Acts Lesson Forty-one

Acts Lesson Forty-one: Acts 19:21-41 – Paul and the Riot in Ephesus

21 When these events were over, Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem. “After I’ve been there,” he said, “I must see Rome as well!” 22 So after sending two of those who assisted him, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. 

23 During that time there was a major  disturbance about the Way. 24 For a person named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis,  provided a great deal of  business for the craftsmen. 25 When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. 26 You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods! 27 So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world adore.” 

28 When they had heard this, they were filled with rage and began to cry out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed all together into the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions. 30 Though Paul wanted to go in before the people, the disciples did not let him. 31 Even some of the provincial officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent word to him, pleading with him not to take a chance by going into the amphitheater. 32 Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing and some another, because the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Then some of the crowd gave Alexander advice when the Jews pushed him to the front. So motioning with his hand, Alexander wanted to make his defense to the people. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a united cry went up from all of them for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 

35 However, when the city clerk had calmed the crowd down, he said, “Men of Ephesus! What man is there who doesn’t know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple guardian of the great Artemis, and of the image that fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these things are undeniable, you must keep calm and not do anything rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are not temple robbers or blasphemers of our  goddess. 38 So if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a case against anyone, the courts are in session, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you want something else, it must be decided in a legal assembly. 40 In fact, we run a risk of being charged with rioting for what happened today, since there is no justification that we can give as a reason for this disorderly gathering.” 41 After saying this, he dismissed the assembly. (HCSB)

I’m going to split this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s future plans – verses 21-22.
  • The charge of Demetrius – verses 23-27.
  • The meeting in the amphitheater – verses 28-41.

Paul’s Future Plans

Let’s make some observations from this section.

  • Paul is nearing the end of his ministry in Ephesus and is formulating his future plans.
  • This is the first time Scripture mentions Paul’s plan to visit Rome.
    • More detail is found in Romans 15:22-29.
    • His planned visit to Rome was in conjunction with a desire to visit Spain.
  • This point is a major transition in the narrative of Acts.
    • Rome will be Paul’s final destination.
    • But first, Paul will go to Jerusalem, which in some ways parallels Jesus’ decision that Jerusalem would be His final earthly destination.
      • In Acts 20:1-21:16, there is an ominous feeling concerning what Paul would encounter in Jerusalem.
      • The same ominous air surrounded Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, the city that killed the prophets.
  • Paul sent two of his co-workers, Timothy and Erastus, ahead into Macedonia to prepare for his arrival.

The Charge of Demetrius

Before diving into this section of the passage, let’s consider some facts setting up this incident.

  • Paul had been preaching the Gospel in Ephesus for approximately three years at this point.
    • There is no record of Paul staging protests against the Temple of Artemis or holding anti-idolatry rallies.
    • Paul preached the truth and sent the converts out to witness to the lost people in Ephesus.
    • As more people converted, there were customers to buy the idols.
  • The enemy was continuously being defeated during this time as the Gospel spread.
    • Satan made one final attempt to defeat Paul with a city-wide attack.
    • The goal was Paul’s arrest or even death.

Let’s take a closer look at Demetrius, the silversmiths, their business, and the temple.

  • It’s likely that Demetrius was the president of the silversmith guild.
    • It was customary for members plying the same trade to form professional guilds. 
    • These guilds set the standards for their trade and were unified to defend their economic interests.
  • His trade was making miniature replicas of the temple of Artemis.
    • The making of these replicas was a common practice.
    • Pilgrims to Ephesus would purchase these replicas and either place them in their homes as a shrine or offer them in the temple.
  • The temple of Artemis was the hub of Ephesian economic life.
    • The building was 165 feet by 345 feet and built on a platform 240 feet by 420 feet. 
    • It was adorned in brilliant colors and a gold leaf pattern.
    • The altar was 20 feet square and contained a large image of the goddess.
    • The worship of the goddess centered around Artemision, a week during the spring dedicated to the goddess.
      • During the week, there were numerous ritual plays and dances.
      • An image of the goddess was paraded through the streets during this festival.
      • Pilgrims flocked to Ephesus during the week of Artemision.
  • Because of its enormous wealth, the temple was the primary financial institution in Asia, receiving offerings and making loans.
  • The real issue behind Demetrius’ protests had nothing to do with the worship of Artemis. The issue was the loss of income to the silversmith guild because of Paul’s evangelism.
  • However, Demetrius was clever in mixing religion and patriotism into his protest because that was more likely to get a response from the public.

Now let’s consider the charge that Demetrius and the silversmith guild presented.

  • He accused Paul of being a threat by saying that gods made by hand were not gods. The irony is this is a true statement.
    • Paul was leading followers of Artemis away from worshipping her.
    • Paul was attempting to discredit the worship of Artemis.
    • Attacking Artemis was the same as attacking Ephesus.
  • From Demetrius’ viewpoint, these allegations were true.
    • Paul did preach against idolatry.
    • Paul was a threat to anyone who made their living from producing idols.
  • The Gospel is always at its most controversial when it conflicts with economic interests.

The Meeting in the Amphitheater

After successfully stirring up both the silversmith guild and the city’s residents, the scene shifts to the Amphitheater in Ephesus. Before we look at the event that took place in the Amphitheater, let’s consider the building itself.

  • It was the largest building in the city of Ephesus.
    • It was 495 feet in diameter.
    • It was built into the western slope of Mt. Pion.
    • The capacity is estimated at around 24,500 people.
    • Town meetings were held there.
  • There is little doubt the Amphitheater was a magnificent building.

Let’s consider the meeting.

  • The residents roused to action by Demetrius and his cohorts rushed to fill the Amphitheater to capacity.
    • What is described here is a typical mob action; some know what’s going on, and others participate just because they are dragged in by emotion and momentum.
    • At some point, they identify and drag Gaius and Aristarchus along with the rest of the crowd.
  • Where was Paul?
    • Knowing Paul’s character, there is little doubt he wanted to address the crowd.
    • Paul was either not in the vicinity of the mob, or some of his co-workers realized the danger and whisked him to a safer location.
    • Others of his followers also sent a message for Paul not to be involved in the proceedings in the Amphitheater.
  • The scene inside the Amphitheater was one of extreme confusion.
    • The people were shouting various things, either with or without foundation.
    • Many were probably just sucked along with the mob and didn’t really understand what was happening.
    • The inclusion of Alexander in the proceedings did nothing to quell the commotion.
      • The Jews likely wanted Alexander to address the crowd to demonstrate the Jews didn’t agree with what the Christians were doing.
      • The Jews were no threat to the worship of Artemis.
      • However, when they realized Alexander was a Jew, they drowned out anything he would say with a cry about the greatness of Artemis.
    • The mob continued to declare the greatness of Artemis for about two hours.
    • It was only the efforts of the city clerk who was able to calm the crowd.
  • Who was the city clerk?
    • He was the chief administrative officer of Ephesus.
    • He presided over the council of city magistrates and the public assembly.
    • He served as the liaison officer between the city and the Roman provincial administration.
  • The clerk realized the mob could be mistakenly interpreted as a violation of Pax Romana, and Ephesus could lose its self-governing privileges.
  • The clerk then uses both his position and skillful language to defuse the situation.
    • He starts by telling the crowd that Artemis was not really threatened.
    • The image that fell from heaven was likely a meteorite. They were often associated with the worship of the Mother Goddess.
  • After successfully convincing the crowd that Artemis was under no threat, he moves on to the legal consequences of their mob action.
    • Gaius and Aristarchus had not committed any crime.
      • They had not blasphemed the goddess.
      • They had not robbed the temple.
    • If anyone was in the wrong, it was the Ephesians who could be accused of unlawful assembly.
  • The clerk then outlines two legal avenues Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen could follow.
    • The charges could be brought before the provincial court under the direction of the Roman proconsul.
    • The charges could be brought before the town assembly in a formal way.
  • The clerk then plays his strongest card. Since the mob had no legal basis for their action, what they were doing could be interpreted as an insurrection.
    • The mob charged that Paul was a danger.
    • The clerk pointed out the real danger lay with the citizens of Ephesus, who were acting in a dangerous manner.
    • After convincing the crowd of the validity of his argument, he dismisses the crowd.
    • The clerk wasn’t taking the side of the Christians. He was merely trying to restore order and point out the error in the way the mob had acted.
  • One recurring theme to remember, as it’s repeated throughout Acts, is the Christians were innocent with respect to civil law. Paul was never found guilty by any Roman official.

