Acts Lesson Thirty

Acts Lesson Thirty: Acts 15:1-21 – The Jerusalem Council

Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!” But after Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, the church arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this controversy. When they had been sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, explaining in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they created great joy among all the brothers. 

When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!” 

Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: “Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving  the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. He made no distinction between us and them,  cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.” 

12 Then the whole assembly fell silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul describing all the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they stopped speaking, James responded: “Brothers, listen to me! 14 Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written: 

16 After these things I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. 

I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again, 

17 so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles 

who are called by My name, declares the Lord who does these things, 

18 known from long ago. 

19 Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.” (HCSB)

When we look back at the end of the previous lesson, we’ll remember that about a year had passed between the time that Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and the beginning of Acts 15. I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • The Dispute in Antioch – verses 1-3.
  • The Jerusalem Council – verses 4-21.

In previous lessons, I’ve addressed an issue about the enemy always being active against successful ministry endeavors. Here, we see this issue playing out once again. Paul and Barnabas returned from a successful missionary trip and were now engaged in teaching and helping the church at Antioch grow spiritually. Now, the enemy sets out to disrupt their work and discredit them. The greatest weapon of the enemy is lies. We saw that at the beginning of Genesis where Satan used lies to cause Adam and Eve to eat the fruit that was forbidden. We see lies being used in this passage. When we look at the world today, lies are still a favorite weapon of the enemy. The lie of relevant truth; what is true to me is true. The lie is that we should do whatever feels right or good to us. The lie is that having more will make us happy. I could go on and on.

The Dispute in Antioch

Although only three verses long, let’s look at some facts from this passage.

  • The men who came down from Jerusalem were of the camp of the Judaizers, which meant that they were previously Pharisees who became Christians.
    • They believed that circumcision was a requirement for salvation.
    • Christians still needed to follow the Mosaic Law.
  • It is not difficult to understand why these Jewish believers were confused.
    • The Old Testament taught that Gentiles could only be saved through Israel.
    • The only Gentiles that the Jerusalem church had seen saved were those evangelized by Peter, and that was a special act of God in Acts 11:18.
    • News traveled slowly, and they weren’t aware of all that God had accomplished through Paul and Barnabas.
    • It is also possible that once they became aware of the large number of Gentiles who were converted, they were either jealous or fearful of transition from Mosaic Law tradition to the New Covenant.
  • Paul and Barnabas engaged the Judaizers in debate, with the result being that they would go to the church in Jerusalem to have the leadership there judge the matter.
    • This didn’t indicate any hierarchy; instead it was a voluntary decision to go there.
    • God commanded Paul to go to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-2.
    • Jerusalem was still the “mother church” of Christianity.
    • The Apostles were at Jerusalem.
  • The journey between Antioch and Jerusalem was over 250 miles, likely taking a month or so to complete.
    • They evangelized along the way.
    • It is likely that most of the congregations and believers they met along the way would be on the side of Paul and Barnabas, not wanting to burden Gentile believers with circumcision and the Mosaic Law.
    • The congregations along the way rejoiced at the news of the success among the Gentiles.

The Jerusalem Council

Once the group arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the elders and Apostles. There are a few points to note regarding the first verse in this section, implied here but clarified as the passage continues.

  • Paul represented the position against circumcision and the Mosaic Law being a requirement for Gentile believers.
  • Peter represented the Apostles.
  • Jame represented the elders.
  • The Judaizers represented those who believed any Christian should be circumcised and subject to the Mosaic Law.

From the context of this section, it also appears that at least four separate meetings took place during this time.

  • A public meeting during which the Jerusalem church welcomed Paul and those traveling with him.
  • A private meeting between Paul and the key leaders is referenced in Galatians 2:2.
  • A second public meeting where the Judaizers presented their case is found in Acts 15:5 and Galatians 2:3-5.
  • The formal council meeting where the final decision was made is referenced in Acts 15:6ff. We can read Paul’s report on the issue in Galatians 1-2.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at the last two meetings mentioned above.

Let’s consider some facts from the second public meeting.

