally, and then one charge that he had "gone about to profane the temple." Of course the first three charges cannot even be considered by a court of justice. They considered Paul to be a pest. What difference would this make to a judge? They said he was a mover of sedition. But they have not one specific act of sedition to lay to his charge. They claimed that he was a "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." But this means nothing unless he had done something unlawful. The fourth charge does refer to his actions, but only that he had "gone about to profane the temple," not even that he had actually profaned it. In Chapter 21:28 the Asian Jews had charged Paul with actually polluting the temple. By this time Tertullus had probably learned that this could not be substantiated, yet he realized he ought to have some charge against Paul, therefore put it in this indefinite way. He did not say that Paul may have brought a Gentile into the temple, for the Gentile Felix would hardly consider this a charge at all! The only thing that the Jews could count on having any effect at all on Felix was the smooth speech of Tertullus.
He adds a plain falsehood, that the Jews had taken Paul with the intention of trying him according to their law. They were beating him, hoping to kill him, when Lysias rescued him from them, though Tertullus claimed that it was Lysias who had used great violence! He ends his discourse by saying that Felix will find by examining Paul that the accusations he made were true. The Jews, ignoring any qualms of conscience, gave their word that these charges were true.
Of course Felix realized that there was virtually nothing about which it was necessary to examine Paul, for Tertullus had brought no definite charge that Paul had broken the law. However, the governor then gave Paul permission to speak. He did not at all flatter Felix, but told him he could more cheerfully speak for himself since Felix had for many years been a judge appointed over Israel, therefore would know something of the nation's culture, etc.
Only twelve days previously he said he had come to Jerusalem to worship. He had not been found in the temple even disputing with anyone, nor raising up the people either in the synagogues or in the city. As to the Jews' charges he said that they could produce no confirmation of them. However, he confessed what was the actual reason for their hostility, the fact that he worshiped the God of his (and their) fathers in a way they called heresy, believing all things written in the law and the prophets, and specifically having unquestioned hope toward God as regards the truth of the resurrection of the dead, both just and unjust, which in fact the Pharisees themselves professed to believe. He did not come out clearly to speak of his confession of Christ nor of his preaching Christ, which was the direct cause of the Jews being inflamed against him; but of course these things were rooted in the law and the prophets of which he spoke, and which the Jews claimed to believe. In defense of himself he adds that he exercised himself to always have a conscience honest and unoffensive as regards both God and man.
Now he says that after many years of absence from Jerusalem he had come to bring alms and offerings to his own nation. Romans 15:25-28 speaks of this, though no doubt Paul also desired to win the Jews to the Lord. But Jews from Asia, finding him in the temple, not engaged in any contention or controversy, had initiated his arrest. As Paul insists, these were the men who should be present to advance their charges against him. Or, let the Jews then present declare if they had found any criminal reason in Paul for arresting him, when he had stood before their council, unless it could be in his declaration, "Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you."
After hearing both Tertullus and Paul, Felix ought to have had no difficulty in dismissing the case immediately, for the accusations themselves were of no significance to a court of law, but he delayed this by saying that when he conferred with Lysias he would have more full knowledge of the case. He did however put Paul into the care of a centurion, with instructions to allow him comparative liberty with full visitation privileges. Nothing more is said of Lysias coming down, and Felix shows no concern to free an innocent man. He may have given Paul such liberty because hoping for a bribe from him, as was the case later at least (v.26).
However, he had some interest in Paul and his teaching, possibly awakened through his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. Fausset's Bible Encyclopedia reports that Felix had seduced her from her husband (Ps.229). It may be that Felix agreed that he and his wife should listen to Paul with the very intention of inducing Paul to bribe him. Still, God gave this opportunity to Paul to preach Christ with particular emphasis on righteousness, self-control and judgment to come. It was this that was needed to strike the conscience of this irresponsible man, and at least it produced such fear as to make him tremble. Yet neither fear nor conscience in him was sufficient to overcome the greed that still wanted money from Paul.
Politely he indicates to Paul his decision to procrastinate, for at the time it was evident that he preferred his sinful life-style to Christ. Yet he very often sent for Paul to talk with him, not because he had a concerned conscience, but a concerned lust for money. No doubt he remembered that Paul had said he came to Jerusalem to bring alms to his nation, and Felix was not averse to receiving alms. Two years of this unrighteous imprisonment passed by and Felix still left Paul bound when he was replaced by Festus. He did this merely to ingratiate the Jews.