Applications

  • We must understand and be prepared that when we are involved in kingdom work, we will face opposition at some point. The opposition could be mild, or it could be very strong, even to the level of death threats. If we aren’t following God, immersing ourselves in His Word and prayer, and in unity with fellow believers, we may fold under the pressure of threats. We need to work with and support others and trust in God’s protection.
  • As we share the Gospel and evangelize others, regardless of the circumstances, we should follow the example of Paul and not break the law. As an example, we can protest against abortion, but our protests shouldn’t turn violent, nor should we make or carry out threats against the workers of the clinic. Often our “flesh” wants to act out but rarely will that turn out well, and often it will paint Christians in a negative light.
  • Be prudent as you face persecution. Sometimes there’s a fine line between potentially being a martyr and needlessly throwing away your life. As we face these situations, we need to be immersed in prayer and carefully discern God’s will in the situation.

Acts Lesson Thirty-seven

Acts Lesson Thirty-eight: Acts 18:1-17 – Paul Establishes the Corinthian Church

After this, he left Athens and went to Corinth, where he found a Jewish man named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul came to them, and being of the same occupation, stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade both Jews and Greeks. 

When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching the message and solemnly testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook his robe and told them, “Your blood is on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” So he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed the Lord, along with his whole household. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized. 

Then the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 And he stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 

12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the judge’s bench. 13 “This man,” they said, “persuades people to worship God contrary to the law!” 

14 As Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of a crime or of moral evil, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you Jews. 15 But if these are questions about words, names, and your own law, see to it yourselves. I don’t want to be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them from the judge’s bench. 17 Then they all seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the judge’s bench. But none of these things concerned Gallio. (HCSB)

I’ll split this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Corinth: An introduction to Corinth and Paul’s initial work in the city – verses 1-4.
  • Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul, transitioning to Gentile evangelism and Paul’s vision – verses 5-11.
  • The Jews false accusations against Paul – verses 12-17.

Paul’s Arrival in Corinth

Before we start digging into this passage, let’s take a look at the city of Corinth to set the stage for this passage.

  • At the time of Paul’s visit, Corinth was the largest and most multi-cultural city in Greece.
  • It was located at the southern end of the isthmus connecting the Peloponnesus with mainland Greece.
  • The city was located about 50 miles west of Athens.
  • It contained two ports.
    • Lechaeum is located in the west, providing access to the Adriatic Sea.
    • Cenchrea is located in the east, providing access to the Aegean Sea.
  • The location of the two ports, and the fact that the waters around the Peloponnesus were treacherous for ships, made Corinth the Greek center for east-west trade.
  • However, this also meant that the city was plagued by the less desirable traits of a seafaring center.
  • There is a Greek word, korinthiazesthai, roughly translated to “live like a Corinthian” but understood to live immorally.
  • It was a relatively new city.
    • No major building was more than 100 years old.
    • It was also the most “Roman” city in Greece, with many Roman citizens as a core of the city.
  • The religion was mainly worship of the traditional Greek gods.
    • The temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, stood atop a 1,900-foot hill on the edge of the city.
    • Close to the agora, inside the city walls, was the temple to the sun god Apollo, who was also the patron of the city.
    • There was a temple to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, inside the city.
  • From the context of the passage, there was a practicing Jewish community since a synagogue existed in the city.
  • We also need to remember that Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians occur at a later date, during the period of Paul’s third missionary journey. The narrative we’ll look at in this lesson concerns the founding of the Corinthian church.

Now that we have a firm understanding of Corinth during the time of Paul’s visit let’s take a closer look at the passage.

After arriving in Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had recently moved from Rome to Corinth. We don’t know much about them before their introduction here, but we can deduce some information about them from the timing of their arrival into the narrative.

  • Aquila was a Jew hailing from Pontus, a region in northeastern Asia Minor.
  • Priscilla was likely a Roman citizen, although that is not certain. 
  • Both of them were tentmakers, the same trade that Paul learned to support himself.
    • Tentmakers used two different materials when they constructed tents.
      • The most common one was leather.
      • The other material was cilicium, a cloth woven from goat’s hair. It is possible that Paul focused on this type of tentmaking since cilicium originated and was named for Paul’s native province of Cilicia.
    • This trade likely harkens back to Paul’s days as a rabbinical student.
    • Students were required to learn a trade to ensure they didn’t rely on teaching as their sole source of income.
  • From the evidence in Scripture, they were mature Christians whose service to the kingdom went far beyond their interactions with Paul.
    • They put their lives on the line for Paul, as noted in Romans 16:3-4.
    • They assisted Paul in his work in Ephesus, as noted in Acts 18:18-28.
    • They hosted a church in their home, as noted in 1 Corinthians 16:19.
  • Scripture never mentions anything about Paul ministering to them. Instead, it is always the couple serving Paul.
  • It is interesting to note that the majority of the time they appear in Scripture, Priscilla is mentioned before her husband. 
    • This may be due more to her prominence in the early church than her social status.
    • Priscilla appears to be another of the women within the early church, much like Lydia, whose efforts stood out within the Christian community.
  • The decree from Claudius ordering all the Jews to leave Rome occurred between January 49-50 A.D. Since Aquila and Priscilla arrived prior to Paul, it is unlikely that Paul would have arrived in Corinth before the middle of 49 A.D.
  • Paul finds them after arriving in Corinth, whether by their reputation in the Christian community or as a fellow craftsman, lodges with them.
  • Paul then follows his standard practice of going to the synagogue each Sabbath to proclaim the Gospel to both Jews and Greeks.

Silas and Timothy Rejoin Paul

Not only did Paul meet new ministry partners in Aquila and Priscilla, but his old partners Silas and Timothy now rejoined him. However, Silas and Timothy didn’t arrive empty-handed.

  • It appears they brought money from the church in Philippi.
    • 2 Corinthians 11:9.
    • Philippians 4:14-15.
  • They also brought encouraging news from the church in Thessalonica – 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10.

We now see another pattern repeat itself regarding Paul’s evangelism efforts, rejection followed by persecution. 

We need to recognize one point regarding Paul’s statement in verse six, “From now on I’ll go to the Gentiles.” Paul didn’t mean this as a permanent declaration as he still would attempt to evangelize the Jews in the future. However, it did mean that Paul would no longer evangelize the Jews in Corinth.

Let’s take a closer look at verses 7-8.

  • Paul didn’t move into Titius Justus’ house; he was still staying at the home of Aquila and Priscilla.
  • Paul did move his place of evangelism from the synagogue to the house of Titius Justus. 
    • This house was located right next to the synagogue. One has to wonder if this was a strategic decision or if there just happened to be a Christian home next to the synagogue.
    • Some believe that Titius Justus is the Gaius mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14. However, there is no conclusive evidence to determine if it’s true or not. 
  • Although a sizable portion of the Jewish synagogue rejected Paul’s message, the leader and his family became believers.
  • The success of Paul’s ministry is confirmed by the phrase, “Many of the Corinthians….”
  • We can infer several things from that statement.
    • The Corinthian church was relatively large. This is confirmed by the fact that church factions developed within the congregation, as noted in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.
    • The majority were likely normal working people as only a few notable families are mentioned.

Verses 9-11 act as a brief pause between what has transpired since Paul’s arrival in Corinth and what will occur when the persecution rears its ugly head in the last part of this narrative. As we prepare to look at the impending persecution, we need to remember Paul’s words from 

1 Corinthians 2:3 “I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” It would appear that Paul anticipated the persecution which would now arise. 

Once again, we see the familiar pattern. Paul arrives in a city, engages in evangelism, attains a level of success, jealousy sets in, and the attacks begin. However, in Corinth, we see a different approach to persecution. When the persecution began in the previous cities, the normal practice was for Paul to move on to the following location. Here, he receives a reassuring vision that he should stay as nothing will happen to him. Jesus’ mission for Paul in the city of Corinth was not yet finished. 

The last part of the vision, “I have many people in this city,” should cause us to pause and consider what Jesus meant.

  • Could it be there were already a large number of believers within the city?
  • Could it be foreknowledge of a large number of future believers within the city?

It is likely the second possibility. There were evidently some believers within Corinth at the time. However, from a contextual standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense for the Lord to keep Paul there for one and a half years unless there was an extensive mission to complete in Corinth. 

The Jews Bring False Charges Against Paul

Before we take a close look at this section, let’s take a close look at Gallio.

