Acts Lesson Thirteen

Acts Lesson Thirteen: 6:8-15 – Stephen’s Witness

Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking. 

11 Then they persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, dragged him off, and took him to the Sanhedrin. 13 They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. 14 For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (HCSB)

Today’s passage serves as a deeper introduction of Stephen and lays the groundwork for the events that occur in chapter seven. Before we start today’s lesson, let’s list six features of his character and ministry, with a couple of them stated in the previous lesson.

  • He was full of faith – 6:5.
  • He was full of the Holy Spirit – 6:5.
  • He was full of God’s grace and power – 6:8.
  • His opponents were members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue.
  • His opponents couldn’t stand up to Stephen’s wisdom.
  • His opponents couldn’t stand up against the Holy Spirit, who spoke through him.

Opposition to Servants: Acts 6:8-11 When a person is selected for church leadership, the type of ministry experiences may be different from what they expected.

Verse 8

Up until this point, Scripture only mentions the Apostles performing miracles (Acts 2:43; 5:12). But we read that Stephen also had the power to perform miracles. Since it’s clear that the performing of miracles was not restricted to an Apostle, what conclusion can we draw? It would seem that it was the level of faith and filling of the Holy Spirit that empowered Stephen to perform miracles for the glory of God. If that is true, and Scripture leads one to believe it is, then miracles can still be performed today. However, why do we rarely, or ever, see miracles in the Western church, but we do sometimes hear about miracles in the mission field? This is my position, based upon what is contained in Scripture and the characteristics of the church today.

  • The Holy Spirit is not emphasized or even mentioned in many churches. In some cases, this may be deliberate as a counterbalance to those churches that may overemphasize the working of the Spirit. Both positions are wrong. God exists in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is clear from our journey through Acts so far that the Spirit was the source of power, just as Jesus claimed, for the events that were occurring. 
  • Faith has been replaced with consumerism and materialism in the congregation and leadership. Ministry leaders have wrongly determined that their church and service must be attractively marketed to persuade people to attend. God doesn’t need marketing; He needs faithful shepherd leaders who follow Scripture. Congregation members are often concerned with having their needs met instead of worshipping God and contributing to their church. Appearance and reputation have replaced content and substance as the most important “measurable” of the church.
  • Those in the mission field often have a higher reliance on the Spirit and an understanding of the evil spiritual forces opposed to their work. Their level of faith and reliance on the Spirit is often higher. 
  • The modern church could see miracles occur if they follow the blueprint in Acts.

Verse 9

First, let’s define the Freedmen’s Synagogue. 

  • Historical records indicate that sections in Jerusalem were comprised primarily of Jews who had settled in the city from various nations in the area. The freedmen were descendants of Jews previously held as slaves but who were now free from Rome. 
  • This particular synagogue was comprised of people from Cyrenians and Alexandrians. Both of these people groups came from locations in North Africa. People from Cilicia and Asia. The second people group, Cilicians and Asians, were from areas in modern-day Turkey and Syria.
  • Thinking ahead in the book of Acts, it’s possible that Paul may have been in this synagogue since Paul came from Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 21:39). However, there is no historical data to prove this position conclusively.

During this period, Judaism had four key symbols, and challenging any of them could provoke a confrontation.

  • The Temple.
  • The Law or Torah.
  • The holy land focused predominately on Jerusalem and the Temple.
  • The national, ethnic identity of all Jews and proselytes.

Because paganism was rampant in the areas around Israel, even with the nation itself, faithful Jews knew they had to zealously guard their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and not tolerate any new ideas that could result in a compromise or idol worship.

We don’t know the basis of the dispute between Stephen and this particular synagogue, but based on the context of what had occurred since Jesus’ ministry and the early church so far in Acts, it seems reasonable to conclude that the synagogue felt that Stephen’s message undermined at least one of the four key symbols listed above. Their conclusion was that Stephen was committing blasphemy.

Verse 10

This is a short but powerful verse. Those who chose to debate Stephen about the Gospel message were sorely outmatched. A quick explanation of the Jewish understanding of wisdom, based upon cultural and Old Testament concepts.

  • Wisdom refers to a person’s approach to life.
  • This approach came from a life in the covenant given by God and was considered a gift from God.

The Greek word used here for wisdom occurs only four times in Acts (6:3, 10; 7:10, 22), and it refers to inspired wisdom through the power of the Spirit. This would verify what Jesus said in Luke 21:15, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Regardless of the motivation of the Freemen Synagogue, they no put into place a plan to kill Stephen. In many ways, what transpires is similar to what happened to Jesus leading up to His crucifixion.

Verse 11

Now the plot against Stephen begins to unfold. We can speculate about the reasoning behind the plot, but in the end, it doesn’t matter if it was jealousy or, like the case with Paul (Saul), they felt they were the ones being faithful to God, and Stephen wasn’t. The Greek word hypoballo, translated here as “persuaded,” actually evokes a much stronger meaning. The Greek-English Lexicon defines it as: to hire a person to act in a particular way, often involving dishonest activities – to hire, to bribe, to induce. The bribe was to spread a rumor throughout Jerusalem that Stephen was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God, a grave charge in first-century Israel and the only case where capital punishment administered by the Jews was allowed by the occupying Romans.

We should take a moment and consider why would displaced Jews who returned to Jerusalem act in such a vehement way. In general, Hellenistic Jews tended to be less dogmatic than Hebraic Jews. However, they were highly nationalistic and were highly zealous when it came to the Law and the Temple. In some academic circles, they were labeled as “Zionists.” 

The false charges brought against Stephen are quite similar to what the religious leaders tried to do with Jesus. However, in Jesus’ case, they couldn’t produce any evidence that He had violated the sanctity of the Temple, Law, or God. Therefore, they couldn’t execute Him themselves, so they brought Him to Pilate and had Jesus executed by the occupying Romans. As events unfold in Stephen’s case, the Sanhedrin is able to falsely convict Stephen of the charge of blasphemy.

Persecution of Servants: Acts 6:12-15 Even in the most difficult of circumstances, God can provide comfort and peace – even in the face of death.

Verse 12

The end result is for the first time, the general population of Jerusalem began to oppose the young church. In addition to the residents of Jerusalem, the elders (representing the Sadducees) and the scribes (representing the Pharisees) were involved. The third arrest of Christians now took place, soon to be followed by a third trial before the Sanhedrin.

Verses 13-14

The false charges are now presented before the Sanhedrin. In addition to those previously against Stephen, false witnesses are now produced to add more weight to the false claims presented against him. The charges are focused on two areas.

  • Blasphemous words against the Law.
    • To speak against Moses was to speak against the Law.
    • The false witnesses claimed they heard Stephen preaching that Jesus would change the customs of Moses, hence the Law which they held sacred would be changed.
  • Blasphemous words against the holy place.
    • The holy place was the temple.
    • To first-century Jews, this was viewed as the dwelling place of God, with His very presence in the holy of holies.
    • An attack against the temple was considered an attack against God.

Although the charges were false, they stirred up the people as well as the Sanhedrin because of the perceived seriousness of the accusations. As previously stated, the entire situation bears a striking resemblance to the charges brought against Jesus. While it is true that Jesus desired to bring change to Jewish society, He never threatened to destroy the temple, and He affirmed the Law by stating that He came to fulfill the Law.

Verse 15

Now that the charges were stated, they turned to Stephen to see how he would respond. We can only wonder if Stephen’s reaction caused any surprise on the part of the Sanhedrin. On the one hand, there was doubt about the seriousness of the charges brought against him. On the other hand, the Sanhedrin had already had two trials with Christians as defendants, and they had yet to instill any sense of fear or remorse on the defendant’s part.

Let’s define one phrase before we go further in this verse. The phrase is “looked intently.” The Greek word is atenizo, and from the Greek-English Lexicon, we see that it means: to fix one’s eyes on some object continually and intensely—to look straight at, to stare at, to keep one’s eyes fixed on. The entire Sanhedrin was now focused on Stephen and what his response would be to the charges. It is very likely that Stephen was intensely staring back at the high priest.

There are several possible reasons and characteristics for Stephen’s appearance to resemble an angel.

  • Stephen was filled with the Spirit and had no fear.
  • He wasn’t angry.
  • He wasn’t fearful.
  • He held no bitterness.
  • He possessed a quiet confidence.
  • He looked peaceful.
  • He felt secure.
  • He had courage.
  • It is possible that his face reflected divine glory, just as Moses’ face did in Exodus 34:29 and referenced in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18.
    • Both Moses and Stephen bore the mark of having been with God.
    • However, Stephen was accused of speaking against both Moses and God.

This sets the stage for what will transpire in the next lesson.

Applications.

  • Develop your spiritual life and gifts so that you are ready when God calls you. We also need to be flexible as the calling may not be where we expect it. 
  • Allow yourself to be used in various kinds of ministry. Although we should serve predominately in the area(s) of our gifting, we may be called to serve temporarily in other areas. Regardless of what area you’re called to serve in, at the forefront or in the background, serve faithfully.
  • Don’t try and serve God without proper preparation or qualifications. Serving in this way will likely result in disappointment and maybe even hurt the ministry.
  • If you are involved in any type of public ministry, expect opposition. Scripture is filled with faithful and godly men and women who faced opposition. To think that we would escape opposition for faithful work is wishful thinking.

Acts Lesson Twelve

Acts 6:1-7  Chosen for Service

In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters. Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 

So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith. (HCSB)

Before we look at this short passage in detail, it will be helpful to try and determine a timeline for the events that have taken place so far in Acts. There are various interpretations and positions on when these events took place, and it is impossible to know the dates exactly. However, a reasonable estimate is that the events that occurred at the beginning of chapter six took place anywhere from two to five years after Pentecost. This indicates is that the church had been in existence for a period of time now, was continuing to grow, and was starting to exhibit growing pains as the number of believers increased. Still, the leadership team, or at least the organizational structure, had not changed. We now see the church adapting and growing to meet the needs of the people.

Verse 1

The first thing to note in this verse is that the church was experiencing rapid growth. The Greek used here is plethyno. The Greek-English Lexicon defines it as: to increase greatly in number or extent—‘to grow, to increase greatly, to multiply. Whatever the number of believers was at this point, we can only estimate what that would be; the church had experienced significant growth. As with any organization, growth presents both opportunities and challenges. One of the biggest challenges is organizational structure. A similar situation occurs in Exodus, with Moses trying to administer to the entire nation of Israel as they travel to the promised land. Moses’ father-in-law advised him to set up a hierarchy to meet the needs of the people effectively. Although the circumstances surrounding the events here in chapter six are not on the same scale, they do represent a situation where more structure and workers are needed.

The second thing to note is there was a danger of a division occurring within the church. 

  • Hellenistic Jews were the Greek-speaking Jews who had moved to Palestine from other countries in the region. They may have spoken Aramaic as a second language, but it is reasonable to believe that many didn’t speak Aramaic. 
  • Hebraic Jews were the people who grew up in Israel and spoke both Aramaic and Greek. 

A few points to remember as we read this verse.

  • The Hellenistic Jews could be viewed as the “outsiders” in the young community of believers.
  • Those that were being overlooked were the “outsiders.”
  • The vast majority of believers were likely Jews. The exceptions would be the proselytes, Gentiles who converted to Judaism such as Nicolaus, but they were few in number as the mission to the Gentiles had not begun yet. The church could be viewed as a Jewish Christian community.
  • As with any large group, it is easy for “cliques” to develop. In this case, it is highly probable that Hellenistic Jews tended to meet with others from their cultural group, while the Hebraic Jews met with others from their group. This doesn’t mean there was disunity in the church, only the separation that is normal due to language and cultural differences.
  • This separation now became evident in how the charity was being practiced within the community. The Hellenistic widows were being overlooked in this. It is possible that there were a significant number of Hellenistic widows, as is alluded to in 1 Timothy 5.
  • There were two types of charity practiced by the Jews, and the early church probably followed the same practices.
    • Guppah – this was a weekly allowance for needy residents. It was given out every Friday and consisted of enough money to buy fourteen meals.
    • Tamhuy – this was a daily distribution for nonresidents and transient people. It consisted of food and drink delivered house-to-house where the needy were known to dwell.
    • It seems that the early church combined elements of both practices with a daily distribution to those in need.
  • From Acts 2:44f and 4:32f, it is apparent that the early church firmly believed that there should be no needy people in the family of Christ.

The Apostles were presented with a challenge to the unity of the church. How would they react to this potential threat?