Festus was a different character, a typical Roman, materialistic and matter-of-fact, not a debased type, but skeptical as to anything spiritual. Only three days after taking office he visited Jerusalem, and the Jews took advantage of this to seek to influence him against Paul, urging him to bring Paul to Jerusalem for trial.
Their object however was not to have him put on trial, but to kill him on the way. It would seem after two years that their animosity would have been tempered, but it was just as determined as before.
Festus, for whatever reason, refused this, but told them that when he returned to Caesarea shortly they were welcome to come to make their accusations against Paul before him there, at least if they had any substantial criminal charge to make.
The Jews were ready the day after Festus returned , to bring their accusations to the judgment seat of Festus. This was however only a repetition of the first hearing before Felix. Their many grievous complaints were not backed up by proof of any kind, and Paul answered as before for himself, speaking the truth in his own defense, though again having no opportunity to bear witness to his faith in Christ and the truth of the Gospel. The clear result of the hearing was that the Jews could establish no case against him whatever.
However, Festus, with the motive merely of pleasing the Jews, asked Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem to be tried there before him. The chief captain Lysias had shown more discernment than this when he had sent Paul away from Jerusalem. Paul knew too that in the effort of Festus to please the Jews, this could likely issue in his being given up to the Jews to do with him as they pleased.
He answered decidedly therefore. According to Roman law he ought to tried at Caesar's judgment seat, that is, by a Roman court, not Jewish or partly Jewish. He insists that Festus himself knew well that Paul had done no wrong to the Jews. He would not refuse to die, he says, if he had committed any crime worthy of death, but of course Festus knew there was not even an accusation against him that would warrant the death penalty. Such being the case no-one (even Festus) had the right to deliver him to the Jews. Paul recognized only one alternative to this: he appealed to Caesar. Festus with some consultation replied that therefore he would indeed be sent to Caesar.
Festus ought to have realized that there was no reason whatever that Paul should be sent to Caesar's court: he should have been set free, but the expense of imprisonment and a voyage to Rome is added to that of his two years of support by the Roman government, not to speak of the added unrighteousness of it.
King Agrippa is now brought into the picture. He was a professed Jew, having Jewish blood in his lineage, though given his title by the Romans and therefore concerned about maintaining good relations with the Roman governors. His visit to Festus no doubt had this in view. It was natural that Festus should acquaint Agrippa with the circumstances of Paul's imprisonment, knowing that he was conversant with Jewish laws and customs. Bernice was the sister of Agrippa. Festus in giving the information says that the charges against Paul were nothing such as he had supposed would be the case of a man so strongly condemned by the Jews, but were merely questions connected with their own religious superstition and of some disagreement as to Jesus, a man who had died, yet whom Paul affirmed to be alive. He does not even concede the possibility of resurrection.
Agrippa's interest was awakened by this and he asked if he might hear what Paul had to say. This was fully agreeable to Festus, for he thought Agrippa might shed a little light on the problem he faced. The next day Agrippa and Bernice were conducted to the place of hearing with great pomp and ceremony, together with the chief captains and principal men of the city. God was certainly behind this, to bring about an auspicious occasion in which Paul the prisoner could bear a witness to the Lord Jesus with many in attendance. How unusual a situation, where an assemblage of great men is brought together to hear an address by a prisoner!
Every eye is directed to Paul by Festus, as he addresses King Agrippa and all who were present, telling them that the Jews at Jerusalem and also at Caesarea have strongly demanded that Paul should be put to death. Yet he admits his bewilderment at this, for he found that Paul had committed nothing worthy of death. He adds however that Paul had appealed to Caesar Augustus, and though Festus had determined to send him to Rome, he was himself puzzled as to what to write, since there was no specific charge made against him.
He thinks that possibly King Agrippa might discern something that he could be accused of. One would be inclined to agree with his sentiment of verse 27, that it seems unreasonable to send a prisoner to a supreme court without signifying any charge against him!
