Acts Lesson Fifty-one

Acts Lesson Fifty-one: Acts 24:1-27 – Paul Before Felix

After five days Ananias  the high priest came down with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. These men presented their case against Paul to the governor. When he was called in, Tertullus began to accuse him and said: “Since we enjoy great peace because of you, and reforms are taking place for the benefit of this nation by your foresight, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with utmost gratitude. However, so that I will not burden you any further, I beg you in your graciousness to give us a brief hearing. For we have found this man to be a plague, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the Roman world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes! He even tried to desecrate the temple, so we apprehended him [and wanted to judge him according to our law. But Lysias the commander came and took him from our hands with great force, commanding his accusers to come to you.] By examining him yourself you will be able to discern all these things we are accusing him of.” The Jews also joined in the attack, alleging that these things were so. 

10 When the governor motioned to him to speak, Paul replied: “Because I know you have been a judge of this nation for many years, I am glad to offer my defense in what concerns me. 11 You are able to determine that it is no more than 12 days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. 12 They didn’t find me disputing with anyone or causing a disturbance among the crowd, either in the temple complex or in the synagogues or anywhere in the city. 13 Neither can they provide evidence to you of what they now bring against me. 14 But I confess this to you: I worship my fathers’ God according to the Way,  which they call a sect, believing all the things that are written in the Law and in the Prophets. 15 And I have a hope in God, which these men themselves also accept, that there is going to be a resurrection, both of the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 I always do my best to have a clear conscience toward God and men. 17 After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my nation, 18 and while I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar.  19 It is they who ought to be here before you to bring charges, if they have anything against me. 20 Either let these men here state what wrongdoing they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin, 21 or about this one statement I cried out while standing among them, ‘Today I am being judged before you concerning the resurrection of the dead.’ ” 

22 Since Felix was accurately informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from serving him. 

24 After some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and listened to him on the subject of faith in Christ Jesus. 25 Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I find time I’ll call for you.” 26 At the same time he was also hoping that money would be given to him by Paul. For this reason he sent for him quite often and conversed with him. 27 After two years had passed, Felix received a successor, Porcius Festus, and because he wished to do a favor for the Jews, Felix left Paul in prison. (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into three parts.

  • The Sanhedrin’s accusation against Paul.
  • Paul’s defense before Felix.
  • Felix delays his decision.

The Sanhedrin’s Accusation Against Paul

As we begin this section, let’s break down three areas; the religious “team” that arrived from Jerusalem, a detailed look at Tertullus, and a look at the timeline involving Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem to this meeting before Felix.

  • The religious team.
    • The high priest, Ananias.
    • Some elders who were likely members of the Sanhedrin.
    • A lawyer named Tertullus.
  • Tertullus.
    • We can’t be certain whether he was a Jew or a Gentile hired by the Jews.
      • In verses three, four, and six, he identifies himself with the Jews by the use of the word “we.”
      • In verse nine, he seems to separate from “the Jews.”
      • It was not uncommon for Jews to hire pagan lawyers who were skilled in Roman law.
    • Tertullus showed himself to be skilled in Roman legal procedures.
      • He began the case against Paul with lengthy and bloated praise for the Roman governor, which considerably stretched the truth.
      • There was less peace in Judea during Felix’s rule than any Roman governor until the final years before the outbreak of war with Rome.
      • The Romans prided themselves on preserving the peace, and the comment would surely resonate with Felix.
      • Foresight and reforms were hardly a highlight during Felix’s reign. 
        • Felix had made life miserable for the Jews.
        • There was an increase in rebellions during his rule.
        • Felix had a complete lack of sympathy for the Jews and made no attempt to understand their positions.
      • There were few Jews who would feel a sense of gratitude towards him.
  • Timeline of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem.
    • Day 1 – arrived in Jerusalem.
    • Day 2 – visited James.
    • Day 3 – visited the temple.
    • Days 4-6 – in the temple with the vow upon him.
    • Day 7 – arrested in the temple.
    • Day 8 – before the Sanhedrin.
    • Day 9 – the Jew’s plot and Paul’s escort to Caesarea.
    • Day 10 – presented to Felix.
    • Days 11-12 – waiting in Caesarea.
    • Day 13 – the hearing before Felix.

Tertullus presented three charges against Paul.

  • A personal and political accusation – he is a plague and an agitator.
    • Paul stirred up riots throughout the civilized world.
    • This aligned with the Asian Jews’ charge in Acts 21:28.
    • Tertullus was attempting to connect this to the idea of insurrection in the Roman empire.
      • It was a charge of sedition.
      • Romans wouldn’t concern themselves with Jewish religious matters, but they would take a threat to Roman “peace” seriously.
    • Given Felix’s behavior in dealing with Jewish insurrections, this would have struck a nerve with him.
  • A religious accusation – he is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
    • This charge was true…in a sense. Paul was a Christian leader.
    • By linking this statement with the charge of insurrection, Tertullus was implying that Christians as a group were dangerous to the peace Rome sought, and Paul was one of the main instigators.
    • By linking the two, Tertullus was implying the charge against the entire Christian community, implying they were a danger and should be viewed as an insurrectionist movement.
    • Fortunately, Tertullus was unable to make this point stick, and Felix was already informed about Christians and wouldn’t have accepted this point anyway.
  • He desecrated the temple.
    • The Romans delegated religious legal matters to the Sanhedrin and granted the Jews the right to ban Gentiles from sacred areas.
    • Paul was charged by the Asian Jews for violating the ban on Gentiles in sacred areas.
    • If Tertullus were able to prove this point, Felix would have been obligated to turn Paul over to the Sanhedrin and almost certain death by stoning.
    • The charge was based on a false claim by the Asian Jews, which is likely the reason they were not present at this hearing.
  • All three charges were false.
    • Paul was never a plague or an agitator. He only spoke the truth, which offended many. Also, Paul never sought to change anyone’s politics. However, he did preach the lordship of Christ, which would be in conflict with Caesar’s demand that he be worshipped as a god.
    • Since many Jewish Christians still participated in some aspects of temple worship, They were viewed as a subset of Judaism and not a new religion.
    • Paul never violated the temple. The charge by the Asian Jews was entirely baseless.

Tertullus also lied about Claudius Lysias.

  • He described the mob action in the temple as an attempt to arrest Paul.
  • He embellished the actions of Claudius by saying Paul was snatched from the Jews with great force.
  • God used Claudius to rescue Paul, and the Jews hated him for that.

Paul’s Defense Before Felix

As this section begins, we get a sense of Felix’s attitude of superiority. He doesn’t ask Paul to speak; he merely gave a nod of his head or a wave of his hand. Paul begins his defense with the customary greeting, but it is markedly different from the one given by Tertullus.

  • Paul didn’t appeal to Felix’s ego.
  • He didn’t stretch the truth about Felix’s rule or accomplishments.
  • Paul only acknowledged that Felix had been a governor for “many years.” 

Paul then begins his defense by making a response to each of the charges brought against him.

  • The charge of stirring up an insurrection.
    • There was no history of Paul inciting the Jews in Jerusalem.
      • He had only been in the city for twelve days, and his sole reason for coming was to worship at the temple.
      • Twelve days is not enough time to organize a rebellion.
    • Pilgrims were generally not the ones who caused trouble.
  • Paul stated that he had not stirred up any crowds.
    • He didn’t do it in the temple.
    • He didn’t do it in any synagogue.
    • He didn’t do it anywhere within the city.
  • Paul concluded his response to the charges by stating the Jews had no proof to support their claims that would stand up in court.