Verse 2

They acted promptly to address the unintended slight to the Hellenistic Jewish community. They also understand that they had dropped the ball on this and needed to take responsibility to correct the situation.

A few points to note here.

  • The entire group of Apostles, all twelve, convened a meeting of all the believers. 
  • They wanted the entire community of believers to be aware of the situation and be involved in the solution to the problem. 
    • This would remove any perception of disunity or discrimination between the two groups of believers. They were equal in the eyes of the church’s leadership.
    • The voice of every believer was important in the decision the church would make regarding the situation.
  • The Apostles were not sending the message that taking care of the needy was beneath them. They were sending a very clear message that this was an essential part of ministry, but as leaders of the church, they were responsible for teaching and shepherding the flock.

Verses 3-4

The first question that begs to be asked is, “why seven men?” Here a historical/cultural review reveals that there’s nothing mysterious about this number. Jewish courts typically consisted of seven members. The early church was following what an accepted cultural practice was. The same reason applies for choosing only men; this would be the standard cultural practice. 

Next, the Apostles outline the requirements for those that would serve the community.

  • They needed to have a good reputation. This would be important for both serving those in the community as well as demonstrating a faithful witness to those outside the community.
  • They needed to be full of the Spirit. Being filled and led by the Holy Spirit was an integral component of the early church, especially those in leadership. The Spirit would need to work in and through them to carry out the ministry the Apostles were expecting of them.
  • They needed to be full of wisdom. Wisdom is essential when administering funds and ensuring that financial matters are handled above reproach.

Just as choosing the Apostles was a pivotal moment, choosing these seven men would also be a key moment. If mistakes were made in choosing one or more of them, it could potentially seriously harm the members of the church as well as tarnish their high standing within the local community. This could have given a timely opportunity for Satan to damage the church from within. However, this didn’t occur.

The result of appointing seven men to carry out this ministry function would enable the Apostles to continue concentrating on their primary task; evangelism, teaching, and shepherding the church.

Verse 5

There are two important points in this verse. 

  • First, the proposal from the Apostles to the congregation was pleasing to the “whole” company. It wasn’t a majority decision; it was a unanimous decision to support the proposal.
  • Second, the congregation chose the seven who would serve. Although the Apostles set out the requirements to fill the function, it was the members who would make the decision on who would fill them.

We could speculate as to why the seven men were all Hellenistic Christians, but there is nothing significant to be gained by that discussion. It could be as simple as the problem involved the Hellenistic widows, the Hellenistic Christians wanted to serve them, and the Hebraic Christians saw no reason not to let them serve in this manner.

Although we have some further information on several of the men chosen, others are never mentioned again.

  • Stephen – being listed first is really not a surprise as he will be the primary character in chapters six through eight.
  • Philip – he would also play a significant role in the story of the expanding Christian witness as outlined in Acts 8:5-40.
  • Prochorus – early tradition connects him with the Apostle John. In particular, it is thought that he was the writer who took dictation from John when the fourth Gospel was written. He later became the bishop of Nicomedia in Bithynia and was martyred in Antioch.
  • Nicanor/Timon/Parmenas – nothing further is known about these men.
  • Nicolaus – some scholars believe he may have been Luke’s primary source of information about the Hellenists, especially what is noted in Acts 11:19-21. It is also likely that the Gnostic sect known as the Nicolaitans borrowed his name to gain authority for their teaching. However, there is no evidence that Nicolaus himself had any connection to them.

Verse 6

The selection of the men to fulfill the responsibilities outlined earlier in the passage is now followed by a simple installation ceremony. The men were brought before the Apostles, who prayed over them and laid hands on them. This simple act signified that the Apostles confirmed the selections made by the congregation. 

The question begs to be asked as to whether the practice of laying on of hands is a prescriptive or descriptive practice for the church? The idea of a commissioning ceremony with the laying on of hands goes back to Old Testament practices in Exodus 18:13-27 (without laying on of hands) and Numbers 27:16-23 (with laying on of hands). Therefore, from a cultural standpoint, it was an accepted practice. Additionally, Luke uses the practice of laying on of hands to illustrate different concepts in the book of Acts.

  • 9:17 – healing.
  • 8:18 – giving of the Holy Spirit.
  • 13:3 – commissioning to a task.

The overwhelming emphasis is on the designation for a task and not for an appointment to an office.

Another issue that crops up with this passage is the assumption that this is the first designation of the office of deacon within the church. However, that is an incorrect understanding of the passage. The Greek word used in verse one (daily distribution) and verse four (preaching ministry) is diakonia. The proper understanding of this word in verse two is, “a procedure for taking care of the needs of people—‘provision for taking care of, arrangement for support.” In verse four, the meaning is “the role or position of serving—‘ministry, task.” In both cases, the emphasis is on the action, serving, and not an office. The Greek word for a deacon, diakonos, never occurs in this passage. However, it does occur in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8, where deacons are explicitly discussed. Therefore, we should not understand this section of the passage as the inauguration of the office of deacon within the church. We should understand it as the selection of seven men to function as faithful servants for the needs of the church, which would free the Apostles to continue their responsibility as teachers and shepherds to the young church.

Verse 7

Luke continues the good news in verse seven. 

  • First, the Apostles could concentrate on evangelism, and the Gospel message was spreading because of their efforts. 
  • Second, the church continued to multiply in Jerusalem. The Greek word used for multiply is the same one that was used in 6:1. The was continuing to experience exciting growth.
  • Third, a large group of priests became followers of Jesus. Some clarification is needed on this point.
    • We should identify these “priests” with the members of the Sanhedrin from Acts 4:1.
    • Priests served in rotational “teams” throughout the year.
    • The service included all the tasks that were required to be completed, not just the function of the Sanhedrin and the high priests family.
    • At this particular point in history, it is estimated that there were as many as 8,000 priests and 10,000 Levites who were involved in temple functions.
    • The majority of these men were considerably poorer and likely practiced sincere piety and devotion to God.
    • The message of a risen Messiah would have attracted them.
    • We don’t have an estimate of how many priests became followers, but it would appear to be a significant number since Luke mentions it here.

As we review this passage, lets’ consider some characteristics that identified the early church.

  • They were able to synthesize the matters of spiritual and material concerns. It was not just an evangelism center; it was a congregation that recognized the genuine needs of its members and designed and implemented practical, biblical plans to take care of these needs.
  • They were flexible in being able to adjust their organizational structure to meet the needs. The modern church often can be inflexible in meeting needs if the structure doesn’t have a plan to address the need. In the New Testament church, structure only developed to meet needs.
  • They practiced positive attitudes of restraint. In this case, they didn’t place blame on anyone for the Hellenistic widows being overlooked. Also, the Apostles didn’t demonstrate autocratic leadership in the search for a solution.

Applications

  • Are the needs of everyone in your local body of Christ being met? If not, bring up your concern to leadership to address the issue. If you are in a leadership position, take action on the  problem.
  • Don’t point fingers when problems arise. Instead, work with a spirit of unity and humility to find a solution to the problems. Also, don’t seek after glory in the search for a solution. Only God deserves the glory.
  • Decisions within a church or ministry organization should be corporate in nature. Autocracy has no place in a biblical church. If you see that happening in your church, challenge those in charge with a humble but uncompromising spirit.
  • Regardless of our gifting or role in our church, we are all called to serve one another. Don’t be a consumer Christian, be a participating and serving Christian.

Acts Lesson Eleven

Acts Lesson Eleven: 5:17-42 – Truth and Consequences

17 Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.” 21 In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach. 

When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin—the full Senate of the sons of Israel—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 As the commander of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, as to what could come of this. 

25 Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!” 

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” 

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men  to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (HCSB)

In this lesson, we’ll see how the persecution against the church grows. Still, at the same time, the church stands firm in its beliefs and conviction, denying the religious establishment to continue proclaiming the Gospel.

Let’s do a quick summary of Acts to this point before diving further into this passage. After the events at Pentecost, the message of the resurrection of Jesus spread rapidly throughout Jerusalem, as well as the surrounding area. This led to many professing faith in Jesus. The Apostles not only preached the Gospel, but they also performed many signs and wonders. Their work left little doubt that God was behind this new movement. However, as is often the case, the established order was not happy with this new movement. The religious leaders had opposed Jesus, crucified Him, and were now starting to fight against the Apostles as they saw their grip on religious teaching and authority slipping. There is a quote by a Christian martyr, Hugh Latimer, who said, “Whenever you see persecution, there is more than a probability that truth is on the persecuted side.”

I will break this passage into four sections with corresponding themes.

  • The religious council was attacking the truth, 5:17-28.
  • The Apostles were affirming the truth, 5:29-32.
  • Gamaliel was avoiding the truth, 5:33-39.
  • The church was announcing the truth, 5:40-42.

Attacking the Truth: Acts 5:17-28

There were three reasons that the religious leaders, the Sadducees, arrested the Apostles.

  • Peter and John had not obeyed the official order to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. By refusing to obey, they were guilty of defying the law of the nation.
  • The message of the church was in direct conflict with the doctrine of the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in a resurrection, by teaching and giving evidence that Jesus had, in fact, been resurrected.
  • The religious leaders were filled with jealousy because of the success and acceptance of these uneducated and unauthorized men. 

This time it wasn’t just Peter and John who were arrested; it was all twelve of the Apostles. The passage indicates that they were put in a “city jail.” This would be a structure where those incarcerated would be visible to anyone passing by. The irony is that even while being detained in an openly visible structure, they would still be released by God’s hand. 

The faith displayed by the Apostles is an example to all of us. They knew that they had been ordered to stop teaching in Jesus’ name, they knew they had disobeyed the Sanhedrin’s order, they knew that this was a serious offense, but most importantly they knew that they were being obedient to God and Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. This knowledge gave them unshakeable faith and determination regardless of the consequences.

Their faith was rewarded as during the night, an angel set them free. This fact pours more irony on the already stoked fire. Not only don’t Sadducees believe in the resurrection, but they also don’t believe in angels (Acts 23:8). However, the angel didn’t just set the Apostles free; they were told to go right back to preaching the Gospel, the very act that put them in the jail they were just freed from. What did they do? They obediently went back to the same location and continued to preach the same message. How many of us would follow in their footsteps, going from freedom right back to the actions that got us jailed in the first place?

In the meantime, the Sanhedrin had convened and asked for the “prisoners” to be brought before the council. One can only imagine their astonishment as they went to the jail, with the guards on duty, in full view of everyone, and the Apostles were nowhere to be found. This astonishment was likely compounded when the situation was explained to the Sanhedrin. The religious leaders were trying to stop the Apostles from performing miracles, but another miracle had occurred because the religious leaders had put them in jail!

Let’s take a moment to contrast the two groups.

  • Sanhedrin.
    • Educated.
    • Ordained.
    • Approved.
    • Lacking in a ministry of power.
  • Apostles.
    • Ordinary laymen.
    • Uneducated.
    • Ministry powered by the Holy Spirit.

The religious council was desperately trying to protect themselves, their positions, and hold on to their dead traditions. The Apostles were risking their physical lives to share the Gospel. The church was proclaiming the new; the religious council was defending the old.

There are numerous emotions in this section.

  • Jealousy – verse 17.
  • Baffled – verse 24.
  • Fear – verse 26.

Still, the high priest accuses them of defying the law and stirring up trouble. The high priest wouldn’t even mention Jesus’ name, instead saying “in this name” and “this man’s blood.” However, even this was an admission that the church was growing. It’s possible that the high priest may have sensed a critical moment here. If the Apostles were correct, then the Sanhedrin was guilty of unjustly executing Jesus, and His blood was on their hands. As the trial progresses, the Apostles become the judges, and the council is on trial.

Affirming the Truth: Acts 5:29-32

The conviction of the Apostles didn’t waver from Peter had stated in Acts 4:19-20. They continued to obey God and trust Him, regardless of their circumstances or perceived danger. They stood firm in serving only one master, God. Diplomats try to reach an agreeable outcome for everyone; ambassadors faithfully represent those who sent them. The Apostles acted as faithful ambassadors to God; 2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” 

Paul restates the charges he made in chapters three and four and then declares other facts on the events happening in Jerusalem.

  • The Sanhedrin was responsible for the death of Jesus.
  • Jesus has been raised from the dead.
  • Not only was Jesus resurrected, but He also sits at God’s right hand.
    • The place of honor, power, and authority.
    • Stephen would see Jesus standing at God’s right hand.
  • The work of the Holy Spirit is evidence that Jesus kept His promise that He would send the Helper.

The statement that Jesus had been raised from the dead must have been particularly unsettling to the Sadducees as that was in direct conflict with their theology. 

