Acts Lesson Twenty-seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

This lesson will be split into two sections.

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

Missionary Preparation

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

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

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

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

A couple of things to note about Barnabas and Paul.

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

Missionary Journey

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

A few facts about John Mark before proceeding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Twenty-six

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

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

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

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

The Power of God’s Wrath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of God’s Hand

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

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

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Nineteen

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

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

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

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

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

“Here I am, Lord!” he said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul in Damascus – verses 19b-25.

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

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

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

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

Paul in Jerusalem, verses 26-31.

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

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

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

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

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

Luke now inserts a summary verse.

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Ten

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and Wonders

12 Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. By common consent they would all meet in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people praised them highly. 14 Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers—crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 In addition, a large group came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (HCSB)

After the sobering incident with Ananias and Sapphira, we see the church continue to grow and the Apostles performing many signs and wonders. Satan attempted to disrupt the work of the church, but if anything, the incident in the preceding passage brought attention to the power and work of the church resulting in more people hearing about it and increased curiosity with this new movement.

Verse 12

God gave the Apostles the power that allowed them to perform miracles (signs and wonders). Although the miracles were predominately done by the Apostles, there were other believers who were able to perform miracles through the power of the Spirit. Acts 6:8 Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 

The reason that the Apostles performed the majority of the miracles is that this was how their authority and the ministry of the church as authenticated.

  • Romans 15:18-19 For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed, 19 by the power of miraculous signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit. As a result, I have fully proclaimed the good news about the Messiah from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:12 The signs of an apostle were performed with great endurance among you—not only signs but also wonders and miracles.
  • Hebrews 2:4  At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will.

When we look back through the Bible, we see miracles performed at the beginning of a new era.

  • Moses performed great signs and wonders a the beginning of the age of Law.
  • Elijah and Elisha performed miracles at the beginning of the era of the Prophets.
  • Jesus and the Apostles performed miracles when the New Covenant began.

In each case, God called our attention to the new era. It was His way of saying, “follow these leaders because I have sent them.”

These wonders were also the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that His followers would do greater works in answer to believing prayer. John 14:12-13 I assure you: The one who believes in Me  will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

When Jesus performed miracles, He has three purposes in mind.

  • To show compassion and meet human needs.
  • To present His credentials as the Son of God.
  • To convey spiritual truth.
  • An example would be when Jesus fed the 5,000. This miracle met their physical need, revealed that He was the Son of God, and presented an opportunity to preach a sermon about the Bread of Life.

The Apostolic miracles followed a similar pattern. An example is the healing of the crippled beggar.

  • Healing the crippled man met his need.
  • The healing proved to the people that Peter and John were servants of the living Christ, thus verifying their credentials to carry on Jesus’ work.
  • The Gospel message that Peter preached resulted in more people coming saving belief in Jesus.

Before we proceed, let’s quickly discuss the issue of the Apostolic age and the requirements to be an Apostle. The key requirement that can no longer be fulfilled is to have seen the risen Christ. The one exception was Paul. However, in his case, Jesus gave a direct commandment for Paul to preach the Gospel. Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!”

If anyone claims to be an Apostle today, I would be highly skeptical of that claim. The meaning of the Greek word for “Apostle” means “one who fulfills the role of being a special messenger (generally restricted to the immediate followers of Jesus Christ, but also extended, as in the case of Paul, to other early Christians active in proclaiming the message of the Gospel) of Jesus Christ. [Taken from the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains.]

When we consider the context of Acts and the New Testament church, it is not difficult to see that the original followers were, in effect, special messengers commissioned to spread the Gospel and birth the church. For someone to claim today that they were a “special messenger” would beg the question of what their specific commission from Jesus entailed. All followers of Christ are directed by the Great Commission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Those who claim to be present-day Apostles would need to give justification for calling themselves an Apostle. I realize many may not agree with this. Still, it is important to highlight the requirements and definition of an Apostle since Satan utilizes many different methods to undermine the church, and false teachers often are very damaging.

