Acts 12

Herod’s persecution, Peter’s deliverance and Herod’s death.

We believe the persecution mentioned in the first verse occurred about the same time as the famine that Agabus prophesied namely around 43AD.
Herod was a title given to the kings not a name and the Herod here is Herod Agrippa (see charts) who also executed John the Baptist.

Herods

He was the son of Herod the Great who killed the babes of Bethlehem and he reigned over most of Israel (Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Perea). He was an Edomite.
He sought to please the Jews (especially Jewish leaders) and this was why he persecuted the apostles and the church and killed James (Boanerges and son of Zebedee).
He imprisoned Peter with a view to executing him and Passover was when Jerusalem was filled with zealous Jews from all over Israel and beyond. Perhaps he thought to stamp out the church.
We presume the church prayed for Peter’s release, witness in prison and likely his impending martyrdom. Surely Peter’s release was answered prayer!
We believe Peter was at peace enabled by grace to trust his Saviour (Psalm 4:8, 119:165 etc).
The angel who delivered Peter was a messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ (v11).
Sequence of events: light in prison, angel smites Peter, angel instructs Peter, Peter’s chains fell off, angel further instructs Peter, Peter follows angel out of prison, gate opens, they walk through the streets, angel leaves.
Peter thought it was a vision but after the angel left he realised what he was experiencing was real.
The Jews expected Peter to be killed. He went to Mary’s house (mother of John Mark and Barnabas’s sister) to see the other apostles and all the disciples to tell them the news and encourage them. The interaction between Rhoda and Peter was funny. Peter commanded that his news be told to James (the Lord’s half brother), and then he went presumably to another believer’s house.


The soldiers were terrified because they knew the penalty for allowing prisoners to escape was death and this is what happened because Herod was a cruel man.
Herod left Jerusalem for Caesarea possibly to escape awkward questions from Jewish leaders and went there because of displeasure with the inhabitants of the region. The local populace got his secretary on their side desiring peace. Herod subsequently gave a speech on a planned day arrayed in royal apparel no doubt speaking of his greatness and reign over the people desiring to impress and subdue them. Their reacion was either foolish flattery or outright deception (sent by God-II Thess.2:11) as they attributed divinity to him.


God struck him down immediatley (cf Ananias and Sapphira) because he proudly and wrongfully accepted glory that belongs only to God (Isaiah 42:8). Compare also Nebuchadnezzar reduced to madness (I Peter 5:5). The immediate judgment empasized prompt punishment by God which in other cases is postponed (Rev. 6:10). It was the angel of the Lord who smote Herod (cf Egypt, Assyrian 185,000 etc). He died of an overwhelming worm infestation, most likely over a few days and appropriately because pride consumed him first.
The church work of preaching and teaching prospered and it grew.
Barnabas and Saul returned to their home church in Antioch (chapter 13) after passing on their benevolence in Jerusalem.
John Mark was related to Barnabas, propably a nephew and son of Mary (Col.4:10).

Next study (DV) August 31st 8pm

Acts 11:1-30

Acts 11:1-30

Peter reports to the church in Jerusalem because certain Jewish leaders were critical of his association with Gentiles in Caesarea. Some of them accused him of associating and eating with Gentiles which was a traditional addition to God’s law. These men were called the “circumcision”. Their accusation was correct but unjustified. This tells us that many in the New Testament church were zealous converted Jews who kept the law but were ignorant of the fact that ceremonies were passing and the church was becoming catholic or universal (see also Acts 15:24 where the same thing is repeated and 21:21-25 where Paul makes a small concession to them).

Peter logically recounted in detail the events in Joppa and Caesarea to show God’s providential hand in them. He gives three arguments that Gentiles are to be included in the church:

  • The Holy Spirit was poured out on them
  • Christ said his disciples would be baptized with the Spirit
  • The gift of tongues was seen as proof

The church at Jerusalem had nothing to say because Peter proved that the events were orchestrated by God and should be cause for gladness not criticism and that Gentiles as well as Jews were granted repentance and eternal life.