Peter once again calls on the Sanhedrin to repent, submit to the lordship of Jesus, and receive salvation. Once again, the council ignores the very message that would lead to their eternal rescue. If we take a moment to reflect on the Apostle’s challenge to the Sanhedrin, it is really quite remarkable. The very organization that held the power of religious authority and religious punishment in Israel is being challenged to their face by a group of common folk. 

Avoiding the Truth: Acts 5:33-39

The main player in this section is Gamaliel, a highly respected Pharisee. Since the Pharisees and Sadducees were often at odds with each other, it is not a stretch to think Gamaliel’s position was at least partly motivated by a desire to see the Sadducees not accomplish what they had set out by arresting the Apostles and bringing them before the Sanhedrin. Let’s consider some facts regarding this man.

  • He was a scholar who was highly respected by the people.
  • He was rather liberal in his application of the Law.
  • He was moderate in how he approached problems, as evidence by this event.
  • He was Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3).
  • He was the grandson of the famous rabbi, Hillel.
  • Rabbinic tradition stated he had the title of president of the high court.
  • His power within the Sanhedrin is evidenced by him and not the high priest, ordering the Apostles to be removed from the proceedings.
  • As a Pharisee, he would have at least had sympathy with the Apostles theologically.
    • A belief in the coming Messiah, resurrection, and life after death.
    • Oral tradition that gave them flexibility and openness to change.
  • When the Sadducees agreed to his advice, this was an indication of how well respected and distinguished he was in Jewish society.

We might think that what Gamaliel did was wise and helpful to the young church. However, there were several aspects of his advice that demonstrated a lack of wisdom and understanding.

  • He grouped Jesus together with two rebels. 
    • This is evidence that he had already rejected the evidence that the Apostles presented.
    • To him, Jesus was just another zealous Jew who was trying to free Israel from Rome.
    • Theudas and Judas never did the things attributed to Jesus. Neither were raised from the dead.
  • Gamaliel assumed that history would repeat itself.
    • Both Theudas and Judas had rebelled against the establishment.
      • Both were subdued.
      • Their followers abandoned the cause and fled.
    • If the Sanhedrin were patient, the same thing would happen again.
    • While it is true that cycles occur in history, the events taking place were breaking into new territory.
      • Ministry on the level of what Jesus accomplished had never occurred before. 
      • The events surrounding His crucifixion were new; darkness, earthquake, the veil being torn in two in the temple.
      • Jesus was resurrected and seen by hundreds before being seen ascending to heaven.
      • The events surrounding Pentecost were new.
      • God had visited the earth in the form of a man.
    • Gamaliel’s assumption is that if something is not from God, it must fail. This fails to take into account man’s sinful nature and the presence of Satan in the world.
      • Cults often grow faster than the church and cause many to be trapped in lies.
        • Mormons.
        • Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      • False religions.
        • Islam.
        • Buddhism.
        • Hinduism.
      • It is true that in the end, they will all fail. However, in the meantime, these false religions are leading millions to eternal damnation.
  • His motivation.
    • The council was facing an issue that demanded a decision, and he was promoting a position of neutrality.
      • However, neutrality is a decision.
      • Each person is either for or against God; there is no middle ground.
      • His vote could be interpreted as “no,” but maybe someday he would believe…if the movement persevered.
    • Jesus made it clear that one can’t be neutral about Him and His message. Matthew 12:30 Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters. 
    • The council knew what Elijah said in 1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow Him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word.
    • Being neutral is often a quiet and cowardly decision to reject God. The first group destined for hell is the cowards. Revelation 21:8 But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
  • If Gamaliel was really afraid of fighting against God, he should have honestly investigated the evidence presented, searched through Scripture, listened to the eyewitnesses, and asked God for wisdom. 
    • He was presented with the opportunity of eternal salvation but rejected it.
    • Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, stated that nobody was born a coward. “Truth makes a man of courage and guilt makes that man of courage a coward.”
    • What some would call caution, God would call cowardice.
    • The Apostles were ambassadors.
    • Gamaliel was a religious politician.

Announcing the Truth: Acts 5:40-42

There were at least some in the Sanhedrin that wanted to kill the Apostles. However, Gamaliel’s speech tempered the flames, and they reached a compromise. The compromise was that they would receive a flogging, likely thirty-nine lashes, they were commanded to no longer speak in the name of Jesus, and they were released. 

  • Deuteronomy 25:1-3 “If there is a dispute between men, they are to go to court, and the judges will hear their case. They will clear the innocent and condemn the guilty. If the guilty party deserves to be flogged, the judge will make him lie down and be flogged in his presence with the number of lashes appropriate for his crime. He may be flogged with 40 lashes, but no more. Otherwise, if he is flogged with more lashes than these, your brother will be degraded in your sight. 
  • 2 Corinthians 11:24 Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews.
  • There were strict guidelines for carrying out this punishment.
    • Although Deuteronomy 25:3 states forty lashes, over time, the standard practice was to give thirty-nine in case of a miscount. 
    • Regardless of how many lashes were given, it was a severe punishment.
    • The recipient was placed in a kneeling position with their upper body bare.
    • The lash was a triple strap of calf hide.
    • Two lashes were given across the back and then one across the chest, with the cycle repeated as necessary to reach the number required by the punishment.
    • People had been known to die during the punishment.

As brutal as the punishment was, it still wasn’t enough to stop them from obeying God. Much to the contrary, they left the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they were worthy of sharing in the suffering of their Lord. Also, they continued to meet in homes and gather in the temple area, teaching and proclaiming the Gospel message.

Applications.

  • No matter how difficult your circumstances, do you trust that God is with you, and do you have faith to follow Him? There were numerous times that it would have been easier for the Apostles to fall away, yet they held firm. Have you taken the necessary spiritual steps to prepare yourself for persecution? Do you spend time in the Word daily, pray without ceasing, gather with other believers, and hold firm to obedience to God? Reassess these areas of your life and prepare yourself to face persecution. None of us desire it, many will not face it to the level in this passage, but some of us will.
  • When confronted with falsehood, stand firm in the truth. A practice of mine is that whenever I’m in a discussion with others about spiritual matters, usually unbelievers, but it can be with other believers over doctrinal issues, as much as possible, I let Scripture do the arguing/convincing. If I try and support a position with my words, it becomes an opinion. However, if I use Scripture, more weight is added to the discussion. Additionally, if the other parties in the conversation continue to reject what Scripture says, they are rejecting God. 
  • If you do face actual persecution, whatever the form, rejoice that you have been permitted to share this with Jesus, knowing that He is walking with you during the experience.
  • Don’t be neutral in your Christian walk. Your actions either align with or go against God. There are no gray areas. Be firm yet gentle in your actions, always letting the light of Christ shine through you, penetrating the darkness of this world and reaching the lost with the saving message of the Gospel.

Acts Lesson Seven

Acts 4:13-31 – The Sanhedrin’s Dilemma

13 When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And since they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in response. 15 After they had ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them, and we cannot deny it! 17 However, so this does not spread any further among the people, let’s threaten them against speaking to anyone in this name again.” 18 So they called for them and ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; 20 for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

21 After threatening them further, they released them. They found no way to punish them, because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done; 22 for this sign of healing had been performed on a man over 40 years old. 

23 After they were released, they went to their own people and reported everything the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they all raised their voices to God and said, “Master, You are the One who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David Your servant: 

Why did the Gentiles rage 

and the peoples plot futile things? 

26 The kings of the earth took their stand 

and the rulers assembled together 

against the Lord and against His Messiah.

27 “For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness, 30 while You stretch out Your hand for healing, signs, and wonders to be performed through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness. (HCSB)

In the previous lesson, we covered Peter’s defense to the charges and how the Sanhedrin’s case contained no foundation. Now, the ball is firmly back in the Sanhedrin’s court. What were they going to do in response to the healing of the lame man and Peter’s defense of the situation?

Verses 13-14

The Sanhedrin faced a serious dilemma. Since they had publicly arrested Peter and John and placed them in jail the previous day, they now had to figure out how to proceed. However, the “trial” had not gone according to their plans. They probably expected these “uneducated” men to crumble after being brought before the council. Instead, Peter and John challenged the religious leaders. Here are some facts that the council needed to consider as they continued with this charade.

  • They couldn’t deny that a miracle had occurred. The man who had been lame since birth, a man who was easily recognized by many, possibly even some on the religious council, was standing before them with no physical disability.
  • How could uneducated and untrained men perform this miracle? They were ordinary fishermen, not scribes or authorized priests in the Jewish religious circle.
  • Peter and John were disciples of Jesus, but Jesus was dead.
  • The council was likely surprised by the courage and confidence that Peter and John displayed before them.
  • Miracles, by themself, are not proof of Jesus’ resurrection or the truth of Peter’s message.
  • Satan can perform miracles – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, 10 and with every unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved.
  • False prophets can do wonders – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 If a prophet or someone who has dreams  arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the Lord your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he has urged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slavery, to turn you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to walk. You must purge the evil from you.
  • The miracle, the message, and the events that had occurred since Pentecost were all supporting evidence that Jesus was alive and the church was powered by the Holy Spirit.
  • Peter used the Old Testament in both sermons to support his claims. This is evidence of a true prophet, as shown above in Deuteronomy 13:1-5.
  • The Sanhedrin was left speechless after Peter’s defense and the healed man standing before them.

Verses 15-18

Asking Peter and John to leave the council was a standard procedure once all the evidence and arguments were finished. This allowed the council to have an open discussion among itself, with no outside distractions or interruptions. From the short narrative in these verses, we see the following facts.

  • With the statement “what should we do with these men,” it was clear that they were indecisive about how to proceed.
  • They acknowledged that a miracle had occurred.
  • The miracle was widely known. There was no way the council could cover it up or deny that it happened.
  • Jesus’ disciples were popular with the people, as witnessed by the explosive growth of the church and that people came to hear their message.
  • There was no charge the council could pin on Peter and John.
  • The only thing the council could do was use their position and power to threaten this new religious movement. They would forbid any teaching that referred to Jesus.

There is one other significant point to consider in this section. It’s contained in verse 17, and depending on your translation, it appears as “this” (HCSB), “it” (ESV), or “thing” (NIV). What is “this” referring to? Does the Sanhedrin want to stop the further spread of the knowledge of the miracle that occurred? That is not possible; that “cat was out of the bag.” What the council was concerned about was the Gospel, the preaching of Jesus, and His resurrection. The focus of their attention was stopping this fledgling movement in its infancy. 

Verses 19-22

Peter and John continue down the courageous road they started on when they presented the defense of their actions. They refused to accept the decision of the council. Their response made it clear that they would follow God and not what the council was telling them. There was no way that they would stop preaching about Jesus. We can all learn from the boldness of the Apostles in rejecting instruction from man that conflicted with what God or Scripture proclaimed. At the same time, we need to make sure that civil disobedience or our personal crusades are actions that don’t tarnish Jesus’ Kingdom. At this point, let’s take a short history lesson from Scripture on civil disobedience.

  • The Jewish midwives were disobeying the pharaoh and not killing the babies in Exodus 1.
  • Moses’ parents in Hebrews 11:23.
  • Daniel in chapters one and six.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.
  • In each of these cases, there was clear direction from God.
    • The midwives and Moses’ parents knew it was wrong to kill children.
    • Daniel and his friends knew it was wrong to eat food offered to idols or bow down to idols.
    • Peter and John knew that they were under orders to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
    • In each case, the people were following instructions from God and not a personal agenda.
  • In each case, they also acted with courtesy and respect even as they defied the instructions of man. It is possible to both respect and disobey authority when authority runs contrary to God’s instruction.
    • Romans 13.
    • Titus 3:1-2.
    • 1 Peter 2:13-25.

 The greatest example of unjust suffering is Jesus. In His suffering, Jesus taught us three things.

  • Righteous protest against injustice always involves suffering.
  • Righteous protest against injustice always requires sacrifice.
  • Righteous protest must be motivated by love.

As followers of Jesus, we need to be careful not to wrap our prejudice as righteous indignation and make ourselves look like courageous soldiers. We must always examine our hearts to ensure we are not starting a “holy war” to satisfy our inner frustrations.

Another way to look at this problem is to examine four possible courses of action that Christians can take. Only one of these is biblical.

