Acts Lesson Twenty-eight

Acts Lesson Twenty-eight: 13:13-52 – Paul’s Message in Antioch Pisidia

Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and went back to Jerusalem. 14 They continued their journey from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of encouragement for the people, you can speak.” 

16 Then Paul stood up and motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen! 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors, exalted the people during their stay in the land of Egypt, and led them out of it with a mighty arm.  18 And for about 40 years He put up with them  in the wilderness; 19 then after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, He gave their land to them as an inheritance. 20 This all took about 450 years. After this, He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years. 22 After removing him, He raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man loyal to Me, who will carry out all My will.’ 

23 “From this man’s descendants, according to the promise, God brought the Savior, Jesus, to Israel. 24 Before He came to public attention, John had previously proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 Then as John was completing his life’s work, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the One. But look! Someone is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie the sandals on His feet.’ 

26 “Brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 27 For the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers, since they did not recognize Him or the voices of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled their words by condemning Him. 28 Though they found no grounds for the death penalty, they asked Pilate to have Him killed. 29 When they had fulfilled all that had been written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and put Him in a tomb. 30 But God raised Him from the dead, 31 and He appeared for many days to those who came with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people. 32 And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. 33 God has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm: 

You are My Son; 

today I have become Your Father.  

34 Since He raised Him from the dead, never to return to decay, He has spoken in this way, I will grant you the faithful covenant blessings made to David. 35 Therefore He also says in another passage, You will not allow Your Holy One to see decay. 36 For David, after serving his own generation in God’s plan, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed.  37 But the One God raised up did not decay. 38 Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, 39 and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. 40 So beware that what is said in the prophets does not happen to you: 

41 Look, you scoffers, 

marvel and vanish away, 

because I am doing a work in your days, 

a work that you will never believe, 

even if someone were to explain it to you.”

42 As they were leaving, the people begged that these matters be presented to them the following Sabbath. 43 After the synagogue had been dismissed, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and persuading them to continue in the grace of God. 

44 The following Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the message of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to oppose what Paul was saying by insulting him. 

46 Then Paul and Barnabas boldly said: “It was necessary that God’s message be spoken to you first. But since you reject it and consider yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles! 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: 

I have made you 

a light for the Gentiles 

to bring salvation 

to the ends  of the earth.”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and glorified the message of the Lord, and all who had been appointed to eternal life believed. 49 So the message of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the prominent women, who worshiped God, and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district. 51 But they shook the dust off their feet  against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. (HCSB)

In this passage, we see Paul’s first detailed sermon in Acts. In it, we see many similarities with Peter’s sermons to the Jews. It also contains a feature that Stephen included in his defense before the Sanhedrin, a lengthy introduction of Jewish history. Later, when Paul focuses on the Gentiles, his sermon outline will change.

There are four main sections to this passage.

  • A Historical Foundation – verses 13-25.
  • A Universal Gospel – verses 26-37.
  • An Explanation of Biblical Forgiveness – verses 38-43.
  • Paul’s Evangelism Shift from Jews to Gentiles –  verses 44-52.

Before we get into the passage, let’s look at some information regarding the two main locations where the events take place, the cities of Perga and Antioch of Pisidia.

  • Perga
    • It was located about twelve miles inland from the coast.
    • It was between the Taurus mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.
    • Lycia was to the west and Cilicia to the east.
    • The province of Pamphylia became a separate Roman province in 25 b.c.
    • It could be reached by traveling seven miles up the Cestrus River from the Mediterranean port of Attalia and then fives miles west on foot.
  • Antioch of Pisidia
    • It was located 100 miles north of Perga.
    • It required the crossing of the Taurus mountain range.
    • The route was barren and often was flooded by mountain streams.
    • Bandits often attacked the route, and even the Romans had difficulty keeping security along the route.
    • It was located about 3,600 feet above sea level.
    • It was one of sixteen cities established around 300 b.c. by Seleucus Nikator in honor of his father, Antiochus.
    • It was located in the Roman province of Galatia.
    • It was the leading city in the southern part of the province.
    • It had the status of a colony city, which enjoyed the privileges of local autonomy and exemption from paying imperial taxes.
    • There was a large Jewish population located there.

One other issue brought up in the first verse needs addressing, John Mark leaving them and returning to Jerusalem. There are many possible reasons for his return. Here are some that scholars think are possible.

  • He may have become homesick.
  • He may have become unhappy because Paul had assumed the mantle of leadership that his cousin, Barnabas, had previously occupied.
  • John Mark was a devoted Jew, and he may have become uncomfortable with the idea of Gentiles receiving salvation. Coupled with this thought, his return to Jerusalem helped fuel the opposition of the legalistic Judaizers who later opposed Paul.
  • The fear of danger as the group moved into new and challenging areas.
  • He may have contracted malaria in the Pamphylian lowlands.
  • In the end, we don’t know the reason or reasons.

A Historical Foundation – verses 13-25

It was customary for Paul and Barnabas first to visit the local synagogue when visiting a city. For the Jews scattered during the Diaspora, the synagogue was more than a place of worship. It was the focal point for the local Jewish community; a house of worship, a center of education, a judicial center, a social gathering place, and a general “civic center.” If contact with the Jewish community was intended, this was the place to start. It was also the place to begin evangelism. Since Jesus was the expected Jewish Messiah, it was natural to share Him first with the Jews. It is also possible that the synagogue leaders extended an invitation for Paul to speak.

Let’s compare Paul’s sermon with others found in Acts.

  • It has much in common with Peter’s sermons.
    • The emphasis on the Jerusalem Jew’s responsibility for Jesus’ death.
    • The contrast between the death on the cross and the triumph of the resurrection.
    • The apostolic witness.
    • The Scripture text proofs.
    • The call to repentance.
  • It also has a feature in common with Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin.
    • The long introductory picture of Jewish history.
    • However, the two have very different functions for the history lesson.
      • Stephen used Old Testament history to illustrate the rebellious nature of the Jews to their divinely appointed leaders.
      • Paul used Old Testament history to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to His promises for Israel that were ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.
        • God chose Israel – verse 17.
        • God exalted Israel during their time in Egypt – verse 17.
        • God led them out of Egypt – verse 17.
        • God displayed patience – verse 18.
        • God gave them Canaan as an inheritance – verse 19.
        • God gave them Judges – verse 20.
        • God gave them a king – verse 21.
        • God raised up David – verse 22.
          • “Raised up” is an expression for bringing forth a prophet or ruler to serve the people.
          • It is also an expression for Jesus’ resurrection.
          • The promised descendant of David was Jesus.

Here are some facts to note about the sermon.

  • Paul understood there were two main groups in attendance.
    • Men of Israel – the Jews.
      • The primary group being addressed.
      • The group who ultimately rejected the message and became hostile.
    • You who fear God – Gentiles who worshipped Yahweh.
      • The secondary group who is being addressed.
      • The group that would respond favorably to the Gospel message.

A Universal Gospel – verses 26-37

For the second time in Paul’s sermon, he addressed those in attendance as “brothers.” Since both Jews and Gentiles were gathered, it is clear that anyone is a brother if they are united in faith in Jesus regardless of ethnicity. 

A supporting idea to this section of the passage is that just as David was Jesse’s son, Jesus is God’s son. Because of this connection, Paul’s message stresses the crucifixion, resurrection, and eyewitness testimony of Jesus being alive to confirm the truth and meaning of the Gospel. Paul presents a fourfold Christian confession that is strikingly similar to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.

  • Jesus was crucified.
  • He was buried in a tomb.
  • God raised Him from the dead.
  • Many witness saw Him.

Paul quotes three passages of Scripture in this section.

  • Psalm 2:7 – referring to the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Isaiah 55:3 – referring to the covenant God made with David.
  • Psalm 16:10 – the same passage Peter quoted in Acts 2 and considered a messianic psalm, indicating it applied to Jesus and not to David.

An Explanation of Biblical Forgiveness – verses 38-43

For the third time, Paul addresses those in attendance as “brothers.” He now turns to the most essential part of his message, a call to repentance. Paul had illustrated God’s continuous acts of grace and mercy throughout his sermon. Now, Paul directs the listeners to the greatest act of mercy, the forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial atonement of Jesus. In verse thirty-nine, Paul reaches the pinnacle of his message, “everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the Law of Moses.” 

Several points to note about this section.

  • Paul emphasizes that faith in Jesus is the sole requirement for salvation.
  • We are justified when we place our faith in Jesus. Justification is understood as being acceptable to God.
  • We could never be justified by following the Law.
  • Paul concludes his call to repentance with a warning taken from Habakkuk 1:5.
    • The original intent in Habakkuk was a warning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s rise to power and threat of invasion if Israel failed to repent.
    • In the context of Paul’s message, God would again bring judgment on His people if they failed to accept the mercy and forgiveness found in Jesus.
    • If the people continued to reject the offered mercy, they would also be rejected.
    • This warning quickly proved true as the Jews in Antioch Pisidia rejected the message, and Paul turned to the Gentiles.

This section concludes with the people leaving after Paul completed his sermon. Those in attendance were impressed with what Paul had said and “begged” for the message to continue on the next Sabbath meeting. As they were walking, both Paul and Barnabas encouraged them to continue down the path they had started. At this point, it would appear that both the Jews and Gentiles were looking forward to the following week’s meeting. However, things will change significantly once the meeting begins on the next Sabbath.

Paul’s Evangelism Shift from Jews to Gentiles –  verses 44-52

As we begin the discussion on this final section, it is important to remember that Antioch Pisidia was a predominately Gentile city with a Jewish component. When verse forty-four says that “almost the whole town assembled,” that would indicate the crowd was predominately Gentile. Because of this, the Jews in attendance became jealous. We see here how the unity in Christ is challenged and that a rift will cause a group, the Jews, to reject the message because of a jealous heart. We also see how the enemy works. The previous week, Paul and Barnabas enjoyed great success in their message. Now, as they gathered again, hopeful of more souls being saved, the enemy crashes the party and sows dissension among those in attendance. 

Let’s look at some details in this section.

  • The “devout proselytes,” Gentiles, understood that the message of salvation through Jesus was also available to them.
  • This message would have spread quickly among the Gentile population, resulting in their large turnout on this Sabbath.
  • The Jews were filled with jealousy. 
  • The Jews began to oppose the message Paul was delivering. It is possible they were even speaking against the Gospel message.
  • In the minds of the Jewish population, it was blasphemy that in Jesus, God would accept the Gentiles as equals with the Jews.
  • This effectively ended the Jew’s acceptance of Paul as an evangelist.