Paul then moves on to address the issue of being a leader of the Nazarene sect.

  • Paul uses the opportunity to give a mini-sermon, changing from a defensive posture to a positive witness for the Gospel.
  • Tertullus tried to present Christians in a negative light as a subset within Judaism.
  • Paul doesn’t deny his connection with the group but chooses another term instead of Nazarene.
    • Paul tells Felix he is a member of “the Way.”
    • He wasn’t part of a subset within Judaism.
    • Christ is the only way to the Father.
  • Paul believed in Scripture, the prophets, and the Law, just as the Pharisees did.
  • Paul also shared the Pharisees’ hope in the resurrection, both the wicked and the righteous.
    • The mention of the resurrection of the wicked implied judgment.
    • Even the Gentiles, who may not understand or believe in the resurrection, would have some understanding of judgment.
  • Paul’s reference to the resurrection is the pinnacle of his witness contained in his speeches of Acts 23-26.
    • This was not an accident.
    • Paul’s absolute conviction in the truth of the resurrection was the real point of contention with the Jews.
    • Paul was trying to highlight this point with the Jews.
      • Paul believed in the same Scriptures.
      • Paul worshiped the same God.
      • Paul shared the same hope.
    • The Way diverged with the rest of the Jews on this very point.
      • Christians believed it had already begun with Christ.
      • The Jews were still waiting for it.
      • Christians also had a different definition for it.
        • Resurrection of the just.
        • Resurrection of the unjust.
        • Since both groups would be resurrected, judgment was implied.
      • Paul’s belief in Christ would make him blameless for the judgment he would face.
      • The resurrection of Christ was the dividing point between Paul and the Jews.
      • For Paul, the church, and contemporary Christians, this remains the division between Christian and Jew and the starting point for dialogue between the two groups.

Paul now moves on to answer Tertullus’s third charge, the desecration of the temple.

  • Paul briefly summarized the events in Acts 21.
    • His presence in the temple for purification connected with the four Nazarites.
    • The Asian Jews created the disturbance under false pretenses.
    • The absence of the Asian Jews at this hearing underscores the fact their charges were baseless.
    • Paul was still upset over the fact they refused to confront him face-to-face in a formal hearing.
    • Paul was exercising proper Roman legal procedure. The failure to appear by those who brought the initial charges highlighted the falseness of their claims.
      • For Tertullus to make an allegation against Paul and then fail to produce the witnesses to the event was a serious breach of Roman court procedure.
      • There was no evidence to support the claim of Paul defiling the temple.
      • If anything, the opposite was the case. Paul was ceremonially clean and had traveled to Jerusalem to bring an offering.

Having successfully demonstrated that all of Tertullus’s charges lacked any supporting evidence, Paul moves on to confront the one charge which could be brought against him, Paul’s belief in the resurrection.

  • The prosecution had witnesses present to support this charge.
    • The high priest.
    • The elders.
    • They could testify about the veracity of this charge since Paul had successfully refuted their other charges.
  • Paul now was essentially in control of the trial.
    • He had broken no law.
      • Roman.
      • Jewish.
    • The resurrection was the only point of contention between Paul and the Jewish religious leaders.
      • Paul and the Christian church believed the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus.
      • The Jewish religious leaders were mistakenly still waiting for the Messiah to come.
      • Paul was on trial for his Christian faith.
  • It was essential the Roman courts understood this was an issue of Jewish religious matters and not something to be decided under Roman law.

After Paul had finished giving his defense, Felix adjourned the day’s proceedings.

  • Felix would pass his final judgment after he had gathered further evidence.
  • In effect, he was waiting for Claudius Lysias to arrive and give his report of the events under dispute.
    • Lysias had already sent his report and stated he believed the entire matter was one of Jewish religious law.
    • He also believed that Paul had done nothing that deserved death or imprisonment.
    • However, there is no evidence that Lysias ever made the trip to Caesarea or gave a face-to-face account of the events in question.
  • Felix was avoiding making a decision in the case.
    • Felix was already aware of the “Way.”
    • The Christian movement was not a group of revolutionaries.
    • The charges brought by the religious leaders weren’t supported by factual evidence.
    • The evidence from the trial only pointed to Paul’s acquittal.
    • Paul wasn’t guilty of breaking any Roman law.
    • However, Felix ruled over the Jews and had to live with them.
    • There were powerful Jews in the group who were calling for Paul’s condemnation.
    • Felix didn’t want to incur their anger, especially with the unrest that had already occurred under his watch.
    • It was easier to avoid making a decision, even if it meant Paul would continue to be jailed.
  • Felix may have had a guilty conscience, or he may have considered Paul’s Roman citizenship.
    • Paul would be kept “under guard,” which should be interpreted as a liberal type of detainment.
    • It would allow Paul a certain level of freedom of movement.
    • It would allow friends and family to visit him.

Luke now gives a break of “some days” between the adjournment and Felix’s next meeting with Paul. This meeting introduces Felix’s wife, Drusilla, to the narrative. Let’s look at her background.

  • She was the youngest daughter of Agrippa I, the “Herod” from Acts 12.
  • At the age of fourteen, through an agreement by her brother Agrippa II, she was married to Azizus, the king of Emesa
  • A short time after this, Felix saw her and was struck by her beauty, and was determined to make her his wife.
  • Felix used a magician as an intermediary to convince Drusilla to leave Azizus for Felix.
  • Drusilla was already unhappy in her marriage and readily agreed to the offer.
  • Drusilla was sixteen when she married Felix.
  • She may have been the source where Felix became knowledgeable regarding the “Way.”

Paul, never one to miss the opportunity for evangelism, spoke frankly with the couple.

  • He spoke about faith in Christ.
  • He focused on the coming judgment.
  • Paul’s emphasis on righteousness was another way of saying each person would be held to God’s standard.
  • The issue of self-control, whether intentional or not, would have struck a nerve considering Felix’s marital history and the circumstances surrounding his marriage to Drusilla.
  • Felix was shaken by Paul’s message and quickly ended the conversation.
  • Felix would call for Paul periodically in the hopes of receiving a bribe.
    • The practice of bribes was frowned upon and forbidden by law.
    • However, it was rampant in Roman administration.
    • Other Roman governors were known for taking bribes, and it appears Felix followed suit.
  • Felix never did come to a decision in Paul’s case.
    • He kept Paul in prison for two years.
      • Felix may have desired to receive a bribe.
      • He may have desired to grant a favor to the Jews.
      • It could have been a combination of both.
    • Felix knew Paul hadn’t broken any Roman laws, and releasing him would almost certainly have resulted in Paul being handed over to the Jewish religious leaders.
    • Felix followed the safest, for him, course of action.

In the end, Felix’s role as governor was terminated.

  • The corruption and brutality of his rule were finally his undoing.
  • A civil incident in Caesarea between the Jewish and Gentile communities was handled with a heavy anti-Jewish bias.
  • The incident provoked the Jews to send a delegation to Rome, protesting his action, which resulted in his removal.
  • When the reader reflects on verses 24-26, we have to wonder how close Felix was to becoming a Christian.
    • Both Felix and Drusilla showed at least some level of interest in hearing about Christ.
    • It appears these conversations happened with some frequency, even if part of the reason was Felix’s hope of receiving a bribe.
    • The fact that Felix felt fear about a coming judgment indicated an understanding of his sinful behavior.
    • Tragically, this conviction never moved acknowledgment to a profession of faith in Jesus.