  • Monastic – views the world and all governments as corrupt, and the only solution is to retreat from the world. 
  • Secular – the world is the only source of authority, and God is denied. This option is foolish as there is no counterbalance to an evil or tyrannical government.
  • Cowardly – authority rests in both the world and in God, but the world has the predominant position. Pilate chose this option when he handed Jesus over to be crucified.
  • Biblical – authority rests in the world and God, with God in the predominant position. The government has authority but is not independent from God. When the two conflict, we must follow God.

Christians with courage should be law-abiding citizens until that law contradicts the clearly written law of God, at which point the higher authority (God) takes over.

Verses 23-31

Peter and John go back to the rest of the disciples and report the details on what happened. After this, they all joined together in praise and prayer to God. They were united in prayer. There’s a lesson here on the early church that the modern church all too often forgets, the importance of prayer. The early church understood that prayer was necessary to defeat the plans of the enemy. Prayer meetings in modern churches, if they even have prayer meetings, often resemble a party or concert. The meeting contains little sense of urgency or the danger we face because most of us live a “comfortable” Christian walk. If followers of Jesus were more intentional about following the Great Commission and being bold, there would be more urgency and need for prayer.

As we examine their prayer, we notice that they didn’t ask for their circumstances to be changed or for the religious rulers who were hostile to the Gospel to be removed from their positions. Instead, they asked for power to make the best of their circumstances and accomplish what He had already predestined. They desired to glorify Jesus, not themselves.

Their prayer was based on Scripture; they used the beginning of Psalm 2 for their prayer. Through Scripture, God speaks to us and tells us what He wants us to do. In prayer, we talk to God and make ourselves available to do His will. Prayer is not telling God what to do or what we want; it is asking God to do His will through our lives. 

1 John 5:14-15 Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.

The contextual setting of Psalm 2 describes the revolt of the nations against Yahweh and the Messiah, but it originated in the crowning of an Israelite king and the subsequent refusal of some of the vassal leaders to pay homage and submit to the king. Now, the early church is applying this psalm to their situation with Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and some of the Jews as the disobedient vassal rulers.

In response, God shook the place where they had gathered, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling them to boldly preach the Gospel. We mustn’t misunderstand the concept of them being filled again with the Holy Spirit. This was not another Pentecost. This demonstrates that believers must be continually filled with the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s work, and it is possible for our “tank to run dry” if we are not in right fellowship with God. If we are living in sin, if we are not reading Scripture, if we are not praying to God, if we are not using our gifts in service can all lead to our spiritual tank running dry. However, we see in this example the opposite. The believers were in a healthy and faithful relationship with God, and they were continually being filled with God’s power, the Holy Spirit.

Christian courage depends upon biblical praying grounded in the sovereignty of God.

A summary of this passage reveals several key points.

  • Strength to face suffering.
    • They were united in fellowship. This is a recurring theme in Acts, the united fellowship of believers. For those of us who live in individualistic countries, this theme often runs counter to our culture.
    • The sovereignty of God. Because God is in control of all things, we have nothing to fear if we walk in obedience.
    • Their united prayer was saturated with Scripture. We must spend time daily in God’s Word and let it soak into our innermost being. Psalm 119:11 I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.
  • Fellowship helps in times of crisis.
    • When we gather with like-minded believers, we gain strength and encouragement, knowing we are not alone. 
    • When we share our situation with our support group, we unburden ourselves. We can receive wise counsel and not act on our emotions.
    • When we gather with our support group, we can spend time in prayer together. Being together helps us to focus on God and His sovereignty instead of being overwhelmed by our problems.
  • Acknowledging God’s sovereignty helps in times of crisis.
    • When we are experiencing a crisis, the enemy seems powerful and seem weak in comparison.
    • We may experience suffering, and some could be quite severe. But in the end, God will turn it into good.
    • Evil is a reality, but God is a deeper and more powerful reality.

Applications.

  • Don’t let a lack of formal seminary training prevent you from being a bold witness for Christ. Instead, submit and let the Holy Spirit fill and guide you each day. For those who do have formal seminary training, don’t let the education make you arrogant and forget that without the Holy Spirit, your words will ring hollow.
  • Be bold in the face of persecution. We serve the highest power in the universe, the living God, and we have nothing to fear when we walk in accordance with His will.
  • Gather together with other believers in unity. We desperately need each other for support, encouragement, and correction. Lone-ranger Christians are ineffective Christians. 
  • Pray. Pray together, pray alone, pray without ceasing. It is our most effective weapon in spiritual warfare. Nothing else stops the efforts of the enemy as much as prayer. 

Acts Lesson Five

Acts Lesson Five – Acts 3:1-26 Miraculous Healing, Powerful Preaching

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up, stood, and started to walk, and he entered the temple complex with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple complex. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him. 

11 While he was holding on to Peter and John, all the people, greatly amazed, ran toward them in what is called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you. 15 You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in His name, His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you. 

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you did it in ignorance, just as your leaders also did. 18 But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets—that His Messiah would suffer—He has fulfilled  in this way. 19 Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah. 21 Heaven must welcome Him until the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning. 22 Moses said: 

The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to Him in everything He will say to you. 23 And everyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from the people.

24 “In addition, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. 26 God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” (HCSB)

As we look at this passage, it can be divided into two main parts:

  • Verses 1-11 centered around the power of Jesus.
  • Verses 12-26 centered around Peter’s message to the crowd.

Also, keep in mind the following ideas as we dig into this passage:

  • Verses 1-5: As we are involved in ministry, it may require us to see the opportunities and to determine the real needs of the people we minister to, and identify any resources we may have to help them.
  • Verses 6-11: As we serve, our service can’t be conducted in our own strength. It is only through divine power according to God’s will that will count in the end.
  • Verses 12-16: Our service for Jesus begins first with self-denial, centers on Him, and proclaims faith in His name.
  • Verses 17-26: By God’s grace, repentance brings forgiveness through Jesus, and that forgiveness is available to all who would call on His mighty name.

Verses 1-5

We’ll look at these verses in light of two key ideas. One idea is correctly understanding the needs around us. The second idea is a correct understanding of the rabbinical view on charity.

  • Correctly understanding the needs around us.
    • The lame man.
      • The man was born lame; all of us are born sinners.
      • The man couldn’t walk; no sinner can walk in a way that pleases God.
      • The man was outside the temple; sinners are outside God’s temple, the church.
      • The man was begging; sinners are beggars; they are searching for the fix that will satisfy their wants.
    • The need wasn’t money.
      • The man needed healing.
      • The man needed restoration to corporate worship. According to Old Testament Law, those who were crippled were not allowed inside the temple. Leviticus 21:18 No man who has any defect is to come near: no man who is blind, lame, facially disfigured, or deformed.
    • Peter and John were presented with an opportunity for ministry.
      • Peter didn’t perform the miracle to remove the man’s handicap.
      • Peter did it for two reasons.
        • To save the man’s soul.
        • To demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • The man illustrates the state of each of us who has not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus.
  • Correctly understanding the rabbinical view on charity.
    • There were three pillars in the Jewish faith; the Torah, worship, and charity.
      • Charity was one of the main ways of kindness.
      • Charity was considered a major expression of a person’s devotion to God.
      • Worshippers entering the temple would be drawn to giving charity to a lame beggar, thus demonstrating their piety.
    • Charity was not just a characteristic of the Jewish faith; it was an expected part of their worship life.

These first five verses illustrate how we, as believers, can practice charity in a lost world.

  • We can share the greatest gift possible, the Gospel message.
  • The lame man represents those who are in disobedience to God, sinners.
  • Each of us has opportunities, maybe daily, to be a “Peter” to a lame man.

Verses 6-11

The first section set the stage; a lame man in need of healing. However, from the study of the first section, we understand that he only looked at the surface need, money, so that he could eat. He didn’t understand his deeper need. If he were healed of his disability, he would be able to work and no longer have to beg.

You can almost feel the anticipation-the man begging for alms. Peter and John were staring intently at him and telling him to look at them. No doubt in his mind he was going to receive a gift, maybe even a large one since they engaged him in that manner. However, the gift he received was not what he was expecting, yet it went far beyond his grandest imagination. He was instantly and completely healed of his disability. 

Peter, in the name of Jesus, commanded the lame man to walk! In a biblical context, a name is more than a label. It is a representation of the person and is an extension of the person’s being and personality. To call in to use the name of Jesus is a call upon the authority and power of Jesus. Jesus, through Peter, was continuing the healing ministry He conducted while walking the earth. The healing power spread from his feet to his ankles. He jumped up and began to walk. Not only that, he entered the temple with Peter and John. Previously, as a lame beggar, he sat outside the temple begging for alms. Now, not only was he healed of his physical impairment, he was given spiritual acceptance as well. For the first time in his life, he was considered worthy to enter the house of worship.

There is little wonder that the man was not only walking, but he was leaping and praising God in God’s house. The word for “leap” used here is a rare one. It is the same word used in Isaiah 35:6a, “Then the lame will leap like a deer.” The people inside the temple recognized the man; doubtless, they had seen him hundreds of times, yet here he was inside the temple, and he was not only walking, but he was also leaping for joy and praising God. At the sight, they were filled with awe and astonishment, which prepared them for the message that Peter would now speak.

Verses 12-26

Peter now uses the opportunity presented to share the Gospel and for the members of the crowd to receive forgiveness for their sins. Just as in verses 2:14, 22, Peter addresses them as “Men of Israel.” Peter had preached Jesus to them and accused them of denying their Messiah. Just a few weeks earlier, Peter had denied Jesus three times. However, Peter has confessed his sin and was restored to Jesus; he was able to forget and move on from his failure.

In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he needed to refute the accusation that Jesus’ followers were drunk. Here, Peter needed to refute the idea that Peter and John had healed the man by their own power. Jesus was the true source of the power that healed the lame man. Not only that, Jesus was glorified by the God of their fathers; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Before a sinner can be lead to repentance, there must be conviction. Imagine a sick patient. Before they will accept treatment, they must believe that they are sick. Only then will they take treatment from the doctor. Peter now turns the temple into a courtroom, laying out the evidence that Jesus is God. How could two ordinary fishermen perform a healing miracle unless God was working through them? Nobody could deny the fact of the miracle. They had seen the lame man countless times at the entrance to the temple. Yet, here he was leaping and praising God in the temple. To deny the miracle was not an option. This left only one choice. Accept the miracle as genuine, and since the miracle was done in the name of Jesus to admit that Jesus is the living Son of God and that His name has power.

This section also deals with the Jewish responsibility in the death of Jesus. There are four points regarding this topic contained in this section of the passage.

  • They did it in ignorance. In the Old Testament, there was a difference between unintentional and deliberate sins; Leviticus 4-5, Numbers 15:22-31.
    • Those who sin deliberately were a rebel against God and were to be cut off from their people.
    • Those who sinned unintentionally were given an opportunity to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Ignorance doesn’t remove the guilt, but it does alter the circumstances.
  • Nowhere in Acts is there a blanket condemnation of the Jews for the death of Jesus. Only the Jews in Jerusalem are given that responsibility.
  • Gentiles shared in the blame; lawless men 2:23, Pilate 3:13.
  • The suffering of Jesus was part of God’s plan of salvation for mankind, 3:18.

Peter now draws on the Old Testament, and the greatest prophet found there, Moses. Any Jew who had even a slight understanding and knowledge of Scripture would see the link Peter was making. Belief in Moses should produce belief in Jesus. At the same time, belief in Jesus does not nullify the belief in Moses. Peter demonstrates that Moses pointed to Jesus in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

Peter closes the sermon by reminding them that they are the natural heirs of the promises that date back to Genesis 22:18, “And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.” Every prophet of Yahweh looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, from Moses all the way to John the Baptist.

The “offspring” referred to in verse 25 is singular. The Abrahamic covenant points to Jesus. Jesus is the sole offspring through which the blessing would come. He was Israel’s Messiah.

As we look back on this passage, there are two points we would do well to remember.

  • Ministry is meant to be done in teams. Lone rangers often do not last long in ministry.
    • Throughout Acts, we see ministry done in teams.
    • When Jesus sent out the twelve along with the seventy, they were sent out in pairs; Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1.
    • When Peter addressed the crows at Pentecost, he stood up with the eleven; Acts 2:14.
    • When Peter went to the home of Cornelius, he took six brothers with him; Acts 10:23 and 11:12.
    • Biblical context dictates that ministry is done with teams.
    • Each believer has one or more spiritual gifts to equip the team to function as a whole.
    • Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 gives four benefits of teams:
      • Greater fruitfulness – Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.
      • Help in times of personal failure – For if either falls, his companion can lift him up, but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.
      • Warmth of affirmation in times of need – Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?
      • Strength to face attacks – And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
  • Ministry is meant to be done in power, the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • Throughout Acts and much of the New Testament, we see the power of the Holy Spirit evident in the life of the church.
    • In the example in this passage of the lame man, we see that spiritual poverty is a greater curse than economic poverty. An economically poor church that is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit is, in reality, a rich church.
    • With the increase in affluence within much of the church community in the West, the dependence on God has declined. The church is identified with its ornate building, its famous pastor, a worship team that could perform in any major theater, or any other worldly measure of richness. But it may not have any spiritual richness.