Luke recalls that after Stephen died great persecution broke out and many disciples scattered over the Roman Empire going as far as Crete, Cyprus, Libya and Antioch. These believers, some of whom were preachers, preached to Jews only because of their similar background and language (carrying on the ministry of Christ and the apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel). Grecians were Jews who spoke Greek, who likely came from outside Israel. When the church in Jerusalem heard about conversions outside, they sent Barnabas to assess, as far as Antioch where most were converted. The grace of God (v23) is his power to save (Titus 2:11). Barnabas is described as a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. He went to get Saul from Tarsus because Saul was very knowledgeable in the Scriptures, an apostle and a teacher, who alongside him, taught and established and built up the church making them disciples.

Apparently, the minister of the church in Antioch and possibly outsiders there, nicknamed the disciples “Christians” or Christ-ones. We do not know if this name was an insult or compliment.

There still were extraordinary prophets in the New Testament church because the canon of Scripture was not finally fixed. These men got direct divine revelation and were able to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Agabus prophesied a famine in Israel which happened sometime between 43 and 46AD. The disciples in Antioch decided to send money to the Jerusalem church because of their unity and care and we need to respond in the same way today.

Next study (DV) August 11th at 8pm Acts 12:1-25

Acts 10 (continued)

Acts 10:1-48 (cont)

In the Old Testament clean animals (Lev. 11) could be eaten and used for sacrifices but unclean ones could not. But note that Noah after the flood was not constrained by these ceremonial laws which only were binding from the time of Moses to Christ.

Peter was commanded to kill and eat but he refused believing as he still did, that the law had to be kept. The Lord then in the vision said that he should not call these animals common or unclean and reinforced the message by making it happen thrice which may well have reminded Peter of his denial three times and Christ’s question, “Do you love me.” It is worth remembering that these food laws had stood for 1400 years.

The messengers from Cornelius arrived straight after this which was very providential. We cannot tell how the Spirit spoke to him but we can distinguish between the uncreated inaudible voice that created the worlds by Christ the Word of God and the created voice heard for example at Christ’s baptism and many times in the New Testament e.g. Acts 13:2. Peter needed reassurance he should go and we also need to remember that the Jews had added unbiblical rabbinic tradition to their law even forbidding social association with Gentiles.

By illumination and deduction Peter realised that he ought not to call any man unclean. The messengers came because of Cornelius’ request as he awaited instructions from God’s messenger. When Peter arrived there was a house full of Cornelius’ family, friends, servants and perhaps soldiers showing how influential he was. Note that the message was to show them how they could be saved subjectively by conversion (c.f. Acts 16:31) because we believe both he and the jailor in Philippi were born again prior to their conversion experience.

Cornelius overdid his welcome of Peter and was rebuked because only God must be worshipped (c.f. Rev.19:10). Peter reminded Cornelius that Gentiles were still considered unclean and not God’s people (c.f. Eph. 2:12 and I Peter 2). He surmised that the unclean animals represented people and asked again why he had been sent for, to which Cornelius replied about his vision and his expectation of a message from God.

God does not respect persons, meaning he does not treat any differently because of race, station or anything else (c.f. James 2:1 and I Tim.2:4) men of all kinds are part of the church and this Peter now knew because he speaks of “all nations”. By the way Peter really ought to have known this by the great commission in Mathew 28:18-20 and Christ’s saying in Matthew 21:43 but he did not understand. Peter emphasises his being a witness to underline his apostolic authority and truthfulness.

He states that God’s word sent was the gospel of justification by faith in Christ (Romans 5:1) through which forgiveness comes and this is attested to in the prophets e.g. Isaiah 53.

The Spirit was poured out on these Gentiles just as at Pentecost in a public and obvious way as they spoke in tongues and openly praised God. The Spirit used the word as his power and it is always the case that word and Spirit must work together to accomplish God’s purposes. The Jews looking on were astonished as they still felt they as a nation had a monopoly on God’s kingdom and salvation. Water baptism is the outward sign of inward Spirit baptism. Peter stayed to instruct them because he was commanded to make disciples not just converts!

It is worthwhile reading into Acts 15 to see Peter’s account to the Jerusalem synod of these events.