At Agrippa's invitation to him to speak, Paul is fully prepared. He expresses his happiness at being privileged to answer for himself to the king, especially because he knew Agrippa to be an expert in reference to the customs of the Jews and as to questions connected with the Jewish law. He respectfully requests to be heard patiently. He refers briefly to his own past history, well known to the Jews, that he had lived in strict conformity to the Jewish law, a Pharisee.
He immediately declares the reason for the Jews' enmity against him, however. It was actually because he stood for the hope of the promise made by God to the fathers of his nation. All Israel, the twelve tribes, still have hope as to the promise, however dim and blurred it may have become in their eyes. He credits them with "instantly serving God" (though of course their zeal for God is not according to knowledge -- Romans 10:2) in view of this hope. What is the true character of this hope? Actually it is of a resurrected Messiah eventually taking His rightful place in authority and dignity over Israel and the world. Of course the Jews knew the many scriptures that speak of the Messiah's coming glory, but were not so acquainted with the large number of Old Testament scriptures that clearly indicated His resurrection. Of course, to be raised, He must die first, and these two things Israel was too blinded to consider.
Therefore Paul asks his pointed question, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" It was simply and clearly because Paul preached the resurrected Christ that he was so hated by the Jews, though in this was the very answer to the ages-long aspirations of the nation Israel! Why should they not rejoice to hear a message so wonderful and true?
Paul fully admits in verse 9 that he had had the same strong prejudice against the name of Jesus of Nazareth as did most of Israel, considering that he ought to actively oppose Him, which he did by persecution of those who confessed His name. He had done this in Jerusalem, imprisoning many and advocating their being put to death. In every synagogue he carried on this campaign, compelling men to blaspheme. Evidently this involved his seeking to force them to speak against the name of Jesus under threat of death. This extended also even to foreign cities.
Now he recounts his experience in journeying to Damascus with authority given him by the chief priests. Their authority was rather reduced to nothing by the light from heaven, brighter than the sun at noonday. It prostrated all who were traveling together. We are not told whether the others at the time testified of this to the chief priests later, or not, but if so, the chief priests could likely just as easily bribe them to keep quiet or lie about it just as they had the soldiers guarding the grave of the Lord Jesus (Mt.28:11-15). The voice was addressed directly to Saul, however, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? It is hard for thee to kick against the goads." His case was similar to that of an animal's kicking when goaded by its driver in a way it does not like. For Saul was rebelling against God's dealings with him and finding it harder than he would have liked to admit.
When he questioned, "Who art thou, Lord?" the amazing answer was "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." If this were not true, what could have possibly changed this determined man from a bitter enemy of Jesus into His devoted servant? This itself may have given Agrippa food for serious thought, but not Festus. The Lord did not make Saul a mystical, introspective recluse, reflecting on the wonder of his visions and revelations. Rather, He had appeared to Saul for the purpose of making him a witness of what he had seen, as well as of other things for which in the future He would appear to Paul, taking him out from the people (Israel) and from the Gentiles. This was certainly an unusual and sovereign operation of God. Paul was fully set apart from both Israel and the nations in order to be a witness to both of these. As to people recognizing this, a great deal would depend on the reality of the man himself. Honest, considerate men would discern this.
The Lord had given Paul a five-fold description of the object of his testimony, first, to open men's eyes; secondly, to turn them from darkness to light; thirdly, to turn them from the power of Satan to God. These things show the tragic condition into which man by nature has sunk, a condition he hates to admit, just as many refuse to face symptoms of serious disease until it is too late. But if honesty would admit this, then the last two objectives would be of wonderful value to them: fourthly, that they may receive forgiveness of sins; and fifthly, to receive an inheritance among those sanctified to God; these things being by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Forgiveness, a vital present reality for the genuine believer, introduces him into the blessing of an eternal inheritance, together with all those who have been "sanctified" or set apart for so precious a purpose.
Again as at the first (v.2) it is King Agrippa himself whom Paul addresses, telling him he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but began immediately at Damascus, later at Jerusalem and in Judea to bear witness as he was told; then going further to declare to Gentiles the same message, calling upon men to repent and turn to God, doing works that would be evidence of repentance. This was consistent with the message of John the Baptist (Mt.3:2-8), who also bore witness that Jesus was the Son of God (Jn.1:32-34).