  • He was the proconsul for Achaia.
  • Achaia was a province of the second rank in the Roman Empire.
  • A posting as proconsul was normally a one-year commitment, although sometimes it extended to a second year. 
  • Because of an inscription at Delphi and the dating of a proclamation from the emperor Claudius, Gallio’s term would have started in either 51 or 52 A.D., and the latest he would have served would have been 54 A.D.
  • Most theologians believe the encounter before Gallio occurred in the early period of his appointment.

Now that we have a bit of information regarding Gallio let’s look at these last few verses.

  • The group of jealous Jews brought Paul before Gallio.
  • They charged Paul with trying to get people to worship God contrary to the law.
  • The last part of the charge is where the problem arose. Contrary to what law? 
    • Roman law?
    • Jewish law?
    • Rome did have laws against Roman citizens being proselytized by foreign cults.
  • Gallio didn’t interpret the charge in that sense.
  • Gallio correctly understood this was an internal matter concerning a dispute within the Jewish community. 
  • In situations where there was no clear-cut case of an infraction against an established Roman law, it was within the purview of the judge whether or not he would formally hear the case.
  • Gallio didn’t believe the case warranted his time and didn’t even bother hearing a defense from Paul. 
    • He decided the Jews could settle the matter themselves and sent them all out of the court.
    • We need to be careful that we don’t interpret Gallio’s actions as an endorsement of Paul or his message. The entire matter was Jewish, and Gallio would have nothing to do with it.
  • Gallio’s decision obviously incensed those who brought charges against Paul.
  • The big question is, “who” beat Sosthenes?
    • Was it the Jews?
    • Was it the Gentiles?
    • The question is complicated by a further question. Was this Sosthenes the one mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, as a Christian brother? 
      • If the answer is yes, then the new leader of the synagogue may have been leaning towards Christianity at this point.
      • On the other hand, Sosthenes was a common name, and it could have been an entirely different person.
    • If we believe this Sosthenes was the same as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, then it would make sense it was the Jews who beat him.
    • However, if it was a different person, then what is described here could very well be anti-Semitic feelings from the Gentile crowd.
    • Theologians are split regarding both who received and delivered the beating. 

Applications

  • We should look for fellow ministry workers as we go about God’s business. Too often, we see or read about “factions” within ministry or mission work. When I was in the mission field in Thailand, I witnessed this firsthand. Instead of pooling resources, there were “turf wars.” We are all on one team against a common enemy. 
  • Expect rejection as you share the Gospel. This should never stop us or discourage us from sharing. However, it may mean we redirect who or where we focus our energy. Always try to discern God’s will as to where He would have you work; never do it based upon your wishes.
  • Expect persecution. Jesus told His disciples that persecution would occur. The comfort is knowing if we are aligned with His plans and purposes, He will strengthen us as we encounter persecution.  

Acts Lesson Thirty-four

Acts Lesson Thirty-four: Acts 16:16-40 – Paul, the Fortune Teller, and Prison

16 Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the slaves of the Most High God.” 18 And she did this for many days. 

But Paul was greatly aggravated and turning to the spirit, said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out right away.

19 When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas  and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. 20 Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews 21 and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.” 

22 Then the mob joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded. 24 Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks. 

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped. 

28 But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because all of us are here!” 

29 Then the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 

31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the message of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household. 

35 When daylight came, the chief magistrates sent the police to say, “Release those men!” 

36 The jailer reported these words to Paul: “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace.” 

37 But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!” 

38 Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town. 40 After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and departed. (HCSB)

As Paul and the team continued their work in Philippi, they encountered their first significant challenge as well as experienced a great victory. I’ll split this lesson into three sections.

  • Paul’s encounter with the fortune teller – verses 16-24.
  • The prison miracle – verses 25-34.
  • The Philippian magistrates admit their mistake – verses 35-40.

Paul’s Encounter with the Fortune Teller

The beginning of this section continues the narrative of the previous lesson. We don’t know how long the team was in Philippi when this event occurred, but it would appear that it wasn’t immediately after the conversion of Lydia and her household. Now, let’s look at some information regarding the encounter with the slave girl who possessed the spirit of prediction.

  • The English translation of the original Greek says, “slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction.” The original Greek literally meant she had a “python spirit.”
    • The python was the symbol of the oracle at Delphi.
      • It represented the god Apollo, who was believed to give predictions of future events.
      • The python had become an omen of predicting future events.
      • Anyone who was believed to have the gift of predicting future events was described as led by the python.
      • Greeks and Romans placed great belief in omens and fortune-telling.
      • Military commanders would consult oracles before beginning any major military campaign.
      • Emperors would consult an oracle before making an important decree.
    • Because of these factors, the slave girl was an important source of income for her masters.
  • The slave girl understood that Paul and the team were Christians, and they had come to evangelize the city.
    • The possessed girl was able to see the nature of Paul’s preaching and the reality of God being proclaimed by Paul.
    • This is similar to what occurred during the time of Jesus’ ministry and His encounter with demon-possessed people.
      • Luke 4:34.
      • Mark 1:24.
    • She kept declaring that Paul spoke of the way of salvation and were slaves of the most high God. Why would this upset Paul? There are several possible reasons.
      • Paul didn’t want the Gospel or the name of God promoted by a demon-possessed girl.
      • A more likely reason is that the non-Christians hearing her declarations would not understand the true meaning behind the words.
        • Most of those hearing the girl’s words were Gentiles.
        • Although the term “Most High God” was common in the Old Testament, it was equally common in the Gentile world and often was applied to Zeus.
        • The term “way of salvation” would also be confusing to a Gentile as the Greco-Roman world was filled with “saviors,” and the emperor often called himself the “savior” of the people.
        • Although the statements made by the possessed girl were completely factual, they were also easily misunderstood by the pagans who heard the message. 
          • The truth could easily be warped by people with a polytheistic background.
          • Jesus could be seen as just another “savior” in a growing group of Greek “gods.”
        • In response to this danger, Paul commanded the demon to come out of the girl by the power of Jesus’ name.
        • The demon was cast out immediately after Paul made the declaration.

With the demon cast out and the girl no longer possessing the gift of fortune-telling, attention turns from the girl to Paul. Let’s look at some points from this section.

  • Healing a possessed slave girl was not the issue that caused the situation to become tense.
  • The real issue was the economic loss the slave girl’s owners would now incur.
    • There are similarities with the incident involving the Gerasene pigs in Mark 5:16-17.
    • The economic motive can also be found in the incident with Simon Magus contained in Acts 8:19f.
    • It would lead Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths to oppose Paul in Acts 19:24-28.
    • The profit stumbling block is a common obstacle to the Gospel in Acts.
    • The actions of the slave girl’s owners are in stark contrast to the generosity displayed by Lydia in sharing her home with the missionary team and fellow Christians in Philippi.
  • Luke switches from the first-person narrative in verse seventeen and doesn’t reappear until Acts 20. There are two main thoughts on this switch.
    • Luke remained in Philippi and didn’t rejoin Paul until the end of Paul’s third missionary trip.
    • Only Paul and Silas, as the leaders, bore the brunt of the owner’s anger and were dragged before the magistrates.
    • The phrase “They are Jews” may indicate that only Paul and Silas were to blame since they were outsiders in this Gentile city.
    • It makes the most sense that a combination of the latter two reasons is why only Paul and Silas were brought before the authorities.
  • The charge also includes a reference to Jewish practices that weren’t permissible for Romans to practice. Prejudice and racism were alive and well in the first century.
    • We see in the charges brought against Paul and Silas an avoidance of the real reason for their anger.
    • Their loss of income motivated all the charges brought against them, which wouldn’t be a legitimate reason for bringing them before the legal authorities.
    • They also accused them of “disturbing” the city.
  • The charges were false, but they achieved the desired result.
  • The authorities had Paul and Silas stripped for their beating.
    • This beating is likely one of the beatings Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:25.
    • They were then beaten by an instrument that was a bundle of rods with an ax protruding from the middle. The rods were tied together with a red band called a fasces, the same symbol that Mussolini revived and was linked with the fascist movement in Europe.
    • Although not as brutal as the flogging that the Romans inflicted upon Jesus, it was still a severe form of punishment.
  • The question that begs to be asked is, why didn’t Paul inform them that he was a Roman citizen? There are only two logical answers.
    • Because of the mob mentality, there wasn’t time.
    • Paul could have been saving that trump card for later when it might prove more valuable.
  • Once the beating was finished, they were thrown in prison.
  • However, they weren’t just thrown in prison; they were placed in the most secure section of the prison.
    • It’s likely this was the innermost cell of the prison.
    • When we envision this, we should think of the dungeon, the dark, dreary, and coldest part of the prison.
    • Their feet were placed in stocks.
      • The stocks were usually connected to the walls of the prison cell.
      • They contained numerous holes through which a prisoner’s legs would be secured.
      • They allowed for severe stretching of the torso, creating excruciating pain for the prisoner.
    • However, Luke doesn’t indicate that any form of torture took place.
    • The entire emphasis on the description of their incarceration is on the extremely tight security under which they were placed.
    • The incredibly tight security makes their miraculous deliverance all the more amazing.