Acts 9:36 -10:16

Acts 9:36-43
Raising of Dorcas
Dorcas (Greek) and Tabitha (Aramaic) means a gazelle.
She spent her time serving others by making clothes etc
Alms deeds were acts of giving-of clothes or the proceeds of sewing.
The believers in Lydda especially the widows were the objects of her charity.
Her body was washed and put in a room to allow mourning and perhaps because they expected a miracle.
The believers sent for Peter either expecting him to preach at her burial or raise her from the dead (Matthew 10:8).
Peter removed everyone wanting the miracle to be private and peace and quiet so he could pray.c.f. Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:54.
Peter must have prayed that her soul would return.
Tabitha responded because she must have been alive and heard c.f. Lazarus in John 11 and Elisha and the boy in 2 Kings 4.
The widows are specifically mentioned because they were especially dependent upon her James 1:27. I Tim.5:3-4, 5:16.
Many believed because of the miracle and Peter’s subsequent preaching.
Simon the tanner’s work must have been unclean because he was touching the skins of dead animals. Perhaps Peter was coming to realize the Old Testament ceremonial laws were passing away but in any case this brother offered hospitality.
By the healing of Aeneas God was preparing the disciples, especially Peter for the in-gathering of the gentiles into the church.

Acts 10:1-16
Peter, Cornelius and the beginning of the inclusion of Gentiles in the early church.
Cornelius was a Roman soldier, with 100 men under him, stationed in Caesarea, a seaport town in the north of Israel. He was a devout proselyte and undoubtedly regenerate.
He and his family worshiped God through the Messiah they expected and gave generously to the Jewish synagogue. His devotion, alms-giving and prayers prove he was a believer but he needed confirmation of the gospel and that Christ had come through Peter. We guess he prayed for his family, his men and the Jewish nation. His prayers and good works are called a “memorial” showing that they were recorded and will be rewarded (treasure in heaven).
He saw an angel at 3 p.m. who spoke to him. He was afraid because angelic glory reflecting God’s holiness, brightness, purity, power and glory is awesome c.f. Moses, Joshua, Manoah, Isaiah, John and confirmed to him it was God speaking through him.
The angel commanded Cornelius to send for Peter and precise directions were given because any arranged meeting needs a precise time and place. So he did and his men walked or rode the 40 miles to Joppa.
Peter went up on the housetop at the regular Jewish time of prayer at the temple namely noon-see Psalm 55:17. His hunger may well have been related to the vision he saw of animals he was told to eat. A trance is a state of unresponsiveness and in this state he saw the vision (v.v. 17,19) of a sheet full of unclean animals
Next study (D.V.) June 29th Acts 10:17-48

Were miracles all signs?

Can we prove that Christ’s (and the apostles’) miracles had spiritual significance?

Clearly they were all God’s work authenticating his messengers.
Everything Christ and the apostles did was to further the kingdom of God which is spiritual.
Christ came to redeem men and creation.
Everything in creation points to spiritual reality e.g. the sun-the Son, grass and food-the word of God, water and fire-the Holy Spirit, the blue sky-heaven, trees-Christian life etc.
Christ taught in parables using earthly things to teach spiritual truth.
Christ equates physical and spiritual healing e.g. blindness (John 9) where he speaks of physical and spiritual blindness, paralysis (Matt.9)-see below*, death (John 5 and 11) where resurrection of the soul by Christ in this life is equated with physical resurrection of the dead. These miracles were all signs signifying deeper reality. *Christ both healed a man and said his sins were forgiven simultaneously, both healings being God’s prerogative and one signifying the other.
Healing and wholeness are the same Greek word (SOZO- I Peter 2:24).
The huge catch of fish in John 21 pictures the apostles being used to catch men.