Applications

  • As we engage with individuals in the world around us, pray for wisdom and discernment for their actual needs, not their surface needs. Just as the example in this passage, there may be a distinct difference between the two.
  • As we are involved in ministry, do we try and do it in our own power, or do we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit and work through His power?
  • Do we glorify Jesus in our work? We may never perform a miraculous healing, but whatever ministry work we are engaged in, we should always give glory where it is due, Jesus.
  • Do we try and engage in ministry by ourselves, or are we part of a team? Being a lone ranger is dangerous on a couple of points. First, it is easier to take the credit for success instead of glorifying Jesus with success. Second, it is much easier to succumb to sinful temptations when we go it alone. 

Acts Lesson Four

Acts Lesson Four – Acts 2:14-47 The Sermon, the Response, the Church

14 But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Men of Judah and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning. 16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

17 And it will be in the last days, says God, 

that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; 

then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, 

your young men will see visions, 

and your old men will dream dreams. 

18 I will even pour out My Spirit 

on My male and female slaves in those days, 

and they will prophesy. 

19 I will display wonders in the heaven above 

and signs on the earth below: 

blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 

20 The sun will be turned to darkness 

and the moon to blood 

before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes. 

21 Then everyone who calls 

on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: This Jesus the Nazarene was a man pointed out to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through Him, just as you yourselves know. 23 Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. 24 God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. 25 For David says of Him: 

I saw the Lord ever before me; 

because He is at my right hand, 

I will not be shaken. 

26 Therefore my heart was glad, 

and my tongue rejoiced. 

Moreover, my flesh will rest in hope, 

27 because You will not leave me in Hades 

or allow Your Holy One to see decay. 

28 You have revealed the paths of life to me; 

You will fill me with gladness 

in Your presence. 

29 “Brothers, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to seat one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing this in advance, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah: 

He was not left in Hades, 

and His flesh did not experience decay.

32 “God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. 33 Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into the heavens, but he himself says: 

The Lord declared to my Lord, 

‘Sit at My right hand 

35 until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” 

37 When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” 

38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!”

41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. 

43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common.  45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.  46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. (HCSB)

The passage we will study today can be split into three sections. The first is verses 14-21, and the second is verses 22-41, and the final one in verses 42-47.

The Introduction: verses 14-21.

Peter refutes the claim of the scoffers that they were drunk. A Jew wouldn’t eat or drink anything before 9 AM on a Sabbath or feast day. Therefore, what the pilgrims were witnessing was not caused by drunken behavior. Another point to note is that throughout this passage, Peter only addresses the Jews (resident or pilgrim) who witnessed the event. Peter is addressing the Jewish nation and proving to them that the Messiah has been raised from the dead. He quotes Joel 2:28-32 in verses 17-21, not to say that the entire prophecy had been fulfilled, but that the first part, verses 2:17-18, had just occurred and that verses 19-21 would occur when Jesus returns. Between those two events is the age of the Church.

Here are some points to note in this section.

  • Raised his voice – a common Semitic expression when beginning to speak.
  • Proclaimed to them – means to speak seriously and with gravity. It was often used for prophetic or inspired speeches.
  • “Men of Judah” and “residents of Jerusalem” – refer to the same group. This is a typical Semitic style of speech or writing.
  • Peter directs them away from the faulty thinking that the pilgrims were witnessing drunken behavior to the correct understanding that they were witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy before their eyes.

In verses 17-21, Peter quotes from Joel 2:28-32. Some points to note about the setting when Joel uttered this prophecy.

  • It was given after a locust plague had devastated the land, creating a severe famine.
  • Joel called the people to repentance.
  • Repentance would lead to the restoration of their prosperity.
  • In turn, this would lead to the event that happened here, at Pentecost.

Peter now applies this passage to the current situation.

  • Peter is convinced that the Messianic Age began with the resurrection of Jesus.
  • They were now living in the last days.
  • The rabbinic consensus was that the Spirit would return as a universal gift at the end times.
  • The pouring out of the Spirit on the believers at Pentecost was evidence that the end times had begun.
  • Support for all 120 of the believers, male and female, receiving the Spirit was Joel’s statement that sons and daughters would prophesy.
  • The Spirit was not just for the Jews. God will pour out His Spirit on all humanity. The Gentiles could now be included in God’s family.

Verse 21 must be viewed as the most crucial verse in this section of the passage.

  • “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
  • In the sermon that Peter gives, the “Lord” was Jesus.
    • It tells of His death.
    • It tells of His resurrection.
    • It tells of His exaltation.
  • Whoever calls on His name or whoever confesses Jesus as Lord will be saved.

The Sermon: verses 22-41. 

Many scholars and theologians believe that this section of the passage reflects the most basic form of the Christian kerygma, the death of Jesus linked to His resurrection. It is found throughout the book of Acts and follows the basic formula, “Jesus of Nazareth whom you killed…but God raised.” Peter includes a prelude here to reflect on Jesus’ earthly ministry.

  • Miracles – the mighty acts of Jesus.
  • Wonders – points to a deeper reality and in Acts is only found in conjunction with “signs.”
  • Signs.

Peter is stressing to the audience that they should have understood that the miracles, wonders, and signs that Jesus performed should have led them to recognize that Jesus was the appointed Messiah. Verses 22-23 establishes the guilt of the Jewish crowd and puts them under conviction. This would lead to a large number repenting and professing faith in Jesus.

Now that Peter has stated the basic Christian confession that Jesus is God’s appointed Messiah, Peter sets out to support this claim with scriptural proof from Psalm 16:8-11. Let’s look at some points behind Peter’s usage of the passage from Psalms.

  • This psalm is written by David, which is important as its application to Jesus is based on the Davidic descent of the Messiah.
  • It may appear that the psalm was a plea to God for vindication and avoidance of death and Hades.
  • However, Peter applies this psalm messianically as it’s a prophecy that David can’t apply to himself.
  • Verse 27 is the key. 
    • David expresses confidence that he would not be abandoned to the grave. Yet, he did die and was buried.
    • The “Holy One” refers to Jesus as He was resurrected, and His body suffered no decay.
  • Verse 28 doesn’t add to the argument about the resurrection, but it does refer to Jesus as the “source of life” (Acts 3:15) and the path to a new life through His resurrection.

In verses 29-31, Peter explains his application of this psalm to Jesus.

  • David died, so the psalm can’t apply to him.
  • It is a prophecy David intended for a descendant who would sit on the Davidic throne.
  • It applies to Jesus, who has risen and is, therefore, the messianic descendant David spoke about.
  • The psalm is used to prove the messianic status of Jesus, not His resurrection.
  • The proof of the resurrection is the eyewitness account of the disciples.
  • It depicts David’s vision that the Messiah would not be bound by death.
  • Since Jesus burst the shackles of death by His resurrection, He is the Messiah that David saw.

Another point to remember about the crowd in general. Many would have been familiar with what had transpired two months earlier at Passover, Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter reminds them that they were witnesses to the entire process; crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection.

In verses 32-35, Peter gives an exaltation to Jesus.

  • God resurrected Jesus from the dead.
  • The resurrection fulfilled the prophecy of David.
  • The Apostle’s eyewitness accounts are proof of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • God has exalted Jesus to sit at His right hand.
  • God has given the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus.
  • Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit on mankind.
  • The Apostles were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The crowds were witnesses to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  • Only Jesus, exalted at God’s right hand, has the authority to dispense the Spirit.
  • Peter uses Psalm 110:1 as scriptural proof.
    • David spoke of someone ascending to heaven and sitting at God’s right hand. David didn’t ascend to heaven, so he couldn’t have been talking about himself.
    • David must have been speaking of a future descendent, the Messiah. 
    • The outpouring of the Spirit affirms that the Messiah ascended to heaven.
    • David predicted this ascent.
    • Therefore, Jesus is the Messiah.

Verse 36

The conclusion of Peter’s sermon comes full circle to the beginning point, Jesus is Lord. Peter’s use of the psalms was designed to resonate with the Jewish audience and their understanding of the Messiah. There was no doubt that Jesus was the prophesied living Lord, Master, and Messiah.

Verses 37-40

The Jewish crowd heard Peter’s point loud and clear. They were guilty of rejecting Jesus, and in some cases, implicitly or explicitly involved in Jesus’ crucifixion. The phrase “cut to the heart” is uncommon, in the original Greek, but an extremely strong term. Peter’s sermon had clearly impacted the audience, and now they desired to know what they could do in response. Peter’s response contains four elements:

  • Repent – turn from disobedience to God.
  • Be baptized – signifying dying to your old self and being raised a new creation.
  • Forgiveness – the person’s sins are forgiven.
  • Receive the Holy Spirit – all believers receive the Holy Spirit after submitting to Jesus.

Peter concludes with a promise; all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved! This promise is universal. It is not exclusive to any people group or country. The poorest believer is equal to the richest. God’s plan of salvation is for all to enjoy.

We can also surmise from the context that Peter’s sermon was longer than what is recorded here using the phrase “and with many other words.” We don’t know what those words were, but the essential portion is recorded for us. Additionally, his use of the phrase “corrupt generation” harkens back to the Old Testament that was used to depict stubborn, rebellious, and faithless people. The crowd was part of that generation. They had witnessed the Messiah and had rejected Him. 

Verse 41

Peter’s sermon and appeal to leave a corrupt generation resulted in around 3,000 new believers who were baptized and added to the original 120 believers. That is miraculous multiplication within the church.

First Characteristics of the New Testament Church: verses 42-47.

This section could be further subdivided; verse 42 and verses 43-47.

Verse 42

Not only does this show how the new converts were brought into the new church, but it also is an indication of the bare minimum but still essential components of any church and is still applicable today.

  • Teaching – the faithful teaching of Scripture is a foundational aspect of any church. It is also a key component of discipleship. If we don’t know what’s in Scripture, how are we supposed to follow Jesus?
  • Fellowship – the basic meaning of the Greek word used here is “association, communion, fellowship, and close relationship.” In secular Greek, it could also denote the sharing of goods. From the context within this passage, it is clear this was intended for the early believers.
  • Breaking of bread – the primary meaning is participating in communion. It could also mean sharing a normal meal together, reminiscent of a pot-luck dinner. Everybody contributed as they could, and everybody enjoyed it together.
  • Prayers – there is no doubt that prayer was a key component of the early church. This could have involved keeping the formal prayer hours of Judaism, but most likely was an indicator of a vibrant personal and corporate prayer life among the believers.

Verses 43-47

Points to note from this section.

  • The Apostles were performing miracles (signs and wonders).
    • The people displayed reverent fear because of the miracles that they witnessed.
    • The word “everyone” indicates that even non-believers were impacted by what they witnessed.
  • The church enjoyed fellowship.
    • The Greek indicates a gathered community.
    • There was a strong sense of unity.
    • They shared with and took care of each other.
    • Shared resources were in keeping with the Old Testament ideal of community equality…no poor among them found in Deuteronomy 15:4.
  • They remained faithful to their Jewish heritage.
    • They devoted themselves to worshipping together.
    • They worshipped with a unity of purpose guided by the Holy Spirit.
    • By worshipping in the temple, they were able to present a recurring witness to the lost around them.
  • The temple may have been the place of worship, but the home was the place of fellowship.
    • Sharing a meal together.
    • A shared time of rejoicing.
    • A time of sharing burdens.
  • God responds to faithfulness.
    • The early church was blessed.
    • Their numbers grew exponentially.
    • They found favor with God and with their community.

This was a time of perfect innocence for the early church. They existed in unity, trusting each other and being truthful in their actions. They also had not yet experienced the dishonesty that would appear within the young church. Finally, opposition and persecution had not arisen.

Peter’s sermon, the first evangelistic sermon of the New Testament church, contains the following points. Each of the points is vital as we share the Gospel and should be included in our message.