With Festus now in charge, there might be new hope for Paul. Often new procurators would quickly conclude any lingering cases left by their predecessors. However, that was not to be the case with Paul.

Applications

  • When we face persecution or false charges, remain calm and pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit. In this narrative, we see Paul calmly waiting until called upon to testify. Once he was asked to speak, he calmly and effectively addressed each charge and refuted them with the facts.
  • Never miss a chance, even under duress, to be an effective witness to the truth of the Gospel. After Paul gave his defense, he switched over to the offensive and attempted to evangelize the gathering.
  • Never compromise your ethical or moral grounds. Paul could have given Felix a bribe and most likely been released. However, he trusted that God would take care of him, and he didn’t do anything to compromise his moral or ethical standing.
  • Have patience as you go through any trial. The situation Paul endured lasted for years. Although it is likely we won’t go through a situation that long, we still need to exhibit self-control and patience as we face challenges. 

Acts Lesson Fifty

Acts Lesson Fifty: Acts 23:11-35 – The Plot Against Paul

11 The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” 

12 When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse: neither to eat nor to drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than 40 who had formed this plot. 14 These men went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn curse that we won’t eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 So now you, along with the Sanhedrin, make a request to the commander that he bring him down to you as if you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly. However, before he gets near, we are ready to kill him.” 

16 But the son of Paul’s sister, hearing about their ambush, came and entered the barracks and reported it to Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander, because he has something to report to him.” 

18 So he took him, brought him to the commander, and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, because he has something to tell you.” 

19 Then the commander took him by the hand, led him aside, and inquired privately, “What is it you have to report to me?” 

20 “The Jews,” he said, “have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as though they are going to hold a somewhat more careful inquiry about him. 21 Don’t let them persuade you, because there are more than 40 of them arranging to ambush him, men who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they kill him. Now they are ready, waiting for a commitment from you.” 

22 So the commander dismissed the young man and instructed him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have informed me about this.” 

23 He summoned two of his centurions and said, “Get 200 soldiers ready with 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Also provide mounts so they can put Paul on them and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 

25 He wrote a letter of this kind: 

    26 Claudius Lysias, 

To the most excellent governor Felix: 

Greetings. 

27 When this man had been seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, I arrived with my troops and rescued him because I learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 Wanting to know the charge they were accusing him of, I brought him down before their Sanhedrin. 29 I found out that the accusations were about disputed matters in their law,  and that there was no charge that merited death or chains.  30 When I was informed that there was a plot against the man, I sent him to you right away. I also ordered his accusers to state their case against him in your presence. 

31 Therefore, the soldiers took Paul during the night and brought him to Antipatris as they were ordered. 32 The next day, they returned to the barracks, allowing the cavalry to go on with him. 33 When these men entered Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 After he read it, he asked what province he was from. So when he learned he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing whenever your accusers get here too.” And he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s palace. (HCSB)

I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • The plot against Paul – verses 11-22.
  • The escort to Caesarea – verses 23-35.

The Plot Against Paul

After the ruckus that occurred the previous day, Paul receives a reassuring visit from the Lord at night. Paul had several visitations from Jesus during his ministry.

  • Although technically, before his ministry began, Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.
  • When Paul was discouraged by the events in Corinth and was thinking about moving to another location, Jesus appeared and told him to stay – Acts 18:9-10.
  • Jesus appears to Paul in this passage, reassuring Paul that he will testify about Jesus in Rome.
  • Paul would receive encouragement during the storm on their journey to Rome – Acts 27:22-25.
  • During Paul’s trial in Rome – 2 Timothy 4:16-17.

In this section, Jesus doesn’t condemn Paul for going to Jerusalem. Instead, Paul receives a commendation of sorts for the faithful witness he gave, even though the message was rejected. If we look at the results of Paul’s efforts from a human standpoint, it would appear to be an abject failure.

  • Paul’s attempts to convince the legalistic Jews resulted in a riot in the temple.
  • Paul’s witness before the Sanhedrin led to the two factions fighting.
  • However, Jesus was pleased with Paul’s efforts at evangelism.
  • We need to remember this point. There are often times we will not be successful in our evangelism efforts, but if we’ve been faithful, Jesus will be pleased.

It was also a message of confidence.

  • Paul would go to Rome. Traveling to Rome had been Paul’s desire for months – Acts 19:21.
  • The events that transpired in Jerusalem made it initially appear as if Paul would be unable to make the journey.
  • However, Jesus confirmed that Paul would make the journey despite the present challenges.
    • The Jewish religious leaders lied about him.
    • Religious fanatics plotted to kill him.
    • Government officials ignored him.

Despite the visit from Jesus, Paul’s situation was still challenging and fraught with danger. From the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, he faced recurring personal danger.

  • Then Paul witnessed for Christ in Damascus – Acts 9:22-25.
  • During Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion – Acts 9:29.
  • The Jews drove him out of Antioch Pisidia – Acts 13:50-51.
  • Paul was threatened with being stoned in Iconium – Acts 14:5.
  • Paul was stoned in Lystra – Acts 14:19-20.
  • The Jews attempted to have Paul arrested in Corinth – Acts 18:12-17.
  • In Ephesus, the Jews devised a plot to kill him – Acts 20:19.
  • The Jews had a plan to kill Paul at sea – Acts 20:3.

In spite of all the danger which Paul faced, his life was the embodiment of the phrase, “Will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 3:15)

Let’s take a closer look at the section from verses twelve to fifteen.

  • Although Luke doesn’t specify, it was probably the Asian Jews who hatched the conspiracy to kill Paul.
  • The Greek word used to denote their vow, anathematizo, is particularly strong. 
    • If they failed to keep their vow, they would be cursed or eternally damned.
    • However, there is a loophole in Jewish law that allowed a person to be released from a vow if it became unfulfillable due to unforeseen circumstances. Paul’s transport under heavy Roman protection would likely qualify as “unforeseen circumstances.”
  • The leaders of the conspiracy then went to the chief priest and elders to enlist their aid.
    • If we remember back to the previous lesson, the Pharisees would not have been included in this plot as they attempted to defend Paul.
    • In their misguided zeal to protect the Law, they were willing to break one of the Ten Commandments to achieve their religious goal.
    • The conspirators wanted them to contact Claudius to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin again.
    • It is safe to assume the chief priest would add a bribe to the request.
    • The high priest may have also told Claudius that he would protect him from his superiors. The Romans and Jews had cooperated in this manner before – Matthew 28:11-15.
  • The ambush would have occurred as Paul was transported from Antonia to the council chamber.

Luke now continues with reference to Paul’s sister and nephew.