  • From the context of the passage, it appears that this meeting went on for a considerable period of time.
  • Sensing that not much progress was being made, Peter decides to intervene and stands to present his position on the debate. 
    • Peter endorses Paul on two occasions in Scripture.
      • Peter’s final act in Acts was to endorse Paul and his ministry.
      • Peter’s last written words, found in 2 Peter 3:15-16, also endorsed Paul and his ministry.
    • Peter reminds them that God allowed him to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles – Acts 10-11.
    • God had accepted the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as the Holy Spirit was given to the Jews at Pentecost.
    • They were saved by faith and grace.
    • Verse 11 is key.
      • “We believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”
      • The Law was no longer applicable to the Jews. Therefore, it was also no longer applicable to the Gentiles.
      • Salvation is “by grace, through faith” and not “obey Moses and be circumcised.”
  • Paul and his companions were the next to speak.
    • The church greatly respected Paul and Barnabas, and their words carried a great deal of weight.
    • They described God’s work among the Gentiles.
    • They emphasized the miracles that were done among the Gentiles. The miracles were proof that God was involved in the work among the Gentiles.
      • Mark 16:20 – And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the accompanying signs.
      • Romans 15:18-19 – For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed, 19 by the power of miraculous signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit. As a result, I have fully proclaimed the good news about the Messiah from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum. 
    • Their astounding report of numerous successes of evangelizing the Gentile locations was evidence that couldn’t be refuted.
    • The opponents were effectively silenced.

The transition from the second public meeting to the formal council decision occurs between Paul’s address and James giving them the final decision.

  • James is the brother of Jesus and had become the leader of the church in Jerusalem in place of Peter.
  • He didn’t become a believer until after Jesus’ resurrection.
  • James had a strong leaning towards the Law. There are at least ten references to the Law in his epistle. This would have made him acceptable to the Judaizers in the Jerusalem church.
  • The key theme in James’ address is agreement.
    • He agreed with Peter that God was saving Gentiles by grace.
    • It must have startled the Judaizers when James said the Gentiles were “a people for His name.”
      • The Jews believed they were the people for God’s name, not Gentiles.
      • The New Testament church is a church for all people.
      • The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means a “called out assembly.”
      • If the Gentiles are called out, then their salvation is from grace and not through the keeping of the Law.
      • The Judaizers didn’t understand how the Jews and Gentiles related to each other in the church or how the church fit into God’s promise to establish a kingdom for Israel.
        • They were jealous for both the future glory of Israel as well as the past glory of Moses and the Law.
        • To them, accepting the Gentiles as spiritual equals jeopardized the future of Israel.
    • The prophets also agreed with this conclusion.
      • James cites Amos 9:11-12 to back up this point.
      • Amos’ prophecy agreed with the testimony of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas.
      • Amos also prophesied that the fallen tent of David would be raised up again. We know that is fulfilled through Jesus.
    • The future Israel is the restored Jews and Gentiles who have placed their faith in Jesus.
    • What they were witnessing was the beginning of the promises foretold in Amos. The promise included the Gentiles.

The decision.

James advised the church to write to the Gentile Christians and inform them of the decision of the conference. The decision addressed four items.

  • Two were commands.
    • Don’t be involved in idolatry.
    • Don’t engage in sexual immorality.
    • Neither presented any particular problem as they have always been wrong in God’s view.
  • Two were concessions.
    • Abstain from eating blood.
    • Abstain from eating meat from animals that have died by strangulation.
  • The two concessions revolved around the fact that the early church often met together and shared meals. Most of the churches met in homes, and some likely held pot luck dinners in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper. If the Gentiles ate food that was considered “unclean,” it would cause division within the church.
    • God gave the prohibition against blood before the Law in Genesis 9:4. Moses repeated it in Leviticus 17:11-14 and Deuteronomy 12:23.
    • The prohibition against eating an animal that has been strangled is because some of the blood will remain in the body and make it unfit for a Jew to eat. 
    • Kosher meat comes from a clean animal that has been properly killed and all the blood drained from the body.
  • What we see in the decision is a position of unity between two groups of people who are debating and defending their position.
    • The Judaizers gave up their insistence on circumcision.
    • The Gentiles accepted a change in their eating habits.
    • It was a compromise that didn’t affect the truth of the Gospel.
    • Not all compromise is good, but this was a situation where compromise brought two disagreeing sides to a middle ground.
  • The seemingly out-of-place reference to Moses is probably a reference to the requirements outlined in the law to avoid eating blood and should be no shock to the Gentile believers who would have heard the passages read in the synagogues. It is also possible that the Gentile believers should be sensitive to their Jewish counterparts and not offend them in this manner so that the lost Jews could also be reached with the Gospel.