Peter, and presumably the rest of the twelve Apostles, would gather in Solomon’s Colonnade to share the Gospel with those who were going to the temple. We need to remember that the temple in Jerusalem was not one single building. It covered a sizable area that contained various buildings, gates, and porches. What was likely occurring is that Jesus’ early followers would worship in the temple and then gather at Solomon’s Colonnade to preach. This would ensure a steady stream of people going to and from the temple. 

Verse 13

This verse can be confusing when connected to the following verse. Here it says, “none of the rest dared to join them,” but in the next verse, it says, “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers.” How do we resolve this seeming contradiction? There are two resolutions to this question.

  • The first is that not all of the believers would gather at Solomon’s Colonnade since that seemed to be the focal point for the persecution from the religious leaders in their attempt to crush this new movement. However, given the power and zeal of the early church, it seems unreasonable that any true believer would be afraid of being arrested. 
  • The second is that all of the true believers in Jesus would gather, and those who hadn’t become fully committed followers were afraid to be associated with them. For many in countries with religious freedom or at least religious tolerance, this may not resonate. But for those in countries where persecution is real, it would hit home. Only fully committed followers of Jesus would have the courage and faith to gather with fellow believers, not worrying about the consequences. For those who live in persecuted countries or have met people from those countries, there is a rock-solid aspect of their faith in Jesus. I believe that this second possibility is the correct one.

There was a paradox at work here. First, there was no doubting the power of the Spirit, as demonstrated by the healings that were occurring. It is natural that the display of healing power would be attractive. Second, there was the judgmental power of the Spirit, as demonstrated by the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. This power demands commitment and responsibility from those who profess allegiance to the Spirit.

Another thing to note is that even among those who were not followers of Jesus, they praised them for the miracles that were being performed. 

Verse 14

Even though the power of the Spirit was both wondrous and terrifying, the number of those who believed in the Gospel continued to grow. This growth was an indication of the success of the evangelism of the early church as it was powered by the Spirit. This illustrates an important point as we share the Gospel. We should never try to hide the challenging aspects of living as a follower of Christ; facing persecution, not being popular, and being rejected are just a few. Even though it was widely known that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for lying, the church continued to grow. It was this manifestation of power that leads directly into the final two verses in this passage.

Verses 15-16

The people of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas may have been fearful of the power on display in the early church, but that didn’t mean that they were afraid to tap into the benefits. We see that those who were sick or those who had sick family members or friends would move them into the streets so that even with the mere passing of Peter’s shadow would heal them. This aligns with an accepted cultural/historical belief regarding a person’s shadow. A shadow was viewed with superstition and was thought to be an extension of the person, representing their power and personality. A similar event is the woman who was healed by touching Jesus’ robe in Luke 8:44. Even though Luke doesn’t explicitly state that Peter’s shadow healed anyone, it does underline the healing reputation of the Apostles.

 Although the passage doesn’t mention any of the other Apostles by name, but considering the context of what has occurred so far in Acts, it is reasonable to think that this same belief would be manifested by the shadow of any of the twelve. One can only imagine what people were thinking and talking about as they witnessed this amazing display of healing power manifested through ordinary men. It is also easy to consider how the religious leaders felt about this display. The church was displaying the powerful work of the Spirit as the religious leaders were focused on stopping this very work. It would be interesting to know what the average citizen of Jerusalem felt regarding this dichotomy. The official religious leaders who weren’t able to perform these miracles and a group of uneducated laborers healing numerous people while standing up to and confronting those who were supposed to shepherd the people.

However, not were the residents of Jerusalem being healed, but people from all the towns around Jerusalem were bringing those who were sick as well as those who were tormented by evil spirits. This reminds us of what is recorded in Mark 6:53-56 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and beached the boat. 54 As they got out of the boat, people immediately recognized Him. 55 They hurried throughout that vicinity and began to carry the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. 56 Wherever He would go, into villages, towns, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged Him that they might touch just the tassel  of His robe. And everyone who touched it was made well. 