  • Outside of this one verse, nothing else is known about these two people.
  • It is possible that Paul’s family initially abandoned him after his conversion to Christianity. Paul could be implying this in Philippians 3:8 when he said that he had suffered the loss of all things.
  • In the intervening years, some of those family members may have converted to Christianity.
  • Since Paul’s family had a lengthy connection with the Pharisees, his sister would have been privy to information in the inner circle. 
  • It is unlikely that either of these two were believers at this point, as that would have excluded them from the official Jewish religious circle in Jerusalem.
  • However, if they were devout Jews, they would see the conspiracy as nothing short of evil.
  • How the nephew found out about the conspiracy is anyone’s guess. Maybe in passing, he heard a conversation among the Sadducees. Regardless of how it happened, God was protecting Paul.
  • It was not unusual for prisoners of high standing, such as Paul, to have visits from family or friends. It’s even possible that Paul was given an extra measure of liberty because of the soldiers’ previous mistake of attempting to scourge him. 
  • The respect the Roman soldiers extended to Paul is evident in the actions of the centurion. Paul only had to request his nephew be taken to Claudius; he didn’t need to provide any further information beyond “he has something to report to him.”

The scene now shifts to the meeting between Paul’s nephew and Claudius.

  • The first striking fact about this discussion is that Claudius believed what Paul’s nephew told him.
    • It could be because Paul was a Roman citizen, and up to this point, he had been straightforward with Claudius.
    • It could be because the plot aligns with the actions the Jews had demonstrated so far.
  • In any case, Claudius believed Paul’s nephew and instructed him to be silent about their discussion.
  • At this point, we need to stop and consider how Luke paints the actions of the Roman military in Acts.
    • There is no record of official persecution by the Romans against the church.
    • The opposition was stirred up by unbelieving Jews.
    • While the Roman political officials often left quite a bit to be desired, it seemed that the military leaders were men who respected and followed Roman law.

The Escort to Caesarea

Now that the plot has been relayed to Claudius, he makes a decision on how to handle the situation.

  • Claudius realized that leaving Paul in Jerusalem, even though he was currently in protective custody in their barracks, was not the ideal long-term solution.
    • Paul would be in danger as long as he remained in Jerusalem.
    • In addition, there was the ever-present threat to the peace and order of the city while Paul remained there.
  • Claudius also realized he needed to determine under what charge Paul was being detained or he would be guilty of illegally holding a Roman citizen. 
  • Sending Paul to Caesarea and placing him under the authority of Felix would address both issues.
  • Claudius tells two of his centurions to gather 470 of their troops as an escort to move Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea.
    • This force is almost half of the 1,000 men who were garrisoned in the city.
    • The urgency of the situation is evident in the fact they were told to leave at nine o’clock. 
    • The need to try and keep the transport out of the eyes and ears of the Jews is evident by traveling under cover of darkness.
  • Claudius writes a letter for the military contingent to take and deliver to Felix.
    • The letter begins with the customary three-part salutation of a Greek letter.
      • The first is the identity of the sender.
      • Second, the recipient of the letter.
      • The third is the customary word of greeting.
    • After the formal greeting section of the letter, Claudius provides the details regarding Paul’s detention.
      • While it is true that Paul had been seized and was being beaten by the Jews, Claudius stretches the truth by saying he rescued him because he learned Paul was a Roman citizen.
        • It’s true that Claudius saved Paul from being beaten to death.
        • However, it wasn’t until later that he learned Paul was a Roman citizen.
      • The letter then relates the proceedings before the Sanhedrin. 
      • Since the preceding was undoubtedly conducted in Aramaic, Claudius must have had a translator present to know what was being discussed.
      • The issue between Paul and the Jews was regarding matters of Jewish religious law.
      • Paul was not guilty of breaking any Roman law.
      • Claudius clearly stated that there was nothing Paul had done that merited death or imprisonment.
      • Claudius then relates the plot against Paul’s life, which is why Paul was sent to Felix.
      • Felix is also told that Paul’s accusers were to bring their charges against Paul before him.
    • Luke then gives some further details regarding the transport of Paul to Caesarea.
      • This is the third time Paul was sneaked out of the city during the hours of darkness.
      • The entire force of 470 soldiers left and traveled to Antipatris.
        • Antipatris was a military station fortified by Herod the Great and named after his father, Antimatter.
        • It was on the border between Judea and Samaria.
        • It was about thirty-five miles from Jerusalem, which was just over half of the sixty- mile journey between Jerusalem and Caesarea.
        • It was a perfect place for troops to stop during the normal two-day journey between the cities.
      • The foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem, while Paul and the cavalry continued on to Caesarea.
  • The Roman soldiers, escorting Paul, arrive in Caesarea and give Felix both the letter from Claudius and Paul.
  • Before we conclude, let’s take a closer look at Felix.
    • Claudius Felix was the procurator of Judea from a.d. 52-59 and played a major role in the next chapter of Acts.
    • Felix acquired this position because of his brother, Pallas, who at one point was the head of the imperial civil service and wielded considerable influence in the court of emperor Claudius.
      • Both were former slaves, freedmen of the imperial family.
      • Felix’s high position was extremely rare; given his background as a former slave, it is unlikely he would have occupied the position without the help of his brother.
      • Roman history said Felix “wielded royal power with the instincts of a slave.”
        • Royal power could refer to his administration or his family.
        • His time as procurator was marked by rising Jewish nationalism, displayed by both political and religious insurrections.
          • All were brutally suppressed.
          • He was severely lacking in understanding or sympathy for the Jews.
          • His actions only served to inflame Jewish anti-Roman sentiments and freedom movements.
    • Felix also had a checkered history regarding his marriages.
      • He had three wives.
      • All were princesses.
      • The first was the granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra.
      • The third was Drusilla, the daughter of Agrippa I. 
    • His ineptitude finally caught up with him as he was removed from office for mismanaging a dispute between Jews and Gentiles in Caesarea.
  • Felix’s question about Paul’s native province was to determine whether or not he had jurisdiction over Paul as the Judean procurator.
    • During the reign of emperor Claudius, both Judea and Cilicia were under the provincial administration of the imperial legate in Syria.
    • Since Felix was over that area administratively, he determined he had the authority to hear the complaint against Paul.
  • Paul was then placed in the praetorium, a former palace constructed by Herod the Great, which was now the Roman headquarters.

Applications

  • The central theme to remember from this passage is trust. When Jesus appeared to Paul and told him that he must testify about Him in Rome, Paul had two choices. First, trust Jesus. Second, doubt and fall into dismay. 
    • When we face challenges which path do we choose? Do we trust, or do we fall into dismay? The answer to that question is a telling statement on the strength of your walk with Christ.
    • God can use unbelievers to aid us as we live our lives for Jesus. Although we shouldn’t blindly trust unbelievers, God’s power and promise to protect us can and will overcome to accomplish His will.
    • Through the entire section of Scripture that recounts Paul’s appearance in the temple until his transport to Rome, he is a picture of calmness and trust. As we look ahead, Paul spent at least a couple of years in this situation. Do our lives exhibit the same level of trust and calmness? It only happens when we place our lives in Jesus’ hands and let the Holy Spirit lead us.

Acts Lesson Forty-nine

Acts Lesson Forty-nine: Acts 22:30-23:10 – Paul Before the Sanhedrin

The next day, since he wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and instructed the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to convene. Then he brought Paul down and placed him before them. 23Paul looked intently at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience until this day.” But the high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?” 

And those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest?” 

“I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest,” replied Paul. “For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees! I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and no angel or spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all. 

The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued vehemently: “We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, rescue him from them, and bring him into the barracks. (HCSB)

I’ll present this lesson in only one part. 