These were the reasons, he declares, that the Jews had caught him in the temple with the intention of killing him. Yet he ascribes to God the fact of His being protected and able to continue witnessing both to small and great (notice "small" first), strictly conforming to what the Old Testament (Moses and the prophets) had prophesied, that Christ the Messiah should be the first who should rise from among the dead and bring the pure light of God to both Jews and Gentiles. As to the Jews' strong objection to Gentiles hearing the gospel of grace: if the message was false, why were they not glad that Gentiles (whom they despised) were being corrupted by error?
What Paul had said was totally outside of the material realm in which Festus lived, and Festus, though in utter darkness himself, loudly objected that Paul was mentally affected, and attributed his insanity to much learning. Festus was evidently of that class of people who excuse themselves from learning on the grounds that it might lead them into mental affectation, and specially if they learn what the Bible says! This attitude is plain stupidity, not to speak of its being an insult to God.
Paul however answers with calm dignity and becoming respect, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness." The attitude and demeanor of Paul should have been enough to make Festus question his own assessment of the case. Paul adds that the king (Agrippa) knew of the things of which he spoke, things well known among the Jews particularly, for they had not been done in a corner, but publicized in such a way that Agrippa would certainly have some acquaintance with the facts.
Then Paul boldly, yet respectfully addresses a pointed question to the king, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest." Though it seems evident that Agrippa was seriously affected by what Paul said, yet his reply to Paul was intended to dismiss the question, not as in the King James Version, "Almost thou persuadest me," but "In a little thou persuadest me to become a Christian" (J.N.D.). He was not contemptuous, yet he had no intention of confessing Christ before that assemblage, but virtually tells Paul, "You are trying to convert me."
Paul responds, "I would to God, both in little and in much, that not only thou, but all who have heard me this day, should become such as I am, except these bonds" (J.N.D.). The earnest reality of these words must have had some real effect on all who were present, and only eternity will reveal the results.
The king stood up, indicating of course that the hearing was concluded: he did not want to be further embarrassed. Others followed, including Festus. Talking together then privately, they were agreed that Paul was not guilty of any crime that deserved either death or imprisonment. Agrippa certainly gave Festus no help in suggesting a charge to be laid before Caesar, but told Festus that Paul may have been set at liberty it he had not appealed to Caesar. It was not Festus who said this, but why could the case not have been even then dismissed without troubling Caesar with it? Perhaps the pride of Festus was involved, but one most important reason is that God intended this to be the means by which Paul would bear witness before great men at Rome.
The journey to Rome has been seen as a striking picture of the history of the church publicly in its earlier years, with its rapid decline and eventual shipwreck. Paul is on board, but a prisoner, indicating that the truth he proclaimed was not given the liberty that is properly due to it, though there is some measure of respect for him. The end of the journey (and the end of Acts) sees Paul a prisoner in Rome itself, as in the great Roman church Paul's ministry has been confined severely for centuries, though he himself is given some measure of honor. Though Paul is emphatically "minister" of the truth of the body of Christ, the church (Col.1:24-25), yet that which professes to be the one church confines his ministry in such a way that it is ineffective so far as that church is concerned.
In verse 1 the word "we" is of precious interest. Luke has identified himself with Paul the prisoner, as we see he also did later when Paul was about to be offered (2 Tim.4:6,11). Paul and other prisoners are put in custody of a centurion named Julius, who proves to be a considerate man. They find a ship that is expected to sail by way of the Asian coast. Aristarchus of Thessalonica is mentioned as being with them, no doubt a believer also who willingly identified himself with Paul. The ship stopping briefly at Sidon the next day, Julius showed remarkable kindness to Paul in allowing him to visit with his friends in the city. He evidently saw in Paul a character sufficiently trustworthy that he had no fears of his trying to escape.
Leaving Sidon, the ship carrying Paul and his company was required to change its plan of sailing close to the Asian coast because of contrary northerly winds, and sailed more westward on the south side of Cyprus. From there they travelled northwest to the Asian coast, arriving at Myra, a city of Lycia. Here they changed ships, the centurion finding an Alexandrian vessel due to sail to Italy. In trying to remain close to the coast, progress was slow, however, and many days elapsed in sailing about 100 miles. They still wanted to sail toward the northwest, but evidently headwinds prevented this, so that they turned southward and sailed around the east end of Crete and turned westward along its south coast. The sailing was hard there, but they finally arrived at a promontory of the island where they stopped in a small harbor called Fair Havens.