Acts 9:23-35

Acts 9:23-35

Further results of Saul’s conversion

After many days, which could have been three years, Paul went up to Jerusalem from Damascus. Galatians 1:17-18 do not necessarily teach that Paul went into the desert of Arabia for three years but it certainly means his base was in Damascus for that period during which during a non-specified time he was given direct revelation from Christ in the wilderness. It is worth noting other figures whose ministry started after time in isolation with God namely Moses, John the Baptist and Christ himself.
The Jews in Damascus resented Paul’s preaching and planned to murder him for the simple reason that totally depraved human beings hate the light (the antithesis) and those who bring the gospel message (John 3:20, 7:7) hence from Abel to Zechariah God’s servants are persecuted or killed by Satan’s minions.
The disciples let Paul down over the wall in Damascus to save his life.
The disciples in Jerusalem were initially afraid of Paul but Barnabas communed with him and related his testimony to them leading to him being accepted into the family.
Paul spoke “in the name of Jesus” which means as Christ’s representative he brought his message of salvation presumably based firmly on Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
The Grecians were Jews from Greece (Acts 6:1) who hated the gospel message.
The disciples transported Paul to the port of Caesarea and then by ship to Tarsus, his home town to prevent him being attacked and possibly murdered. Another reason for his going there was that Christ told him in a vision that he was sending him to the Gentile nations (Acts 22:17-22).
His departure, because he was the pre-eminent persecutor in Jerusalem, meant peace for the church who through their regular teaching and worship were edified and grew (I Tim.2:2).

Acts 9:32-35


The healing of Aeneas and groundwork for spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.
Peter it seems systematically went to the villages and towns around Jerusalem obeying the apostolic injunction to be witnesses in Judea and Samaria (Acts 1:8).
Lydda or Lod was about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. The palsy or paralysis of Aeneas with which he had been afflicted for eight years could have been a stroke or spinal problem or result of a fall making his legs useless. It was clearly incurable (compare man at pool John 5:4).
The symbolic significance of this illness (disability) was that he was impotent which reflects depraved mankind’s impotence regarding salvation (Rom.5:8, John 6:44).
Peter attributed the healing directly to Jesus Christ and indeed was used to heal him in his name.
Peter told him to make his bed because he was not going to need it the rest of that day!
We believe there was a turning of many to the Lord through Peter’s preaching rather than the miracle because it is the word of God that saves men.

Next study (DV) Saturday June 8th 8pm

Acts 9:10-22

Acts 9:10-22

The events following Saul’s conversion.

Ananias was a disciple of Christ living in Damascus and also a prophet (all who see visions are either an apostle or prophet).

A vision is a supernatural audio-visual event through which God communicates with a person or reveals heavenly truth. Visions occurred with Jacob, Moses and the elders, King Saul, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and the apostle John (among others).

Ananias was told to go to Straight Street to Judas’ house to find Paul who was praying.

We do not know for what Paul prayed but we could guess it concerned regaining his sight and also getting direction from Christ (9:6).

The Lord also gave Paul a vision of Ananias coming to him.

Ananias was reluctant understandably because he had heard of Saul’s reputation for persecuting God’s people.

In explaining to Ananias the Lord makes clear that the tables would be turned and Paul would be terribly persecuted and suffer for Christ-this was revealed to Paul so that he knew and counted the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:28,31). The rest of the book of Acts and II Cor. 6:6 and 11:24-33 bear witness.

The laying on of hands served to confer spiritual gifts/ordain, heal, show care for and identification with the recipient. It was typical of Christ and the apostles and continues in ordinations in Reformed churches today (see Mark 5:23, 16:18, Acts 8:18, 28:18, I Tim.4:14, 5:22, Heb.6:2).

Ananias called Paul “brother” because the Lord had told him of his conversion and future service. His attitude to Paul had changed.

The Lord had to have told Ananias what had happened to Saul.

Saul/Paul received the Holy Spirit through Ananias’ hands.

Saul knew baptism was commanded to signify and seal the washing away of his sins.

Saul began to preach that Christ was the Son of God because this was his calling among the Jews. He went for some time alone into Arabia, then back to Damascus and then some years later to Jerusalem (Gal.1:12, 17,18, I Tim.1:11, Gal.2:2, Acts 24 and 26).

The Jews were initially amazed but later started to violently persecute him.

Saul’s knowledge of and faith in Christ was strengthened.

He was able to prove from Scripture that Jesus was the Messiah and refute their arguments to the contrary. Note that with regard later to Agrippa and Festus he used more personal testimony. Our witness includes God’s word (and church preaching), personal testimony and life (I Peter 3:1, 3:15).