Verses 46-48 outline a pattern that Paul would follow on his missionary journeys. We often hear or read that Paul only evangelized the Gentiles, but this would be incorrect.

  • At the very beginning of chapter fourteen, Paul begins in the local synagogue.
  • He repeatedly was rejected by the Jews in any given city. Once that occurred, he turned to the Gentiles.
  • Paul could never believe that God had completely turned from the Jews.
  • Paul’s greatest success in evangelism was with the Gentiles, but he never turned his back on the Jews.
  • Paul includes a section from Isaiah to support salvation to the Gentiles.
  • When the Gentiles heard this, they rightly rejoiced.
  • From this, we see an example of how the modern church should approach evangelism. We should never adopt a mission policy that only targets those who are most receptive to the Gospel message. All people groups should be evangelized, regardless of the previous success or failure in reaching them.

The chapter ends with a summary of what had transpired in Antioch Pisidia.

  • The success.
    • The message spread throughout the whole region.
    • The Gentiles understood that they were included in salvation by faith.
    • The Gentiles were equal with the Jews before God.
    • Those who placed their faith in Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy.
  • The opposition.
    • The Jews, in their jealousy, stirred up opposition and persecution against Paul and Barnabas.
    • Paul and Barnabas were expelled from the  area, likely with threats.
    • Paul and Barnabas pronounce judgment by shaking “the dust off their feet against them” as they leave the region and travel to Iconium.

Applications

  • Are you willing to share the Gospel where God leads you? This past week I gave a message at a Word of Life high school camp here in South Korea. The message was on the topic of “Grow” as it applied to the life of each disciple. I shared that all of us are either missionaries in some sense, or we are false followers of Jesus. The crux is that we can be missionaries to our neighbors next door; we don’t have to go to another country. Of course, if God leads you to another location, obedience is required.
  • The Gospel message is for everyone. There are no longer any special groups of people when it comes to sharing the message of Jesus. Jesus died for each of us, regardless of race, color, gender, socio-economic status, education, or age.
  • If a group rejects your message, concentrate on those who do respond. However, never give up on a group just because some choose to reject or even become hostile to the message.

Acts Lesson Twenty-seven

Acts Lesson Twenty-seven: Acts 13:1-12 – Missionary Work Begins

In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch,  and Saul. 

As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.”  Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

Being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they came down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Arriving in Salamis, they proclaimed God’s message in the Jewish synagogues. They also had John as their assistant. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and desired to hear God’s message. But Elymas the sorcerer (this is the meaning of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 

Then Saul—also called Paul—filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at the sorcerer 10 and said, “You son of the Devil, full of all deceit and all fraud, enemy of all righteousness! Won’t you ever stop perverting the straight paths of the Lord? 11 Now, look! The Lord’s hand is against you. You are going to be blind, and will not see the sun for a time.” Suddenly a mist and darkness fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 

12 Then the proconsul, seeing what happened, believed and was astonished at the teaching about the Lord. (HCSB)

This lesson will be split into two sections.

  • Missionary preparation – verses 1-3.
  • Missionary journey – verses 4-12.

Missionary Preparation

As the narrative in Acts has progressed, there has been a shift from Jerusalem and the Jews to Antioch and the Gentiles. As a reminder, the Antioch referred to here is along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and not in Syria. A few things to note from these first few verses.

  • Prophet – this is a reference to a New Testament prophet. These prophets spoke for God and were led by the Holy Spirit. They spoke an inspiring word from God for the edification and direction of the community.
  • Teachers – these individuals taught what was contained in Scripture (still Old Testament) and what Jesus taught.
  • The New Testament program for the sending of missionaries.
    • God calls those whom He chooses.
    • The church certifies the call.
    • The church and the Holy Spirit sent the missionaries out, backing them with support and prayer.

Let’s look at the men listed in verse one.

  • Barnabas – We already know about Barnabas from earlier sections of Acts. It appears that he was the leader of the Antioch church.
  • Simeon the Niger – His first name is Jewish, and his other name is Latin. In Latin, “Niger” means dark-complexioned or black, and some believe he was of African descent. Some also believe he was the Simon of Cyrene, mentioned in Luke 23:26, who carried Jesus’ cross, and he had two sons, Alexandria and Rufus, who were Christians in the church at Rome (Mark 15:21 and Romans 16:13).
  • Lucius of Cyrene – He is often associated with Luke amongst scholars, but no solid evidence supports this.
  • Manaen – The Greek term for “close friend” indicates someone who grew up with another individual. This indicates that Manaen was of a relatively high social standing and had at least a childhood relationship with Herod Antipas.
  • Paul – We already know about Paul, and from this point forward, he becomes the main human focal point in Acts.

A couple of things to note about Barnabas and Paul.

  • Throughout Acts, they fell under the authority of the congregation at Antioch. 
  • They were commissioned, not ordained, for specific missionary projects.

Missionary Journey

Before we begin breaking down this next section, it would be wise to review what Jesus said in Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43. In those passages, Jesus warns that wherever His believers are, the enemy would plant false believers. We see that occur in this section of the passage.

A few facts about John Mark before proceeding.

  • He was the cousin of Barnabas – Colossians 4:10.
  • His mother’s home in Jerusalem was a place where believers gathered – Acts 12:12.
  • It is likely that Peter is the one who evangelized and led him to faith in Christ – 1 Peter 5:13.
  • It is safe to infer that he helped both Barnabas and Paul in numerous ways, allowing them to concentrate on their call to evangelism.

The first stop on their journey was Cyprus, the home of Barnabas. Not much detail is given about their initial work in Salamis, the main commercial center on the eastern part of the island. As they continued their missionary journey, they traveled about ninety miles to Paphos, located on the western end of the island and the capital of Cyprus. It was there that they met their first opposition.

Now, let’s look at the people, outside of Barnabas and Paul, involved in the narrative.

  • Sergius Paulus.
    • The chief Roman official on Cyprus.
    • He was an intelligent man.
    • He was part of a family, Pauli, that was an influential Roman patrician family who produced many officials throughout the Roman empire over an extended period of time.
    • He desired to learn more about God from Barnabas and Paul.
  • Bar-Jesus.
    • His name means “son of Jesus.”
    • He was also called Elymas, which means either sorcerer or wise man. 
      • The same word is used in a positive light for the magi in Matthew 2.
      • However, it was often used to describe someone who was a charlatan, trickster, or falsely claimed to have special powers. 
    • Finding a Jew who was both a false prophet and sorcerer was unusual, as the Jews traditionally were not involved in sorcery.

Roman belief system on mystical powers and Bar-Jesus’ influence on Sergius Paulus.

  • They placed great stock in powers of divination.
  • They often had their personal oracles.
  • Charlatans were highly skilled and smooth in their trickery.
    • They were knowledgeable about the beliefs of their targets.
    • They practiced a form of pseudoscience.
  • Bar-Jesus’ credentials aided him.
    • The Jews had a high reputation among Romans for their depth of religious knowledge.
    • Josephus, in his writings, mentioned a number of Jewish sorcerers who experienced great success among the Gentiles.
  • Bar-Jesus likely offered his services to Sergius. It is likely that the agreement was lucrative for Bar-Jesus. In a way, this is similar to the events of Acts 8 and Simon, with the major difference being that Simon duped a large number of people while earning his false wages.
  • Bar-Jesus sees Barnabas and Paul as a serious threat to the arrangement he has with Sergius.

Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit, then goes on the offensive against the false teacher.

  • He calls him the “enemy of all righteousness.”
    • Righteousness is a primary attribute of God throughout the Bible.
    • Elymas had positioned himself as an enemy of God.
    • He was filled with deceit and fraud.
    • He had deceived Sergius with his false claims.
    • Now, he was attempting to undermine the message of the Gospel.
  • In Acts, punishment could come immediately or after a period of time. Here, the punishment was swift.
    • Paul declares that the “Lord’s hand is against you.”
    • Paul declares that Elymas will be blind for an unspecified period of time.
      • Paul experienced blindness as a sign of the Lord’s presence in his conversion experience.
      • Elymas was struck blind as punishment.
      • Some scholars believe that Paul used blindness as a way to lead Elymas to conversion.
      • Others believe that the blindness was symbolic of Elymas’s spiritual state.
    • The blindness immediately strikes Elymas. From this point on, he needed assistance to move about.
    • We don’t know how long it lasted or whether it had any effect on Elymas, as he is never mentioned again.
    • The effect of the incident also had an immediate impact on Sergius.
      • The fact that Paul made a declaration and it immediately happened made a profound impact on Sergius.
      • He was also impacted by the teaching of Barnabas and Paul about Jesus.
      • Looking back on Acts, we see similar events occurring.
        • The healing of the lame beggar in Acts brings the crowds to the Apostles.
        • The teaching of Peter resulted in conversions in Acts 4.
    • This single event is the main point of the Cyprus narrative.
      • No other conversions are mentioned, although it is safe to believe there were other conversions.
      • Luke details one major conversion, a prominent Roman official.

Two last points to note about this narrative. This is the official point where Saul becomes Paul. Saul was preferred when dealing with the Jews. But now that the emphasis has switched to the Gentiles, his Roman name will be more helpful. Second, up until now, it has been “Barnabas and Paul.” Now, it switches to “Paul and Barnabas.” Later, it will be “Paul and his companions.” The shift in leadership for missions to the Gentiles was complete.

Applications

  • In your personal ministry endeavors, are you following the lead of the Holy Spirit, or are you “doing your own thing?” Over and over in the gospels and Acts, we see ministry success that aligns with God’s plan and the power of the Spirit. Outside of that, results do not last or don’t even occur.
  • Do you counter false teaching? This can occur either inside or outside of your church. We see Paul quickly going on the offensive against the false teaching of Elymas. We may not experience the exact same situation. It is more likely we may encounter subtle deviations from Scriptural truth. Regardless, deviations from the truth must be countered with the truth.
  • Are you ready to share the Gospel at any given moment or under any circumstances? Conversions can occur with either signs or teaching. We have no control over miracles other than praying for them. Still, we can make sure that our theological understanding of Scripture and the Gospel is firm, allowing us to teach in any given situation. 

Acts Lesson Twenty-six

Acts Lesson Twenty-six: Acts 12:20-25 – God’s Wrath and Power

20 He had been very angry with the Tyrians and Sidonians. Together they presented themselves before him. They won over Blastus, who was in charge of the king’s bedroom, and through him they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food from the king’s country. 21 So on an appointed day, dressed in royal robes and seated on the throne, Herod delivered a public address to them. 22 The assembled people began to shout, “It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he became infected with worms and died.  24 Then God’s message flourished and multiplied. 25 After they had completed their relief mission, Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem, taking along John who is called Mark. (HCSB)

The narrative in this lesson can be divided into two parts.