As we remember back to the last lesson, as the Roman soldiers were preparing to scourge Paul, they discovered that he was a Roman citizen. This certainly changed the dynamics of the situation and caused the Roman soldiers to worry about the consequences of arresting a Roman citizen without a formal charge being brought against him. 

  • The Roman commander had two serious problems to solve.
    • It was Paul’s right as a Roman citizen to know what the charges against him were.
    • He needed to have an official charge for his records and to pass along to his superiors.
  • Claudius was certain that Paul had done something quite serious to cause the Jews in the temple to react with such vehemence.
  • However, nobody could pinpoint Paul’s crime. The uncertainty surrounding Paul created a tense situation for Claudius.
  • Claudius came to the conclusion the best solution was to allow the Jews to try him.
  • Claudius arranged a special meeting of the Sanhedrin.
    • Roman officials were charged with keeping the peace, and the situation with Paul needed to be resolved to maintain the peace in Jerusalem.
    • There are differing opinions on whether or not the Roman officials had the authority to convene a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin.
    • Some believe this was an informal meeting.
    • Some believe it was held in the Tower of Antonia instead of the council chamber of the Sanhedrin.
    • There were several groups that comprised the Sanhedrin.
      • The high priest.
      • Seventy of the leading Jewish teachers.
        • Sadducees.
        • Pharisees.
        • Scribes.
      • They were responsible for interpreting and applying the sacred Jewish Law to the nation.
      • They were responsible for trying those who violated the Law.
      • The Roman authorities gave the Sanhedrin permission to impose capital punishment if the offense deserved it.
    • The phrase “he released him” only meant Paul was allowed to appear before the council. It didn’t mean that Paul was released from protective custody.

Now that we’ve looked at the details of the setting let’s take a closer look at the meeting itself.

  • The Sanhedrin already had quite a bit of experience dealing with “Christian situations.”
    • They had tried Christ.
    • They had tried Peter and John – Acts 4:5ff.
    • They had tried the twelve apostles – Acts 5:21ff.
    • They had tried and executed Stephen – Acts 6:12ff.
    • Now, Paul appeared before the council.
  • Paul begins his address before the Sanhedrin in a bi-polar manner, mixing both respect and confrontation.
    • By beginning with the term “brothers,” Paul is identifying himself as a fellow Jew.
    • However, when he continues with, “I have lived my life before God in all good conscience,” Paul is implying that he has been completely faithful to God in every manner.
      • Conscience is one of Paul’s favorite words; he used it twice in Acts and twenty-one times in his epistles. 
        • It is the inner judge that approves our actions when we’re right and disapproves when we are wrong. 
        • It doesn’t make the it standard, but it applies it to a situation.
      • If Paul’s life as a Christian made him innocent before God, then the Sanhedrin members who were not followers of Christ were the ones who were guilty.
  • Because Paul implied that the members of the Sanhedrin were the guilty ones, Ananias’ response to order those next to Paul to hit Paul in the mouth is not surprising.
    • The high priest’s action was completely in line with his character.
    • Josephus has described him as one of the very worst of the high priests.
      • He became high priest in a.d. 48.
      • He was pro-Roman.
      • He was extremely cruel.
      • He was very greedy.
      • He was well known for accepting bribes.
      • He would often take money from the temple offerings.
      • He was assassinated by Jewish guerrillas in a.d. 66.
    • His order to strike Paul was illegal since a person appearing before the Sanhedrin was considered innocent until proven guilty.
  • Paul’s response could be viewed in two different ways.
    • Some might expect Paul to react like Jesus; “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
    • Some might view Paul’s angry response as completely understandable.
  • The content of Paul’s response, “you whitewashed wall,” is strong and confrontational.
    • The image of a whitewashed wall, sheer hypocrisy, is entirely appropriate given the situation.
      • The high priest would have been dressed in his high-priestly garments, symbolic of his role as an intercessor between the people and God.
      • However, his character and actions were in stark contrast to his outward appearance.
      • Jesus used the same imagery of whitewashed tombs to depict hypocrisy; the outside appeared clean but dead bones were inside the tomb.
    • We can interpret Paul’s outburst in one of four ways.
      • Paul was justified because of Ananias’ character and behavior.
      • Paul was justified in expressing righteous anger.
      • Paul spoke calmly and delivered a prophecy of God’s judgment on Ananias.
      • Paul lost his cool. Pushed beyond the breaking point by the previous day’s circumstances, he said something he should not have said.
    • Each one is possible, with scholars and commentators divided on which one is correct.
    • In a way, Paul’s words were prophetic as Ananias was killed by Jewish freedom fighters ten years later.
  • At this point, those standing around them accuse Paul of disrespect towards the high priest.
  • Paul’s response to the charge, quoting Exodus 22:28, has also been interpreted in various ways.
    • Paul’s “thorn in the side” may be poor eyesight, resulting in him not being able to see that Ananias was the high priest.
    • It had been years since Paul was last in Jerusalem, and he may not have recognized who Ananias was. This would also imply that Ananias was not dressed in his high-priestly garments.
    • Paul may have been using “holy sarcasm.” If that is true, Paul is asking if such a descpicable person could be the high priest.
  • Regardless of which one is correct, Paul is doing two things with his response.
    • Paul is showing respect for the office of the high priest.
    • Paul is not showing respect for the person serving in that office.
    • There is a subtle but significant difference.
  • Paul then realizes the group gathered to judge him was made up of both Sadducees and Pharisees. Paul uses this to his advantage.
  • There are two likely reasons for Paul to take employ this tactic.
    • After the incident with the high priest, Paul realized he would never receive a fair trial before Sanhedrin. 
      • If the Asian Jews were allowed to speak, they would have made condemning remarks regarding Paul’s behavior in Gentile territory.
      • If the trial continued, Paul faced the prospect of being convicted and stoned as a blasphemer.
      • Paul’s best chance was to end the trial as soon as possible.
    • Paul may have been playing “religious politics” with the two main sects comprising the Sanhedrin, the doctrinal issue of resurrection.
      • Jesus’ resurrection was the issue that separated Paul from the rest of the Jews.
      • Both Paul’s affiliation with the Pharisees and his belief in the resurrection is critically relevant to the situation.
  • Regardless of the reason behind Paul’s use of the doctrinal issue of the resurrection, the result is that a heated dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
    • Sadducees.
      • They comprised the majority in the Sanhedrin.
      • The high priest was a Sadducee.
      • The ruling elders were primarily Sadducees.
      • They only accepted the five books of the Law.
        • There is no evidence of resurrection in the Law.
        • However, there are references to angels and spirits.
      • They didn’t believe in the resurrection.
      • But what did Luke mean when he said the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels or spirits since they are found in the Law?
        • Luke may mean that the Sadducees rejected the eschatology of the Pharisees, which contained a complicated hierarchy of good and evil angels.
        • They may have rejected the idea that an angel or spirit could speak through a human as an agent of revelation.
        • It could be a form of rejecting the resurrection; they rejected an afterlife that involved an angelic or spiritual state.
    • Pharisees.
      • They comprised the minority in the Sanhedrin.
      • They are represented primarily by the scribes.
      • They believed in the resurrection.
      • They believed in angels and spirits.
    • Some Pharisees had become Christians (Acts 15:5), but the New Testament contains no evidence of a Sadducee becoming a Christian.
  • The result is that the Pharisees now became Paul’s defenders against the Sadducees.
    • They agreed with Paul on the general doctrinal idea of a resurrection.
    • They also agreed that it was possible that God may have spoken to Paul through an angel or spirit; they might have had Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus in mind.
  • At this point, the dispute between the two parties spins out of control, and Claudius, fearing that mob mentality may once again place Paul’s life in danger calls for the Roman troops to take Paul back into the barracks.
  • While Paul’s initial seizure by the Roman troops after the temple mob incident could be interpreted as an arrest, there is little doubt now that Claudius is acting in a spirit of protective custody.