The main difference at this point is, unlike Jesus, their ministry was confined to Jerusalem, and the people came to them instead of them going to the people. This would change by Acts 9 when the Apostles began to venture forth from Jerusalem to the surrounding areas.

The passage ends with the phrase, “and they were all healed.” It wasn’t just some of them or most of them…it was all of them.

On the heels of the shocking and frightening events of Acts 5:1-11, the young church continued to grow and to spread the life-giving message of the Gospel throughout Jerusalem, with the news reaching locations outside of the capital. There is a principle contained here which all believers should remember. A church that is firmly rooted in Jesus, has unshakeable faith, is characterized by holiness, lives out the call to evangelize the lost, and is unified in spirit and purpose is a church that can’t be stopped and one that has nothing to fear, regardless of the persecution that is hurled at it. 

Applications.

  • Are you a “closet Christian” or do people around you know that you are a follower of Christ? That doesn’t mean we should act in an overbearing manner, but it does mean that people around us should see a difference in how we act. If not, prayerfully consider why that is the case. Are you afraid of what others may think or do? Do you feel that you are lacking in some areas of your walk? Whatever it may be, ask for that area to be strengthened and let your light shine to those around you.
  • Meet with other believers on a regular basis. The absolute minimum is during the weekly worship service. But honestly, that isn’t what Christian fellowship is meant to be. Meet with others on a more frequent basis to encourage and pray for each other. Join a small group for Bible study and prayer. If you are comfortable and feel led, lead a small group and disciple others. 
  • Is your life something that others would praise or think highly of? Our goal should be to share the Gospel, shine the light, make Jesus known to those around us. All of this is done for His glory, not ours. 
  • We may not have a “healing touch” as described in this passage, but all of us can to pray for those in need around us. Make it a habit to pray for others. Think of one or two who don’t know Jesus and pray daily that they would come to know Christ. Pray for the sick that you know. Pray for the leaders in your church. Pray for opportunities to share 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 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 Two

Acts Lesson Two – 1:12-26 Replacing Judas

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they arrived, they went to the room  upstairs where they were staying: 

Peter, John, 

Bartholomew, Matthew, 

James the son of Alphaeus, 

Simon the Zealot, 

and Judas the son of James. 

14 All these were continually united  in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers. 

15 During these days Peter stood up among the brothers —the number of people who were together was about 120—and said: 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David spoke in advance about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was one of our number and was allotted a share in this ministry.”  18 Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst and burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood). 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: 

Let his dwelling become desolate; 

let no one live in it; and 

Let someone else take his position.

21 “Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 

23 So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two You have chosen 25 to take the place in this apostolic service that Judas left to go to his own place.” 26 Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias. So he was numbered with the 11 apostles. 

This passage splits into two parts; verses 12-14 and 15-26.

Verses 12-14

We now see that the last conversation between Jesus and His followers, as well as His ascension, occurred on the Mount of Olives. This location presents an interesting contrast. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and He ascends from the Mount of Olives. Jesus was taken from His followers at approximately the same location twice, once in a heartbreaking manner and again in glory. 

According to rabbinic tradition, a Sabbath day’s walk was 2,000 cubits, which equates to about three-fourths of a mile.

Once they arrived back in Jerusalem, they went to an upper room to engage in prayer. The location of the room is unknown, although there are various ideas on where it could have been located. What we do know is that it was large enough to accommodate the group.

The list of disciples is the same as in Luke 6:13-16, except for the omission of Judas and a reordering of the names. Andrew was moved from the second position to the fourth, and John was moved to the second position. The reordering may have been deliberate. The ordering in Acts would give importance to Peter, John, and James, who are the only apostles to have an individual role in Acts.

The women could have included the wives of the apostles. They certainly included the women who accompanied Jesus from Galilee and witnessed His crucifixion.

  • Luke 8:2
  • Luke 23:55
  • Luke 24:10

Not only did they pray, but they prayed together as a group, and they prayed continually.