  • The Power of God’s Wrath – verses 20-23.
  • The Power of God’s Hand – verse 24-25.

The Power of God’s Wrath

As we take a look at this section of the passage, let’s look at the background of Tyre and Sidon to understand their significance to this passage.

  • The relationship between Tyre, Sidon, and Israel goes back to the days of King Solomon as found in 1 Kings 5:9ff.
  • They depended on Israel for food – Ezra 3:7.

Now let’s look at the events in the passage since we understand the background between the parties in question.

  • In some manner, both Tyre and Sidon had angered King Herod. 
  • They were in danger of losing the support and assistance they had been accustomed to from the Jews.
  • In typical political maneuvering, they enlisted one of King Herod’s trusted servants, Blastus, to obtain a chance to plead their case before the king.
  • This meeting would serve a dual purpose.
    • It would enable the king to display his authority and glory.
    • It would enable the delegates from Tyre and Sidon to stroke his ego with flattery.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, provides much greater detail about the meeting.

  • The meeting took place during a festival honoring Claudius Caesar.
  • Herod wore a magnificent silver robe that glistened in the morning sun in honor of the occasion.
  • Because of the sun shining off the robe, the people began to shout, “the voice of a god and not of a man.” Josephus also recorded that the people responded that Herod was more than a mortal.
  • Herod neither affirmed nor denied the accolades from the crowd.
  • Then, looking up, Herod saw an owl.
    • Earlier in his life, when imprisoned in Rome, Herod had seen a vision of an owl and was told by a fellow prisoner that it was a sign of good news.
    • This proved true as he was subsequently released and installed as king in Israel.
    • However, the prisoner also told him that if he saw a vision of an owl a second time, he would only have five days to live.
  • Because Herod accepted the accolades and didn’t give God the glory, an angel of the Lord struck him with an affliction.
  • Herod was then taken to his residence and died five days later.

There is no discrepancy between Luke’s account of being struck at once with an affliction and Herod dying five days later. The angel of the Lord did strike Herod immediately, but the resulting death occurred five days later. One can imagine that Herod suffered for those five days before finally dying.

From this narrative, we can see several points that directly connect to the world we live in today.

  • The Tyrians and Sidonians were only concerned about obtaining food.
  • However, in the quest to obtain the food, they were willing to flatter the ego of a megalomaniac.
  • In this narrative, King Herod is a form of the future “man of sin” who will some day rule the world and persecute God’s people. The antichrist will make himself a god and demand all worship him.
  • Today’s world lives for praise and pleasure. Today’s world lives for the physical and ignores the spiritual. It lives by force and flattery instead of faith and truth.

The Power of God’s Hand

Although this section is only two verses long, but it presents a simple and strong message.

  • The spread of the Gospel message flourished and multiplied. In various places, Luke gives progress reports on the advancement of the Gospel and the state of the church.
    • Acts 6:7
    • Acts 9:31
    • Acts 12:24
    • Acts 16:5
    • Acts 19:20
    • Acts 28:31
    • From its humble beginnings in Jerusalem, the church will spread throughout the known world.
  • At the beginning of Acts 12, it appeared as if Herod was in control. James was executed, and Peter was in prison awaiting execution. By the end of Acts 12, Herod is dead, and the church is very much alive and growing.
  • The secret to the early church was prayer.

Acts 12 concludes with the return of Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark. Some things to note about this verse.

  • It likely occurred a couple of years after the death of Herod.
  • This would agree with the dating of the famine requiring the relief mission by Barnabas and Paul.
  • Evangelism to Judea and Samaria was now well established.
  • The message to the Gentiles had been spearheaded by Philip, Peter, and the church at Antioch.
  • Now, the focus will shift to Paul as he takes the Gospel to the Gentiles and the “ends of the earth.”

Applications

  • Do you focus on the temporal or the eternal? In the case of the Tyrians and Sidonians, the focus was on temporal to the point that they elevated a man to the status of an idol in place of God. This was an indication of faith, or lack of, in not trusting their needs would be provided. 
  • Do you elevate a person to an unhealthy status in your mind? We all have our favorite athletes, singers, actors, etc., but when we put them on a pedestal, we display an unhealthy attitude towards them. Our equality with the most famous or powerful person will be proven when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
  • How do spiritual storms affect you? Regardless of the trials or tribulations that we face, we need to stand firm in the calling God has placed on each of our lives. It isn’t easy, but as a follower of Jesus, that is the path we need to follow.

Acts Lesson Twenty-five

Acts Lesson Twenty-five: Acts 12:1-19 – Persecution Intensifies

About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread. After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church. 

On the night before Herod was to bring him out for execution, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord  appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” Then the chains fell off his wrists. “Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did so. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what took place through the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they passed the first and second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went outside and passed one street, and immediately the angel left him. 

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. 13 He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway. 

15 “You’re crazy!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel!” 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. 

17 Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. “Report these things to James and the brothers,” he said. Then he departed and went to a different place. 

18 At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19 After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. (HCSB)

In this passage, two significant things occur. 

  • First, the persecution against the church reaches a new level of intensity. 
  • Second, the transition from Peter and the Apostles being the main participants to Paul in the remainder of Acts occurs. 

The passage itself contains two storylines. 

  • The first is the martyrdom of James.
  • The second is the arrest and subsequent miraculous escape of Peter.

James is Martyred – verses 1-5.

Before we get into the passage itself, let’s have a detailed look at the main protagonist in this narrative, King Herod. Here are details about King Herod, which should shed additional light on the events in this passage.

  • This is Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great.
    • The Herods were Edomites, descendants of Esau.
      • In a sense, we see Esau persecuting Jacob once again.
      • James is another form of the name Jacob.
    • The picture here is a time of tribulation the Jews will endure in the last days.
      • In Matthew 20:20-23, James and John were promised a baptism of suffering.
      • James was the first of the Apostles to be martyred.
      • John was the last to die and lived a life of suffering.
  • He was the nephew of Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist beheaded.
  • The family was despised by the Jews, who resented having Edomites rule over them.
  • Herod the Great had Agrippa’s father, Aristobulus, executed because Herod the Great feared an assassination attempt.
  • Herod the Great then had Agrippa, and his mother sent to Rome, where he could grow up and be educated along with the children of Roman aristocracy.
    • The friendships he developed during this time eventually led to his ruling over a swath of the Jewish kingdom nearly as large as the one Herod the Great ruled.
    • In 37 A.D., the emperor Caligula gave him the title of king.
      • He initially ruled over the lands of the Transjordan and the Ten Cities (Decapolis) north of Galilee.
      • In 39 A.D., his area of rule was expanded to include Galilee and Perea, areas formerly under the control of his uncle, Antipas, who had been sent into exile.
      • In 41 A.D., his former classmate, Claudius, now installed as the emperor, gave his control of Judea and Samaria.
      • He was now “king of the Jews” as he ruled over all of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and the Decapolis.
  • Much, if not all, of his good fortune, was due to his friendships with Caligula and Claudius.
  • Because of the fact that the Herod family descended from the Edomites, the general population hated them, which drove Agrippa to try and gain favor with the Jews by doing them “favors.”
  • The events in this passage likely took place in the spring of 42 or 43 A.D., at the height of his power and influence.

In verse two, we read that Agrippa had James killed with the sword. Although it is not necessary for understanding the passage, we don’t know which method, Roman or Jewish, was used to kill James.

  • Roman method – beheading.
  • Jewish method – because Jewish customs forbade beheading as a desecration to the body, they would thrust the sword through the body.
  • Because Agrippa would be concerned with gaining favor with the Jews, it would seem more likely that the Jewish method would be preferred.

Since Agrippa saw that he, indeed, did gain favor with the Jews for the execution of James, he decided to arrest the ringleader, Peter, as the next person to be tried, convicted, and executed. However, because he didn’t want to offend anyone, he decided to postpone the trial until after the Passover festival was complete, as a guilty verdict and subsequent execution during Passover would be considered a desecration.

Assigning four squads of four soldiers to each squad was standard Roman practice. This would involve changing the guard every three hours throughout the twelve hours of the night to ensure that alertness was maintained. Looking ahead to verse six, we also read that Peter was bound with two chains. It’s possible, given historical records, that Peter was chained to the guards. Why would Agrippa use such a large contingent for a peaceful prisoner? It was probably likely that the Sanhedrin had informed Agrippa of Peter’s previous Houdini-like escape, and he didn’t want a repeat performance.

We also see the spiritual characteristics of the church on display during Peter’s imprisonment. They were earnestly praying for him during this time. This is a lesson for all of us, regardless of the trials or difficulties we may be going through. Bring it before the Lord in humble supplication. Often, that is the only thing we are able to do, but at the same time, the most effective.

We could ask one question before moving on to discuss the deliverance of Peter. Why was James allowed to be martyred, and Peter was rescued? Both were faithful servants of God and needed by the church. The only answer is the sovereign will of God. This was the very thing that the church prayed about after their experience with persecution in Acts 4:24-30. Herod had attempted to “stretch forth” his hand to destroy the church in Acts 4, but God stretched forth His hand to perform signs and wonders and to glorify Jesus, Acts 4:28-30. God allowed James to be killed but kept Peter from harm. Almighty God was in control, not any person.

The Rescue of Peter – verses 6-19.

Possibly the most striking statement in this passage is found in verse six, “Peter…was sleeping.” 

How could Peter possibly be sleeping when he knew the next day he was to be executed?

  • The prayers of the church surely provided comfort to him. They were praying day and night for about a week.
  • Faith in the Word of God and Jesus’ promises were the key.
    • Let’s review what Jesus told Peter in John 21:18-19.
      • Peter would not die until he was older.
      • Peter would die by crucifixion, not by the sword.
    • Peter’s faith in what Jesus told him allowed him to be at peace and understand that against all odds, he would not die at this time.
  • We should all ask ourselves if we have the same sense of peace as we face the trials, almost certainly not a threat of execution, in our lives. How we act reflects the level of faith we have in God.

In verses seven to eleven, we see Peter obeying what the angel told him to do. At first, Peter thought he was having a dream, and the events were not real. It wasn’t until after they passed through two sets of guard posts and the gate leading to the city, passed the first street, and the angel left him, that Peter finally realized that this wasn’t a dream, he was free! He proclaims that the Lord sent the angel to rescue him from the clutches of the enemy. He then makes his way to the house where the believers had gathered in prayer for him during the Passover festival. 

This was a sensible choice for two reasons. First, surely Peter understood that the prayers of the saints were heard in heaven and directly contributed to his release. Second, he wanted to let them know their prayers were heard and answered. There are four points connected to the prayers of the believers.