Applications

  • If we live our lives in accordance with God’s will and are obedient to His Word, we can speak with boldness regardless of the situation. Paul did just that before the Sanhedrin. Although all of us will sin during our lives, we need to be obedient to His Word by surrendering our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • We must always show respect to leadership positions. We may not agree with or like the person occupying it, but Scripture is clear we are to respect and pray for our leaders. We never know how God will use a person according to His purpose. If Christians spent less time gossiping and complaining and more time praying, we would be better witnesses to the love of Christ and more effective in shaping our world.
  • Use circumstances to benefit your witness as long as it doesn’t compromise it. Paul did that when he brought up the issue of the resurrection, knowing there would be disagreement between the Sadducees and Pharisees. He didn’t twist or compromise the truth. 

Acts Lesson Sixteen

Acts Lesson Sixteen: Acts 7:44-60 – Stephen’s Sermon Part 3

44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors in turn received it and with Joshua brought it in when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers, until the days of David. 46 He found favor in God’s sight and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built Him a house. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, as the prophet says: 

49 Heaven is My throne, 

and earth My footstool. 

What sort of house will you build for Me? 

says the Lord, 

or what is My resting place? 

50 Did not My hand make all these things?

51 “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53 You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.” 

54 When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, 56 “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 

57 Then they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. 58 They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They were stoning Stephen as he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin!” And saying this, he fell asleep. (HCSB)

In this lesson, we conclude Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin and his subsequent martyrdom. I’ll be breaking this passage into three sections.

  • God’s real tabernacle – verses 44-50.
  • Resisting the Holy Spirit – verses 51-53.
  • The First Christian martyr – verses 54-60.

God’s Real Tabernacle – 44-50

This section begins with reference to the “tabernacle of the testimony,” which may seem out of place but is connected back to the quote from Amos regarding the tent and star worship. The closer connection revolves around the ideas of the rejection of God, idolatry, and false worship, the primary themes in the wilderness section of the sermon. Those themes are still present here, but Stephen focuses on the object that has resulted in false worship and rejection, the temple.

While Israel lived in the wilderness, the tabernacle was the place of worship. The term “testimony” referred to the stone tablets of the law that were kept in the ark. The tabernacle was provided by God, to His precise guidelines, and the pattern given to Moses. The tabernacle was the place of worship from the time of Moses until the time of David. A change in fortunes occurs once David desired to build a “dwelling place” for God. We know that David didn’t build the temple; he only made known his desire to build it. We read in 2 Samuel 7:1-17 that God didn’t want a dwelling place; He was perfectly content with the tabernacle. Solomon built the temple, and the trouble began as Stephen states in verse 48, “However, the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands.” Stephen follows it with a quote from Isaiah 66:1-2. The passage from Isaiah shows that it is folly to build a house for the creator of the universe since God made all things.

Theologians have debated whether Stephen was rejecting the temple or offering a critique of what the temple had become due to the religious leaders’ failed leadership. From a contextual analysis of Stephen’s entire sermon, it seems he is critiquing the practices and not the location. Stephen is not rejecting the temple as a place of worship. Instead, he is pointing out the abuse of the temple by making it into something other than a location to worship God. By stating in verse 48 that the temple was “made with hands,” he was connecting it to the golden calf in the wilderness. The temple had become an idol to the Jewish religious leaders, and in so doing, the temple had become a replacement for a living relationship with God; the man-made house is worshipped, not God. 

We know from Scripture that God is not confined to a specific location.

  • God revealed Himself to Abraham in Mesopotamia.
  • God revealed Himself to Moses in the wilderness by Mt. Sinai.
  • God delivered the people from Egypt.

The tabernacle was a representation of what true worship should look like. God was with His people wherever they might be; He was not tied down to a parcel of land or a place. In contrast, the temple was intended to be a house in Israel, a place for them to express their devotion and submission to God. Stephen points out that it had become not a house for worship but a house for God. A place where Israel attempted to imprison God and manipulate Him according to their desires and concerns. At this point in Israel’s history, the temple had become a symbol of Jewish exclusivism and a rallying point for nationalism. 

His point was ignored, and the nationalistic movement became so strong that it eventually led to the temple being destroyed in A.D. 70. The warnings issued by both Jesus and Stephen had been ignored.

Resisting the Holy Spirit – 51-53

In these verses, Stephen applies a classic rhetorical methodology where the speaker applies the lessons from the previous sections of his speech in a direct and often emotional appeal to the listeners in an attempt for them to act. In the case of Stephen’s speech, the purpose was not to “beat up” his Jewish audience; it was an attempt to move them to repentance.

  • He accused them of being “stiff-necked…, with uncircumcised hearts and ears.”
  • They were behaving like pagans.
  • They were always resisting the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • They resisted and, in some cases, killed the prophets who brought God’s messages.
  • The prophets they resisted were the ones who brought the message of the coming Messiah.
  • They were responsible for killing the Messiah.

The purpose of Stephen’s speech becomes more apparent. The historical presentation illustrated Israel’s continuous rejection of the leaders God appointed. 

  • Moses – rejected.
  • Stephen – rejected.
  • Prophets – rejected or killed.
  • Theoretically, it would seem that Israel had learned some painful lessons through their struggles over the years. Stephen points out that no lesson had been learned; they were still just as stubborn and rebellious as ever.
  • Jesus – killed.

It is quite possible that Stephen realized his trial was hopeless without him compromising the faith. Therefore, Stephen used this one last chance to share his beliefs in the hope that the religious leaders would finally repent and submit to the lordship of Jesus. Stephen’s speech was a defense. It was one final chance to share the truth of the Gospel message.

The First Christian martyr – verses 54-60.

The directness of Stephen’s speech in the preceding three verses set off the Sanhedrin. The terms “enraged” and “gnashed” in modern interpretation fall short of the depth of the emotions that fill the Sanhedrin. In their minds, the person on trial, Stephen, had attempted to flip the table and accuse them of acting against God. In addition, Stephen’s response in verse 56 infuriated the Sanhedrin even further. One point needs to be discussed regarding the term “standing” in verses 55 and 56.

  • Is it just a variation in expression instead of saying Jesus was seated at the right hand of God?
  • Does it represent Jesus rising from His seat to welcome the martyr?
  • Does it represent Jesus as the defense counsel, indicating that Stephen is innocent?
  • Is it a connection to Daniel 7:13-14, where the Son of Man stands before the Ancient of Days?
  • Does it represent Jesus in the role of the judge in the case?

Any or all of the options are possible.

The ramifications of the vision were not lost on the Sanhedrin. In the Sanhedrin’s mind, there were only two conclusions to the vision.

  • If it was true, they were condemned.
  • If it was false, Stephen was committing blasphemy.