 

Next study (DV) May 18th    

Acts 9:23-35

 

Acts 9:1-9

Acts 9:1-9

Conversion of Saul

The mention of Damascus proves the gospel had now spread to Syria and this rapid spread had been partly due to persecution.

Saul’s intention was to apprehend believers (believing Jews) and bring them bound to Jerusalem (100 miles) by the authority of the chief priest.

The light that shone around him was from heaven and was a revelation of the glorious body of the risen Christ (like the transfiguration and Christ’s appearing to John in Revelation).

Christ spoke accusing Paul of persecuting himself.

This appearance was important because it was his initial conversion and call to apostleship (an apostle had to have seen and be called by Christ personally). See also Acts 22:5-11, 26:14ff and I Cor.15:9,10.

Saul knew it was the Lord when he declared himself to be Jesus.

To kick against the pricks, a picture from animal husbandry, means to resist Christ and his work either in the conscience or providence or his people.

Initially it appears Paul did not know who spoke and he was seeking instruction regarding his own salvation.

The men with Saul heard the voice but did not really hear it (Isaiah 6:9) and saw the light but “no man”. The revelation and real illumination was only for Paul (II Cor.4:6).

We think Paul was struck blind as a sign of his own blindness and to show God’s power, humble him and then heal him (Deut.28:28, Rev.3:17) Others struck with blindness were the Sodomites (Gen.19:11), the sorcerer Elymas (Acts 13:11)and the syrian soldiers (II Kings 6:18).

Paul did not eat or drink for three days because of the massive spiritual upheaval and probably mourning over his sin and as an aid to prayer.

Saul’s conversion was anything but the norm and truly supernatural and unique because he was to be a special example of grace(I Tim.1:13-15), told how much he would suffer and be specially used by God as a master church builder. It would also become well known as his persecution was (Acts 9:21).

Next study (DV) Saturday April 27th on Acts 9:10-22

 

Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Philip was instructed to head towards the desert road leading to Gaza, some forty to fifty miles from Jerusalem. Being a desert there would be little or no water, no people, no sustenance. Then having encountered the man by God’s providence and the sovereign seeking of his lost sheep, he was then instructed to join the courtier in his chariot.

The Ethiopians were descendants of Cush, the son of Ham and were very dark-skinned people among whom there were Jews who traded. It had been part of the Persian empire and at one time fought Israel. It was a heathen people to whom God promised salvation and represented the Gentiles in a number of Scriptures. Gen.10:6-8, II Chron.14:9, Esther 1:1, I Kings 1:10-13, Ps.68:31, Isaiah 11:11,43:3, 45:14, Jer.13:23, 38:10,39:16-18, Amos 9:7. Ethiopia had many Falasha Jews who were transported to Israel when communists deposed their Emperor Haile Selassie. There have been Christians in the nation for centuries but for most of that time their religion has been a dead and corrupt orthodox one.

This man was the queen of Ethiopia’s treasurer, a eunuch and a proselyte Jew travelling to one of the feasts in Jerusalem. He was a stranger who had been circumcised and joined God’s people in worship. Much can be learned about “strangers” in both testaments-the name means non-Jew, foreigner, alien or guest. They were to obey Israel’s laws, be circumcised and treated well. Gen.17:12-14,Ex.12:19,48,49, 20:10, Lev.16:29, Num.15:14,15, 19:14, Deut.10:19, 11:14,29:22, II sam.22:45, I Kings 8:41, Ps.18:44, Is.14:1,56:6, Ezek.44:9, Matt.25:43, Eph.2:19.

We cannot assume he was alone. We know he was in a powerful chariot and likely armed.

The Spirit may have spoken to Philip either audibly or internally (c.f. Elijah)

Philip as the eunuch if he understood what he was reading because everything concerning faith depends on understanding c.f. the good soil in the parable are those who understood.

He was reading Isaiah 53-unsure whether in Greek or Hebrew.

He was reading aloud for his own benefit, or perhaps for anyone with him, because Philip heard him.

The eunuch suspected Philip could help him because the question implied that.

The eunuch’s problem was interpreting the prophecy.