Applications

  • If you encounter people teaching a false Gospel or a Gospel with “extra” requirements, make sure you challenge them, but do it in a Christian manner. If the false teachers are members of your church and they won’t stop the false teaching, you should bring it to the attention of your church leadership. If your church leaders are engaged in false teaching, they should be confronted. If they won’t stop, you should find a new church. Also, make sure that those who received the false teaching know what portions were false.
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to share the Gospel, even in your travels. In Acts 15, we see Paul and Barnabas taking advantage of their journey from Antioch to Jerusalem to share along the way. It would have been easier for them to travel quickly so that the matter under dispute could be solved. Instead, they turned their trip into an evangelism event.
  • Any theological debate should be done in an orderly manner and with sufficient witnesses. It helps to have all sides represented so that any decision will be acceptable to all parties. 
  • Unless your church leaders are false teachers, you should always respect their decision. God has placed them in that position for a reason, and you should honor God by honoring those He has chosen.

Acts Lesson Twenty-five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this passage, two significant things occur. 

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

The passage itself contains two storylines. 

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

James is Martyred – verses 1-5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rescue of Peter – verses 6-19.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse seventeen has three components.

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

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Twenty-three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Circumcision Sect is Not Happy

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

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

The Issue of Cornelius

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

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

Gentile Pentecost

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Twenty-two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll divide this passage into two sections.

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

Peter’s Journey to Caesarea

Verses 17-23

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

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

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

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

Verses 24-26

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

Let’s consider some facts from these three verses.

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

Verses 27-29

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

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

Verses 30-32

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

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

Verse 33

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

Verses 34-43

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

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

Verses 44-48

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Twenty-one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This lesson is divided into two parts.

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

Cornelius’s Vision.

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

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

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

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

An angel visits Cornelius.

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

Peter’s Vision.

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

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

Facts regarding Peter’s vision.

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Twenty

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

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

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

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

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

Verses 32-35

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

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

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

Even less is known about Aeneas.

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

What we do know about Aeneas.

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

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

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

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

Key points about the healing of Aeneas.

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

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

Verses 36-43.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Seventeen

Acts Lesson Seventeen: Acts 8:1-25 The Gospel Spreads

Saul agreed with putting him to death. 

On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison. 

So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds paid attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. 

A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and astounded the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God!” 11 They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he went around constantly with Philip and was astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles  that were being performed. 

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had welcomed God’s message, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them, so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet come down on  any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 

18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” 

24 “Please pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans. (HCSB)

Today’s lesson can be divided into three parts.

  • The introduction of Saul as the main persecutor of the church.
  • Philip’s evangelism in Samaria.
  • The story of Simon the Sorcerer.

Verses 1-3

Luke introduced Saul at the end of the previous chapter. Now, he introduces Saul as the main antagonist of the early church. Before moving on, let’s get a detailed picture of Saul from various sections of Scripture.

  • Born in Tarsus of Cilicia – Acts 22:3.
  • A Hebrew of Hebrews – Philippians 3:5.
  • The son of a Pharisee – Acts 23:6.
  • A Roman citizen – Acts 16:37.
  • Educated in Jerusalem by Gamaliel – Acts 22:3.
  • A devoted Pharisee – Acts 26:4-5.
  • A blameless life when measured against the Law – Philippians 3:6.
  • On the path to becoming a great leader in the Jewish faith – Galatians 1:14.
  • Zealous for the Law leading him to persecute the church – Galatians 1:13-14.
  • Served God with a clear conscience – 2 Timothy 1:3.
  • Persecuted both men and women to death – Acts 22:4.
  • Entered synagogues to arrest, imprison, and beat believers – Acts 22:19.
  • A blasphemer against Jesus – 1 Timothy 1:13.

When considering the background and characteristics of Saul, it is only by the grace of God that such a man could be used to be the greatest evangelist and church planter, as well as writing 28% of the New Testament.

A couple of points to consider over these first few verses.

  • The scattering mentioned likely pertains to the Hellenistic believers as the apostles were not scattered. The Hellenistic view that God was not bound to a place or nation would have rubbed the religious leaders of Judaism the wrong way. In contrast, the Aramaic-speaking Christians had remained faithful to some Jewish institutions. However, this led to the following actions.
    • The persecution and scattering led to the Gospel being spread quicker and further.
    • The second phase of the Great Commission began; the witness to all Judea and Samaria.
  • Saul began to “ravage” the church. 
    • The Greek word used here would denote wild beasts such as lions, bears, or leopards tearing at the flesh.
    • He went from house to house, attacking both men and women. 