  • Jesus’ life and ministry made it possible for Him to be our Savior (verse 22). It demonstrated that He was not a mere man; He was God’s answer to the issue of sin.
  • His death on the cross achieved salvation (verse 23).
  • His resurrection confirmed the success of over sin and death and validated His work (verses 24-25).
  • His exaltation enabled Him to send the Holy Spirit, who makes our salvation a reality in our daily lives.
  • His present exalted state confirms His Lordship and Messianic title representing His reign. During this period, He will defeat all rebellion to God (verses 34-36).
  • His second coming will complete His work (implied in verse 35).
  • In light of who Jesus is and what He has done, our salvation depends entirely on Him (verses 36, 38). Our receiving salvation requires us to admit our need through repentance and submitting to Jesus as Savior and Lord. This results in us receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized in His name (verse 38).

Applications

  • Do we let the Holy Spirit lead and direct us, or do we work blindly in our flesh?
  • When we share the Gospel, do we include the elements that Peter used? Look back at the section covering this and craft your witness around this structure. 
  • When possible, let Scripture speak for Scripture. God’s Word is powerful, much more powerful than any message we could ever craft. 
  • Do our churches and small groups incorporate the elements listed in Acts 2:42? If they don’t, they should. If they won’t, find new ones.
  • We should be generous when fellow brothers and sisters have genuine needs. If we trust God, He will take care of us when our needs arise.

Acts Lesson Three

Acts Lesson 3: Acts 2:1-13 – Pentecost

2 When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech. 

There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages.” 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What could this be?” 13 But some sneered and said, “They’re full of new wine!” (HCSB)

Chapter one was preparation for what now transpires. The disciples had listened to Jesus’ instructions over a forty day period. They received His commission to take the Gospel to the world. They received the promise that the Holy Spirit would fill them with power for their assignment. After Jesus’ ascension, there was nothing left to do but wait and pray for the fulfillment of the promise. Now in chapter two, the promise is fulfilled. 

This passage is split into two sections. The first is the coming of the Spirit in verses 1-4, and the second is their witness to the power of the Spirit in verses 5-13.

Verse 1

The literal translation of the beginning of verse one reads, “when the day of Pentecost was fulfilled.” The period of waiting was over; the promise had arrived.

Let’s take a brief history lesson by looking at the feasts listed in Leviticus 23 and comparing them with the work of Jesus.

  • Passover – pictures the death of Jesus as the Lamb of God.
  • Feast of Firstfruits –  pictures His resurrection.
  • Pentecost – the pouring out of the promised Spirit to the church.

The location, “one place,” is somewhat vague. It was most likely the upper room where they had been praying. It is also likely that it was close to the temple because of the response of the people who had arrived in Jerusalem for Pentecost and who were drawn to what was occurring to Jesus’ followers.

Who was the Spirit poured out upon?

  • From the context of the passage, it appears that it was the 120 who were gathered together.
    • The large range of nations represented in verses 9-11 suggests it was more than the 12 Apostles who received the Spirit.
    • Peter also quotes Joel in verses 17-18, indicating that both men and women received the Spirit.

Verses 2-4 describe the coming of the Spirit in three consecutive verses, each pointing to a specific aspect of the event.

  • Sound that filled the house.
    • The picture is one of a blowing blast of wind, like the sound of a tornado.
    • Wind phenomena often accompanied the appearance of God in the Old Testament.
      • 1 Kings 19:11b At that moment, the LORD passed by. A great and mighty wind that was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.
      • Isaiah 66:15a Look, the LORD will come with fire – His chariots are like the whirlwind.
    • The Greek word used here, pneuma, has the double meaning of wind and Spirit. 
    • Just as in Ezekiel 37:9-14, Yahweh’s breath, the Spirit, brings life.
  • Tongues of flame.
    • The Greek word for tongue, glossa, can refer to the physical tongue, or it can refer to what is spoken by the tongue.
    • The flames described here were in appearance like physical tongues.
    • Throughout the Old Testament, flames were used to signify the presence of God.
      • Exodus 3:2a – Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush.
      • 1 Kings 18:38 – Then Yahweh’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.
    • The illustration is of one great flame, representing the Spirit, which then separated into many tongues resting on each person.
      • Under the old covenant, the divine presence rested on Israel as a corporate body and many of its leaders for special purposes.
      • Under the new covenant, the Spirit rests on each individual believer. This doesn’t remove the importance of the corporate relationship with God (the church), but the corporate rises from the individual. This fulfills the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:33 that stated the law would be written on their hearts.
    • Luke is clearly using metaphorical language with the phrases “like that of a violent rushing wind” and “like flames of fire.”
  • Wind and fire together are symbols of judgment – wind blows away the chaff, and fire burns up the chaff.
  • The coming of the Holy Spirit means life for some and judgment for others. 
  • Speaking in other languages.
    • From the context of the passage, this is not talking about a heavenly language as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians.
    • The people from each of the nations listed in this passage heard the disciples in their own language.
    • The conclusion must be drawn that these were all “earthly” languages that were spoken by the various nations represented in the passage.
  • God intends the Gospel to be heard by the whole world, not just a select few. The imagery of everyone present hearing it in their own language reinforces the idea that the Gospel message is for everyone.
  • In addition, there is a reversal of the Tower of Babel scattering of the human race. Now, all people will be brought back together. 
  • People would no longer need to come to one central location using one language to worship God. Instead, people are now able to worship God in their own language and country.

Verse 5

The point behind this seemingly simple verse is that “Jews…from every nation” would be able to understand the sermon that Peter would give starting in verse 14 in, most likely, Aramaic that they would be able to understand.

Verse 6-8

A logical question to ask is, “what was the sound that the Jews heard that caused them to gather?” Luke doesn’t give us much explicitly in this passage, but we can deduce from the context what occurred.

  • The followers of Jesus likely left the upper room and moved into the area close to the temple.
  • Because of the fact that over 3,000 became believers that day, it would require a location of sufficient space for that many to gather.
  • The “sound” they heard was the believers speaking in the various earthly languages.
  • Considering what the believers had just experienced, they were probably acting in an energetic and excited manner, praising God and speaking in various languages as they moved from the upper room to the temple area.
  • Their actions would naturally draw a crowd.
  • The pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for Pentecost would initially be confused by what they saw and heard. Some estimates placed their number at 200,000 people.
  • What they witnessed would naturally amaze them. It is safe to say that they’d never seen anything like what was now happening.
  • What made it even more amazing is that a sizable portion of Jesus’ followers likely came from Galilee, not an area known for higher education.
  • Verse 8 is basically a repeat of verse 6, with the addition of the word “native.” This adds further support to understand that the term “tongues” is referring to an earthly language.

Verses 9-11a

These verses list the locations of the pilgrims. There is much that could be said about this list, and scholars have debated various meanings or interpretations over the years. The following is a simple listing of the predominant interpretations.

  • It starts in Parthia (modern-day Iran) to the east and works its way all the way to Rome in the west.
  • It progresses in a relatively steady curve from southeast to north to southwest.
  • Judea likely referred to the Davidic kingdom, which stretched from the Euphrates to Egypt. This would follow the geographic flow of coming after Mesopotamia. It would also include Syria, which is omitted from Luke’s list.
  • Each territory listed has extensive Jewish communities.
  • The “visitors” from Rome is probably a reference to the occupying forces.
  • The inclusion of the Cretans and Arabs would complete the picture by adding those who lived on islands as well as those who lived a nomadic life in the desert.
  • The list paints a picture of the Jewish Diaspora and its presence at Pentecost.

Verses 11b-13

We now read again that the pilgrims were amazed that they heard Jesus’ followers speaking in their native tongue. We also know that what they were proclaiming were the magnificent acts of God. Jesus’ followers were praising God, maybe even singing songs of praise. However, what they were witnessing provoked two divergent trains of thought.

Verse 12

The group identified here was “astounded and perplexed,” yet they also expressed curiosity in finding out what they were witnessing. 

Verse 13

The second group was not receptive to what they were witnessing. They believed that they were observing a group of people who had consumed too much alcohol.

As we share the Gospel with the lost around us, we often face the same divergent attitude. Those who are curious and/or accept the message and those who reject it for various reasons. The basic response to the Gospel hasn’t changed over the centuries, and we shouldn’t be surprised or discouraged when our message is rejected by an unbelieving generation.

Let’s summarize what Luke is trying to get across with this passage and his treatment of Pentecost.

  • The new church has been empowered for its mission. Everything so far in Acts has led to the moment of the pouring out of the Spirit. Without this event, the rest of the book would be blank.
  • This initial pouring out of the Spirit led to an immediate harvest of 3,000 believers, which we’ll see in the next lesson.
  • Pentecost, also known as the festival of firstfruits, was the firstfruits of the harvest of the Spirit.
  • The spiritual harvest didn’t conclude at Pentecost. It continues in an ever-widening arc as the Gospel is spread to the ends of the earth.
  • It contains eschatological significance, beginning the final period of God’s plan of salvation to the world. The Spirit is the sign of these last times.

Applications

  • Ask yourself whether you believe all people groups are equal to you as brothers and sisters in Christ. Scripture clearly says this is true. It is not difficult for us to slip into the mentality that we are “better” than nation “A.” The Gospel was meant for all of us. As you interact with the lost of the world, don’t pick who gets to hear the message. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you each day in sharing the message.
  • Some of us may not be comfortable with the “sign gifts.” Some are cessationists, who believe that the sign gifts ceased during the Apostolic Age, while others are continuists, who believe that the sign gifts continue. This debate has gone on through the centuries. Whichever side of the debate we fall on, what is essential is that we extend grace to the countering view. Personally, I am a continuist. However, the sign gifts, especially tongues, must be exercised in keeping with what Scripture says.
  • Do we proclaim the magnificent acts of God in our lives? Many of us would think nothing of cheering or jumping as we support our favorite sports team. But how many of us would act in the same manner when praising God? I’m not suggesting out of control behavior, but I am suggesting acting freely in our praise of God. 

Acts Lesson One – Introduction and the Promise of the Holy Spirit

Acts Lesson One – Introduction and the Holy Spirit

With this lesson, we will embark on a lengthy journey through the Book of Acts. It is a fascinating account of the birth of the church and the early missionary journeys to spread the Gospel. In our modern world, with so many gadgets and gimmicks used in the church, it is refreshing to go back to the basics and see how the Gospel spread through faithful servants empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Before we begin the first lesson on the Book of Acts, let’s look at background information to establish the basic facts or positions surrounding the entire book.

Author – There is almost universal acceptance that Luke wrote both Acts and the Gospel by his name. There is no reason to doubt Luke’s authorship of the Book of Acts.

Date – There are three main positions regarding the dating of Acts.

  • Sometime between A.D. 57-64.
    • Because of the book’s abrupt ending, which doesn’t talk about the outcome of Paul’s arrest.
    • Nero’s persecution of Christians is not mentioned in the book.
    • The writing doesn’t indicate that Luke was aware of Paul’s epistles, which could have influenced or been included in Acts.
  • Sometime between A.D. 70-90.
    • Because verse one states, “the first narrative” in reference to his Gospel, Acts must have been written after it. 
    • Since Acts was written after Luke’s Gospel, a dating of the Gospel is critical to identifying the dating of Acts.
      • From the structure of the Gospels, it appears that Luke borrowed material from Mark’s Gospel, which is dated around A.D. 65. 
      • Allowing for a reasonable period of time between Mark and Luke would point towards a date after A.D. 70 for Luke’s Gospel.
      • Most scholars who support a middle dating place Acts between A.D. 70-80.
    • Scholars and theologians who support late dating are in the minority. However, there is a split within the “late date” camp.
      • A.D. 95-100
        • The basis for this dating is on references to the information contained in Antiquities by the Jewish historian Josephus, published in A.D. 93. 
        • However, the connection to Josephus’ book is weak at best as the references pertained to commonly known Jewish events.
        • The favorable picture between Christians and Roman authorities doesn’t fit this later dating as imperial persecutions had begun.
      • A.D. 125-150
        • This dating is based solely on the language contained in Acts when compared to writings by the Apostolic Fathers.
        • Understandably, this is the weakest position.

The most convincing dating of the book is somewhere between A.D. 70-80.

Recipient

There are numerous possibilities that scholars and theologians have wrestled with through the centuries, some more believable than others. The origin of “Theophilus” in Greek means “lover of God.” So does this mean that it could have been written to a group of people and not an individual? That’s a possibility. However, “Theophilus” was a widely used name at the time Acts was written. Additionally, the phrase “most excellent” would also suggest a single person and not a group of people. Although we can conclude that Acts was most likely originally written to one person, there is no arguing that its final destination was intended to the broader Christian community.