The Prison Miracle

Considering their circumstances, it could have been easy for Paul and Silas to bemoan their fate. Instead of complaining or asking God to smite those who mistreated them, they were praying and  singing songs of praise to God. Let’s consider the actions of Paul and Silas and the events as they were in prison.

  • Christians should always be filled with hope; we are on the winning side.
    • Peter slept peacefully the night before his trial in Acts 12:6.
    • Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God.
    • Their actions were a witness of their relationship with God, and the other prisoners were listening.
  • The area around Philippi is prone to earthquakes, but this was no ordinary earthquake.
    • The doors, likely locked by bars, were thrown open by the force of the earthquake.
    • The chains came off the prisoners.
    • Those chains may have been attached to the walls and torn loose by the violence of the shaking.
    • Thinking back to Peter’s miraculous release from prison, we could expect that Paul and Silas would make their way out of the prison and escape. However, that was not the case.
  • As the jailor woke up and saw the open doors, he prepared to kill himself.
    • His first thought is that the prisoners had escaped.
    • Instead of waiting for Roman justice, he prepared to take his own life.
    • Jailers and guards were personally responsible for the prisoners and were held accountable if they escaped, resulting in the execution of the guard who failed in their duty.
  • Instead of taking his own life, he heard Paul tell him not to hurt himself as all the prisoners were still in their cells.
  • The miraculous release didn’t lead to the escape of Paul and Silas and potentially other prisoners. Instead, it leads to the far more significant event of the jailer’s conversion.
  • Upon hearing Paul’s voice, the jailer called for torches to be brought and rushed into the cell, falling to his knees at the feet of Paul and Silas.
    • In contrast to Paul’s reaction at Lystra, contained in Acts 14:15, Paul doesn’t object to the actions of the jailer. 
    • It may have been an act of worship, but more likely a gesture of subservience.
      • Paul had saved the life of the jailer.
      • Paul’s God had, in an instant, reduced all the efforts of securing the prisoners to naught.
  • The jailer’s expression “what must I do to be saved” could be interpreted in two ways.
    • He may have been asking how his life could be spared. But, in reality, his life already had been spared. None of the prisoners had escaped, so he was under no threat of punishment.
    • It is more likely he was asking in a religious sense. 
      • He may have heard the slave girl’s statements that Paul knew the way of salvation.
      • He may have directly heard Paul preach or had heard of Paul’s preaching but didn’t completely understand the message.
      • Maybe he had fallen asleep to the hymns that Paul and Silas were singing.
      • The miracle of the earthquake and the prisoners not escaping now prepared him to receive the message.
      • Paul’s answer was simple and classic – “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
  • There is now a transition, and somehow the jailer’s family enters the scene.
    • An important to emphasize before continuing is the idea of “household” salvation.
      • This verse doesn’t mean that the family is saved through the actions of the jailer.
      • Salvation is very much a personal action.
      • It is also a decision that requires understanding. This means that very young children are not able to make a conscious decision regarding salvation. There is no set age at which a person can understand the Gospel, but it does exist for each person.
      • The phrase “believe on the Lord Jesus” is directed at each member of the household, not just the head of the household.
    • Whether the jailer brought his family to the jail or the evangelism occurred at a location outside of the jail is irrelevant. What we do know is that the entire household did hear and respond to Paul’s message of salvation.
      • Throughout Acts, we see evidence of conversion through action.
      • In this narrative, once conversion took place, the jailer recognized the severity of Paul and Silas’ wounds and attended to them.
      • Luke may also be using a wordplay here. The jailer “washed” their wounds, and the family then were baptized, also a “washing.”
    • The jailer then took Paul and Silas and had the wounds they received from the beating cleaned and dressed.
    • It is clear the family responded to the message Paul preached as after Paul and Silas’ wounds were attended to, the family was baptized.
  • We then see another remarkable event.
    • Paul and Silas are still technically prisoners.
    • The jailer brings them into his house and provides them with a meal.
    • They rejoice together. They could have sung hymns together, prayed together, or possibly Paul and Silas gave further instructions on the faith. We don’t know for sure.
    • What we do know is that the jailer didn’t treat them as prisoners but as brothers in Christ.
  • We can also speculate about the other prisoners.
    • Were they ordinary prisoners, or were some possibly awaiting execution?
    • Although we don’t know, it is possible that some may have come to salvation through the message of Paul and Silas.

The Philippian Magistrates Admit Their Mistake

The narrative now switches to the next day. At some point between the arrest of Paul and Silas and the following morning, the magistrates realized there wasn’t sufficient evidence to keep them in jail and await further punishment. Therefore, they decided to have them released. However, things didn’t go according to their plan.

  • The jailer relays the message that Paul and Silas are to be released. The jailer urges them to go in peace.
  • Paul declines the offer to leave Philippi quietly. It is likely there are a couple of potential reasons behind his decision.
    • Leaving quietly could place the newly established church under a cloud of suspicion. There are several questions the Gentiles could’ve asked.
      • Who were these men?
      • Were they guilty of some crime?
      • Why did they leave so quickly and secretly?
      • What do their followers believe?
      • Paul wanted to leave the church in a positive light before leaving Philippi.
    • The magistrates had overstepped their authority in how they handled the case against Paul and Silas.
      • Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.
      • The magistrates had publicly flogged and thrown them in prison without a trial.
        • This could be done for non-citizens, even without a trial.
        • Roman citizens could be flogged and thrown in prison, but not without a trial.
        • The actions of the magistrates were beyond their authority.
    • Either reason makes sense, and it is likely that both played into the action taken by Paul.
  • Once the magistrates heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were understandably “afraid.”
    • Abusing the rights of a Roman citizen was a serious offense.
      • The magistrates could be removed from office for such an offense.
      • Philippi could have its rights reduced.
      • The emperor could deprive Philippi of all of the privileges normally associated with its status as a colony.
    • The situation was quite ironic.
      • Paul and Silas were treated as criminals but were innocent.
      • The magistrates who condemned them were actually the lawbreakers.
      • The magistrates wasted no time in coming to meet Paul and Silas.
    • The magistrates apologized to both of them. One can only imagine that they were quite animated in demonstrating sincere remorse for their actions.
    • The magistrates were likely still concerned about the events of the previous day and wanted them to quickly leave town to avoid further friction.
    • However, Paul and Silas were now in an advantageous position.
      • They weren’t in a rush to leave town.
      • The magistrates weren’t in a position to give them further trouble.
    • The missionaries now went back to Lydia’s home.
      • They met with the Christians who gathered there.
      • They encouraged them in their faith.
      • Satisfied that the church was in good standing, they left for the next city.
  • One might question whether Paul’s actions were a bit grumpy in his dealing with the magistrates. But let’s consider his actions.
    • It was essential that the fledgling church had a good reputation among the authorities if it was to grow.
    • The Christians didn’t break any of the Roman laws.
    • Paul and Silas were innocent of any wrongdoing.
    • It was essential that the magistrates admitted the innocence of Paul and Silas and cleared the charges brought against them.
    • Luke repeatedly points out throughout Acts that for every charge brought against the Christians, they didn’t break any laws in each occurrence. 

Here are some final thoughts on this passage.

  • Lydia’s home became the central meeting place for the church in Philippi.
  • It is likely the jailer, and his family became members of that church.
  • There were no apostles present.
  • No elders were ordained.
  • Yet, this fascinating mix of believers became a centerpiece for evangelism in Philippi and the surrounding region.
  • Paul’s letter to the Philippians is proof of the health of that congregation.

Applications

  • Never compromise on the purity of the Gospel message. The situation with the slave girl is an example. Although she was proclaiming that Paul and the team were the “way to salvation,” the circumstances surrounding this event could have led people to be misled if Paul hadn’t taken the action that he did.
  • Never be afraid of your circumstances if you know that you are walking in step with God’s instructions. False charges were brought against Paul and Silas, yet they never wavered in their faith or trust in God. 
  • Always rejoice regardless of your circumstances. Being locked up in jail could easily have been a discouraging situation. However, Paul and Silas sang and praised God even during this dark time. As it turned out, their actions, along with their miraculous release, led to the salvation of at least the jailer and his household and possibly other prisoners.
  • Ensure that the church of Jesus is never slandered or made to look as if its actions are criminal in nature when no wrong has been committed. This means that our actions and words need to be above reproach.