This was also the time right before Pentecost. It was a time of waiting, a time of prayer for the promised Spirit, and a time of prayer for the power to testify to the truth of Jesus. Without the Spirit, there is no effective witness; the way to spiritual empowerment is to wait in prayer.

Verses 15-26

This section revolved around the issue of replacing Judas in the leadership circle of the twelve. 

Verse 15

It is also no coincidence that Luke mentions that the group numbered about 120 believers, both men and women. In rabbinic tradition, 120 was the minimum number required to form a local Sanhedrin. Peter assumed the leadership mantle among the group and convened the assembly. Throughout the narrative of Acts, Peter is the leader. He was the spokesman and the representative apostle. The other apostles were present and active, but Peter was the mouthpiece for the group.  

Verse 16

Peter tells the gathering that Scripture had to be fulfilled (past tense), referring to Judas. The passage Peter pointed to was Psalm 69:25, which is quoted in verse 20, along with Psalm 109:8 (future tense), which pointed to Matthias taking Judas’ place. The fulfillment of Scripture was the main agenda item for the meeting. This is a theme that runs through Acts; Scripture that has a prophetic idea must be fulfilled.

Verse 17

The business at hand is the process to replace Judas. Peter reminds them that Judas was a full member of the group and shared in their work. 

Verses 18-19

Luke now provides the reader with some details regarding Judas’ death. Some may ask the question as to why this account differs from the account in Matthew. First, two people who witness event may see the same thing, but describe it in a different manner. Each account would be accurate. In the passage in Matthew, Judas is said to have committed suicide by hanging. When we consider that the body would be hanging in the hot sun for days, remember this wasn’t an execution so there was no formal execution or removal of the body, bacteria inside the body would break down the tissues and cells. This would produce gas, which would bloat the body and force fluid into the body cavities. Tissue decomposition would also reduce the toughness of the skin and internal tissue. In a sense, Judas’ body was an overinflated balloon. Whether the branch he hung himself on broke or the rope broke, either would cause his body to burst open when it hit the ground. Hence the name “Field of Blood.”

There’s another lesson in these two verses. This lesson is the difference between apostasy and backsliding. Judas revealed his true nature when he betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders. He was an unbeliever. He didn’t have the faith to ask for forgiveness and restoration. Instead, he succumbed to despair and suicide. In contrast, Peter was a temporary backslider when he denied Jesus at His trial. He repented and was restored.

Verse 20

The two passages referenced here were already discussed under verse 16. There is both a reference to fulfilled prophecy (Judas) and future prophecy (Matthias).

Verse 21-22

Peter now lays out the minimum qualifications for the person chosen to replace Judas.

  • They must have been a witness to the entire ministry of Jesus, from the baptism given by John the Baptist until the ascension.
  • They had to have been a witness to the resurrected Jesus.

The role of the apostles in Acts is defined by these qualifications.

  • Witnesses to His teaching and could, therefore, share His teaching.
  • Witnesses to His resurrection.
  • Witnesses to His ascension.

Because of this, there could not be any apostolic succession. Also, Judas was replaced because he betrayed Jesus, not because he died. James was martyred in Acts 12:2, and he wasn’t replaced. The number twelve also corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel. In Luke 22:28-30, we see that Jesus tells the twelve that they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. There is also a reference to twelve foundations in Revelation 21:14. They represent the restored Israel, God’s chosen people. This connection required twelve apostles. Since the church is built on the foundation of the twelve apostles, their number must be complete before the coming of the Spirit and the birth of the church.

Verse 23

Two candidates are nominated who met the requirements outlined by Peter.

  • Joseph, also called Barsabbas, which means “son of the Sabbath.” Later tradition cited by Eusebius said that as a result of his missionary work, he was forced to drink poison and suffered no ill effects. Nothing else is known about him.
  • Matthias, whose name means “gift of God.” Later tradition speculates that he became a missionary to Ethiopia or that his bones are buried in Trier, Germany. Nothing else is known about him.