The result is that mob-like action now occurred. The irony is that to complete their unholy actions, they took Stephen outside Jerusalem to preserve its sanctity, to execute the stoning. There is strong debate about whether Stephen was the victim of a “lynch mob” or a formal verdict from the Sanhedrin. 

  • Formal verdict.
    • Stephen was on trial before the Sanhedrin.
    • He was killed by stoning.
  • Lynch mob.
    • The Sanhedrin didn’t have the legal right to carry out executions during the Roman occupation; John 18:31.
    • The stoning didn’t fit the pattern of Jewish execution by stoning outlined in the Mishna.
      • Stoning was conducted outside the city.
      • The stoning was done by those who were witnesses against the condemned person.
    • A formal stoning followed specific procedures.
      • Victims were stripped.
      • They were pushed over a 10 to 12-foot cliff.
      • They were then rolled over on their chests.
      • The first witness would push as large a stone as they could over the cliff onto the condemned.
      • If the condemned survived the first stone, the second witness repeats the stoning. This would be repeated as long as necessary, but often the condemned didn’t survive the first stone.
    • The picture of Stephen’s stoning doesn’t fit this pattern.
      • Stephen wasn’t stripped.
      • The witnesses were partially stripped.
      • It is doubtful that Stephen could’ve knelt or offered prayers if a large stone fell on him from ten feet above.
      • The picture here is of an angry mob throwing any stones they could find at Stephen. 
      • Instead of his death being swift, it was likely a long, drawn-out, and horrifying experience. 

Stephen appears to follow the same pattern as Jesus as he faced death. His words “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” echo what Jesus prayed as He was on the cross. Those words are also part of an ancient Jewish prayer based on Psalm 31:5. Stephen then became the first Jewish martyr.

Finally, the next main character appears on the scene, Saul. We can only speculate whether Saul played an active role in the stoning or was an observer to the proceedings. 

Applications

  • Do we understand what true worship is and is not? The Sanhedrin tied it to a thing (temple) instead of a relationship. Christian worship is not confined to certain times of the week or a specific location. Worship is how we live our lives and how we shine the light of Jesus. When we make worship anything other than our relationship with God, we are engaging in some form of idolatry.
  • We should live in the power and control of the Holy Spirit. It is evident from chapter seven that Stephen was empowered and calmed by the Holy Spirit. This is in stark contrast with the actions of the Sanhedrin, who acted like an out-of-control mob and disregarded their own doctrinal instructions.
  • Some of us may be called to be a martyr. This is a sobering reality of being a Christian. In some locations, it may be a bigger reality than in others. Not only should we prepare ourselves for the possibility, but we should also pray for our brothers and sisters in those parts of the world; first, that their faith does not waver, and second, for their protection. 

Acts Lesson Fifteen

Acts Lesson Fifteen: Acts 7:17-43 – Stephen’s Sermon Part 2

17 “As the time was drawing near to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham, the people flourished and multiplied in Egypt 18 until a different king who did not know Joseph ruled over Egypt. 19 He dealt deceitfully with our race and oppressed our ancestors by making them leave their infants outside, so they wouldn’t survive. 20 At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful in God’s sight. He was cared for in his father’s home three months, 21 and when he was left outside, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted and raised him as her own son. 22 So Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his speech and actions. 

23 “As he was approaching the age of 40, he decided to visit his brothers, the Israelites. 24 When he saw one of them being mistreated, he came to his rescue and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He assumed his brothers would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 The next day he showed up while they were fighting and tried to reconcile them peacefully, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you mistreating each other?’ 

27 “But the one who was mistreating his neighbor pushed him away, saying: 

Who appointed you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me, the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday?

29 “At this disclosure, Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he fathered two sons. 30 After 40 years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he was approaching to look at it, the voice of the Lord came: 32 I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. So Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. 

33 “Then the Lord said to him: 

Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have observed the oppression of My people in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to rescue them. And now, come, I will send you to Egypt.

35 “This Moses, whom they rejected when they said, Who appointed you a ruler and a judge?—this one God sent as a ruler and a redeemer by means of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out and performed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness 40 years. 

Israel’s Rebellion against God

37 “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. 38 He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him, but pushed him away, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron: 

Make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him.

41 They even made a calf in those days, offered sacrifice to the idol, and were celebrating what their hands had made. 42 Then God turned away and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: 

House of Israel, did you bring Me offerings and sacrifices 

40 years in the wilderness? 

43 No, you took up the tent of Moloch 

and the star of your god Rephan, 

the images that you made to worship. 

So I will deport you beyond Babylon! (HCSB)

In this lesson, we’ll continue Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin, concentrating on Israel’s

initial rejection and acceptance of Moses as a deliver. Stephen’s discussion is broken into

three forty-year sections, covering the three major portions of Moses’ life.

  • Moses’ upbringing in Pharaoh’s house, verses 17-22.
  • The initial rejection of Moses and his life in Midian, verses 23-29.
  • God’s calling at the burning bush and the Exodus period, verses 30-43.

Just as Joseph bore similarities to Jesus, Moses also shares similarities.

  • He was persecuted and almost killed as a child.
    • Exodus 1:22.
    • Matthew 2:13-20.
  • He refused a life of comfort in order to save his people.
    • Hebrews 11:24-26.
    • Matthew 4:8-10.
  • He was rejected the first time he tried to save Israel.
    • Exodus 2:11-14.
    • Isaiah 53:3.
  • He became a shepherd.
    • Exodus 3:1.
    • John 10
  • He took a Gentile bride during his rejection.
    • Exodus 2:21.
    • The church, including Gentiles, being the bride of Christ.
  • He was accepted by his people the second time.
    • Exodus 4:29-31.
    • Acts 7:5.
  • He delivered his people from bondage through the blood of the lamb.
    • Exodus 12.
    • 1 Peter 2:24.
  • Moses was a:
    • Prophet – Deuteronomy 18:15-19.
    • A priest – Psalm 99:6.
    • A king – Deuteronomy 33:4-5.

Moses Early Life: Verses 17-22

Although Israel’s early time in Egypt was relatively easy and prosperous, the situation had changed radically by the time of Moses. Pharaoh became increasingly alarmed by the ever-increasing number of Israelites and was determined to limit their influence. Pharaoh also enslaved the Jews to perform manual labor in Egypt and committed infanticide to reduce their numbers. However, even as the Jews were being oppressed, God showed His favor in protecting and preparing Moses for his future role.

  • Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as her own son.
  • Moses was thoroughly trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.
  • Extra-biblical historical records indicate that the best teachers were used to train Moses.
  • The reference to Moses being powerful in speech may come as a surprise since Moses told Yahweh that he lacked in eloquence. The passage is probably a reference to Moses’ writing ability, but there is no conclusive evidence supporting or denying that position.
  • Stephen’s point in listing these details to a story familiar with the Sanhedrin is that God can and has used non-Jews for His purposes.

The stage is now set for the second phase of Moses’ life. Israel was being oppressed, but God was faithful to His promises. A deliverer had been raised and trained for the role. God was walking with Moses.

The initial rejection of Moses and his life in Midian; verses 23-29.

There are two major themes presented in this section.

  • Israel’s rejection of its divinely appointed deliverer, Moses.
  • Moses’s time as a pilgrim away from his people.