Acts Lesson Twenty-nine

Acts Lesson Twenty-nine: Acts 14:1-28 – The First Missionary Journey Completed

The same thing happened in Iconium; they entered the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers. So they stayed there for some time and spoke boldly in reliance on the Lord, who testified to the message of His grace by granting that signs and wonders be performed through them.  But the people of the city were divided, some siding with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to assault and stone them, they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian towns called Lystra and Derbe, and to the surrounding countryside. And there they kept evangelizing. 

In Lystra a man without strength in his feet, lame from birth, and who had never walked, sat and heard Paul speaking. After observing him closely and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet!” And he jumped up and started to walk around. 

11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!” 12 And they started to call Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the main speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought oxen and garlands to the gates. He, with the crowds, intended to offer sacrifice. 

14 The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, 17 although He did not leave Himself without a witness, since He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.” 18 Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them. 

19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they had won over the crowds and stoned Paul, they dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. 20 After the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. 

21 After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.” 

23 When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 After they spoke the message in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch where they had been entrusted to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a considerable time with the disciples. (HCSB)

This lesson will be divided into three sections.

  • The work in Iconium – verses 1-7.
  • The work in Lystra – verses 8-20.
  • The return trip to Antioch – verses 21-28.

The Work in Iconium

Before we dig into this section, let’s look at some background information on the city of Iconium.

  • It was located about 90 miles southeast of Antioch.
  • It was located on the main route that connected Ephesus with Syria and Mesopotamia.
  • It was located on a plateau about 3,300 feet in elevation.
    • There were forests and plains to the south.
    • There were mountains to the north.
  • It contained a strong Greek emphasis.
  • It also contained a heavy Roman influence. 
    • In A.D. 41, its name was changed to Claudiconium by the emperor Claudius.
    • It was considered an honor for a city to be named after the emperor.
  • Paul and Barnabas encountered a cultural mixture; native Phrygians, Greeks, and Jews dating back to the Seleucid period and Roman colonists.
  • From a geographical standpoint, it was an ideal place in an otherwise unattractive location.  

Paul and Barnabas followed their standard pattern.

  • They first went to the city synagogue.
  • They evangelized to the collection of Jews and Gentiles who were gathered there.
  • A significant number of both groups believed in Jesus.

However, just as in Antioch, they met opposition to the message of the Gospel.

  • The Jews who chose not to believe incited the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas.
  • In contrast to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas “stayed for some time.”
    • Luke is often ambiguous in assigning a specific period of time to various events.
    • Here, the amount of time they spent was likely weeks to months.
    • Regardless of the amount of time they stayed, they relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to speak boldly to the people.
  • They performed “signs and wonders” while they were there.
  • However, the populace was still divided; some believed, and some were in opposition.

Those who opposed Paul and Barnabas decided to take action.

  • The opposition grew stronger, and they decided to take deliberate and strong action.
  • The group contained three elements.
    • The Jews who opposed the Gospel.
    • The Gentiles who were incited by the Jews.
    • The rulers, which likely refers to the civil authorities in the city.
  • From the context of verse five, it would appear that the action taken was not through deliberate legal action. Instead, it would appear that a riotous mob mentality had consumed those in opposition to the message, driving them to take drastic action.
  • Once Paul and Barnabas learned of the threat to their lives, they left to the Lycaonian region and the towns of Lystra and Derbe.
    • Lystra was approximately twenty miles south of Iconium.
    • Derbe was approximately sixty miles southeast of Lystra.
    • Since there were no other significant towns in the area, the phrase “surrounding countryside” may refer to smaller pockets of people they met on their journey. 
  • As they traveled from Iconium to the Lycaonian region, they evangelized along the way.

The work in Lystra

Before we start digging into this section, let’s look at some information regarding the town of Lystra.

  • The remains of the city were found only recently, in 1885, near the modern village of Khatyn Serai.
  • It was located about eighteen miles southwest of Iconium.
  • It was in the hill country and surrounded by mountains.
  • In Paul’s time, it was a small country town.
  • Its primary significance was as a Roman military outpost, and because of that, it was given the status of a colony in 6 B.C. 
  • A Roman military road connected it to Pisidian Antioch, about 100 miles to the northwest.
  • The population consisted primarily of Roman military veterans.
  • There was no synagogue in the town.
  • The residents followed pagan idolatry and knew neither Jewish religion nor Greek philosophy.
  • The setting required Paul and Barnabas to “contextualize” the Gospel to the people of Lystra.

We’ll now look at this passage, divided into four sections.

  • The lame man’s response to the Gospel – verses 8-10.
  • The crowd’s response to the lame man – verses 11-13.
  • The Apostle’s response to the crowd – verses 14-19.
  • The disciples’ response to Paul – verse 20.

Verses 8-10.

Just as in Acts 3, Paul here cures a man who had been lame from birth. This is a key discriminator. If he had become lame because of an injury or sickness, the healing, still significant, would not have carried the same weight as someone who was born lame and is now able to walk. 

The word “speaking” means ordinary conversation in the original Greek. We can infer that the lame man heard Paul evangelizing the crowd and something in his demeanor convinced Paul that the man had at least some measure of faith in the message being preached. Hearing the message produced faith, just as is written in Romans 10:17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. One difference from the earlier miraculous healings is that the name of Jesus wasn’t proclaimed, although we know that is the power through which the lame man was healed. However, the people at Lystra, being pagan and without any exposure to the living God, react in a way that was not expected.

Verses 11-13.

This is the first time in Acts that a crowd reacted in this way to a miraculous sign. However, we shouldn’t be surprised by this at would be normal for those who are accustomed to worshipping false gods. A key point that Luke mentions is that the residents of Lystra spoke in their own language, Lycaonian, which was not understood by Paul and Barnabas. If they had understood what was being said, there is no doubt they would have stopped their wrong understanding of the healing immediately. Let’s look at a few points about this section.

  • The residents believe the “gods” have visited them.
  • They even identified which gods they were.
    • Barnabas was identified as Zeus, possibly because of his physical stature.
    • Paul was identified as Hermes, the Greed god of oratory and the inventor of speech. Since Paul was doing the majority of the speaking, this connection makes sense.
  • Zeus was the patron deity of the city, which afforded the priest of the temple a great opportunity to become important and lead the people in honoring their “god.”
  • There was also a localized ancient legend that said that Zeus and Hermes once descended to earth in human form.
  • Paul and Barnabas may have been initially unaware of the details of the reaction of the residents. However, once the priest of the temple arrived with oxen and garlands, along with a crowd, to sacrifice, the situation became clear. The residents thought that Paul and Barnabas were “gods” and intended to honor them.

Verses 14-19

At this point in the narrative, both Paul and Barnabas are fully aware that the crowd believes they are worthy of worship and the priest, along with the crowd, plans on honoring them with a sacrifice. However, the reaction of Paul and Barnabas likely surprised the crowd as much as two missionaries were surprised.

  • Paul and Barnabas rush into the crowd and tear their robes. The tearing of their robes is found in numerous places in the Bible.
    • It could indicate a state of mourning – Genesis 37:29.
    • It could express great distress – Joshua 7:6.
    • It could be a protest against a perceived blasphemy – Mark 14:63.
    • The tearing of their clothes represented a strong protest and was designed to stop the intended sacrifice.
    • They were not going to accept adulation, equating them to god-like status.
  • We remember earlier in Acts where Herod Antipas was exalted as a god, accepted the adulation, and subsequently died.
  • It seems that our human nature wants to be able to reach out and touch our gods, gods in the likeness of men.
  • The same temptation occurs today. Religious leaders fall to the temptation of being revered instead of allowing God to be glorified through their ministry. All ministry leaders would do well to remember the example of Paul and Barnabas.

Once Paul and Barnabas got the attention of the crowd, they explained their protest in the form of a mini-sermon. This is the first sermon in Acts to an entirely pagan group, who believed in many gods and had no prior knowledge of the God of the Jews and Christians. Here are the points in their message.