Purpose – To reinforce the certainty of the Gospel message and the early church through a historical account of followers of Christ.

Themes

  • World Mission
  • Providence of God
  • Power of the Holy Spirit
  • Restored Israel
  • Inclusive Gospel
  • Faithful Witnesses
  • Relationship to the World
  • Triumph of the Gospel

We should also read Acts on three levels.

  • It is the story of the early church.
  • It is a book about Jesus.
  • It is a book that continues today with the principal characters being us, present-day believers in Jesus who continue to carry out His mission to reach the lost.

Acts 1:1-11

I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach  until the day He was taken up, after He had given orders through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen.  After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “This,” He said,“is what you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. 10 While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.” (HCSB)

Verses 1-3

This section presents the introduction of the book from Luke to Theophilus. I won’t restate the discussion on the recipient raised in the introduction to the book, but I will expand a bit on the style presented in the first.

Book dedications were common in Greek culture. Luke had dedicated his Gospel to Theophilus in Luke 1:3, and now he continues that trend in the first verse in Acts. Luke summarized his Gospel in the first verse with the concise statement, “about all that Jesus began to do and teach.”  Looking at that statement, there is one key observation centered around the word “began.” This implies that the work is not finished. As we take our journey through Acts, we’ll see that the work that Jesus began continued, and it continues today. The work will not be finished until Jesus returns. The summary ends at the beginning of verse two with the phrase “until the day He was taken up.” 

Beginning in the second half of verse two, the “new” story begins in Acts. 

  • There was a period of instruction given to the apostles to carry on the work He began.
  • This was a transition period as Jesus handed over the keys to them.
  • Luke points out that the same Spirit that empowered Jesus during His earthly ministry would now empower the apostles as they continued the work. 
  • Jesus taught them directly during His earthly ministry. Now, they would be taught and led by the Spirit.

Starting in verse three, Luke presents the fact that Jesus rose after His crucifixion and is alive. The phrase “after He had suffered” refers to the trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. However, His death was not the end. After He rose on the third day, He appeared to His followers repeatedly over a period of forty days. The imagery from the wording of the passage is not that Jesus was with them for the entire time; rather, He came and went during the forty-day period. The fact that Jesus appeared to the apostles during this time was essential for their primary role in Acts of being witnesses to His resurrection.

  • Acts 1:22
  • Acts 2:32
  • Acts 3:15
  • Acts 5:32
  • Acts 10:39-41
  • Acts 13:31

Here is a summary of Luke’s argument that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah.

  • The resurrection is a fact – the disciples knew Jesus had been raised from the dead.
  • If the resurrection is a fact, it proves Jesus’ deity. Jesus claimed to be divine before His crucifixion. God would not have raised Jesus from the dead if His claim to deity was false.
  • A divine Christ must speak the truth because God is truthful and must speak truthfully.
  • If Jesus speaks the truth, we can trust everything that He teaches. We can trust the Bible because Jesus taught it was the Word of God. We can believe that God has forgiven our sins because Jesus taught that God would do that for all who believe in Him.

The reference to forty days has strong ties to Old Testament events and the period after Jesus’ baptism.

  • Moses spent forty days on Mt. Sinai receiving the law.
  • Elijah spent forty days on Mt. Horeb.
  • Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was forty days.
  • Now Jesus will spend forty days preparing His followers to carry on the mission.
  • Forty days also fit the dating of Pentecost.
    • Resurrection on the third day.
    • Appeared for forty days.
    • Approximately one week in the upper room.
    • Pentecost, fifty days after the crucifixion.

What did Jesus speak to His followers about during this time of instruction? It is likely from looking at other conversations that He had in the Gospels that Jesus used the Old Testament to show that He was the expected Messiah. His followers would now carry on the work He had started.

Verse 4

The original construction of this verse in Greek sheds light on what Jesus’ followers had been doing. The verse literally means “stop departing from Jerusalem.” This implies that they had been coming and going from Jerusalem. Jesus tells them to stay in the city and wait for the Father’s promise, introduced in Luke 24:49 and explicitly revealed in the following verse.

There is a lesson here for us. How often do we try and rush off and do things before the proper time? Or even worse, how often do we try and do things in our strength and not in the power of the Holy Spirit? 

Verse 5

Here Luke presents a reminder to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with reference to the water baptism that John the Baptist was conducting in the Jordan River. However, the reference here is to the one-time occurrence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. John’s baptism was one of repentance and is still used today to signify a person committing their life to Christ and entering into the spiritual family of God. In contrast to the water baptism, new converts to Jesus would now receive the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. As we move through Acts, we will see this pattern repeated in various sequences. However, two things are essential to the conversion experience; repentance and the gift of the Spirit.

Verses 6-8

These verses tie neatly together with the disciples asking when the kingdom will come, Jesus rebuking their speculation, and refocusing them on the task He give them.

Although initially, the location of the conversation is vague, it becomes clear over the next several verses that this conversation is the last one that takes place between Jesus and His followers. It occurs right before His ascension and takes place on the Mt. of Olives. Because of Jesus’ previous comments to His followers about the coming of the Spirit and the fulfillment of God’s promises, the disciples had come to the conclusion that the final appearance of God’s kingdom could be right around the corner.

However, Jesus redirects their attention to the task at hand for all of His followers. 

  • They are not to worry about when that would occur.
    • That is solely in line with God’s purposes and authority.
    • Even Jesus had no knowledge of when this would occur.
  • To speculate on dates and times is pointless.
  • The return of Jesus doesn’t revolve around speculation about the timing.
  • It does revolve around God’s purpose.
    • Salvation of the lost in the world.
    • The quickest way to the return of Jesus is worldwide evangelism.

Verse eight puts the disciple’s question in the proper perspective. The restoration of the kingdom would involve a worldwide missions movement. Jesus’s statement is looking towards the future, both imminent and long-term. Jesus promised His followers two things.

  • They will receive power through the Holy Spirit.
    • Jesus’ followers receive divine power once they repent and place their faith in Him.
      • This applied to the original disciples.
      • It applies to us today.
    • The Greek word used for power is the same word that described the miracles that Jesus performed in the Gospels. Jesus’ followers receive the same power that He used when performing miracles.
  • They will be Jesus’ witnesses.
    • The geographical picture presented in verse eight is a rough outline for the entire book.
      • Jerusalem
        • Jerusalem is central to Luke’s Gospel.
          • The temple scenes of Jesus’ infancy.
          • The long journey to Jerusalem.
          • Jesus’ passion in the city that killed its prophets.
        • The story of Jesus led to Jerusalem.
        • The story of the church led from Jerusalem.
      • Judea – Understood as the Davidic kingdom to include the coastal territories and Galilee.
      • Samaria – Because of its non-Jewish population.
      • The ends of the earth – In the setting of the Acts, it would be understood as Rome since that is where the book ends. However, the same phrase is found in the prophets to mean distant lands. Our understanding today is that it represents the entire world where people live. The ends of the earth will not be fulfilled until all people groups have been reached by the Gospel.

Christians are constantly faced with two temptations regarding missionary work.

  • One is the temptation to idleness.
    • Jesus has saved me, so I’m good.
    • I have a nice church.
    • Everything is comfortable.
    • I’ll just sit back and wait for Jesus to return.
  • The second temptation is the one that the disciples were getting caught up in, thinking they could do the Lord’s work in the world’s way and their own power.
    • Establish the kingdom politically.
    • Put Christians into high positions in the government.
    • Impose our vision of society on the world.
    • Although we shouldn’t accept the evil in the world, it is foolish to think we can change things without God’s power.

Verses 9-11

The passage ends with the disciples witnessing Jesus’ ascension and the encounter with the angels.

Some things to note about the ascension.

  • It is found only here, in Acts 1:2 and Luke 24:51.
  • It is closely related to many New Testament passages that speak of Jesus’ exaltation to the Father. Two examples are:
    • 1 Timothy 3:16
    • 1 Peter 3:21
  • It depicts Jesus’ final departure of the resurrected Lord from the earth, ending the forty-day period of appearances.
  • There are connections with other biblical narratives.
    • The taking up of Enoch.
    • The taking up of Elijah.
    • The cloud that enveloped Mt. Sinai.
    • Clouds were often associated with theophanies.
      • The transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36.
      • The same picture occurs here as Jesus is surrounded by a cloud as He ascends.
  • It also gives further basis for the witness of the disciples who testify to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension as first-hand witnesses.
  • Luke stresses this point no fewer than five times in these three verses.

Now that the ascension is complete, two angels appear on the scene. There are several points to note about this.

  • Angels often accompanied heavenly visitations as interpreters of the event.
    • The significance of the empty tomb in Luke 24:4-9.
    • The disciples who stood looking into the sky in this section.
    • They addressed the disciples as “Men of Galilee.”
      • A strong Galilean witness is a central theme in Luke-Acts.
      • The women of Galilee witnessed the crucifixion.
    • Although it is understandable that the disciples would stare at the sky in amazement, the rebuke of the angels is necessary.
      • Events of a high spiritual experience are not the end.
      • It was time to act on what they had seen and become witnesses and testify to the truth of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
      • The rebuke was followed by a promise, Jesus would return in the same way that He departed, on the clouds.

Applications

  • Have we placed our faith and trust in a  resurrected Jesus and received power from the Holy Spirit? 
  • Do we study God’s Word so that we understand and can speak to the deity of Jesus? It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to memorize all the prophecies in the Old Testament about Him, but we do need to have an understanding and know where to look as we witness to the lost around us.
  • Do we wait until the correct time in our ministry endeavors and do them in the power of the Holy Spirit and not from our desire?
  • We should never pay attention, get involved with, or think we know when Jesus will return. Jesus was clear that He didn’t know when that would occur, so how can we make ourselves higher than Jesus?
  • Are we involved in mission work of some type? This doesn’t necessarily mean we need to go live in another country. However, it does mean that we are prepared and intentional about sharing the Gospel message to those we interact with and not being lazy Christians.

Malachi Lesson Seven

Malachi Lesson Seven 3:13-18 – Righteous and Wicked

“Your words against Me are harsh,” says the Lord. Yet you ask: “What have we spoken against You?” 14 You have said: “It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping His requirements and walking mournfully  before the Lord of Hosts? 15 So now we consider the arrogant  to be fortunate.  Not only do those who commit wickedness prosper, they even test God  and escape.” 16 At that time those who feared the Lord spoke to one another. The Lord took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Yahweh and had high regard for His name. 17 “They will be Mine,” says the Lord of Hosts, “a special possession on the day I am preparing. I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. 18 So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (HCSB)

This passage introduces the final section of Malachi and provides more clarity with what was stated in the previous section. The weight of the discussion is focused on the fact that Israel had still not returned to Yahweh with all its heart. They were going through the motions and still failed to see their disobedience, leading them to believe that they were righteous but still being punished.

Verse 13

The words chosen for both sides in this discussion, Yahweh and Israel, set the tone of the exchange. Yahweh’s statement is very strong, as evidenced by the phrase, “says the LORD.” However, the Israelite’s response is even stronger and could be interpreted as arrogant or insulting. The phrase, “what have we spoken against you” is used in:

  • Divine judgment speeches.
    • 1 Kings 16:1 – Now the word of the Lord came to Jehu  son of Hanani  against Baasha:
    • 2 Kings 19:21a – This is the word the Lord has spoken against him: 
    • Ezekiel 36:5a – This is what the Lord God says:
  • It is also used to describe arrogant, slanderous, or insulting speech directed at other people or Yahweh.
    • Psalm 31:18 – Let lying lips be quieted; they speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt.
    • Psalm 109:2 – For wicked and deceitful mouths open against me; they speak against me with lying tongues.
    • 2 Chronicles 32:16-17 – His servants said more against the Lord God and against His servant Hezekiah. 17 He also wrote letters to mock Yahweh, the God of Israel, saying against Him: Just like the national gods of the lands that did not deliver their people from my power, so Hezekiah’s God will not deliver His people from my power.
    • Ezekiel 35:13 – You boasted against Me  with your mouth, and spoke many words against Me. I heard it Myself!

Verse 14

Here we find the warped reasoning behind the behavior and attitude of the Israelites and many Christians today. They don’t believe there is any satisfying or profitable in serving God. If they aren’t “rewarded” in some way, money/job/house/etc., there is only a shallow reverence for an infinitely holy God. They were putting on a facade of mourning and repentance, but their heart was nowhere near that.

But in a twisted way, they were right; their “service” to God was pointless.