Verses 24-25

They now followed the example set by Jesus before He chose the twelve; they engaged in prayer. Their prayer implied that the person chosen would be the one with stronger inner faith, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all.” The prayer closes by identifying the need to replace Judas and stating that he had gone to the place of his choosing. 

The centrality of prayer is a lesson for the church today. Prayer is a thermometer and a thermostat for the local church; the church’s spiritual temperature goes up or down, depending on the prayer habits of the members of the church. Prayer is a way for the church, and its members, to engage in spiritual warfare against Satan, demons, and evil people. 

Verse 26

It may seem strange that the assembly would cast lots in the process instead of the church voting for the replacement. However, there are several things to keep in mind.

  • The casting of lots was an accepted practice recorded throughout Old Testament history.
  • The casting of lots was not a result determined by “chance.” The outcome was always determined by God.
  • Proverbs 16:33 – The lot is cast into the lap, but its every direction is from the LORD.
  • God the Son (Jesus) had chosen the original twelve, and it was His position to select the replacement.
  • The Spirit had not been poured out on the church. Therefore, the church was not yet “Spirit led.” After Pentecost, the church would make decisions based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Lots are not recorded as being cast after this point.

Applications

  • Pray often and pray with other believers. 
  • If you are a backslider like Peter, repent and be restored.
  • If you are a fake believer like Judas, submit and follow Jesus.
  • Submit to the leading and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in all areas of your life.

Malachi Lesson Eight

Malachi Lesson Eight – The Day of the Lord

“For indeed, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Hosts, “not leaving them root or branches. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall. You will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the Lord of Hosts. “Remember the instruction of Moses My servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (HCSB)

With this lesson, we’ll bring the study of Malachi to a close. There is both judgment and hope contained in this passage, with a final encouragement that those who hold fast to the Lord will be blessed.

Verse 1

The imagery here is referring to the day of judgment when all will be judged. There are two possible eternal paths for each person.

  • Hell for the unrighteous and unrepentant.
    • They will become like stubble – a reference to chaff that is discarded in the harvest process. Chaff is also easily burned.
    • Burning like a furnace. Those who are “discarded” during the harvest process will face a fire that will torment and consume them. 
    • Joel 2:1-3 – Blow the horn in Zion; sound the alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the residents of the land tremble, for the Day of the Lord is coming; in fact, it is near— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and dense overcast, like the dawn spreading over the mountains; a great and strong people appears, such as never existed in ages past and never will again in all the generations to come. A fire destroys  in front of them, and behind them a flame devours. The land in front of them is like the Garden of Eden, but behind them, it is like a desert wasteland; there is no escape from them. 
    • They will have no hope, no future, no brighter day.
    • There will be no escape for those who live in disobedience to Yahweh.
    • Jesus warns that we shouldn’t fear the death of our body but what happens next.
    • We don’t know everything about hell, but there are some things we do know.
      • It is a real place.
      • It is a place of separation from God and all that is good.
      • It is a place of just punishment.
      • It is a place where there is memory.
      • It is a place of hopelessness. 

Verses 2-3

The first verse highlighted the judgment on the wicked. Here in the following two verses, we see what will happen to those that fear the Lord. 

  • The sun will rise over them. There are two interpretations of this illustration, and both are correct.
    • In the ancient Near East, it was common to describe the sun as the wings of a bird, as well as the healing that came with the protection found under the wings of a bird.
      • Psalm 84:11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord gives grace and glory; He does not withhold the good from those who live with integrity.
      • Psalm 104:1-3 My soul, praise Yahweh! Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed with majesty and splendor. He wraps Himself in light as if it were a robe, spreading out the sky like a canopy, laying the beams of His palace on the waters above, making the clouds His chariot, walking on the wings of the wind.
    • A reference to the return of Jesus, the Son.
      • Isaiah 60:19-21 The sun will no longer be your light by day, and the brightness of the moon will not shine on you; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your splendor. 20 Your sun will no longer set, and your moon will not fade; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your sorrow will be over. 21 Then all your people will be righteous; they will possess the land forever; they are the branch I planted, the work of My hands, so that I may be glorified.
  • They will have unbridled joy. This illustration points ahead to a time when there will be no more sickness, no more darkness, no more sorrow, no more death, no more persecution, and no more sin.