  • They needed to start with the very basics.
    • The theological assumption of monotheism.
    • God is one – Deuteronomy 6:4.
  • This message has parallels with the message Paul gave to the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-31.
  • The introduction points to the vanity of their worship.
    • Any religion which focuses on the idea that men are gods is an empty religion.
    • The pagan polytheism was vain, empty, worthless, and idolatrous worship of a god who wasn’t a god.
      • Jeremiah 2:5 – This is what the LORD says: What fault did your fathers find in Me that they went so far from Me, followed worthless idols, and became worthless themselves?
      • Romans 1:21-23 – For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
    • Paul exhorts them to turn from idol worship and turn to the living God. Paul makes three points in his message.
      • God is the creator of all life.
        • On the earth.
        • In the seas.
        • In the heavens.
        • Exodus 20:11 – For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. 
      • God has patience and mercy.
        • In the past, God allowed the Gentiles to go their own way.
          • They acted in ignorance.
          • They experienced no revelation.
          • They didn’t know the true God.
        • Now, God was using Paul to reveal Himself to them.
          • They now had a revelation.
          • They now had knowledge.
          • They now were accountable.
      • God always had the means to declare His power and majesty.
        • In the past, it was His works of providence; rain, harvest, and bounty.
        • In the present, it was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
        • The pagans often spoke of the benevolence of the “gods.” 
        • Paul’s message declared that there was one God, who was the source of all creation.
  • Even after presenting the Gospel, they were barely able to stop the pagans from going ahead with their sacrifices.
  • We also see Satan at work trying to prevent the spread of the Gospel.
    • Enemies came from Antioch and Iconium to dispute with Paul and Barnabas and turn the pagan crowd against them. 
      • They were able to convince the crowd that Paul and Barnabas were two ordinary men with no special qualities about them.
      • Since Paul was the main speaker, the brunt of their wrath was directed at him.
    • There is some debate in theological circles as to whether Paul was actually dead or the crowd thought he was dead. From the context, the latter view seems to be the correct one.
    • However, it is safe to say that a miracle occurred. Paul was saved from the actions of an out-of-control mob who wanted to kill him.
  • The disciples who were there were able to protect Paul and bring him into the city, likely to be treated and get some rest.
  • Realizing it was no longer safe to stay in Lystra, they begin their journey to Derbe, about sixty miles southeast of Lystra. 
    • The journey would take several days on foot.
    • Derbe was the easternmost church established by Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey.

The return trip to Antioch

Paul and Barnabas definitely didn’t choose the easiest path to get back to Syrian Antioch. This could have been easily accomplished by traveling about 150 miles to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus and, from there, back to their sending church. Instead, they decided to retrace their steps and visit each of the congregations they established on this mission trip. The return visit would allow them to follow up and assist each of the locations with any issues that might have arisen. Looking ahead, Paul will visit each of these congregations on his next mission trip in Acts 16. Here are the key points about their return leg as they visited the previously established congregations.

  • Even though they had been threatened in the previous locations, they felt the need to return and solidify their work.
  • They were engaged in evangelism on their journey.
  • They strengthened and encouraged the faith of the young congregations. 
    • This was likely done through further teaching and preaching.
    • They were told to expect troubles as a follower of Christ but to stand firm in their faith.
    • Paul and Barnabas may even have used their experiences on this missionary journey to illustrate what the new believers could face.
    • The idea of suffering is one that Paul often used in his epistles; we must be willing to suffer with Christ if we expect to share in His glory. 
  • They organized the churches by ordaining spiritual leaders and placing responsibility for the care of the congregation on them. An elder had the same role as the modern-day pastor; they are shepherds over a flock.
    • Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for each congregation.
    • It is possible that each congregation then affirmed these elders, although the wording in the original Greek doesn’t make that point clear.
  • They prayed and fasted with each congregation before moving on.
  • Although Perga wasn’t mentioned at the beginning of the trip, they spent some time evangelizing that town.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas completed their journey back to their sending church in Antioch. The church at Antioch had commissioned them, committed them to the Lord through prayer, laid hands on them, and sent them on their journey. Now, the missionaries have returned, and they will present a report on their journey.

  • The entire church was gathered to hear the report.
  • Paul and Barnabas related how the Lord had opened the doors to Gentiles, a subject that would  be the main topic of the Jerusalem Conference in the next chapter of Acts.
  • The entire missionary trip took just over a year to complete. The phrase “a considerable time” indicates about the same amount of time.
  • Therefore, Paul and Barnabas spent about a year in Antioch before the events of the next chapter unfolded. During this year, they were hardly idle.
    • Undoubtedly they did take a period of rest after their return.
    • They were likely involved in teaching the congregation at Antioch.
    • Paul likely wrote Galatians during this period.
    • Paul also refined and clearly communicated his theology on salvation during this time.

As we look back on Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey, here are several key points they followed.

  • They worked primarily in the key cities and instructed the believers to carry the message to the more remote areas.
  • They used one approach in the synagogues and another with the Gentiles.
    • In the synagogues, they referred to the Old Testament Scripture.
    • When preaching to the Gentiles, they emphasized the God of creation and His goodness to the nations.
    • Their starting point was different, but they always finished with the need for saving faith in Jesus.
  • The establishment of local churches was critical. This aligned with the Great Commission.
    • Making disciples – evangelism.
    • Baptizing – the responsibility of a local church.
    • Teaching the Word of God.
  • Paul and Barnabas were involved in extensive teaching to the congregations. This never included the idea of an easy or prosperous Gospel.
  • They did all this without modern communication and transportation.

Applications

  • Before beginning any ministry work, make sure that it’s God’s plan and not your plan. Everything we do in ministry should be for His glory, not our ego. If you align with God, your work will prosper and last.
  • Make sure you have a clear plan for your ministry work. During our five years in the mission field in Thailand, we ran across some who just “winged” it. It wasn’t a surprise they didn’t experience much success in their work. The God of the Bible is an organized God. When we do God’s work, there should be some level of organization to what we do.
  • Expect resistance as you are involved in ministry. Some of the opposition may be mild, but some may be strong. Hopefully, none of us will experience a stoning, but Scripture makes it clear that as we evangelize the Gospel message, the world will hate us.
  • Always truthfully report your ministry work to those who sent you and support you. While in Thailand, I ran across some missionaries who “embellished” the work they were doing. Be truthful about your results. On the flip side, if you support any missionaries, realize there will be dry times. Evangelism can be a lengthy process. God works in His time, not ours.

Acts Lesson Twenty-five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this passage, two significant things occur. 

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

The passage itself contains two storylines. 

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

James is Martyred – verses 1-5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rescue of Peter – verses 6-19.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse seventeen has three components.

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

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Eleven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attacking the Truth: Acts 5:17-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are numerous emotions in this section.

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

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

Affirming the Truth: Acts 5:29-32

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding the Truth: Acts 5:33-39

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

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

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

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

Announcing the Truth: Acts 5:40-42

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

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

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

Applications.

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

Acts Lesson Six

Acts Lesson Six – 4:1-12: Persecution Begins

4 Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, because they were provoked that they were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead, using Jesus as the example. So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. 

The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family.  After they had Peter and John stand before them, they asked the question: “By what power or in what name have you done this?” 

Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man—by what means he was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing here before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is 

the stone rejected by you builders, 

which has become the cornerstone. 

12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” (HCSB)

In chapter four of Acts, the official persecution of the New Testament church begins, which Jesus had predicted would occur.

  • Matthew 10:17-20 – 17 Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them.18 You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. 19 But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, 20 because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.
  • Luke 21:12-15 – 12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of My name. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. 14 Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, 15 for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Peter’s message produced two very different results.

  • Approximately 2,000 more came to faith in Jesus.
  • The religious leaders rejected the message and tried to silence the Apostles.

Now let’s look at each group that is referenced in the first verse. It would be easy to skim over this, but it speaks to the level of attention and persecution that is beginning.

  • Priests.
    • The priestly caste in general.
    • They were opposed to Jesus before His crucifixion.
    • They were now opposed to the witness of Jesus’ followers.
    • Their teaching was being undermined by the Apostle’s teaching.
  • Commander of the Temple Police.
    • Not Roman troops.
    • These were the people who arrested Jesus.
    • Apart from the Roman governor and the Roman army, he was the second most powerful person in Jerusalem.
      • Romans first.
      • High Priest second.
      • Commander of the Temple Police third.
  • Sadducees.
    • Not the numerically biggest group in the Sanhedrin.
    • Upper class.
    • Powerful in position and with significant financial backing.
    • They understood that to survive the Roman occupation; they would have to cooperate with the occupiers. Hence, they had established close ties with the Roman authorities and would do anything to keep that influence.