In all of this we are surely taught that much of the church's history has been influenced by the winds of circumstance. How often we too have found contrary winds that cause us to take a course much longer than we desire.
Because of unfavorable weather, time lengthens out, and with winter approaching, sailing was threatened by serious danger. Paul respectfully warned the centurion and the captain and owner of the ship that he perceived (not by distinct revelation, but by wisdom that perceived when danger threatened) that to proceed then would result in much damage to the ship and danger to their lives. However, both the captain and the owner were anxious to go on, and the centurion accepted their judgment, specially since Fair Havens was a small port, and Phenice, about forty miles further up the coast, would suit them much better. This has been an attitude repeated far too often in the history of the church. Though Paul's ministry has warned us of the dangers in the path, yet, instead of being content to wait on God while in confined circumstances, we act in view of finding better circumstances and run headlong into trouble.
The south wind blew softly. Outwardly the prospect seemed favorable, for the wind would keep them near the coast since they would be traveling northwest. All began well: they sailed close to Crete. But depending on present appearances is not depending on the Lord: in fact He had already spoken through Paul. When God has given His word, all rationalizing is disobedience to Him.
A violent change very soon took place. A northeast wind, Euraquillo as is understood by translators the most tempestuous known on the Mediterranean, arose with terrible fury. This drove the sailing vessel far off course, away from the Isle of Crete. It was impossible even to tack: they had to let the wind drive them toward Clauda, an island to the southwest, which they skirted on the south side. Luke mentions the difficulty with which they secured the lifeboat, which evidently was in danger of being swept overboard. In fact, it proved of no value to them anyway! We spend time and effort on human expedients to insure against possible danger, while the best insurance, obedience to God's word, we forget!
Using helps, they undergirded the ship, which is apparently called "trapping," done by passing cables around the ship to preserve it intact against the force of the waves. They lowered the gear also, which does not mean totally leaving themselves without sail, but with some lowered sail left they would at least have some measure of control remaining. Yet they were driven. The next day they lightened the ship by throwing overboard its cargo -- not all of it, for there was wheat at least left (v.38). The day following they threw out those furnishings of the ship that could be spared. Do we not see implicit in this the effort to preserve the church from ruin by means of giving up some of the valuable blessings with which the grace of God has blessed her?
This continued for many days with no glimpse of the sun or stars, no light from heaven to either cheer them or give guidance. Typically speaking, no doubt at the period of the church's history of which this is typical, many felt that they had been forgotten by God, but it was their own neglect of dependence on God that had brought them to this. They come to the point of despair as to the possibility of being saved from a watery grave.
Through all the time of the tumultuous tempest until everything seemed totally hopeless, Paul had restrained himself from speaking his mind about the matter; but finally boldly drew the attention of the crew, respectfully reminding them that they ought to have listened to his counsel before, yet not in an arrogant way, but in kindness encouraging them to take courage, for he assures them that none of their lives would be lost, though the ship would be. He speaks with fullest confidence that God had revealed this through His angel. The interest of God in that ship was mainly because of His servant being on board: that servant, Paul, must eventually stand before Caesar. Divine wisdom had ordained that this great man must hear the gospel through God's imprisoned servant. But it was added that God had given him all that sailed with him: their lives would be spared because of Paul's presence on the ship. Is there not here an indication that the ministry of Paul is a wonderful preservative for the saints of God though the outward testimony of the church is reduced to ruins?
His words to them are full of refreshing encouragement in contrast to the despair that others were so keenly feeling, for he says, "I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me." Whatever the causes of discouragement, this is the precious basis of all encouragement. However, he tells them that they would be "cast upon a certain island," a very descriptive phrase in view of what actually happened.
The ordeal continued until the fourteenth night, and it was a virtual miracle that all should survive through this. About midnight the sailors sensed that they were nearing land. Their soundings confirmed this, and fearing the possibility of shipwreck on the rocks, they threw Out four anchors. Other than in this chapter, we read of an anchor only Hebrews 6:19; but there the anchor is secured within the veil where Christ has entered. The anchor is our hope in Him, both sure and steadfast. In this case they later cut the anchors off and wrecked the ship (vs.40-41).