Those who once were persecuted now find themselves in the favored position. I think it is important not to misunderstand the phrase “trample the wicked” as depicting the righteousness stepping on the wicked in an arrogant or self-righteous manner. Instead, it is the reversal of fortunes. Those who once physically and emotionally trampled on the righteous are now the ones who are trampled on in judgment from an infinitely holy God. Those who fear the Lord are given a place of honor for eternity, while those who rejected the Lord are given a place of condemnation.

Verse 4

Now Malachi refers Israel back to the law of Moses. However, this is the only instance in the Old Testament that a person or group of people are called to remember God’s law. It was often used in prayers for God to remember the person petitioning God in prayer. It was also used by God as a command to remember, but those cases didn’t involve the law. There are several points to consider regarding the phrase “remember the instruction” and “Horeb.”

  • Horeb was another name for Mt Sinai, and it has a strong connection with Yahweh’s covenant with Israel, which Moses received. 
  • It would cause Israel to fear God.
  • It would cause them to honor His name.
  • Israel was always called to remember God’s commands. Numbers 15:38-40 – 38 Speak to the Israelites and tell them that throughout their generations they are to make tassels for the corners of their garments, and put a blue cord on the tassel at each corner. 39 These will serve as tassels for you to look at, so that you may remember all the Lord’s commands and obey them and not become unfaithful by following your own heart  and your own eyes. 40 This way you will remember and obey all My commands and be holy to your God.
  • Malachi was calling Israel to live a lifestyle that was directed by the application of God’s Word and not by human wisdom, ambition, or cultural norms.

Verse 5

Not only does Horeb have a connection with Moses in the previous verse, but here there is a connection between Horeb and the prophet Elijah.

  • Exodus 3:1 – Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
  • 1 Kings 19:8 – So he got up, ate, and drank. Then on the strength from that food, he walked 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

It is also the location where Israel pleaded to “not to continue to hear the voice of the LORD our God or see this great fire any longer, so that we will not die!” (Deuteronomy 18:16). This plea is the reason Moses told the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15). The overwhelming position on this last verse is that Moses is pointing far into the future and identifying the Messiah. At the very least, it points to the succession of prophetic covenant mediators, of which Elijah is considered the greatest symbol.

Verse 6

The “Day of the LORD” referenced in verse five points not only to judgment but also to the ministry that must occur before that day.

Joel 2:28-31 – After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. 29 I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days. 30 I will display wonders in the heavens and on the earth: blood, fire, and columns of smoke.31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the Lord comes.

The prophet Joel is pointing to a future period of revival before Jesus’ return.

There is also an implied reference to Messiah with Moses and Elijah, which we read about in the transfiguration account. Luke 9:29-31 – As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed,  and His clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly, two men were talking with Him—Moses and Elijah. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of His death, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. 

When we look at these last three verses of Malachi in conjunction with the transfiguration account, there are a couple of points we need to remember.

  • Moses was a prophetic servant.
    • He was an agent of deliverance for Israel and their bondage in Egypt.
    • He “officiated” the marriage covenant between Yahweh and Israel when the Mosaic covenant was instituted.
    • He brought God’s instructions to Israel and taught them that these instructions were to shape their relationship to Yahweh.
  • Elijah was the classic model of a prophet of repentance.
    • He was God’s prophetic messenger. 
    • He announced a new divine intervention and called for people to repent.
    • Those who failed to heed the words he spoke on behalf of Yahweh would be held accountable.
    • Jesus was the suffering servant.
      • He was the agent of deliverance for all mankind.
      • His blood instituted the New Covenant.
      • He called for people to repent.
      • He taught what was contained in Scripture, i.e., The Sermon on the Mount.
      • Those who don’t submit to His lordship will be held accountable on the day of judgment.