There is a critical interpretative point that is missing in the translation from Greek to English. The issue is with the word “visit.” Luke uses it in both his gospel and here to indicate someone sent by God to oversee and care for His people. As God’s emissary, Moses went to look after his fellow Israelites and, upon seeing one of his brothers being abused by an Egyptian, he went to that man’s defense and ended up killing the Egyptian. It should be noted that the Old Testament account does not make a reference to Moses “avenging” the Israelites. Instead, this was Stephen’s interpretation of the event. In the role of God’s emissary, Moses applied divine vengeance to the offending Egyptian. Moses assumed the Israelites would see that he was a rescuer sent by God, but they didn’t interpret it that way.

The following day Moses attempted to mediate a dispute between two Israelites. The Old Testament makes no mention of Moses being a reconciler. Once again, this is Stephen’s interpretative account to emphasize Moses’ role as God’s representative. Verses 27b-28 are a direct quote from Exodus 2. Stephen’s point is that God made Moses the ruler and judge for Israel as His appointed leader.

Although Moses fled because of Pharaoh’s wrath, it was the knowledge among the Israelites that Moses had killed an Egyptian that alerted him to the danger that he faced and that his life was in the balance. This emphasizes that Moses’ flight was tightly connected to Israel’s rejection of him, putting his life in danger and forcing him to flee Egypt. Stephen once again stresses that God can’t be tied down to a single place or people.

God’s calling at the burning bush and the Exodus period: verses 30-43.

Verses 30-34

Stephen focuses on God’s revelation to Moses. Stephen has two main points in mind in these verses.

  • The revelation takes place outside the holy land.
    • Holy ground can be found anywhere, even far from the temple in Jerusalem. God is not tied to a location.
    • God reveals Himself as the God of the patriarchs.
    • Moses had fearful reverence for God.
  • God chose Moses as the deliverer for Israel.
    • God had promised to deliver Israel. 
    • God was faithful to His promise. Now, He had chosen the man to deliver them.

Verses 35-36

The relation between Moses and Jesus is now connected.

  • Moses.
    • God had chosen him as the means for deliverance.
    • Moses was the redeemer of Israel.
    • Moses performed signs and wonders in Egypt.
    • The people rejected him as God’s appointed deliverer, “Who appointed you a ruler and a judge?”
  • Jesus.
    • God the Father sent Jesus as the means to deliver Israel from the bondage of sin and death.
    • Jesus is the eternal redeemer.
    • Jesus performed signs and wonders and then empowered the apostles to continue that work.
    • Israel rejected Him as the divinely sent redeemer.

Verses 37-38

Moses was more than a foreshadowing of Jesus.

  • Moses prophesied the coming of Christ.
  • Moses was in the congregation, ekklesia, in the wilderness and gave the “living oracles” to Israel.
    • Ekklesia is the usual word for the assembly of Israel in the Septuagint.
    • It is also the term used by Christians for New Testament church assemblies.
    • Just as Jesus mediates for us with the Father, Moses was the mediator between Israel and the angel of God.
  • The “living oracles” (Law). 
    • This was given to Moses by the angels through the direction of God the Father. 
    • Christ would be the fulfillment of the living oracles.

Verses 39-41

Here Stephen highlights the apostasy that Israel committed in the wilderness, specifically the incident with the golden calf and the rejection of Moses as their deliverer.

  • The nation of Israel, in general, had pushed Moses away and rejected him as their deliverer.
  • They claimed they didn’t know what happened to Moses, and they showed no desire to discover his fate.
  • Their “hearts” turned back to their previous place of bondage, Egypt.
  • Instead of following the living God, they were determined to follow idols.
    • Rejecting God’s messenger is rejecting God.
    • The calf was described as an idol.
    • Idolatry is following the things made by human hands.
  • Stephen is now getting ready to tie the temple into the discussion.
    • In the wilderness, Israel, along with Aaron, the priest, had distorted the pure worship of God.
    • The temple in Stephen’s day was also guilty of distorting the pure worship of God.

Verses 42-43

This section tells how God handled the apostasy of Israel. The phrase “host of heaven” in the original Greek is not referring to angels. The reference here is to stars, suns, and moons. It literally means that the people can worship the sky and not the living God. Paul makes a similar reference in Romans 1:24-28. It is one of the most fearful judgments when God turns us over to our sinful desires and lets our rebellious nature lead us to ruin.

Stephen quotes from Amos 5:25-27 to show the idolatrous practices of Israel while they were in the wilderness. His point in quoting the passage from Amos is, “did you bring me sacrifices?” Israel made sacrifices in the desert to golden calves and heavenly bodies, but not to God. The wilderness days of Israel were days of apostasy, which ultimately resulted in exile. There is likely a veiled charge against the Sanhedrin that the same fate awaited them unless they turned from their rejection of Christ.

As we review Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin so far, three main themes are stressed.

  • God’s activity is not confined to the geographical land of Israel.
    • God spoke to Abraham in Mesopotamia and Haran.
    • He blessed Joseph in Egypt.
    • He spoke to Moses in the desert.
    • He performed signs and wonders in Egypt, the Red Sea, and the desert.
    • He gave Israel the Law at Mount Sinai.
  • Worship acceptable to God is not confined to the Jerusalem temple.
    • The burning bush was holy ground.
    • Moses encountered God at Mount Sinai and was giving “living oracles.”
    • The tabernacle was a suitable place of worship for the nation of Israel.
    • To suggest the suppression or destruction of the temple was not blasphemy because God was independent of any temple.
  • The Jews have constantly rejected God’s representatives.
    • The patriarchs rejected Joseph.
    • Moses was rejected when he tried to mediate a dispute between two Jews.
    • The message of Moses was rejected, and the Israelites made a golden calf.

Applications.

  • We need to remember that God is not confined to a location. No nation, church, or denomination has a monopoly on God. He is omnipresent and can use people across the globe to accomplish His purposes. God is just as likely to be active in a remote area as in a fancy church building. 
  • Don’t limit worship to 1 1/2 hours on a Sunday morning at a building. Our lives should be an example of worship. As we work, interact with others, or go about our business, we should do it in a worshipful manner, shining the light of Jesus to those around us. Being a follower of Jesus is a lifestyle, not a once-a-week event.
  • Be careful before rejecting the teaching or message of those involved in ministry. We should carefully examine it against what is contained in Scripture to make sure it isn’t false. If the religious leaders of Israel had done that, they would have discovered who Jesus was, and instead of rejecting Him, they would have followed Him. We need to have a spirit of discernment regarding those who preach and teach us. If it lines up with Scripture, follow it. If not, challenge them or find a new church.

Acts Lesson Thirteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 8

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

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

Verse 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 10

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

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

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

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

Verse 11

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

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

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

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

Verse 12

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

Verses 13-14

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

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

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

Verse 15

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

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

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

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

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

Applications.

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

Acts Lesson Eleven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attacking the Truth: Acts 5:17-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are numerous emotions in this section.

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

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

Affirming the Truth: Acts 5:29-32

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding the Truth: Acts 5:33-39

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

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

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

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

Announcing the Truth: Acts 5:40-42

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

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

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

Applications.

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

Acts Lesson Seven

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

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

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

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

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

Why did the Gentiles rage 

and the peoples plot futile things? 

26 The kings of the earth took their stand 

and the rulers assembled together 

against the Lord and against His Messiah.

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

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

Verses 13-14

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

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

Verses 15-18

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

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

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

Verses 19-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verses 23-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A summary of this passage reveals several key points.

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

Applications.

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