So we see that power-brokers in the Jewish religious system were united in an effort to crush this new religious movement which threatened the stability and the positions of power that they now occupied. Instead of pursuing the truth, they were more concerned with preserving their prestige, status, and wealth.

We see in verse two what it was that was really bothering the religious leaders.

  • The Apostles were teaching the people.
    • Religious teaching was reserved for the priests, Sadducees, Pharisees, rulers, elders, and teachers of the Law.
    • In their minds, teaching was reserved for those who had attended a rabbinical academy and received the approval to begin teaching independently.
      • This was a point about Jesus that had really bothered them.
      • Still, Jesus had intrinsic authority in His teaching.
        • The people marveled at His teaching and followed Him to hear more.
        • His teaching was so powerful that at one point, when the temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus, they returned to the religious leaders and explained their failure (John 7:46.
      • Now they didn’t have one man to deal with; they had a group who spoke with the same level of authority.
        • The Apostles never attended rabbinical schools.
        • They came from simple backgrounds.
          • Fishermen.
          • Tax-collectors.
          • Untaught people. 
        • But they were teaching like Jesus, with authority, and the people were listening.
  • The Apostles were teaching about Jesus and God the Father raising Him from the dead.
    • Teaching only about resurrection would likely not have resulted in the persecution that now starts.
      • The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.
      • The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection.
        • This split in belief was later used by Paul to divide the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-9).
    • The Apostles were teaching about a resurrection on the last day.
    • They were teaching about the resurrection of Jesus.
      • If true, this would lead to several conclusions.
        • It would validate Jesus’ identity.
        • It would prove His nature and the value of what He came to do.
        • It would indict the religious leaders in the murder of their Messiah.

The religious leaders now resorted to a common, worldly method of retaining control. They used power in an attempt to intimidate and control the Apostles.

  • Power.
    • Economic power.
    • Authoritarian power – courts, legal system, and military.
    • Positional power.
      • You can preach when we allow it.
      • We can stop you anytime we feel like it.
      • We can arrest you without just cause.
  • Intimidation.
    • Putting them in jail was not necessary.
    • The Apostles were preaching in the open and not hiding.
    • They could have had brought them before the Sanhedrin the following morning.

The following day, as the Sanhedrin met, reveals additional powerful forces brought against the fledgling church.

  • Rulers – most likely those in positions of authority within the Jewish government.
  • Elders – distinguished older men who lived in Jerusalem and wielding great influence.
  • Scribes – teachers of the Law.
  • Annas – the high priest.
    • Although the Romans had removed him from the official position years earlier, he was still the power behind the position of the high priest.
    • In Israel, the high priest occupied that position for life. The Jews would consider Annas the true high priest until he died.
    • He connived to have his five sons and one son-in-law become high priest after he was removed from the position.
  • Caiaphas – the son-in-law and acting high priest.
    • He conspired along with Annas to have Jesus killed.
    • They may have begun to devise a similar plot against Jesus’ followers.
  • John and Alexander – not much is known about them. Most likely, they were members of the priestly family.

As we consider what had taken place so far, we need to review the responsibility of the Sanhedrin in Jewish life.

  • They were responsible for protecting the Jewish faith.
  • They were required to examine any new teacher or teaching within Israel (Deuteronomy 13).
  • They had the right to investigate what the fledgling church was doing, but they didn’t have the right to arrest innocent men and refuse to examine the evidence that was presented honestly.

The council now asks by what power, authority, or name they had healed the lame man. They unwittingly presented Peter with an opportunity to witness, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.

Peter now begins his defense.

  • Peter demonstrates respect for the council as he explains how the lame man was healed.
  • There is also a not-so-subtle jab at the religious leaders regarding their arrest.
    • Since the question that they ask is about the healing of the lame man, Peter is implying that the only reason they could have been arrested was for healing him.
    • Healing the man is not a crime.
  • Peter then says it was through the name of Jesus that the lame man was healed. 
    • The religious council likely thought they had heard the last of Jesus after His crucifixion.
      • But the Apostles were teaching that Jesus was alive.
      • To the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, this would have been tantamount to a heavy religious slap in the face.
  • Peter’s defense is guided by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had told them.
    • Luke 21:15 For I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 
    • Peter quotes Psalm 118:22, a direct messianic reference that Jesus also quoted in Matthew 21:42.
    • Peter tells the council that they are the builder, but they rejected God’s stone, Jesus.
    • The image of a stone or rock is scattered throughout the Old Testament and is often symbolic of God. 
    • The stone can be a blessing or a stumbling block.
      • A blessing to those who place their faith in Jesus.
      • A stumbling block to those who reject Jesus.
  • Peter concludes his defense by stating that not only was the lame man healed in the name of Jesus but that Jesus is the only way to salvation and restoration with God.
  • In Peter’s short defense, we see a tactic that Paul would also use later. Not only did Peter speak in defense of their actions, but he also used it as an opportunity to witness to the truth of Jesus to the religious council, the very ones who should have already known who Jesus is.
  • Peter’s sermon can be summarized around four points.
    • The religious leaders were guilty of killing Jesus. 
    • Jesus rose from the dead; He was alive! The very God that the religious leaders worshiped is the God who raised Jesus and placed Him at His right hand, proving that Jesus is God the Son, the savior of the world.
    • God’s purpose was fulfilled despite the opposition of the religious leaders. 
    • Jesus is the only way to salvation.

A point to remember as we continue our journey through Acts, after chapter three, only three other chapters in total don’t mention persecution. This would imply that persecution, at some level, might be a necessary part of every believer’s life. Scripture would seem to confirm this.

  • 2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
  • John 15:20 Remember the word I spoke to you: “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.

There is an essential point for the modern church to consider here. How often did we/do we hear about suffering as being an expected part of the Christian life? I know that was never mentioned to me before I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. I understand it now and don’t run from it. When we look at the shallowness of the modern church, especially in the affluent West, we need to consider whether the church’s neglect in this area has led to a significant number of shallow Christians who view salvation as a “get out of hell, free” card, but who otherwise don’t live as a faithful follower of Jesus. As Jesus said, we must count the cost.

Applications

  • The church must teach that persecution will occur. As we witness to the lost, we must talk about persecution. As we walk with Jesus, we must prepare ourselves for persecution. For many of us, persecution is something we read about. However, we have many brothers and sisters around the world who face persecution on a daily basis. And according to Scripture, those of us who don’t currently face persecution may soon find out circumstances rapidly changing, especially as we view what’s happening around the world.
  • We should never fear persecution. As followers of Jesus, we are to walk in His footsteps. Matthew 10:28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Walk and live in the power of the Holy Spirit. The power behind the early church was the Holy Spirit. Ordinary, uneducated men were accomplishing remarkable things powered by God. The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the “forgotten God,” because the modern church often doesn’t rely on Him. 
  • No matter the circumstances or challenges we face, let the Holy Spirit lead you as you share the Gospel with the lost around you. Jesus is the only path to salvation.

1 Peter Lesson One

A Living Hope – 1 Peter 1:1-12

Today’s lesson begins a study on 1 Peter. Before digging into the first passage to discuss, let’s set the stage with some background information.

Destination and Situation of the Readers: Written to the churches in Asia Minor who were faced with suffering and persecution for their faith.

Date: Likely around A.D. 62-63 before Nero’s persecution begins.

Author: The author claims to be Peter, and there is no evidence in the writer’s letter to disagree with his authorship.

Theme: To encourage believers to hold fast while they endure the suffering and persecution of the present evil age, knowing that they will receive a great reward on the day of salvation.

Theology: The author presents three theological lessons in this book.

  • Hope in the midst of suffering.
  • Christians belong to the ancestral people of God.
  • The blessings that believers enjoy now or hope to enjoy in the future, Christ’s death and resurrection, and Christ’s victory over all evil spiritual beings.

Now, let’s look at today’s lesson.

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ:

To the temporary residents dispersed in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

A Living Hope

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy,  He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this,  though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that would come to you searched and carefully investigated. 11 They inquired into what time or what circumstances the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when He testified in advance to the messianic sufferings and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you. These things have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Angels desire to look into these things. (HCSB)

Verses 1-2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: To the temporary residents dispersed in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Some things to note about these first two verses.