The “curse” that will come is eternal separation from God. It will be final and irrevocable.

As we close this book, we see a picture where Malachi draws a contrast between those whose actions display obedience to God and those whose actions are disobedient to God. There are two eternal destinations here.

  • It will be a day of blessing for those who have submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
  • It will be a day of pain and suffering for those who have rejected Jesus Christ.

Applications

  • The foremost question to ask yourself is, “am I follower of Jesus?” If the answer is no, then the day of judgment will be the start of eternal torment. If the answer is yes, then the day of judgment will be the start of eternal joy. We will all answer that question as we stand before the throne of Jesus. Submit your life and serve Him here and now.
  • For those who are followers of Jesus, do you share your faith with the understanding that the lost around you are on the path to eternal torment? Is there an urgency in your evangelism? If not, pray for courage and opportunities to share your faith.
  • If you once were a faithful follower of Jesus but have fallen away, repent and return. That is one of the overarching themes of Malachi. God is patiently waiting for the rebellious to return. However, there will be judgment for those who fail to come back.

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 Five

Malachi Lesson Five 2:17-3:6 Judgment at the LORD’s Coming

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you ask, “How have we wearied Him?” 

When you say, “Everyone who does what is evil is good in the Lord’s sight, and He is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?” 

3 “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by. 

“I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner.  They do not fear Me,”  says the Lord of Hosts. “Because I, Yahweh, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.

This passage concludes the second address in Malachi. Judah’s sin of unfaithfulness was widespread in the community and was primarily associated with injustice. However, Judah was unable or unwilling to recognize their corruption and instead viewed their economic and social issues as an indicator of God’s unfairness or unfaithfulness. God’s response to their grumbling was to announce the coming of a messianic messenger, who would purge and purify God’s people, including the priests.

Verse 2:17

Looking back at verse 16, we see that that injustice was widespread throughout Judah. It was because of this pervasive injustice that God didn’t bless the works of their hands. In the minds of the people, they felt they deserved divine blessings, but instead, they believed they received divine injustice. Israel believed that those involved in evil (but not them) were perceived as good in the eyes of God while they received mistreatment.

  • Deuteronomy 18:12 Everyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and the LORD your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable things.
  • Deuteronomy 25:16 For everyone who does such things and acts unfairly is detestable to the LORD your God.
  • Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Verses 3:1-6

This section contains four predictions, with the first three being followed by the result and the last by an antithesis. 

  • First prediction/result.
    • God is sending His messenger.
    • The path is cleared.
  • Second prediction/result.
    • The LORD will go to His temple.
    • Who will be able to endure that day?
  • Third prediction/result.
    • He will refine and purify the people.
    • The righteous will be cleansed, and the unrighteous cast aside.
  • Fourth prediction/antithesis.
    • He is coming to judge.
    • God never changes; His promises are true and endure.

Verse 1

The divine messenger spoken about here would administer the covenant in two ways.

  • In a narrow sense, it would be the covenant made with Israel in the Sinai desert that promised judgment for unbelief.
  • In a broad and ultimate sense, the messenger would be sealing the covenant God made with Abraham that promised vindication to God’s chosen people and a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

Verse 2

This presents a rhetorical question as no one can endure His coming. The tense in the original Hebrew is a future tense, “who will endure…?”

The twin statement about refining and washing (cleansing lye) illustrates of a constant reminder found in the Old Testament of the separation between sinful man and an infinitely holy God. Thus, physical washing became linked to the need for cleansing a sinful soul.

  • Exodus 19:10 And the LORD told Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, They must wash their clothes.
  • Psalm 51:2 Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.
  • Isaiah 1:16 Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil.
  • Jeremiah 2:22 Even though you wash with lye and use a great amount of soap, the stain of your sin is still in front of Me. This is the Lord GOD’s declaration.