  • Many people were involved in praying.
  • They were praying earnestly.
  • They prayed day and night for about a week.
  • They prayed specifically for Peter’s release.

The scene at Mary’s house is almost comical. Peter knocks on the door; a servant named Rhoda recognizes his voice but is so overwhelmed with joy that instead of opening the door, she runs and tells the others that Peter is at their door. Their response indicates a couple of things.

  • A lack of faith in the power of their prayers.
    • They had prayed for about a week for Peter’s release.
    • Peter was now knocking on the door, but they didn’t believe it was him.
  • Their belief in angels.
    • The Jews believed in guardian angels.
      • Matthew 18:10.
      • Hebrews 1:14.
    • Each person had a guardian angel as their spiritual counterpart.
      • They believed that the angel appeared immediately after the person’s death.
      • This is why they responded to Rhoda with the phrase, “It’s his angel.”

Verse seventeen has three components.

  • Peter gives them the details of his miraculous deliverance.
  • He tells them to report what had happened to James and the brothers.
  • He departs from them and goes to “a different place.”
    • He could have done this for two reasons.
      • To avoid the likely wrath of Agrippa.
      • To prevent the gathered believers from being connected to his escape.
    • We don’t know where the “different place” was located.
      • It could have been a safer place in Jerusalem.
      • It could have been a location outside the city.

The narrative now switches from the events surrounding Peter to the consequences of his escape.

  • When the guards woke up, Peter was gone, but there was no indication of how his escape occurred.
  • A search was made to find Peter, but it was not successful.
  • Herod then had the guards interrogated to find out how Peter escaped. 
    • One has to wonder whether Peter’s previous escapes had entered Agrippa’s thoughts.
    • Agrippa’s plan to curry additional favor with the Jews had now come undone.
  • We also see evidence of Roman law coming into play.
    • A guard that allowed a prisoner to escape was subject to the same penalty the escapee would have suffered.
    • The fate that befalls the guards leaves little doubt that Agrippa had intended to execute Peter.
  • With his plan unraveled, Agrippa now makes his way back to his residence in Caesarea, likely embarrassed and in a foul mood.

Applications

  • Believers are to pray. Although Peter’s situation appeared grim, there was a large group of believers who gathered to pray for about a week for his release. The same is expected of us. No matter how dark the situation may appear, we are to bring our prayers before God. We see once again in this passage that the early church was a church of prayer, a model that should be part of every New Testament church.
  • Believers are to have peace regardless of the circumstances, trusting that God is in control and He will work according to His sovereign plan for the good of all. If we are absorbed with feelings of anxiety or worry, it indicates that we don’t trust God. Rest in the assurance of His Word. Jesus said He would never leave us nor forsake us. Do you believe that?
  • No matter how others hurt us, actual or intended, remember that it isn’t our place to retaliate. God will bring judgment in His time according to His plan. We’ll read in the next section that Agrippa met a swift end after his failed attempt to execute Peter. We are to follow Jesus and leave judgment to the Lord.

Acts Lesson Twenty-four

Acts Lesson Twenty-four: Acts 11:19-30 – The Church in Antioch

19 Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 Then the report about them was heard by the church that was at Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And large numbers of people were added  to the Lord. 25 Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, 26 and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. 

27 In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the time of Claudius. 29 So each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea. 30 They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul. (HCSB)

I’ll split this lesson into two parts.

  • The church at Antioch – verses 19-26.
  • The Gentiles provide aid to the church at Jerusalem – verses 27-30.

The Church at Antioch

Before we dig into this passage, let’s take a look at the city of Antioch, the focus of the first part of the passage. Here are some facts, historical and cultural, that are pertinent to the understanding of the passage.

  • Founded in 300 b.c. by the first Seleucid ruler, Seleucus Nicator.
  • The population was approximately 500,000 people.
  • There was a sizable Jewish population, estimated between 25,000 and 50,000 people.
  • It was the third-largest city in the Roman Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria.
  • It was known as “Antioch the Golden, Queen of the East.”
  • It was a planned city, laid out in a grid pattern.
  • Its main street was over four miles long.
    • Paved with marble.
    • Lined on both sides by marble colonnades.
    • It was the only city in the ancient world at the time that had its streets lighted at night.
  • It had a busy port.
  • It was a center for luxury and culture.
  • It attracted a multitude of different people, including wealthy retired Roman officials.
  • It was a wicked city.
    • Possibly only Corinth was worse.
    • Greek, Roman, and Syrian deities were honored.
    • The local shrine was dedicated to Daphne, whose worship included immoral practices.
  • Despite all the challenges, it presented an exciting opportunity for evangelism.

The persecution that the early church faced, in this passage linked to Stephen, we see that instead of suppressing the advance of the Gospel, it actually enhanced its spread. The believers who were spread across the region weren’t shy or restrained in speaking about Jesus. This opportunity for evangelism led to “a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” 

The news of the large numbers of converts made its way back to the main church in Jerusalem and its leaders. They understood and accepted their responsibility to lead and shepherd the flock, wherever they might be scattered. In this case, it was the church at Antioch. The Jerusalem church commissioned Barnabas to go to Antioch and oversee the believers living there. If we remember back to the lesson that covered Acts 4:36, we’ll recall that Barnabas was nicknamed “son of encouragement,” the perfect choice to encourage and shepherd this new congregation.

How did Barnabas encourage this new church?

  • He was glad about what he saw. Whether or not they worshipped in the same way as the church in Jerusalem isn’t known, nor is it relevant. What Barnabas did see was a group of believers who were genuine in their love and worship of God.
  • He emphasized their “heart condition” as he taught them. To remain “true to the Lord” includes the following:
    • Loving God.
    • Walking as He walks.
    • Obeying what is contained in His Word.
    • Selflessly serving Him.

What were the results of Barnabas’ shepherding efforts?

  • The evangelism and witness of the believers made a significant impact in the city of Antioch.
    • Large numbers of people were added to the Lord.
    • When believers are firmly rooted in the Word, their witness will have an impact. Each church needs to have balance.
      • Between edification and evangelism.
      • Between worship and witness.
      • Between teaching and testifying.
  • The growth of the church meant that Barnabas needed help in shepherding the flock.
    • However, he needed someone to help with a Gentile congregation.
    • Barnabas immediately thought of Paul.
      • We recall that Barnabas had befriended Paul in Acts 9.
      • Barnabas knew about Paul’s commission to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15.
      • We can safely conclude that the two discussed Paul’s calling to the Gentiles on numerous occasions during their time together.
    • About ten years had passed from the point Paul had been converted to the time Barnabas brought him back to Antioch. Scripture doesn’t tell us precisely what he was doing, but we can infer some events.
      • He was likely evangelizing both Jews and Gentiles.
      • He may have founded the churches in Cilicia during this time; Acts 15:23, 41 and Galatians 1:21.
      • He may have experienced some of the sufferings listed in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.

What we see Barnabas do is something all churches should do. Leaders and mature believers placing newer/less mature believers in positions of serving. This enables them to grow in their maturity and take on more significant roles in the future. Instead of the pastor/elder or deacons doing the work in the church, it is the responsibility of each member to contribute to their local congregation.

The first section of this week’s passage includes the term “Christian.” This term is found in only three places in the New Testament.

  • Here in Acts 11:26.
  • Acts 26:28.
  • 1 Peter 4:16.

Some things to note about the term “Christian.”

  • The term was not originally used by Christians to describe themselves. They preferred other names.
    • Believer.
    • Disciple.
    • Brother/sister.
  • The first extensive use of the term by a Christian writer was by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, around the beginning of the second century.
  • It was actually made as a derisive label, combining two words.
    • The Latin suffix “ian” means “belonging to the party of.” 
    • Some of the pagan citizens of Antioch joined this with the Hebrew name “Christ” and came up with Christian.
  • The use of the new label would indicate a third group apart from Jews and Gentiles. 
  • This indicates that Christians were no longer viewed as a segment of Judaism. Instead, they had now become a distinct and separate group in the region.
  • This presented two problems.
    • Christians would lose the protection Rome gave to a religio licita or a legitimate and legally recognized religion. While under the umbrella of Judaism, they enjoyed this protection. Now, it had been removed.
    • How should Christians view the hope of Israel and the promises of Jewish Scripture?
    • These two problems would loom over them as the Christian mission moved increasingly onto Gentile soil.
  • The term itself has lost most of its meaning to those who allegedly are followers of Jesus.
    • It no longer means that a person has turned from sin and trusted in Jesus.
    • It no longer means that they’ve received salvation by grace.
    • Many call themselves Christians:
      • Even though they’ve never been born again.
      • Because they don’t view themselves as pagans.
      • Because they were born into a Christian family.
      • Because they attend church.
      • Because they volunteer at church.
      • Because they give to the church.
    • The only authentic way to become a Christian is to repent from sin and place your faith in Jesus.

Gentiles Provide Aid to the Church in Jerusalem

Let’s look at some things we can discern from this small section.

  • The prophets mentioned in verse 27 were Christians ministering to the local assemblies, teaching and revealing the Word of God. 
  • Because they made the trip from Jerusalem to Antioch, not a short journey at that time, we can infer that there was some type of close relationship between the two churches. 
  • We are introduced to Agabus.
    • He had the gift of foretelling, predicting the famine in this narrative.
    • He also manifested this gift again in Acts 21:10-11 when he prophesied that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem.
  • There was a widespread famine.
    • This occurred during the time of Claudius, who was the emperor from A.D. 41-54.
    • The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that many died because of a lack of food.
    • The impact of the famine on the church underscores a shift that has occurred in the Jerusalem church.
      • In Acts 2-7, the church at Jerusalem didn’t have any needs; they were blessed.
      • Now the Jerusalem church needed outside assistance.

When we look back at the pattern for giving in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:31-35, we see a spirit of giving that was descriptive for that time. In verse 29, we now see a pattern of giving that I believe is prescriptive for the New Testament church.

  • The believers didn’t have “all things in common.”
  • Each gave according to their ability.
    • In 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul says that if anyone doesn’t provide support for their own, they are worse than a pagan.
    • In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says that we should give as our heart leads us, not out of compulsion.
    • Everyone contributed.

We also see a transition in leadership structure in verse 30. In previous sections of Acts, the gifts were laid at the feet of the Apostles. Now, we see the relief aid being given by Barnabas and Paul to the elders of the Jerusalem church. Let’s have a quick look at the term “elder.”