Verses 4-8

Instead of being distraught by the turn of events from Saul’s persecution, the believers took the message of the Gospel to new fields.

A quick historical reminder about Samaritans; they were a mixture of Jewish and Gentile heritage. The region was formed when the Assyrians invaded and captured the ten northern tribes of Israel in 732 B.C., deporting some and resettling Gentiles into the region to intermarry with the Jews. The Samaritans had their own temple, priesthood, and both Jew and Samaritans opposed interaction with the other. 

Now, let’s identify the essential points from these verses.

  • The Christians scattered from Jerusalem were faithful in proclaiming the Gospel in the areas where they went.
  • Philip was chosen as a deacon, Acts 6:5, but like Stephen, he grew into an influential evangelist, Acts 21:8.
    • In verse four, the word “preaching” means to evangelize.
    • In verse five, the word “proclaim” means to announce as a herald.
    • Philip was God’s chosen herald to spread the Gospel in Samaria.
    • To reject the messenger would mean to reject the message and the one who commissioned the herald to deliver it, God.
  • Philip not only shared the Gospel, but he also performed miracles among them.
    • Many who were demon-possessed were healed.
    • Many who had physical ailments were healed.
    • However, the emphasis is on the Gospel. 
    • They believed in the Gospel because they saw the miracles. 
      • In believing the Gospel, they were saved. 
      • The miracles didn’t save them.
    • There was great joy among the inhabitants because of the work of Philip.
  • The Gospel had now begun its outward arc from Jerusalem.
    • Samaritans were part Jew and part Gentile.
    • God built a bridge between the two enemies and united them in Christ.
    • Soon the bridge would extend to the Gentiles in an ever-widening arc.
    • In the Gospel, there are no unacceptable people, no physical rejects, and no place for prejudice.

Verses 9-25

A basic biblical principle is that whenever there is a movement of God’s work, Satan will try and hijack that movement with false teachers or false doctrine. It happened in the Old Testament, and it continues now in the church age. The enemy doesn’t want the church to advance and win souls, so he will try anything to derail the work of the church. 

Let’s further break this section down into two parts. Verses 9-13 and 14-25.

Verses 9-13

We see here a contrast between true holy work done through the power of the Holy Spirit and work that is done through other forces, often demonic or dark in nature. There are times that seemingly good works are, in fact, not done through holy power. Jesus warns of this in Matthew 7:21-23, even going so far as to say that some who do works in His name are deceivers. Let’s look at some details of this section of the passage.

  • Because the people were astounded and amazed at Simon’s tricks, they believed the things he said. 
    • Scripture doesn’t say precisely what he said, but it does say that the people called him “the Great Power of God,” which he didn’t deny.
    • This was not only misleading the people as to where his “power” came from but was blasphemy since it wasn’t the work of God.
    • Simon was an example of those who practice “lawlessness” as described in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
  • He was popular and recognized by the people.
    • They all paid attention to him.
    • He had been working among them for a long time.
    • He enjoyed the attention and adulation.
  • The work of the Holy Spirit through Philip now began to shift people from Simon to Philip.
    • The people saw the work of Philip.
      • People were healed.
      • Demons were cast out.
    • The people heard the Gospel message.
      • They became followers of Jesus.
      • They were baptized.
    • Simon was likely afraid he would lose all or most of his following.
      • He “believed.” 
        • It was a false belief.
        • Jesus spoke about how the demons even believed in Him. Believing doesn’t mean following.
        • Simon’s belief was based on wanting to acquire the power he saw manifested in Philip.
      • Simon fooled Philip with his false belief.
        • Although Philip was doing work through the power of the Holy Spirit, Simon was able to fool him. 
        • Both Jesus and Paul warn about false believers and/or teachers infiltrating the church and causing harm. 
        • We must always be on guard against those who would harm the church from the inside. 
          • Enemies from the outside are often easy to spot.
          • Enemies on the inside are much harder to see but often do more significant damage.
      • We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible the reason Simon followed Philip everywhere was to try and learn the “secret” behind Philip’s miracles.

Verses 14-25

Before we jump into the issue of Simon in this section of the passage, two other points need to be discussed.