  • The introduction is not in a standard format for letters of the period.
  • Peter introduces himself as an apostle of Jesus.
    • This should not be interpreted as being merely a messenger of Christ.
    • Jesus designated Peter as an authoritative messenger and interpreter of the Gospel.
    • This means that the letter is not just good advice; it is a binding apostolic word for the church.
  • The letter is addressed to “the temporary residents.” Other translations may say “pilgrims.”
    • Because they are “chosen” by God, they are residing temporarily on earth.
      • 1 Peter 2:11  Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.
      • Hebrews 11:13  These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.
    • Their true home is in heaven.
  • They are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.” This is a challenging concept to wrap our brains around, and there is much discussion and debate on the ideas of predestination and foreknowledge. The two main camps are the Calvinists and the Arminians, and what makes it even more challenging is that Scripture can support both of their positions. I won’t get into a lengthy and detailed discussion of the two camps, as that would be an entire lesson. The important point to reflect on here is that the recipients of the letter are believers of the Gospel.
    • Romans 8:29  For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.
    • 2 Thessalonians 2:13  But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
  • This is a cyclical letter intended for each of the churches listed, located in modern-day Turkey.
  • The believers are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
    • Conversion is not just an intellectual understanding of the Gospel.
    • It involves obedience and submission to the Gospel.
  • They have been cleansed by the sacrificial blood of Jesus.
  • Entrance into the New Covenant has two parts.
    • Obedience to the Gospel.
    • Cleansing through the sacrificial blood of Jesus.
  • The Trinity is contained in the introduction, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • It closes with a prayer that grace and peace be multiplied in their lives.

Verses 3-5

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy,  He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Peter begins this section with the theme for the entire passage, praise for God.

  • Because He has given us a new birth.
    • None of us can take credit for the new birth.
    • It is entirely through God’s grace and mercy.
  • He has given us a living hope.
    • The resurrection of Jesus.
    • Victory over death.
    • Everything they could suffer in this world is insignificant compared with the future blessings of resurrection and eternity with God.
  • He has given us an inheritance.
    • In the Old Testament, the land was the inheritance.
    • In the New Covenant, Peter understands that the inheritance is the end-time hope that all believers have.
    • Our eternal home is in heaven.
    • It is still a physical hope: a new heaven and a new earth.
      • 2 Peter 3:13  But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell.
      • Revelation 21:1  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away, and the sea no longer existed.
  • However, the focus on salvation should be on our future glory.
    • Inheritance is another way of looking at our salvation. Our full and final inheritance will be received in the new heaven and new earth.
    • It will be revealed in the last time; our salvation is a future event.
    • Believers can rest in the assurance that God’s power will protect them through their trials here and bring them to salvation.
      • This doesn’t mean we won’t’ experience trials.
      • But God will preserve us so that we will receive our final inheritance.
      • This requires faith on our part.
      • God’s protection works in conjunction with our believing.
        • The root of sin is unbelief.
        • If we are faithful, God’s power protects us from unbelief and sin.

Verses 6-9

You rejoice in this,  though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

In verses 3-5, the focus was on praise to God. Now, in verses 6-9, the focus shifts to joy and love, even as they face various trials.

  • There are two types of trials.
    • Those brought on by our own poor choices.
    • Those that God allows us to experience to shape and mold us for greater works and keep us on the narrow path.
      • Acts 14:22  Strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.”
      • Romans 5:3-4  And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.
      • James 1:2-4  Consider it great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
      • These trials are never enjoyable, but God is working out His plan through them.
  • The persecutions of Christians under the rule of Nero were starting at the time this letter was written.
    • Nero’s persecution was the first of nine conducted by the Roman Empire.
    • The persecutions lasted for about 250 years.
    • Peter’s death was likely during this first persecution.

Verse 7

Why does God allow us to suffer?

  • Suffering functions as the test for faith.
    • Those with genuine faith will persevere through the trials.
      • They will continue to trust God even in the deepest valleys of suffering.
      • Their faith will be strengthened and purified through the sufferings.
      • Their transformation into Christ-likeness includes the ability to undergo suffering to glorify God.
    • Those who have a shallow or false faith will not persevere through the sufferings. In the end, they will be seen as false Christians.
  • The trials of life test our faith to prove its sincerity. A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted. A person who abandons their faith when the going gets tough is only proving that they had no faith at all.
  • We also suffer because our “new life” values are in direct conflict with a fallen and sinful world. In our current world, this has led to secularism and pluralism negatively affecting the church-many hot topics in the world clash with the truth of Scripture.
    • Same-sex marriage.
    • All religions lead to the same God and heaven.
    • Relative truth, each of us has our own set of truth values, and we must accept and respect the truths of others.
    • The idea that some portions of Scripture are a fairy tale.
    • The lack of personal responsibility and accountability. I can do anything I want. I’m not at fault for my actions.
    • There are more, but in each case, the values of a follower of Jesus are in direct conflict with the world.

Verse 8

What is our hope based on?

  • The end of verse 7 answers that, the revelation of Jesus, and verse 8 expounds on it.
    • Our sufferings should not make us miserable.
    • Our lives should be filled with love for Jesus.
    • Jesus is precious to those who believe in Him.
    • The recipients of the letter, and us, have never seen Him, yet we believe in Him.
    • Believing is not based on seeing. John 20:29  Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.”
  • Peter’s main point here is that the hope of believers is not destroyed by the trials they undergo. Their lives are characterized by a hope that fills the present with love and joy while they wait for the eternal joy in anticipation. If we trust Jesus with our present salvation, we can also trust Him with our future salvation.

Verse 9

This expounds on the previous verse be defining the reward awaiting those who believe in Jesus.

  • The reason for the believer’s love and joy is the promise of future salvation.
  • We see from verse 5 that it will be completed “in the last time.”
    • This doesn’t mean that salvation isn’t a present-tense idea.
    • As in many places in the Bible, this is an “already, not yet” concept that will not reach its completion until Jesus returns.
    • Believers enjoy salvation now but will experience its fullness at a future date.

Verses 10-12

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that would come to you searched and carefully investigated. 11 They inquired into what time or what circumstances the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when He testified in advance to the messianic sufferings and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you. These things have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Angels desire to look into these things.

Verse 10

This verse builds upon the previous verse in expanding upon the idea of salvation.

  • The salvation that was prophesied in the past, the recipients of the letter were now experiencing.
    • Believers in Jesus are the fulfillment of prophecy.
    • The prophecy was intended for Peter’s readers.
  • This salvation was not experienced in the same way by the Old Testament prophets.
    • God’s grace through the New Covenant.
    • The prophets carefully investigated the salvation they prophesied about.

Verse 11

  • The prophets didn’t live in the time of fulfillment.
  • Their prophecies were inspired by the Spirit of Christ, indicating authority and accuracy.
  • The prophets predicted these events but didn’t know when they would occur.
  • They hoped to experience the fulfillment of their prophecies.
  • The recipients of the letter do live in the time of fulfillment.
  • The prophets discovered that Jesus would first suffer and only after that would glory follow.
    • Often, this is a pattern in our lives.
    • Suffering is not a sign that Jesus has forsaken us.
    • Suffering is a sign of our fellowship with Jesus.
    • Suffering does not reduce the living hope given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Verse 12

  • Although the prophets desired to live in the time of fulfillment, God revealed to them that they would not experience it.
  • The Old Testament prophecies do not apply to the recipients but were intended for them.
  • The prophets were guided by the Spirit of Christ, but those who evangelize the Gospel message do so through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Gospel fulfills what is contained in the Old Testament.
  • Believers are blessed to live in the time of prophetic fulfillment. Matthew 13:16-17  “But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.”
  • Angels don’t experience the Gospel in the same way that humans do since they are not the recipients of redemption.
    • Angels marvel at what God has done through the sacrifice of Jesus.
    • The recipients of the letter actually experience it.

Applications.

  • Do we consider ourselves “temporary residents” of the earth? As a follower of Christ, our identity is in Him and not our country, ethnicity, the school we attended, job, etc. This may be hard for some to come to grips with, but our true identity is not defined by anything on this earth.
  • As a follower of Christ, our future hope is secure. Do you really believe that, or do you struggle with the assurance of your salvation? If you believe in the infallible truth of Scripture, you should never doubt your salvation if you have placed your trust in Jesus. Doubting is the ploy of the enemy to hamper your work for God.
  • All of us will suffer trials as we go through life. Some of us will suffer more than others. Do you focus on the present trial, or do you focus on the future assurance?
  • Understand that biblical salvation is offensive to the culture we live in. As we share the Gospel message, we will face opposition. Some opposition may be minor, but some could be quite violent. Our task, both individually and corporately as the church, is to faithfully and boldly preach the true Gospel message whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.