The sailors however lowered the lifeboat, wanting to give the impression that they were going to secure the bow of the ship by anchors, but with the intention of rowing to shore themselves. Paul discerned this and warned the centurion and soldiers that it was necessary that all must remain in the ship if they were to be saved at all. On this occasion the centurion believed Paul: experience had taught him enough for this. The soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat and the sailors had no time to board it. Typically, does this not tell us that deserting the testimony of the church is no remedy for its condition?
Day being about to break, Paul urged all on board to eat, since they had not done so for the fourteen days of violent weather. Because of troubles through which the church passes too, we neglect the feeding of our souls on the truth of the Word of God. In view of such a condition as 2nd Timothy contemplates, Paul also tells Timothy, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Tim.2:15). Let us take Paul's words to heart. He accompanies this exhortation by the assurance that God would preserve all of them, certainly a hint of the eternal security of all true believers. Before them all he then took bread and gave thanks to God. His doing this, and himself eating, encouraged them all to eat also.
The number of people on the ship is recorded here -- 276. If all the soldiers under the centurion were on board, this would be 100. Therefore there were many passengers besides, including Luke and Aristarchus as well as the prisoners and of course the sailors. When all had eaten sufficient, the remaining cargo of wheat was thrown overboard to lighten the ship.
Daylight gave them no recognition of the land to which they had been driven, and they had no idea where they were. However they found themselves near the mouth of a creek bounded by shores rather than rocky crags, a convenient place for them to run the ship aground. If the weather had been favorable they may have tried proceeding along the shore to see if they could find a landing, but they were no longer inclined to battle with the wind and waves nor to risk the danger of being wrecked on the rocks.
After so traumatic an ordeal the captain of the ship had no hesitation in beaching it. They cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Also loosening the lashings that had kept the rudders from movement and running up the foresail, they used the power of the wind to drive them as forcibly as possible toward the beach. The ship grounded in a place where two currents met and the prow stuck and remained unmoveable. The violence of the two contrary currents was directed against the stern, causing it to break up.
The cruel suggestion of the soldiers that the prisoners should be killed was forbidden by the centurion because of his regard for Paul. He gave orders that those who could swim should get to land that way, while the rest used boards or other paraphernalia of the ship to support themselves in the water. Paul's words were fulfilled in all getting safely to land.
Very soon contacting inhabitants, they found that the island was called Melita, present day Malta. The people are called "barbarous," which only means they were not Greek or Jewish -- not the cultured classes: there is nothing derogatory in the term. In fact they proved themselves most hospitable and kind, kindling a large fire to warm the shivering crowd. Paul, not averse to laboring with his hands, gathered sticks also to supply the fire. When a poisonous viper, springing out of the heat, fastened on Paul's hand, the natives expected immediate death, and supposed that he must be a murderer whom providence had decreed should die. Paul however paid no more attention to it than to shake the creature off into the fire. When it became evident that it had done no harm, then the natives went to the opposite extreme and decided that Paul was a god. This illustrates how undependable and foolish are men's superstitions.
They had disembarked near the property of the chief man of the island, his name Publius, who extended the same courteous treatment to them, lodging them for three days. If we have already seen a miracle in the protection of Paul, now we are told of the miraculous healing of the father of Publius through Paul's intercession, and the resulting interest of others also who came and were healed.
In spite of the pleasant relationships seen here, however, and the outward blessing of healing, there is no record of any conversions to the Lord Jesus, though the people honored them with many honors, supplying them with necessities that arose because of their being shipwrecked. Where they lived after leaving the hospitality of Publius we are not told. Likely there would be a large seaport town where they could find lodging, since they found another ship of Alexandria which had wintered there. But they remained three months in Malta, concerning which we are given no more history
Typically we have reached the point where the testimony of the church has been already shipwrecked. The pleasant circumstances following are surely a picture of the time in which Christianity began to be recognized in the world, when Constantine, early in the fourth century, adopted it as the state religion. Many felt this a wonderful triumph for Christianity, but it was the reverse, for this resulted in mixing worldly principles with the principles of the truth of God and unbelievers with believers, eventually so obscuring the truth as to leave souls in darkness and bondage, with men given honor instead of rightful honor being given to the blessed Lord of glory. Even Paul is given honor, but he is still a prisoner: the truth committed to him has been kept confined in spite of lip-service being given him. Significantly, the real working of the living power of the Spirit of God in souls is not mentioned in Malta.