  • Ritual carelessness.
  • Ritual faithlessness.
  • Treachery.
  • Sorcery.
  • Adultery.
  • Perjury.
  • Exploitation or neglect of the defenseless and needy.

Supposed good works that don’t flow from genuine faith and gratitude to God are the same as a check written from a bank account that doesn’t have any money in it. It may make the “giver” feel good for a short time, but the recipient, God, sees that there is no value in the offering. The people identified here were only interested in material gain and not in a relationship with God.

Verse 15

Here we see that the Israelites had joined the group who viewed God’s laws and instructions as something to be rejected. They gave two reasons for their decision and subsequent behavior.

  • The wicked prosper. 
  • The wicked test God and escape punishment.

However, the wicked will face a time of judgment and punishment, even if they (we) don’t see it.

  • Proverbs 11:21a – Be assured  that the wicked will not go unpunished.
  • Hebrews 12:25 – Make sure that you do not reject the One who speaks. For if they did not escape when they rejected Him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven.

As we reflect on these first three verses, we need to consider if we are just as guilty as the disobedient Israelites addressed in Malachi.

Verse 16

Even though there was a sizable portion of Israel that were disobedient to God’s instructions, we see here that there was at least a remnant who revered God and followed His instructions. Even though God was focused on the disobedient in the hope that they would repent and return, He hadn’t lost sight of those who were obedient from the motivation of right heart attitude. 

We may think that it makes little sense for the creator of the heavens and earth to need a book to remember these people, but this would resonate with the Israelites. An example of this is found in Esther 6:1-2 – That night sleep escaped the king, so he ordered the book recording daily events to be brought and read to the king. They found the written report of how Mordecai had informed on Bigthana and Teresh, two eunuchs who guarded the king’s entrance, when they planned to assassinate King Ahasuerus.

The idea of heavenly books is too widespread throughout Scripture to think they are just a metaphor.

  • Book of Life.
    • Exodus 32:32 – Now if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written.
    • Psalm 69:28 – Let them be erased from the book of life and not be recorded with the righteous.
    • Philippians 4:3 – Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life. 
  • The Book.
    • Daniel 12:1 – At that time Michael  the great prince who stands watch over your people will rise up. There will be a time of distress such as never has occurred since nations came into being until that time. But at that time all your people who are found written in the book  will escape.
    • Ezekiel 13:9 – My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and speak lying divinations. They will not be present in the fellowship of My people or be recorded in the register of the house of Israel, and they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.

The clear conclusion is that those who have submitted to God with a reverent and repentant heart, who desire to follow His instructions, who will stand against the evil in the world, and teach others what true worship looks like will not be forgotten. Instead, they have a sure reward waiting for them in eternal heaven.

Verse 17

Although the overwhelming thrust of Malachi is on pending judgment and destruction for the wicked, God is also merciful and has compassion for those who fear Him. The judgment will not be total or indiscriminate. God will spare those who are righteous and those who are wicked. This will happen on the eschatological day of the Lord when the righteous will be redeemed and the wicked punished.

This is God’s answer to the false understanding of the disobedient Israelites. Although they may think the wicked and arrogant are not being punished, God’s message is loud and clear. There will be a day of winnowing where the righteous will receive their reward, and the wicked receive their punishment; none will escape.

Verse 18

The “you” connects back to the speakers of the harsh words. Faithful servants of the King will be rewarded. Esther 6:9 – Put the garment and the horse under the charge of one of the king’s most noble officials.  Have them clothe the man the king wants to honor, parade him on the horse through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king wants to honor.’ 

The “garden” of the earth will face a final pruning on the Day of Judgment. 

Matthew 13:41-43 – The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!

The wicked will no longer prosper, and the righteous will no longer suffer.

What is the difference between these two groups of people…integrity and character. 

  • Those who fear the Lord walk with Him, and their thoughts are of God.
  • Those who don’t fear the Lord are always looking out for…themselves.

A proper understanding of the final result should lead us not to be envious of those who are wicked but prosper. Instead, we should feel deep sympathy and sorrow for them. The enjoyment they experience in this life is the only enjoyment they will ever have. Their temporary prosperity will be followed by eternal torment.

Psalm 73:17-20 – until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their destiny. 18 Indeed, You put them in slippery places; You make them fall into ruin. 19 How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors. 20 Like one waking from a dream, Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.

 Applications

  • Do we envy or strive to be like those who are prosperous, even if those people are wicked? If that is the case, our focus is on the wrong thing. We need to focus and follow the Creator and not the created. 
  • Even if we are a persecuted minority in this world, we should always desire to part of the “remnant” that remains faithful to God no matter what is happening around us. No matter the circumstances we’re going through, God has not forgotten or forsaken us.
  • Do you consider yourself special? This is a tricky question. We are special and unique in God’s eyes, wonderfully made. Our identity and worth are found in Jesus, not in anything of the world. If the world tells you that you’re special, ignore them. Our “specialness” is found in Jesus.
  • Pray for the lost and wicked around you. There is an eternal destination for each of us, and judgment is very real. Do you have a passion for reaching those on the road to eternal destruction?

Malachi Lesson Six

Malachi Lesson Six 3:7-12 Robbing God

“Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Hosts. But you ask: “How can we return?” “Will a man rob  God? Yet you are robbing Me!” You ask: “How do we rob You?” “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. 10 Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not ruin the produce of your land and your vine in your field will not fail to produce fruit,” says the Lord of Hosts. 12 “Then all the nations will consider you fortunate, for you will be a delightful land,” says the Lord of Hosts. (HCSB)

This passage introduces another dispute/rebuttal sequence between Yahweh and Israel. The topic is over tithing, although it is much deeper than just giving back to God. The real issue is obedience (faithfulness) versus disobedience (apostasy). 

Before beginning this passage, let’s have a quick reminder of how the previous lesson ended with verse six; the unchangeable nature of God. This theological doctrine is called immutability. Since God is perfect, He can’t and doesn’t change. Here are two important truths about this statement.

  • God can’t get better since that would mean He was less than perfect at some point, which would also indicate He is not God.
  • God can’t get worse because He would then be less than perfect, which He can’t be. 

God is and must remain perfect in all His attributes. Nevertheless, it is our unchangeable God who gives us a chance to change, which is something we all must do. The beginning of this passage will now reveal how that occurs.

Verse 7

This verse contains a three-fold exhortation.

  • Situation – Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them.
  • Command – Return to Me.
  • Motivation – and I will return to you.

The statement “since the days of your fathers” covers a large period of time, approximately 1,000 years. Like all people, Israel had a long history of being disobedient to Yahweh. What may have contributed to the situation presented in Malachi is Old Testament teaching from the time of Moses before Israel entered the promised land. 

Deuteronomy 4:25-31 2“When you have children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, and if you act corruptly, make an idol in the form of anything, and do what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, provoking Him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will quickly perish from the land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not live long there, but you will certainly be destroyed. 27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be reduced to a few survivors among the nations where the Lord your God will drive you. 28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see, hear, eat, or smell. 29 But from there, you will search for the Lord your God, and you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, you will return to the Lord your God in later days and obey Him. 31 He will not leave you, destroy you, or forget the covenant with your fathers that He swore to them by oath, because the Lord your God is a compassionate God.

In the mind of at least some of the Israelites, maybe most of them, they believed that since they had been restored from their exile. However, a quick review of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi shows that the prophecies regarding Israel’s repentance and spiritual restoration and blessings had not yet been completed.

Verse 8

Up until this point in Malachi, Yahweh had levied charges against Israel in the following areas.

  • Insulting worship – 1:4
  • Treachery against one another – 2:10
  • Intermarriage with pagan idolators – 2:11 
  • Treachery against their wives – 2:14
  • Toleration of sorcery, adultery, perjury, and exploitation of the weak – 3:5

Now, Yahweh draws their attention to the fact that they were not tithing as required. The Old Testament references “the land” more than 1,000 times, with the vast majority connected to Canaan. Canaan was the land that God promised patriarchs, the land given to Israel, the land where the people would be blessed. The way Israel treated the land and its produce was a key component of their responsibility under the covenant. Ownership of land was understood to mean participation in the covenant community to whom God had given the land. But that ownership was validated by an attitude of faith and thankfulness toward Yahweh. The land was given as an inheritance to Israel, but it was, in reality, stewardship and not ownership. The reason for stewardship and not ownership is because of the habit of humans to sin and forget who gave the gift.

  • Leviticus 25:23 – The land is not to be permanently sold because it is Mine, and you are only foreigners and temporary residents on My land.
  • Deuteronomy 6:10-12 – 10 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would give you—a land with large and beautiful cities that you did not build, 11 houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.

In addition, every third year, the tithe was supposed to be distributed in the giver’s hometown to benefit the Levites, foreign residents, orphans, and widows.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 – 28 “At the end of every three years, bring a tenth of all your produce for that year and store it within your gates. 29 Then the Levite, who has no portion or inheritance among you, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow within your gates may come, eat, and be satisfied. And the Lord your God will bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.

Just like the Sabbath year, the tithe would benefit the poor and those who couldn’t own land (Levites), demonstrating love to God and their neighbors.

Let’s look at this concept from a New Testament perspective. Nowhere in the New Testament is the believer instructed to give a specific amount, tithe, or other. However, weekly offerings are described.

1 Corinthians 16:2 – On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come.

Also, in a general sense, the New Testament obligations of Old Testament legislation are increased rather than reduced. Understanding this, the moral conclusion is that Christians, being blessed with the fullness of life under the sacrifice of Jesus, should give more than a tithe since everything we have comes from and belongs to God.

Verse 9

The idea that Israel was robbing God is given two more pieces of evidence. 

  • They were suffering under a curse. Looking ahead to verse 11, the curse could have been in several different circumstances.
    • It could have been a plague on the harvest – locust or drought.
    • It could also refer to an enemy.
  • It was the entire nation that was guilty.

Verse 10

This verse is effectively split into two parts.

  • Bring the full tithe into the storehouse. The word “full” could be understood in two ways, both relevant and accurate.
    • Israel was not bringing the full tithe. Instead, they were withholding part, or all, of the requirement in the Law.
    • The whole (full) nation was guilty of this charge.
    • Because the Levites were dependent on the tithes for sustenance (since they couldn’t own land), if they were neglected, it was more than a simple sign of disobedience. It signified a deeper problem of falling away from their relationship with Yahweh that the Levites modeled (complete dependence on Yahweh).
  • Test Yahweh and see if He will bless and sustain you.
    • If the people would return to God and be obedient, they would receive an abundant blessing.
    • First, we need to understand what this is not. 
      • It is not support for or an endorsement of a prosperity gospel.
      • It doesn’t mean we’ll get a promotion, new house, new car, etc.
      • Those who promote the prosperity gospel are actually saying that human activity can force God into doing what they want. This is the same as implying that God is not sovereign.
      • Instead of a false “name it and claim it” theology, it would be more appropriate to promote a “live it” theology. Act like a child of God, and we’ll be treated as one.
    • It does mean.
      • God’s provision will match our needs.
      • It won’t lead to waste or overindulgence.

Verse 11

As mentioned under the discussion of verse nine, the word “devourer” can have more than one meaning. In general terms, it indicates something that eats. However, it is often found in expressions of destruction.

  • Fire: Hosea 8:14b – I will send fire on their cities, and it will consume their citadels.
  • Human armies: Jeremiah 30:16a – Nevertheless, all who devoured you will be devoured, and all your adversaries-all of them-will go off into exile.

Even though Israel was hanging under a curse, Yahweh was prepared to reverse that to a blessing if they would repent and turn back to Him. 

Amos 9:14 – I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel. They will rebuild and occupy ruined cities, plant vineyards and drink their wine, make gardens and eat their produce.

Jeremiah 31:5 – You will plant vineyards again on the mountains of Samaria; the planters will plant and will enjoy the fruit.

Verse 12

In this verse, Israel is described as a symbol of blessing and the recipient of God’s grace and favor. However, this does not occur apart from obedience and faithfulness. But it does point to a future time when Israel will undergo a national repentance the will precede the earthly reign of Jesus and be characterized by Yahweh’s protection, provision, prosperity, and presence.

  • Romans 11:26
  • Joel 2:18-32

Applications

  • If you have strayed from your relationship with God, cling to the promise He makes. Return to Him, and He will return to you.
  • Understand what it means to rob God. Are you giving back to God what He has blessed you with? Are you cheerful in your giving? 
  • Ask yourself if you truly believe that God will meet your needs (not wants). If the answer is no, then pray for more faith and opportunities to display that faith through action.