  • The apostles sent Peter and John to Samaria. Why did this occur?
    • From a historical standpoint, we know that there was a deep and long divide between the Jews and the Samaritans. The two groups had their own view of Judaism and even a somewhat different Pentateuch. Unity is a critical factor in the church.
    • The Holy Spirit had fallen on them yet. This brings up point number two.
  • Why didn’t the Holy Spirit fall on them at conversion?
    • Just as the Jewish church had their Pentecost moment, now the Samaritan church will have theirs. 
    • By having Peter and John go to them, lay hands on them, and for them to receive the Holy Spirit would demonstrate that they were no longer two separate people groups in Jesus’ church. They were now one. 
    • Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven by Jesus in Matthew 16:19.
      • Peter opened the door to the Jews at Pentecost.
      • He now opened the doors to the Samaritans.
      • He would later open the doors to the Gentiles in Acts 10.
  • The first ten chapters in Acts show a transition from Jew to Samaritan to Gentile. 

Now let’s move on to the conclusion of the narrative addressing Simon’s prideful heart.

Just as in Simon’s following Philip around to see if he could discover the secret behind the power of Philip’s ministry, he now sees Peter and John lay hands on the people and wants the same ability. However, he views it as a commodity and thinks he can purchase it from the apostles. We can draw a few conclusions from the final section of this passage.

  • Simon was never truly converted.
    • May your silver be destroyed with you.
    • You have no share in this matter.
    • Your heart is not right before God.
    • Repent of your wickedness. This phrase is usually reserved for unbelievers.
    • He was poisoned by bitterness.
    • He was bound by iniquity.
    • All of these factors lead to an overwhelming conclusion that Simon was never saved.
  • Simon’s response is also telling.
    • He seems more concerned about avoiding the consequences that Peter pronounced.
    • Instead of offering a prayer of repentance, he asks Peter to pray for him.
      • We shouldn’t confuse this with asking others to pray for our needs.
      • However, only the individual can repent and pray for forgiveness.
      • Those who won’t pray a prayer of repentance for themselves won’t enter God’s kingdom.
  • This narrative shows how close a person can get to salvation and still not cross the threshold.
    • Simon heard the Gospel.
    • Simon saw the miracles. 
    • He made a verbal profession of faith.
    • He was baptized.
    • He was never born again.
    • He was a clever counterfeit. 
    • If he was not discovered, he could have caused untold damage from inside the church.
  • Peter and John then make their way back to Jerusalem.
    • As they passed through Samaria on the return journey, they shared the Gospel.
    • They didn’t waste an opportunity to reach the lost.
    • Through the efforts of Philip, Peter, and John, the Gospel was now spreading throughout Samaria.

Applications

  • Ministry must be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Successful ministry is never done in our strength. It may appear to work for a time, but eventually, it will crumble, and nothing will be left.
  • We must always be on the lookout for counterfeit Christians who would undermine the church from within. These same people would also cause the church to look foolish to those on the outside who need to hear the Gospel and come to salvation. 
  • Don’t let pride and jealousy stand between you and salvation. Simon had an unhealthy desire for the power that he saw demonstrated, and instead of submitting to Christ and being used for kingdom work, he tried a shortcut. No matter where God places you, no matter your spiritual gifting, be joyful as you contribute to the kingdom. 
  • Always look for opportunities to share the Gospel, even when you aren’t planning on sharing. Peter and John didn’t waste the opportunities on the trip back to Jerusalem. We run into people every day who are on the path to hell. Don’t miss those chances to share.

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 Ten

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and Wonders

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

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

Verse 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 13

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

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

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

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

Verse 14

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

Verses 15-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications.

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

Acts Lesson Nine

Acts Lesson Nine – 5:1-11 Don’t Test the Spirit

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 

Then Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds from the field? Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God!” When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him. 

There was an interval of about three hours; then his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. “Tell me,” Peter asked her, “did you sell the field for this price?” 

“Yes,” she said, “for that price.” 

Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!” 

10 Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things. (HCSB)

The last lesson ended with a display of generosity by Barnabas. In this lesson, we will see a polar opposite, greed, and jealousy by Ananias and Sapphira, which leads to their physical death. There are a couple of interesting points regarding their names; Ananias means “God is gracious” while Sapphira means “beautiful.” We may think that the punishment handed out to them was too severe for the crime. However, as we dig into this passage, we will see that our infinitely holy God was following a pattern of judgment that goes back to the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Here are some examples of divine judgment on seemingly minor offenses.