  • The Greek term is presbyteros
  • It is a person of responsibility and authority in socio-religious matters.
  • This is the first time the term is used in Acts.
  • They were mature believers who had spiritual oversight of the ministry.
    • 1 Peter 5:1.
    • 2 John 1.
  • Comparing Acts 20:17, 28 to Titus 1:5, 7, we see that an elder and bishop are equivalent.
    • They were the pastors of the flocks.
    • They were assisted by deacons.
    • The qualifications for both are found in 1 Timothy 3.

Applications

  • Although we may come from different denominational backgrounds and may worship differently or have different doctrinal beliefs, we should have grace and acceptance on the “minors” of the faith (method baptism for believers, style of worship, song choices, etc.) while having unwavering unity on the “majors” (salvation by faith, Jesus as the Son of God, lived a sinless life, born of a virgin, raised on the third day, etc.). 
  • Don’t try to do it all yourself; enlist the aid of qualified helpers. We see that in Barnabas’ actions. If he was selfish, he could’ve tried to oversee the church at Antioch himself. Instead, sensing a great work of God, he went to get Paul to help him. Whatever ministry we are involved in, we need to remember it’s not ours, it is God’s ministry.
  • We should be generous according to our ability to help our brothers and sisters in their time of need. This is an obligation clearly laid out in Scripture. We need to examine our heart and make sure we are giving freely and cheerfully, not out of some motivation of selfishness or attempt to gain attention by the size of our gift.

Acts Lesson Twenty-three

Acts Lesson Twenty-three: Acts 11:1-18 – The Jerusalem Church Accepts the Gentiles

The apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had welcomed God’s message also. When Peter went up to Jerusalem, those who stressed circumcision argued with him, saying, “You visited uncircumcised men and ate with them!” 

Peter began to explain to them in an orderly sequence, saying: “I was in the town of Joppa praying, and I saw, in a visionary state, an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came to me. When I looked closely and considered it, I saw the four-footed animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. Then I also heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat!’ 

“‘No, Lord!’ I said. ‘For nothing common or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth!’ But a voice answered from heaven a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call common.’ 

10 “Now this happened three times, and then everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. 12 Then the Spirit told me to accompany them with no doubts at all. These six brothers accompanied me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 14 He will speak a message to you that you and all your household will be saved by.’ 

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore, if God gave them the same gift that He also gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?” 

18 When they heard this they became silent. Then they glorified God, saying, “So God has granted repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles!” (HCSB)

After the conversion of Cornelius and his household, Peter travels back to Jerusalem to relay what had occurred in Caesarea among the Gentiles.

The majority of this passage is a repeat of the events that occurred in chapter ten. Instead of reviewing those portions, this lesson will concentrate on the few but important differences. If you’d like to review chapter ten, please look at Acts lessons twenty-one and twenty-two.

Peter heads back to Jerusalem after spending several days with Cornelius. By the time Peter makes it back to Jerusalem, the events that unfolded were already known. In verses two and three, it becomes clear that not all the believers were happy about what occurred in Caesarea. This will be our first discussion point.

The Circumcision Sect is Not Happy

The term “those who stressed circumcision” is pointing to a strong legalistic segment within the Judean church. Let’s discuss what is known about this group and the general resistance to the inclusion of Gentiles into salvation.

  • Just as many religious leaders in Judaism were entrenched in legalism, the same problem existed to an extent within the young church. We need to remember that those who comprised the early church were almost entirely made up of those who converted from Judaism.
    • They represented a conservative minority within the church.
    • They were dedicated to protecting the Jewish perspective on Christianity.
  • At this point, many Jewish Christians viewed it simply as a smaller movement within mainstream Judaism.
  • The issues of Jewish purity and their purity laws and customs would be prevalent in the practices and thought processes of these early Jewish Christians.
    • They followed Jewish dietary customs about what could and couldn’t be eaten.
    • Not associating with Gentiles, especially during mealtime, as their food would be considered unclean.
  • This group didn’t have any issue with:
    • Sharing the Gospel.
    • The outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
    • Baptism in the name of Jesus.
  • The new believers didn’t understand the relationship between the Law and grace, Jews and Gentiles, and Israel and the church.
  • There were many converted priests in the Christian church, and these men would likely be zealous for the Law.
  • They felt that any Gentile who became a Christian must also convert to Judaism and follow the procedures to become a full Jewish proselyte.
    • Follow Jewish dietary customs.
    • Become circumcised.
  • The group’s concern was not that the Gentile believers were baptized; it was that Peter shared a meal with them.
    • By sharing a meal with them, Peter demonstrated his acceptance of them being Christian brothers and sisters.
    • However, they were not circumcised, going against Jewish custom.
  • This group may be the same one mentioned in Acts 15:5.

The Issue of Cornelius

There is one additional nugget of information regarding what Cornelius told Peter when the latter arrived in Caesarea. In his vision, Cornelius related how the angel told him that Peter would speak a message that would result in his and his household’s salvation. This would explain their eager anticipation in hearing the message Peter brought. 

Another important to consider as Peter relates the events that occurred in Caesarea is that Peter never mentions the centurion’s name. Who he is isn’t important to the Judean Christians. However, the fact that he was a Gentile is the key sticking point. 

Gentile Pentecost

Peter relates how the Holy Spirit descended upon the household, the same as how the Spirit descended at the Jewish Pentecost in Acts chapter two.

  • Peter remembered what Jesus had told the disciples.
    • John baptized with water.
    • They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
  • This is the third “Pentecost” event described in Acts.
    • Jewish Pentecost in Acts 2.
    • Samaritan Pentecost in Acts 8.
    • The Gentile Pentecost in Acts 11.
  • The fact that God would pour out the Spirit on the Gentiles was a crucial point as Peter explained the event in Caesarea.
    • It was a testimony that God had truly saved the Gentiles.
    • If God approved of the Gentiles, how could Peter feel any different?
    • The word “hinder” in verse 18 means “to oppose” in the original Greek.
      • Peter couldn’t oppose the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Christian family.
      • Anyone who would oppose their inclusion would be opposing God.
  • At this point, there wasn’t much the “circumcision group” could say as a rebuttal. 
  • However, this isn’t the last time that Gentile inclusion and not following Jewish customs and traditions would be an issue to the church.
  • There were three questions that persisted for years until they were brought before the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
    • What lifestyle was appropriate for Gentiles coming to Christ directly from a pagan background?
    • How do the Gentile believers relate to Jewish Christians?
    • How should the Jerusalem church handle these individuals?
  • Although it may appear on the surface that the church successfully dealt with the issue of including Gentiles into the family of God, history shows that the transition wasn’t smooth. The main issue in the socio-political framework was the inclusion of members of the very group who were occupying and controlling Israel.
    • From the 40’s until the Jewish revolt in AD 70, the situation became increasingly tense.
    • During that time, the main issues weren’t food laws and circumcision.
    • To welcome Gentiles as equals could, and was, viewed as fraternizing with the enemy.
    • This would eventually bubble over in AD 70 with the Jewish revolt and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel.
  • In the rapidly changing world we live in today, it is important to keep that point in mind. The church must be faithful to God while navigating the changing socio-political landscape.

Applications

  • Legalism has no part in a biblical church or the lives of followers of Jesus. Yes, there are specific guidelines and doctrines we need to follow (the red letter passages in the New Testament are a good place to start), but just as Jesus pointed out the lack of understanding of the Pharisees, we need to make sure we don’t do the same things. 
  • When confronted by fellow believers, we need to maintain a calm demeanor and exhibit patience, and be directed by the Spirit. This is precisely what Peter did in this passage. The pre-Pentecost Peter would likely have had a confrontation with the circumcision sect. However, the Spirit-led Peter was able to calmly explain the events that transpired and point out that God’s hand was leading the Gentiles into the family of God.
  • Discussion and debate within the body of Christ are ok if…it doesn’t become divisive. We must all agree on the “majors” of the faith and not let the “minors” create disunity. This is especially true across denominational lines. As an example, whether we baptize someone by immersion or sprinkling will not change whether they are saved or not. Only faith in our resurrected Savior will restore our broken fellowship with God.

Acts Lesson Twenty-two

Acts Lesson Twenty-two: Acts 10:17-48 – Peter Brings the Gospel to the Gentiles

17 While Peter was deeply perplexed about what the vision he had seen might mean, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions to Simon’s house, stood at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon, who was also named Peter, was lodging there. 

19 While Peter was thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him, “Three men are here looking for you. 20 Get up, go downstairs, and accompany them with no doubts at all, because I have sent them.” 

21 Then Peter went down to the men and said, “Here I am, the one you’re looking for. What is the reason you’re here?” 

22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who has a good reputation with the whole Jewish nation, was divinely directed by a holy angel to call you to his house and to hear a message from you.” 23 Peter then invited them in and gave them lodging. 

The next day he got up and set out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went with him. 24 The following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. 

26 But Peter helped him up and said, “Stand up! I myself am also a man.” 27 While talking with him, he went on in and found that many had come together there. 28 Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner.  But God has shown me that I must not call any person common or unclean. 29 That’s why I came without any objection when I was sent for. So I ask: Why did you send for me?” 

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, at three in the afternoon, I was  praying in my house. Just then a man in a dazzling robe stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your acts of charity have been remembered in God’s sight. 32 Therefore send someone to Joppa and invite Simon here, who is also named Peter. He is lodging in Simon the tanner’s house by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I immediately sent for you, and you did the right thing in coming. So we are all present before God, to hear everything you have been commanded by the Lord.” 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. 36 He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all. 37 You know the events  that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. 39 We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. 40 God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us, witnesses appointed beforehand by God, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to solemnly testify that He is the One appointed by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify  about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.” 

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God. 

Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days. (HCSB)

Today’s lesson continues the narrative of the previous lesson; the visions of Cornelius and Peter and the subsequent obedience of Peter in traveling to Gentile territory. 

Up until this time, the Apostles had not shared the Gospel with the Gentiles. Even the Samaritans were considered “superior” to Gentiles as at least they were “half-breed” Jews with a reverence for the Mosaic law. Peter’s decision to go to the Gentiles was not based primarily on the Great Commission but rather because the Spirit had specifically commanded Peter to go. During this time, Peter struggled with the idea of the Gospel and salvation being made available to the Gentiles before their witness to the Jews was complete. It also becomes clear that during this transition period, the early followers of Jesus are introduced to the concept of the church. With the Jewish background of the Apostles and their reliance on the temple, this was a shift in thinking. Previously, believers in God needed to go to the temple, but now God would be in their presence wherever they met.

I’ll divide this passage into two sections.

  • Peter’s journey to Caesarea: verses 17-33.
  • Peter’s message to the Gentiles: verses 34-48.