However, cleansing can only be received through the sacrifice of Jesus.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:11 And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
  • Titus 3:5 He saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy – through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
  • Revelation 7:14 I said to Him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Verse 3

Now we see an illustration of God as a metalworker creating a masterpiece. In contrast to the previous verse where God was depicted as fire, and the process is unpleasant, here He is depicted as an artisan who will remove all of the dross, leaving only the finest components behind. This refining will lead to a priesthood that is focused and obedient to God. Thus, throughout Scripture, we read about God “refining” people with the ultimate goal being cleansing and purification for holy work.

A second point to this verse is that the cleansing when the Lord comes must begin with the temple and the priesthood. For us today, that cleansing must begin in the church and with all of Jesus’ followers (we are all priests), but especially with those in leadership positions within the church.

Verse 4

This verse describes the result of the third prediction, contained in verse three. Since the verse contains the phrase “Judah and Jerusalem,” it should be understood that the cleansing that took place in verse three extends beyond just the official priests. 

In contrast to the beginning of this passage, where God was “wearied” by their disobedience, those who have been refined and cleansed now bring offerings that please God.

Verse 5

This verse is the last prediction contained in this passage. After the purification identified in verse three, God will exercise judgment against the wicked. There are six sins listed in this verse.

  • Sorcery: Attempting to control the physical and spiritual world through incantations, charms, and rituals. These practices were why the Canaanites were under God’s judgment. 
  • Adultery: Sexual activity outside of marriage.
  • False swearing: Making an oath but not keeping it, particular oaths that defraud or harm others.
  • Those who oppress widows and orphans: Defrauding, robbing, or oppressing widows and orphans.
  • Those who cheat their employees: Practicing extortion on employees.
  • Those who don’t give justice to foreigners: Just as the lack of fear of the Lord has resulted in religious practices that insult Him (1:6-14), this has also resulted in injustice towards the helpless. 

In the post-exilic Judah that Malachi was addressing, some members of the community had returned to the greed and corruption that had resulted in their exile. What is astounding is that although they had recently returned from this disaster, they were now speeding down the same path once again.

In this letter, Malachi has three main topics that he addresses.

  • Vain offerings (1:2-2:9).
  • Treachery in relationships (2:10-3:6).
  • Withholding of tithes (3:7-4:6).

A person’s spiritual health and completeness as a child of God can often be determined by three main indicators.

  • Attitude toward and relationship with God – the theological aspect.
  • Attitude toward and relationship with others – the social aspect.
  • Attitude toward and use of possessions – the economic aspect.

These three aspects form an ethical triangle and are woven together in our actions. Throughout this letter, Malachi is condemning the ethical state of post-exilic Judah (Israel). They are sliding quickly back into ethical bankruptcy. 

Verse 6

This verse is a direct and stinging rebuke of the peoples’ charge that Yahweh was treating them unfairly and was being unfaithful to their covenant relationship. If, in fact, Yahweh was being unfair and not remaining faithful to their covenant relationship, He would have already erased them from the face of the earth. Instead, Yahweh showed extreme patience and extended unmerited grace and mercy to them because of His faithfulness. Although God had punished them for their disobedience, He didn’t, and couldn’t, cut them off permanently. 

  • Isaiah 46:3-4 Listen to Me, house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been sustained from the womb, carried along since birth. I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you.
  • Romans 11:1 I ask then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.

Applications

  • Evaluate your Christian walk. Is it possible that you are “wearying” God with your words and actions? If so, repent and live in a way that will be pleasing to God.
  • What would be the outcome for you if the “Day of the Lord” came today? Are you secure in your relationship with God, or will you not be able to endure His coming? Each of us is one breath away from eternity. When you leave this earth, will your next breath be in the coolness and peace of heaven or the agony and flames of hell?
  • If you are walking in righteousness, embrace the refining that God is putting you through. He is preparing you for future and greater works.
  • Evaluate your ethical triangle and see if you need to improve in any of the three areas. None of us are perfect; it is very likely that at least one area will be identified as needing improvement.