  • Nadab and Abihu were killed for presenting false fire in Leviticus 10.
  • Achan was killed for disobeying orders after Israel entered the Promised Land in Joshua 7.
  • Uzzah was touching the ark as it was being transported in 2 Samuel 6.

In each of these cases, it may seem that the punishment was too severe. However, judgment is passed according to an infinitely holy God’s standards and not ours. Another thing to note regarding each case above and the one in this passage is that God judges sin severely at the beginning of a new period in salvation history. 

Today’s passage will be broken into two parts. The first covering Ananias and background/general information, with the second part covering Sapphira and concluding thoughts.

Verses 1-6

In this section, we see that Satan was the culprit behind the couple’s actions. This doesn’t remove the guilt from them or us if we also follow Satan’s direction. But it does point to the issue of spiritual warfare that believers face. Up until this point, the young church was thriving and resisting the spiritual attacks from the outside, primarily from the Jewish religious leaders up to this point. Now, Satan changes his focus and decides to try and undermine the church from the inside by using members of the church to discredit it. If we fast-forward to Acts 20:28-31, we read where Paul warns the church leaders to be on the lookout for these attacks from the inside. Often these are the most difficult to see and the most damaging. Nothing discredits a church more than one of its leaders or prominent members involved in a public scandal. Believers need to read and apply Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6:10-18 to continually put on our spiritual armor and be prepared for spiritual warfare.

As we look at the sin they committed, there are three distinct features.

  • It was energized and directed by Satan. 
  • It was motivated by pride.
    • They were possibly jealous of Barnabas’ gift at the conclusion of chapter four and wanted everyone to see that they were just as generous. We could call this religious “keeping up with the neighbor.”
    • God hates pride. Proverbs 8:13b I hate arrogant pride, evil conduct.
    • Jesus made it clear that how we give is essential. Is it for God’s glory or ours? See Matthew 6:1-4 and 19-34.
    • All that we have we have received from God. We are stewards of His possessions.
  • Their sin was directed against God’s church.
    • There is no reason to doubt that they were followers of Jesus.
      • The young church had such a high spiritual level that it is doubtful that a fake Christian could have invaded the church at this point.
      • They also lied to the Spirit (verse 3) and tested the Spirit (verse 9). This indicates that they had the Spirit living within them.
    • God loves His church and jealously guards it. The church was purchased by the blood of Jesus. The church has been put on the earth to glorify Him and complete His work. 
      • Satan wants to destroy and discredit the church. The easiest way is from the inside.
      • The church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15.
      • The church is God’s temple in which He dwells. 1 Corinthians 3:16.
      • The church is God’s army. 2 Timothy 2:1-4.
      • The church is safe as long as Satan is attacking from the outside. When Satan gets a foothold within the church, that’s when danger is present.

Their sin was not withholding the money, essential robbing God. It was in lying to Him and robbing Him of the glory of selfless giving among the believers. There was no mandate that they had to sell the property; it was purely voluntary. Even after selling it, there was no stipulation that any or all of the money must be donated to the church. It was their overwhelming desire for recognition that contributed to their actions.

There are numerous interpretations of how Ananias died; zapped, heart attack, fear, overwhelming guilt. The how isn’t important when we look at this passage. What we can determine from the context of the passage is that it wasn’t an ordinary death; they saw God’s hand in his death. Otherwise, there would be no reason for great fear among the believers. The Greek word for fear in this passage means “great respect and awe for God.” 

The speed at which the burial was conducted also sheds some light on the circumstances. Burials were usually not lengthy affairs, but three hours or less would be considered fast in that culture. However, a hasty burial was the norm for deaths surrounded by unusual circumstances, such as suicides, executed criminals, and judgments from God.

Verses 7-11

We now move to the second participant in the conspiracy, Sapphira. There are several things to note in this section.