Peter’s Journey to Caesarea

Verses 17-23

At this point, Peter is unsure about the meaning of the vision he experienced. The vision pertained to the removal of the Jewish restrictions on food and eating, but what could this mean? As Peter ponders this question, the messengers from Cornelius arrive, and Peter begins to discern at least a portion of what the vision means.

  • A group of Gentiles is looking for Peter by name.
  • God’s leading in the whole event is evident.
    • Peter’s vision included a voice from heaven.
    • Cornelius’s vision included a visit from an angel.
    • Now, Peter was receiving a message directly from the Spirit telling him the men were looking for him, that the Spirit sent the men to him, and that Peter was to go with them to Caesarea.

When we review this section of the passage, there are two points of emphasis.

  • The devoutness of Cornelius.
  • The leading of God.
    • Cornelius was to hear Peter’s message.
    • Peter began to understand the effect of his vision.
      • He was to witness to the centurion chosen by God.
      • He was to associate with those he previously viewed as “unclean.”

Verses 24-26

Peter and the three messengers sent by Cornelius start the next morning for the journey to Caesarea. Peter takes along six Jewish Christians from Joppa (Acts 11:12). Because the journey is approximately thirty miles, it takes two days for the group to arrive in Caesarea. This means that four days have elapsed since Cornelius had his vision.

Let’s consider some facts from these three verses.

  • Cornelius never doubted that Peter would come.
    • He was expecting him.
    • He had called for his relatives and close friends to come to his home.
    • This large gathering was a portent of the outpouring of the Spirit in this Gentile home.
  • Cornelius’s reverence for Peter was on full display as the group entered the home.
    • Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet and worshipped him.
    • This is similar to what Paul and Barnabas experienced with the Gentiles at Lystra, documented in Acts 14:14f. 
    • Peter quickly responds that he is only a man and should not be worshipped. 

Verses 27-29

Peter engages in conversation with Cornelius and enters his home to find a large group waiting for him. What is interesting to note is the direction of the conversation. Peter doesn’t tell them of his vision but rather the conclusions he drew from the vision.

  • Those in attendance needed to grasp the depth of the cultural barrier that was removed by Peter, as a Jew, coming into the home of a Gentile. This visit would have been viewed with horror by any ordinary Jew.
  • However, God revealed to Peter that he shouldn’t think of a non-Jew as someone who was unclean or common. 
  • Peter’s vision only contained symbols of unclean food, but he perceived that the symbolism was talking about people.
  • All people were God’s creation, and all were declared clean (not righteous or saved).
  • God led Peter to Cornelius, declaring that Cornelius was clean.
  • The pre-existing purity laws could no longer separate Jew and Gentile.
  • Since God no longer distinguished between Jew and Gentile, neither could Peter.
  • However, Peter still didn’t understand that God was going to make Cornelius a Christian brother of Peter. This is the reason Peter asked why they sent for him.

Verses 30-32

This section is the third time the vision event is presented, with a few variations.

  • It is now four days since the vision occurred.
  • A man in a dazzling robe appeared to Cornelius. This is another way of saying it was an angel.
  • The reason for the repetition is to focus the reader on the fact that it was divine action that led to this meeting happening.
  • Peter still wasn’t fully aware of why he was there.

Verse 33

Peter may not have been fully understanding yet of why he was there, but he did understand that God brought them together. Cornelius understood that God brought Peter to his house to share something of importance. That is why he invited family and friends, so that they could hear the message from Peter.

Verses 34-43

Peter now begins his address to Gentiles gathered in the home of Cornelius. Let’s list some facts and themes from Peter’s message.

  • God doesn’t discriminate based upon ethnicity.
  • God does discriminate between right and wrong behavior and attitude.
    • Those who revere and respect God are acceptable.
    • Those who reject Him are not acceptable.
  • Peter is focusing this statement primarily on Cornelius.
    • Cornelius was a man of prayer.
    • Cornelius was a generous man and practiced charity towards those in need.
  • We need to be careful so we don’t view this as works-based salvation. 
  • There is a similarity between Cornelius and Abraham.
    • Abraham was a man of faith and trusted in God.
    • Cornelius is also pictured as a man of faith and placing trust in God.
      • God was already extending grace to him.
      • This grace was manifested in his good deeds.
      • God would now reveal His greatest grace, the Gospel of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
      • As James writes in his epistle, faith and works are inseparable.
  • Just as in Peter’s other messages in Acts, the emphasis is placed on God’s work through Jesus.
    • God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power.
    • Jesus traveled around the region preaching repentance and healing people.
    • Many were witnesses, including Peter, of what Jesus accomplished.
    • Jesus was crucified. Just as in Peter’s other speeches, he attributes the crucifixion to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
    • God raised Jesus on the third day, allowing Him to be seen by many.
    • Jesus ate and drank with the Apostles after his resurrection. 
      • This idea is unique to this sermon.
      • However, it would have been important when preaching to Gentiles like Cornelius where the idea of a bodily resurrection would be a new idea.
    • Jesus commanded the Apostles, and all His followers, to preach the Gospel message.
    • The prophets testified beforehand about the coming of Jesus. However, this is the only one of Peter’s sermons where he doesn’t specifically draw connections between the Old Testament and Jesus. He may have been heading in that direction, but the outpouring of the Spirit cut short his message.

Verses 44-48

While Peter is still speaking, the Holy Spirit suddenly is poured out on the people gathered in Cornelius’s house. Some things to note about this event.

  • The Christian brothers that Peter brought were “astounded” because the Spirit was given to the Gentiles. 
    • In the two previous Pentecost events, Jew and Samaritan, there wasn’t the same level of surprise as both groups were Jewish.
    • However, here the Spirit is given to a group of people who have no tie to the Jewish people. God is quickly moving the believers into uncharted territory.
  • They spoke in other languages and declared God’s greatness.
    • There is much debate about the correct interpretation of “speaking in other languages” in this section.
    • The Greek word for tongues in verse 46 is the same used in Acts 2. If that is true, then the verse is talking about a human language.
    • However, since this was a group of Gentiles who were either family or close friends of Cornelius, the idea of various human languages being spoken may not pass the logic test. The situation here is different from Acts 2, where people were gathered from various parts of the Mediterranean region.
    • It is possible that they began to speak in a “heavenly language.”
    • It is not possible to draw a concrete conclusion on the meaning, but in any event, God received the glory.
    • The point of the verse is the divine certification of salvation to the Gentiles.
  • Peter now asks the question of whether or not baptism should be denied to the Gentiles.
    • The new believers were baptized in the name of Jesus.
    • Peter doesn’t perform the baptism himself. Instead, it appears that one or more of the six Christian brothers who accompanied him performed the baptism.
    • This would indicate that the early church leaders didn’t place emphasis on who performed the baptism, as long as it was a fellow believer.
  • Peter then spends several days in the house of Cornelius.
    • It is safe to say that this involved the sharing of meals between ethnic Jews and the Gentile hosts.
    • Peter fully embraces God’s direction that there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile.
    • However, not all the Jewish Christians are ready for this transition.
    • In the next lesson, we’ll see that Peter faces some opposition from his brothers in Jerusalem.

Applications

  • We need to be discerning regarding visions. Not all visions are from God. However, when it is clear that it is from God, we must be obedient. We see this from both Cornelius and Peter in this and the preceding section. When it is clear that God is giving you a “vision,” do you act on it, or do you delay or even ignore it? If Peter had not been obedient, Cornelius might have never received the Gospel message.
  • We need to be ready to share the Gospel regardless of the circumstances or timing. Peter went on a two-day journey, shared the Gospel, and the Spirit convicted those hearing the message. In the end, the entire household was saved.
  • Don’t let your ethnic, cultural, society, or any other barrier prevent you from bringing the message of salvation to the lost. 

Acts Lesson Twenty-one

Acts Lesson Twenty-one: Acts 10:1-16 – Double Vision

There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God. About three in the afternoon he distinctly saw in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius!” Looking intently at him, he became afraid and said, “What is it, lord?” 

The angel told him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 

When the angel who spoke to him had gone, he called two of his household slaves and a devout soldier, who was one of those who attended him. After explaining everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. 

The next day, as they were traveling and nearing the city, Peter went up to pray on the housetop about noon. 10 Then he became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he went into a visionary state. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. 12 In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” 

14 “No, Lord!” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything common and ritually unclean!” 

15 Again, a second time, a voice said to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into heaven. (HCSB)

Chapter ten is a turning point in Acts, as salvation now comes to the Gentiles. Jesus gave the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter, and he had used them twice previously with the Jews (Acts 2) and the Samaritans (Acts 8). Now, Peter will use them for the last time as the door is opened for the Gospel to come to the Gentiles.

The events that take place in this chapter occurred about ten years after Pentecost. We might wonder why the Apostles waited so long to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded that His message be brought to all nations. Our human minds would think this should be done sooner rather than later. However, our timing is not God’s timing, and His timing is always perfect. The transition of spreading the Gospel from Jew to Samaritan to Gentile was a gradual process.

When the Sanhedrin stoned Stephen and persecuted the church, that was the pinnacle of the Apostles’ witness to the Jews. After that, the Gospel moved to the Samaritans. Finally, when Jesus commissioned Paul, the special envoy to the Gentiles was chosen. 

This lesson is divided into two parts.

  • Cornelius’s vision – verses 1-8.
  • Peter’s vision – verses 9-16.

Cornelius’s Vision.

Before we dig into this passage, let’s look at some facts about Caesarea.

  • It was located about sixty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem and thirty miles north of Joppa.
  • It was the Roman capital of Judea.
  • The architecture was Hellenistic in design.
    • Rebuilt by Herod the Great.
    • It had a man-made harbor.
    • A theater.
    • An amphitheater.
    • A hippodrome.
    • A temple dedicated to Caesar.
  • The Jews hated Caesarea, often calling it “the daughter of Edom.”
    • According to Josephus, riots between Jew and Gentile created the spark for the Jewish war against Rome in 66 A.D.
    • Josephus also wrote that the entire Jewish population of 20,000 in Caesarea was massacred in the same year.

From the narrative, we can determine the following facts concerning Cornelius.

  • He was a Roman centurion in command of 100 soldiers
    • Centurions are generally depicted in a favorable light in the Gospels and Acts.
    • This may have led to some success in early Christian mission work among the military.
  • He left behind the Roman religion of worshipping little “g” gods, pagan myths, and empty religious rituals.
  • He had turned to Judaism in an effort to find salvation.
  • He was as close to Judaism as possible without being a proselyte.
    • He was sincere in his obedience to God’s Law.
    • He was charitable towards the Jews.
    • He always prayed to God.
    • He was not allowed to offer sacrifices in the temple, so his prayers were a type of sacrifice.
  • However, all this still didn’t mean he was saved.
    • He knew that his religious practices wouldn’t lead to salvation.
    • We’ll see that later in Acts 11:13-14, Cornelius asks God to show him the way to salvation. 

An angel visits Cornelius.

  • Cornelius is praying at three in the afternoon, a time that coincides with the Tamid sacrifice in the temple.
  • God sends an angel to visit Cornelius, acknowledging that Cornelius’ prayers and acts of charity were accepted by God. 
  • The angel tells Cornelius to send for Peter, giving explicit information on where to find him.
  • Cornelius, in exemplary military fashion, immediately obeys the instructions of the angel.
    • He chooses two slaves and a devout soldier.
      • These were probably the most trusted people he could pick.
      • The “devout” soldier was likely a worshipper of God.
      • The phrase “attended him” indicates those Cornelius feels are the most trustworthy of the people around him.

Peter’s Vision.

Let’s look at some cultural background context as we examine this part of the passage.

  • Peter had lived as an orthodox Jew all of his life, as shown by his statement in verse 14.
  • The Law of Moses created a barrier between the Jews and Gentiles.
  • Gentiles were viewed as aliens and strangers in regard to Jewish covenants and promises.
  • The barrier was broken at the cross – Ephesians 2:14-18.
  • Now, God would make it clear that there was no difference between Jew and Gentile.
    • No condemnation – Romans 3:22-23.
    • Salvation for all – Romans 10:12-13.

Facts regarding Peter’s vision.

  • Peter was hungry, and a vision with food as a focal point would resonate with him.
    • Noon was not a usual meal time.
    • The custom was to have a light midmorning meal, followed by a heavier meal in the late afternoon.
  • The issue of clean and unclean foods was a significant barrier between Jews and Gentiles.
    • To Jews, the dietary laws were not a matter of etiquette or specific eating habits.
    • The dietary laws were a matter of identity and survival.
      • Jews were not allowed to eat with Gentiles.
      • The people you sit down with to eat are family.
      • The Jewish “family” was called by God to be separate from the Gentiles.
  • The whole issue of appearance versus our heart condition that Jesus spoke about – Mark 7:1-23.
    • God wasn’t simply changing Peter’s eating habits.
    • God was changing Peter’s understanding of clean and unclean.
      • Jews weren’t clean, and Gentiles were unclean.
      • All were unclean before God – Romans 11:32.
      • A Gentile didn’t need to become a Jew in order to be a Christian.
  • Peter’s “Jewishness” comes out in his response to “kill and eat.”
    • Although Peter was polite in his refusal, it was still disobedience.
      • We can say “no.”
      • We can say “Lord.”
      • We can’t say “No, Lord.” 
      • Obedience is required in response to God’s commands.
  • There is also the interesting point of “threes” with Peter being revisited.
    • The sheet appeared three times.
    • This was the third time that Peter verbally refused God’s will.
    • Three times he denied Jesus.
    • Jesus asked him three times about his love.

Applications

  • The Gospel can spread regardless of the location. It just requires obedient messengers. If we remember back to the discussion about Caesarea, we recall that the Jews had an extremely poor opinion of the city. Yet, God’s message will spread where it is taken. What is your Caesarea, and how will you overcome that barrier to obedience?
  • Fervent prayer is heard. Cornelius “always” prayed to God. If we pray to God in accordance with His will, our prayers are answered. How is your prayer life? Are you like Cornelius, praying always? Or is your prayer life stagnant and unproductive?
  • Don’t let cultural or ethnic barriers stand in the way of being obedient to God. God’s commands should always be at the forefront. What barriers do you have that prevents you from sharing the Gospel or meeting certain groups of people? In Christ, we are all one people. Tear down the barriers in your life and share the Gospel.

Acts Lesson Twenty

Acts Lesson Twenty: Acts 9:32-43 – Peter Spreading the Gospel

32 As Peter was traveling from place to place, he also came down to the saints who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed,” and immediately he got up. 35 So all who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. 

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. She was always doing good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became sick and died. After washing her, they placed her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples heard that Peter was there and sent two men to him who begged him, “Don’t delay in coming with us.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them. When he arrived, they led him to the room upstairs. And all the widows approached him, weeping and showing him the robes and clothes that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Then Peter sent them all out of the room. He knelt down, prayed, and turning toward the body said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her stand up. Then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And Peter stayed on many days in Joppa with Simon, a leather tanner. (HCSB)

Luke now switches the narrative from Paul back to Peter. It is clear from the beginning of this passage that Peter is now on an evangelism trip. This passage will focus on two significant events that occur during the journey. Accordingly, this passage will be split into two sections.

  • The healing of Aeneas in verses 32-35.
  • The raising of Tabitha in verses 36-43.

Verses 32-35

The setting for the healing of Aeneas is Lydda. This city, predominately Gentile, was located about twenty-five miles from Jerusalem. Historical records don’t indicate who the first evangelists were who visited the area, but there are several possibilities.

  • Believers who were converted at Pentecost and returned to the town.
  • Believers who were scattered during the persecution recorded earlier in Acts.
  • Philip, as he traveled north from Gaza, Azotus, and Caesarea.

The last possibility, Philip, is the least likely to have first evangelized. However, it is safe to say that he was involved in some type of ministry work as he traveled north.

Even less is known about Aeneas.

  • How old was he?
  • Was he a believer?
  • Was he a Jew or Gentile?

What we do know about Aeneas.

  • He had been paralyzed for eight years.
  • This meant he was crippled and unable to take care of himself.
  • He was a burden to himself and others.
  • There wasn’t any prospect of him being healed.

Let’s also make a quick comparison of the ministry of Peter and Paul.

  • Both healed crippled people.
  • Both were arrested and put in jail.
  • Both were delivered by divine intervention.
  • Both were treated like gods.
    • Peter – Acts 10:25-26.
    • Paul – Acts 14:8-18.
  • Both gave a bold witness before authorities.
  • Both confronted false prophets.
    • Peter – Acts 8:9-24.
    • Paul – Acts 13:6-12.
  • Both conducted their ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The last point is the most important. Outside of the power of the Spirit, ministry is meaningless.

Key points about the healing of Aeneas.

  • Aeneas didn’t ask to be healed.
  • Aeneas was healed in Jesus’ name.
  • It was instantaneous.
  • He immediately rose to his feet.
  • He made his bed. In the original Greek, this could mean one of two things.
    • It simply means that he got up and made his bed.
    • It could also mean preparing a meal for Peter. 
    • In the context, and in comparison where Jesus healed a paralytic, it seems the first possibility is the correct understanding.
  • The news of his healing spread rapidly. 
  • Those who saw Aeneas walking around became believers. A proper understanding of verse 35 is essential.
    • It doesn’t mean all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon became believers.
    • It does mean that all who saw Aeneas walking became believers. A similar situation occurred in John 12:10-11. 
    • Aeneas became a walking miracle and a testimony to the healing power of the resurrected Messiah.
    • The news of the healing spread to Joppa, where Tabitha died, leading to the residents of that town sending for Peter.

This passage in Acts doesn’t list any further work of Peter. However, from the context of Acts, it is safe to draw the conclusion that Peter was busy. He likely evangelized, taught, and encouraged the members of the church to grow in their faith. Peter was faithful to the commission that Jesus laid upon him in John 21:15-17.

Verses 36-43.

The city of Joppa is where modern-day Jaffa is located. It was on the coast, about ten miles away from Lydda. The city has a connection to the Old Testament. It was where Jonah boarded a boat to escape the call of going to the Gentiles. However, it is here that Peter received his call to go to the Gentiles, a call that he faithfully obeys.

It is clear from the passage that Tabitha was highly regarded in the community. Whether she made the clothes out of charity or if she was particularly skilled in that area and used that to bless others is unknown. We can learn from the context of the passage that she was respected and valued among the widows, a group that was particularly vulnerable in the ancient world.

The believers in Joppa heard that Peter was in the area and swiftly sent for him to come. There is no recorded incident in Acts of any of the Apostles raising the dead, yet their faith in Peter caused them to summon him. 

The standard Jewish custom regarding a dead body is the following:

  • The body was washed.
  • It was anointed with spices.
  • It was buried.

There are several events recorded in Scripture of the dead being raised to life.

  • Elijah raising the son of the widow Zarephath – 1 Kings 17:17-24.
  • Elisha raising the son of the Shunammite woman – 2 Kings 4:32-37.
  • Jesus raising the widow’s son – Luke 7:11-17.

However, the closest connection is found in Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:35-43.

  • In both cases, the mourners were removed from the room where the dead body was.
  • The words spoken were almost identical.
    • Mark: talitha cumi – little girl, arise.
    • Acts: Tabitha cumi – Tabitha, arise.
  • Both touched the body.
    • Jesus took the girl’s hand before speaking, not being concerned about becoming ceremonially unclean.
    • Peter took Tabitha by the hand after she was raised from the dead.
  • In both cases, it was the power of God that raised the dead person.

Just as the healing of Aeneas attracted great attention, there is little doubt that Tabitha rising from the dead would have spread like wildfire throughout the region. We don’t know precisely how long “many days” equaled. We do know that it was long enough for Peter to evangelize the area and to create a firm foundational understanding of following Jesus entailed, as faith built on miracles alone is not a strong faith.

The fact that Peter would stay with Simon, a leather tanner, is in itself quite remarkable. Tanners were considered unclean by rabbinical standards (Leviticus 11:35-40). Here, we see a picture of Peter moving steadily from a Jewish legalistic mindset to one of freedom in God’s grace.

Applications

  • Do you go/do when the Spirit calls you? In this passage, Peter is obedient several times. He was faithful to take the Gospel to the lost, he healed Aeneas without being asked, and he quickly went to Joppa when called even though the situation would appear hopeless. We need to remember this was the first “raising from the dead” that happened in the new church. 
  • Are you selfless in serving others? Again, we see Peter in this passage serving others selflessly. He did what needed to be done, when it needed to be done.
  • Do you let your cultural norms interfere with your Kingdom work? As a Jewish Christian, one would think that Peter would avoid staying with a tanner. However, Peter placed Kingdom work over cultural norms. Our allegiance should be first and foremost to Jesus. Whenever there is a conflict between Kingdom and worldly expectations, Kingdom expectations must take priority.

Acts Lesson Nineteen

Acts Lesson Nineteen: 9:1-31 – The Commissioning of Saul (Paul)

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” “Who are You, Lord?” he said. 

“I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 

The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. Then Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink. 

10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” 

“Here I am, Lord!” he said. 

11 “Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. 12 In a vision  he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so he can regain his sight.” 

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.” 

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!” 

17 So Ananias left and entered the house. Then he placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

18 At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 And after taking some food, he regained his strength. 

Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some days. 20 Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.” 

21 But all who heard him were astounded and said, “Isn’t this the man who, in Jerusalem, was destroying those who called on this name and then came here for the purpose of taking them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 

22 But Saul grew more capable and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that this One is the Messiah. 

23 After many days had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. So they were watching the gates day and night intending to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the wall. 26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. 27 Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him. 30 When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 So the church  throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers. (HCSB)

Acts Lesson Nineteen: 9:1-25 – The Commissioning of Saul (Paul)

The narrative now switches from the mission work among the Samaritans and Gentiles by Philip to Saul, who I will call Paul from this point forward. Paul was a witness to the execution of Stephen and was likely aware of the evangelism efforts of the early church. Paul was so incensed by what he perceived as the blasphemous conduct of the Christian church that he became a one-man wrecking crew, trying to destroy the church by rounding up every believer he could find. However, on his way to Damascus to arrest any Christian he might find there, Paul had a one-on-one encounter with Jesus. I’ll break this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s encounter with Jesus, verses 1-9.
  • Paul’s encounter with Ananias, verses 10-19.
  • Paul’s in Damascus, verses 20-25.
  • Paul in Jerusalem, verses 26-31.

Paul’s encounter with Jesus – verses 1-9.

Before we dig into this passage, it can be neatly summarized in three points.

  • Paul saw a light.
  • Paul heard a voice.
  • Paul obeyed a call.

Every sinner lives in a world of darkness until the light of Jesus illuminates them to the truth of who Jesus is and how Jesus can take away their sins and restore their fellowship with God.

There is another interesting point regarding Paul and what would eventually be his calling to bring the Gospel to the lost. The church of Jesus is one united body made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul was both Jewish and Gentile. He was a Jew by birth but a Gentile by citizenship. Paul was trained in Old Testament scripture, well versed in Greek philosophy, and knowledgeable in Roman law. Paul was the ideal choice to bring the Gospel message as his life was an example of both Jew and Gentile being equal in Christ. 

Now let’s return to the passage. There is some debate about whether or not the Sanhedrin would have jurisdiction in this case, which involved individuals living outside of the Jewish nation. Historical records do indicate that the high priest had been given rights of extradition in earlier times. Therefore, it is possible that the Roman government still granted the high priest this same right. Paul also speaks, in 2 Corinthians 11:24, of receiving scourgings from synagogues. Regardless, Paul left Jerusalem with authorization letters from the Sanhedrin to arrest any believers he may find. The very idea that Paul would make that journey illustrates the level of zeal he possessed in rooting out the members of the young church. The distance between the two cities is approximately 150 miles, requiring a journey of around 10-14 days to complete. 

Historical records indicate that, at the time, Damascus had a sizeable Jewish population, with as many as 30-40 synagogues in the city. Since there were already believers there, it is apparent that the church was being effective in its evangelism efforts. It is also likely that some of the believers fled the persecution that was occurring in Jerusalem, which may have also factored into Paul’s desire to go to Damascus and bring the believers back.  

From the point that Paul experienced the blinding light, he is a broken man. Here is why he was broken.

  • Paul had relentlessly persecuted the followers of Christ.
  • Paul now has a one-on-one encounter with Christ, confirming His resurrection.
  • In persecuting the followers of Jesus, Paul now understands that he was persecuting the risen Lord.
  • Persecution against any believer is persecution against the church of Jesus.
  • In persecuting the risen Lord, Paul was an enemy of God.
  • The realization that he was an enemy of God completely flips his world. What he thought he was doing for God, he now realizes he was doing against God.

Jesus then instructs Paul to go into the city and wait for further instructions. Without even questioning what was asked of him, he obeys the command. 

Paul’s companion travelers were a witness to what occurred even though they didn’t receive the same revelation.

  • They could verify that a heavenly manifestation occurred.
  • However, they were not the recipients of it, but they could attest to the change that happened to Paul after the event.

There could be several reasons for Paul not eating or drinking for three days.

  • It could be an expression of repentance.
  • It could be because of shock and confusion.
  • It could be because of his broken spirit upon realizing what he had done against God.
  • It could be a combination of all of the above.

Paul’s encounter with Ananias – verses 10-19a.

The narrative now switches to a disciple named Ananias. Not only does Jesus appear to Ananias in a vision, but He also appears in a vision to Paul that Ananias would come to him, lay hands on him, and that he would regain his sight.

One has to wonder what went through Ananias’ mind as he was told to seek out the, at that time, biggest threat to the church, Paul. I believe it also gives a glimpse to Ananias’ standing within the Christian community in Damascus. Although it is possible that any believer could have been called to perform this task, it would make Paul’s acceptance into the Damascus Christian church easier if Paul’s advocate was a well-respected member, or possibly even someone in a leadership position.

Evidence of Ananias’ doubt and concern is evidenced by his statement that he’s heard how much damage Paul has inflicted on the church and that the purpose of Paul’s visit is known within the Christian community. 

There is a linkage between verses 15 and 16. Paul, once the persecutor, was now to become the persecuted as he shared the Gospel. 

From Ananias’ greeting to Paul, “brother,” it is clear that Paul was now part of the body of Christ. His spiritual conversion had occurred somewhere between the initial meeting with Jesus and his period of reflection while he waited for Ananias to lay hands on him. Ananias informs Paul that Jesus sent him, verifying the vision that Paul received, and Paul regained his sight. Ananias then baptized Paul and Paul began to eat and regain his strength. 

Paul in Damascus – verses 19b-25.

If there were any doubts about the validity of Paul’s conversion, his actions in proclaiming the Gospel in the synagogues would have dispelled those doubts. Still, his astounding conversion amazed the believers in Damascus. It would appear that his zeal in evangelism far surpassed his previous zeal in trying to arrest and kill Christians.

In verse 24, the Greek word that was translated into “proving” means to join or put together. From the context of the passage, it appears that what Paul was joining was Old Testament passages that pointed to Jesus and then explained how Jesus fulfilled them. Paul’s previous schooling under Gamaliel now bears fruit as Paul is able to articulate how Jesus is the fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies and skillfully deflect any attempts by the Jews to prove otherwise. 

Eventually, this led to the Jews in Damascus hatching a plot to kill Paul. The phrase “after many days” is somewhat misleading, as Luke underplays the amount of time. We know from Galatians 1:17-18 that the time Paul spent in Damascus was three years. Once the plan to kill Paul was known, his disciples came up with a plan to ensure his escape.

Since the Jews were watching the gates, they had to come up with a plan that would avoid the use of the gates. Paul also mentions this event in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33. There he says that the governor under King Aretas, a Nabatean king, was guarding the city. Why would an Arabian king be looking for Paul? It is quite possible that during his time in Damascus, he also embarked on a mission trip to the surrounding Arab areas. The Jews likely joined forces with the Nabateans to capture Paul, with the Jews watching the gates and the Nabatean forces watching the surrounding areas. Regardless of the forces arrayed against Paul, he was able to make good his escape from Damascus and made his way to Jerusalem.

Paul in Jerusalem, verses 26-31.

Although Paul had been evangelizing in Damascus for approximately three years, he still wasn’t trusted or accepted in Jerusalem. The memory of what he had done to the believers previously in Jerusalem was still fresh in their minds. Undoubtedly, they believed that his “conversion” was a ploy to infiltrate and then crush the Jerusalem church. A few points about their rejection of Paul.

  • It would be reasonable to believe that the church in Damascus would have relayed the news about Paul’s work there. Therefore, their rejection is somewhat strange.
  • Possibly Paul’s disappearance for almost three years lent a feeling of suspicion to the validity of his conversion.
    • Where did he go?
    • What did he do?
    • Why did he wait so long to contact the elders in Jerusalem?
    • What right did he have to call himself an apostle?

It was the efforts of Barnabas that led to a breakthrough in the Jerusalem’s church acceptance of Paul. This is the same Barnabas from Acts 4:36-37, known as the “son of encouragement” to those around him. Because of Barnabas’ reputation, there is no reason to find a hidden meaning behind his support of Paul. It was through the effort of Barnabas that Paul was accepted into the Jerusalem Christian community. 

Paul now begins his preaching of the Gospel in Jerusalem. We don’t know how long it took, but eventually, the Hellenistic Jews plotted to kill Paul. Let’s look at this topic in more detail.

  • The Hellenistic Jews were the same ones plotted against Stephen, leading to his martyrdom.
  • Paul was a Hellenistic Jew and likely felt an obligation or responsibility to take up the mantle left by Stephen. Paul makes a reference to this in Acts 22:20.
  • The Hellenists were not going to let Paul become the new Stephen. 
  • To understand more fully what transpired, read Acts 22:17-21, where Paul gives a more detailed account of this event.
    • Jesus appears to Paul in a vision and tells him to leave.
    • The church leaders help Paul to leave Jerusalem and go to Tarsus.
    • The fact that they believed Paul’s vision demonstrates proof that the Jerusalem church had fully accepted and trusted Paul by this point.
  • Paul doesn’t appear in Acts again until Acts 11:25 when Barnabas brings Paul to the church at Antioch.
    • That places Acts 11:25 about seven to ten years after Paul left Jerusalem and ten to thirteen years after his conversion.
    • It is safe to believe that Paul used Tarsus as a base for reaching the Gentiles with the Gospel.
    • It is possible that some of the trials listed in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26 occurred during the seven years in question.
      • Only one Roman beating is recorded in Acts (16:22), with two others unaccounted for.
      • The five Jewish beatings are not recorded anywhere.
      • Only one shipwreck is recorded in Acts 27. leaving two unaccounted for.
    • Although Paul doesn’t appear for about seven years, it seems he was far from idle during that time.

Luke now inserts a summary verse.

  • The Gospel was being spread just as Jesus commanded.
  • The center would shift from Jerusalem to Antioch.
  • The key leader would shift from Peter to Paul.
  • The Gospel would be taken to the ends of the earth.
  • Although it was a time of peace for the church, it wasn’t a time of complacency.
    • They grew spiritually.
    • They grew in numbers.

Applications

  • If you have a clear word or instruction from God, are you obedient even when it may not make sense? Both Paul and Ananias were obedient even though Paul had to do a 180, and Ananias was called to go visit the very person he should’ve been avoiding.
  • Do you make an active effort to share the Gospel? Regardless of our spiritual gifting, Jesus commands all of us to bring the Gospel to the lost.
  • When you come in contact with others who are either sharing a false message, either purposely or because of lack of understanding, do you attempt to correct them? We should never condone false teaching in the church, even if our actions could harm us.