The next ship they board is no improvement in this regard either, being also of Alexandria, and having the idolatrous insignia "Castor and Pollux." Christianity, mixing with the world, wilt certainly find itself also mixed with idolatry. Their first landing place was Syracuse (in Sicily), meaning "dragging unwillingly," indicating that not all consciences of Christians were content with being drawn downward at that time, in the direction of the world and its idolatry. They remained there three days.
Leaving Syracuse, the ship sailed in a circuitous route (for the church has certainly not always taken a straight path toward her destination) to land at Rhegium, meaning "forcing the way through," for even in the testimony of the church of God men's forceful wills have too often taken the lead, rather than the principle of faith.
From there they continued by ship to Puteoli, meaning "little mineral springs, a place of at least a little relief from the general tenor of the trip, for they found brethren there, who desired them to stay with them for seven days. Perhaps the soldiers were glad to give Paul liberty for this, since after long sea travel it would afford some respite for them before taking the foot journey to Rome. Accommodations would have to be found for the prisoners, but other passengers of the ship would no doubt have dispersed. Then we are told, "and so we went toward Rome." The statement is significant as implying the drift of the church publicly at the time here typified, gravitating toward the ritualism that characterizes the church of Rome.
Word of the coming of Paul and company had reached the brethren at Rome, who came out perhaps 30 miles to meet them, an encouragement for which Paul thanked God. Coming to Rome, the centurion allowed Paul to live outside the prison, but in the custody of a soldier, though the rest of the prisoners were committed to prison. Paul was no mere usual prisoner, as their so trusting him indicated. But the soldier was virtually a captive audience for the gospel!
Having been there only three days Paul was able to call the Jewish leaders to visit him, and explained to them the circumstances of his arrest and imprisonment. He declares his innocence as regards any infraction of Israel's law, but that the Jews of Jerusalem had delivered him to the Romans as a prisoner. The Romans, after due examination, found no charge that could be substantiated, so were inclined to release him, but the Jews being opposed, Paul had appealed to Caesar. He adds, "not that I had ought to accuse my nation of." He might have accused them of their attempt to murder him in Jerusalem, but he made no issue of this. Now, he says, he desires to speak with them in Rome because it was actually on account of the true hope of Israel that he was a prisoner.
At least their minds had not been poisoned against Paul by letter or by personal contact, but they knew that Christianity was everywhere spoken against, and were interested to inquire about it. This gave Paul an open door, and on an appointed day from morning to evening he fully explained to them the truth of the kingdom of God. Many came to his own lodging to hear him expounding from their own Old Testament scriptures, showing that in the Lord Jesus Christ all their prophecies and types are fulfilled.
Some believed. others refused, but not without the warning of Paul in the language of Isaiah 6:9-10 that they were fulfilling prophecy in rejecting the word of God sent to them for their blessing. This was refusing God the liberty of healing them. Therefore, he tells them, the gospel of God was sent to the Gentiles, who would hear it.
Verse 29 is not included in the earliest Greek manuscripts. Paul lived for two years in his own hired house, glad to receive all who would come to him. Altogether Paul was kept a prisoner 4 years without a trial! Rome's judicial processes were apparently as lax as those of present day United States law courts
Yet even under the eye of Rome, God gave Paul liberty to proclaim the kingdom of God -- so high above the boasted power of the Roman empire -- and to teach the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with fullest confidence, no man forbidding him.
The ending of the book may seem abrupt, specially with no mention of the eventual outcome of Paul's imprisonment. But God is infinitely wise in the way He presents His Word. Does it not teach us that throughout the entire history of the church Paul remains virtually a prisoner, confined in his ministry? Professing Christianity does not give him full liberty, though it shows him some respect, and we are thankful that the truth is still not bound, but available for all who desire to receive it, though it identifies us with him who calls himself "the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles" (Eph.3:1). Earth holds no satisfactory conclusion for the history of the church. This must await the coming of the Lord.