Philip preached Christ, the fulfilment of all O.T. prophecy, who died and rose, poured out his spirit and commands repentance, faith and baptism with water.

The eunuch asked for baptism at the oasis.

The requirement for adult baptism is repentance and faith in Christ as the son of God.

Verse 38 by no means supports baptism by immersion because the prepositions can mean they went down TO the water and came up FROM the water. Implying they both went into the water would mean they were both submersed! Scripture teaches baptism by sprinkling or pouring signifying the sprinkling of Christ’s atoning blood and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon us from above.

The Spirit caused Philip to vanish because his work was done and he had other work to do namely preaching in all the coastal towns as far as Caesarea where he eventually settled (Acts 21:8). He was an evangelist which was an apostolic helper who preached and had miraculous power.

The eunuch went on his way rejoicing in the joy of God and no doubt to be a witness to his countrymen and found an Ethiopian church. Sadly it declined and became apostate within a few centuries.

Next study (DV) April 6th on Acts 9:1-22

 

Acts 8:9-25

Simon the sorcerer

Simon was a well-known Samaritan sorcerer who through wizardry deceived the people into thinking he was the power of God (perhaps even the awaited Messiah-John 4).

Sorcery is tapping into evil powers to achieve apparent or real results that are supernatural. e.g. Jannes and Jambres (Exodus 7:11,22,8:18,19, II Tim.3:8), Elymas (Acts 13:8) also Dan.2:2, Rev.18:23).

The act of simony is seeking to buy a church office or role.

Being bewitched means they believed a lie, just as Adam and Eve did and the Galatians (Gal.3:1). It is noteworthy that both false miracles and false teaching are related in this way. The ultimate example will be that of Antichrist (II Thess.2:8-10).

Simon proudly paraded his powers so as to receive acclaim.

The Samaritans listened to him and were under his spell.

We think he was able to do actual miracles which deceived the people like the Egyptians.

The people respected him because he had been plying his trade for years.

Philip, the deacon came preaching the gospel about Christ, his work and his kingdom.

The people believed the gospel in contrast to being bewitched by the lying signs of Simon. Matthew 24:24.

Simon made a profession of faith which by Peter’s analysis was fake.

Philip, using the judgment of charity accepted this and baptized him.

Simon shadowed Philip to see his works just like many Jews in Jesus’ day.

The apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria to check on this new phenomenon of Samaritans being converted to check up on it.

We believe the Samaritans had received the Spirit in regeneration (I Cor.12:13) but not with signs e.g. tongues because as with Pentecost (Acts 2) and subsequently the gentiles/Cornelius (Acts 10) God wanted this new phase of kingdom expansion to be attested to publicly by witnesses .

The laying on of hands was simultaneous with the outpouring of the Spirit. C.f. Moses and Joshua (Deut.34:9).

Peter and John were not essential for the outpouring of the Spirit because the Ethiopian Eunuch in the same chapter was converted under Philip without them. But the public manifestation with signs following always occurred with apostles present who reported back to Jerusalem.

The sin of Simon is called simony meaning the act of selling church offices or roles.

Simon wanted this ability to enhance his reputation and perhaps make money.

Peter rebuked him in many ways saying his money should perish with him, that he was outside the kingdom, that his heart was not right and that he ought to repent and pray.

Peter was absolutely clear he was not converted or forgiven.

The gall of bitterness was an entrapment in bitter envy. Gall is bile/bile salts, very bitter substance that breaks down fat in our digestion (Deut.29:18, Heb.12:15, Prov.5:22, Matthew 27:34,48, Mark 15:23,36). Christ did not drink the gall/myrrh because it would have stupefied him.

The bond of iniquity was Simon’s perverse thinking of gaining popularity and fame which enslaved him (John 8:34).

Simon’s request for prayer like Esau’s with Jacob and Pharaoh with Moses was merely a token gesture to avoid the consequences of their actions.

We read no more about Simon because the Spirit has told us all we need to learn and it is likely he was reprobate.

The apostles on their way back to Jerusalem (about 40 miles or two days journey) preached in several Samaritan villages.

Next study (DV) Saturday March 16 at 8pm to look at Acts 8:26-40