  • Sapphira was unaware of what had happened to Ananias. Although it wouldn’t accomplish anything, it is interesting to speculate what her actions would have been had she known what had happened a few hours earlier.
    • Would she have tried to continue the deception, thinking it couldn’t happen to her?
    • Would she have run away or disappeared out of fear?
    • Would she have come before the church with a repentant heart?
  • What we do know is that Peter gave her one last chance to come clean when he asked, “did you sell the field for this price?”
    • We need to note and follow Peter’s role in this encounter. Peter was not the judge; he was merely confronting both individuals with a question and allowing, at least with Sapphira, an opportunity to repent.
    • God was the judge, and swift consequences resulted from her refusal to repent.
  • There is great irony in this passage. First, Ananias laid the money at the feet of the Apostles. Second, both ended up dying at the feet of the Apostles. 
  • The church is intended to be a holy body, a place where the Spirit resides within the people who make up the church.
  • The church depicted at the beginning of Acts worked miracles, evangelized without fear, and was blessed with extraordinary growth. The Spirit was the power behind the unity and the unity as the power behind its witness.
  • This is the first time the Greek word for church, ekklesia, occurs in Acts. The word signifies the people of God gathered together as a religious community. It is probably no coincidence that it first appears in this passage. The church only thrives when it lives in the trust of its members, where there is unified trust the church flourishes in the power of the Spirit. When distrust appears, its witness fades.
  • Although Ananias and Sapphira experienced divine judgment, there is nothing to suggest their death was more than a physical one. 

Now let’s look at some general concepts and conclusions from this passage.

  • As strong, vibrant, and Spirit-filled as the early church was, it still was not a perfect church. We will never find a perfect church on this side of eternity. That doesn’t mean churches shouldn’t strive for that, but it’s unreasonable to expect it. Since there is no perfect church, we shouldn’t engage in “church shopping” once we’ve settled into a community of believers. The only exception to that is if the church, church leadership, or teaching becomes heretical and refuses to repent and return to being a biblically-based church.
  • The use of possessions and money. Using these in the wrong way or with the wrong intention is a serious sin in God’s sight. As we journey through Acts, we’ll see that there a quite a few instances where economic issues are dealt with in the Christian community. As we take a survey of churches today, we’d probably see quite a bit of the “health and wealth” or “prosperity gospel” heresy being proclaimed in churches. When we look at the New Testament, we’ll see an abundance of teaching on the dangers of wealth. Although wealth and possessions are not inherently wrong or evil, the proper biblical attitude is to understand that they are a blessing from God to be used to bless others.
  • Lying to make ourselves appear to be something that we aren’t. Ananias’s goal was to enhance his self-esteem and prestige within the church. How often do we see that in today’s church? This leads us to be dishonest with ourselves. A key component to receiving God’s grace is acknowledging our need for Him. Pride can slam shut the door that allows God’s grace to enter our lives.
  • A reverential fear of God and the consequences of sin. Sin and scandals will occur within the body of believers. How that is dealt with is an indicator of whether or not the church has a reverential fear of God. The early church dealt with the issue of sin quickly. In today’s world of tolerance and acceptance, the opposite often occurs. The example of Ananias and Sapphira’s behavior was a cancer that needed to be removed from the church for it to be healthy. We are all sinners, but the sin must be confronted and not condoned.
  • The demonization of believers. Although believers can’t be possessed by Satan, the Holy Spirit lives inside believers and is stronger than Satan; we can allow ourselves to be directed and used by Satan. It happened to Ananias and Sapphira. We’ve probably all read of Christian leaders who have had moral failures. Often it can start as an innocent mistake, but then it snowballs out of control. These moral failures aren’t limited to the area of sexual misconduct. It can also occur when we feel wronged and plan an appropriate response. It can happen in professional ambition. There are countless examples that could be listed here. We must never forget that we are engaged in spiritual warfare with an unseen enemy. This can lead us to become complacent and not consider the spiritual realm. 

Applications

  • As we bring our offerings, we need to stop and examine our hearts and our motivation for giving. Is there any selfish motivation behind our gift, or is our gift meant to glorify God? If there is any selfish motivation, we need to stop, repent, and prayerfully reconsider our giving. Once our motivations are pure, then we can continue with our giving.
  • If we knowingly or unknowingly have impure motivations and a Christian brother or sister confronts us, we need to repent. We should also thank them for holding us accountable to pure living. This is one example of why an accountability partner is essential for our spiritual health.
  • If we see a Christian brother or sister sinning, do we gracefully confront them in a timely manner, or do we avoid and condone the behavior? Scripture indicates that we need to take action for their benefit as well as the church’s benefit.
  • We need to have a reverent fear for God and His holiness. This reverence needs to be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions.