Acts is short for The Acts of the Apostles. It is categorized as a book of history, the only book of history in the New Testament, which also contains four gospels, the epistles, and one book of prophecy. It is the historical account of the spread of Christianity through the apostles. Luke, the author, is a doctor and a historian. He mentions many specific names and places which have been historically verified.
Acts is important as a transitional book; God has been dealing with Israel, but now begins to deal with the church. Before the resurrection, believers had the Law to guide them; now believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is also called the dispensation of Grace.
We will see the excitement of first-generation eye-witness believers, a situation that will never be duplicated. We also see that some of today's problems in the church were also present in the first-generation church.
The Jews had thought that the kingdom was only for them. Now we see clearly that it is for both Jews and Gentiles. We are seeing how God's sovereign plan has been unfolding throughout the Bible. He continues to deal with man under different conditions of testing (perfect environment, conscience, government, law, grace), demonstrating that man is sinful and completely in need of a Savior. He has gradually been revealing more of His eternal purpose.
Important topics in Acts: what things were different or changed, how God made that clear, what was preached about, how people were saved, Peter, Paul, and persecution.
1-2 Where else do we read about Theophilus? The name means "lover of God." It may refer to a Roman official or generically to all lovers of God. Some Christians believe that there are still apostles today; what is one criterion listed here? If there were apostles in the church today, chosen by God, wouldn't they be recognized by and known to the entire church, not just their own little group? How many apostles will be recognized in heaven, Rev. 21:14? There are now 11 apostles; they are named in 1:13. What is the "first account" that he mentions? Read the end of that account, Luke 24:44-53. Now he will fill in more details.
3-5 Convincing = infallible. Sometimes we hesitate to tell unbelievers that we can KNOW FOR SURE; we say, "well, you just have to take it by faith." What are some of those proofs Luke refers to? The RESURRECTION is the main proof that Jesus is God, just as He claimed, and just as the Bible claims. We need to remember to focus on this FACT.
If someone says they don't believe it, tell them that doesn't prove it isn't so. It is up to THEM to DISPROVE this fact of history. Other religious leaders are buried; Christianity has no body, no grave. The Bible records numerous eyewitnesses to the resurrection. If someone say, "well, I don't believe the Bible is true," then again, THEY must disprove the Bible. The evidence for its accuracy is GREAT: manuscript evidence, archaeological evidence, and the mathematical impossibility of its many prophecies that have been fulfilled in detail. Many have tried, but no one has yet been able to disprove the accuracy of the Bible.
3, so He probably appeared to them more than the three times mentioned in John 21. How long between the resurrection and Christ's ascension to heaven? Before He left, what did He command them? Do you think they had any idea of what He was talking about? Baptize = immerse in. Had any believers experienced this yet? Compare John 20:22, 16:7. He had given them the Holy Spirit, but they had not yet been immersed (baptized) in Him or experienced His power. God had promised the Holy Spirit's coming in John 14, 15 and 16 and through John the Baptist (baptizer), Mt. 3:11.
6-8 Because of Old Testament prophecies, the disciples assumed that this event must be connected with what other event? What do the apostles think is next on God's agenda? Were they wrong or confused? No, the promised kingdom is still in Israel's future. What must happen before the kingdom begins? Can anyone know when this will take place? Mt. 24:36. We always want to know what God is going to do and when. IS this OUR business? Eccl. 3:11, 9:1, 11:5.
What will be different about them when the Holy Spirit baptizes them? Where would they be witnesses? Is this a command or a fact? What is a witness? What does it mean to be a witness for Jesus? If we call ourselves by Christ's name, aren't we ALWAYS a witness of some sort or another, whether we intend to be or not? Christians often wonder, "how can I know God's will for my life?" Is God's will about detailed information on our daily choices, or is it general principles and commands, like this one, that we apply to our daily lives?
Where were they now? Where was Judea and Samaria in comparison? How do these three categories apply to us? Our home town--our family and friends, those we come in contact with. Then perhaps outreach, ministries or missionary work in our country, and then foreign missions. We will see that this gives an outline for the book of Acts. What did Jesus tell them in Mt. 28:19-20? Does this mean we are each required to witness in all those places? How can those who do not "go" help those who do go? What is the difference between commanding and requiring?
9-11 How did Jesus leave? What did the apostles do? Why couldn't the Holy Spirit come when Jesus was still physically on earth? John 16:7. Apparently Jesus cannot be physically present when the indwelling Holy Spirit is present. God only manifests His presence in one way at a time.
Who were the two men? Compare Luke 24:4,23. Do angels ever appear in the Bible as women? Do they seem to appear with wings? Where do we find angels with wings? Ezek. 1. Angels are messengers from God; what was their message? Compare Rev. 19:11-16, Zech. 14:3-4. All these obviously refer to Christ's visible, physical second coming to this earth for all to see, to defeat the Antichrist and to set up His earthly kingdom. We find a different picture in I Thes. 4:13-18, when believers are caught up to meet the Lord in the air and be with Him in heaven.
12-14 Where were they when Jesus ascended? Compare Zech. 14:4. A Sabbath day's journey is a little over half a mile; the Pharisees had added rules to the fourth commandment forbidding work on the Sabbath (which they interpreted to include travel), and decided on a specific distance that was acceptable to travel. The 11 apostles are named. Where did they go? They were probably meeting here, not all living here. Who else was there? What were they all doing there?
These believers were the first church, Mt. 16:16,18, 18:17. Although they had not yet been indwelt (baptized) by the Holy Spirit, they were believers in the risen Christ--in other words, Christians. The term "Christian" has not yet come into use, but will in a few more chapters. (Believers before that were technically not "Christians." The Old Testament and the Gospels frequently refer to "the righteous"--righteous in God's eyes because of their faith--or the "godly." They are distinguished from the unrighteous or the ungodly.)
So what do we now know about Jesus' mother and brothers? We find no reference to Joseph here or in the account of Jesus' ministry, so most assume he died before that time, and many assume that could mean he was quite a bit older than Mary. How important is Mary--is she mentioned before or after the apostles? This is the last mention of her--no biblical basis for the belief that she also ascended into heaven. Were women active followers of Jesus? Although at that time culturally women were not considered on the same level as men, they are often mentioned specifically in the Gospels and Epistles. What social barriers do not apply in the church, Gal. 3:28?
15 Which apostle takes the lead? Peter often gets a reputation for being "mouthy" and too quick to speak; might it be possible that rather, all along, he has been the spokesman or leader of the group of disciples? His strong leadership will become obvious in this book. He is the leader of the church in Jerusalem--the first church. He is the key figure in the book through Acts 12; then Paul becomes the key figure. Does "brethren" refer to only males, according to the context?
16-19 Where does David speak of Judas? Ps. 41:9, 55:12-14, 69:18-19, 22-28 (this Psalm pictures the crucifixion), Ps. 109. Details of Judas' death are given here and in Mt. 27:5. We know that the Bible cannot contradict itself or else God is a liar, which is impossible, Heb. 6:18, so we see that either Judas botched his own suicide and had to make two attempts, or the hanging rope broke and he fell and "burst open."
20-22 Peter believes in the Old Testament as Scripture, and gives it great importance. 16, who does he say is the author of the Old Testament? The Psalms do not mention Judas by name, but Peter obviously knew Scripture well and had enough God-given insight into the Messianic Psalms to see Judas pictured there. He points out that Scripture says Judas must be replaced (office: position as overseer). But he forgets that, as Luke has already reminded us in 1:2, they were chosen by who? Who had called THEM? Yes, Judas would be replaced, by one called by God; who will that be? We will read about Paul in a few more chapters. Peter was never good at waiting; he decides he must do something now. His idea wasn't bad; it was logical. But later he will find out that it wasn't God's idea or God's timing. Do we ever do things like this? Do our actions mess up God's plan? So should we quickly do SOMETHING? Or should we learn to wait and see what God is going to do?
We do see Peter pointing out other requirements for an apostle. What requirement does he give in 21? What in 22? We will see that Paul meets his second requirement but not the first; obviously that was Peter's idea, not God's.
23-26 Who is chosen? Do we ever hear of him again? Apostles are not humanly appointed; not by others, not by Self. Again, Rev. 21:14 makes it clear that there were 12 apostles, not 13. We will find that Paul, who God DOES choose, will continually feel the need to defend his credentials as an apostle; this may be one reason why. After all, Matthias had already been voted in, so who did Paul think he was, anyhow? What are we reminded about God in 24? Is that a scary thought or a comforting thought? Drawing lots: this method of allowing God to indicate specific leading was common in the Old Testament, and up until the Holy Spirit came to indwell and lead believers, John 16:13. Once the Holy Spirit comes, we never hear of this method used again. This is not a method the New Testament Christian should use; we are to ask for and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, as He speaks to us through Scripture, through circumstances, and through the "still small voice."
Here we have the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter's first sermon, and a description of the early church.
1-4 What did Passover represent, Ex. 12, Lev. 23:4-5? What day did Jesus permit Himself to be arrested, Luke 22:7? What day did Jesus rise from the dead, Lev.23:11, I Cor. 15:20? What number does "penta-" refer to? The Jewish feast day of Pentecost was 50 days after Passover. Lev. 23:15-16. What were they to offer on that day, Lev. 23:16? What new thing came into being on this day? I Cor. 12:12-13. Pentecost always fell on the first day of the week, Lev. 23:15. Jews know this; we have to read between the lines or be told. This is one reason the church meets on the first day of the week; what is the other major reason? Some Christians believe we are to meet on the Sabbath, and say that those who meet on Sunday teach that the Sabbath has been changed, which it hasn't. The Sabbath was given to the Jews, who were under the Law, commemorating the defining act of the Old Testament, the creation, and God's resting from His work of creation. Christ fulfilled the Sabbath (which means "rest"--we now rest from the works of the Law). The church commemorates the resurrection, the defining act of the New Testament, which took place on the first day of the week.
When the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers, they were baptized into (identified with, immersed in) the body of Christ; they are now one body--the church. Believers in the Old Testament did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit; they were not the church or the body of Christ. All believers are equally saved, by faith in the shed blood of the Lamb of God, but in God's plan there are different groups of believers that He will deal with in slightly different ways.
The Old Testament sacrifices and feasts pictured Christ's work; He fulfilled them all. It is interesting to do a study of them. Some versions say the day of Pentecost was "fully come" or was "being fulfilled."
What two things happen now? Something all could see and hear. What inner happening was indicated by these outward evidences? And what was the result of that? If no outward evidences were given, how would anyone KNOW that this completely new experience had taken place?
We are told they were filled, not baptized, with the Holy Spirit, but we can know this is the baptism of the Holy Spirit because of Acts 1:5 and 11:15-16. Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit tongues? Or were tongues the outward evidence of an inner change? Do believers today need to wait like the Jerusalem believers for the baptism of the Holy Spirit? I Cor. 12:13. Many believe our experience should be like that of Acts 2, but if we have been reading the whole Bible, we have seen that God is now doing a new thing; this is the start of a new dispensation, a new way of dealing with believers. This book records a period of transition, and God is making it very clear to them that something different is beginning. We are no longer in that transition period. We will see as we continue to read through Acts and the New Testament what our expectation should be regarding the Holy Spirit.
Nowhere are Christians commanded to be baptized in the Holy Spirit or told to pray for it or seek it. It has nothing to do with us. We read that the Holy Spirit baptizes all believers, I Cor. 12:13, seals them, Eph. 1:13-14, and indwells them, Rom. 8:9; this happens the moment we are saved. We ARE told to be FILLED with the Holy Spirit, Eph. 5:18; what does that mean? Are we told what process we need to go through to do this? Many Christians will tell you things you need to do that are not found in Scripture. Do we need to get "more" of Him? Isn't He a person? Can He come only part way in? So to be filled with Him, don't WE have to give Him more of US? Don't most Christians struggle with YIELDING all of themselves to God (to the Holy Spirit)? If we are NOT filled with Him, what is the rest of us filled with? SELF.
So when these believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, why did they speak in other languages? The early believers were all Jewish. We will find as we read through Acts that God extends salvation to the Gentiles also; the Jews had trouble believing that this could be. They experienced certain outward evidences of the Holy Spirit; when Gentiles were saved and experienced these same things, the Jewish believers could not argue. For the account of this major development, read Acts 10. To see how controversial this issue was, read Acts 11:1-18. If God had not provided some external evidence of salvation and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, Jewish believers might have refused to accept the validity of Gentile salvation. But they saw for themselves that God was also saving Gentiles. Because this is not our culture, we have trouble understanding what a BIG deal this was in the early church. In almost every epistle, we find evidence of this conflict that always threatened to divide the church. We will look at this subject again when we get to Acts 10 and 11.
Today we no longer need to have an outward proof because we have Scripture that tells us it is so. Remember, the only Scripture they had was the Old Testament and the teaching of the apostles. We are in a completely different situation today. I notice that most who teach that the baptism of the Spirit is something we need to seek, and that it manifests itself in tongues, do not see or teach about the significance of the Jewish/Gentile or historical/cultural issue in the early church, but rather approach Acts merely on the basis of what they think it's telling US to do. Scripture needs to be examined and interpreted in the light of who it was originally said to, under what circumstances, and then applied to our situation.
5-12 Why were Jews from every nation in Jerusalem at this time? To celebrate what day? Apparently the believers went outside or out on a porch or balcony. Galileans were known as uneducated and spoke with a rough accent. What were they saying in these languages? Did they speak in known or unknown languages? Were they giving the Gospel message--Christ's death for our sins and His resurrection, and the need for repentance?
14-21 What group of people is Peter addressing? Jews. We now have Peter's first sermon. We have seen some of Peter's failings in the Gospels, but this is a new Peter. What did Jesus say would change about believers when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:8? Do you think Peter sat down and composed this sermon, or delivered it extemporaneously?
He first counters their charge of drunkenness. He likens what is happening to the prophecy in Joel of the last days. Did the signs he mentions in 19-20 take place at that time? So this is not the fulfillment of that prophecy but a partial fulfillment. Perhaps Peter and the others thought that the signs were about to take place and it was about to be the day of the Lord; they did not know it wouldn't come for at least 2,000 years.
Some Christians falsely and unbiblically claim to be "drunk with the Spirit" or "drunk with new wine," using this passage and Eph. 5:18 to support their claim. However, Peter says they were NOT drunk. The mockers did not say the disciples were drunk because they were staggering, having slurred speech, falling to the ground, or exhibiting bizarre behavior, as we see today among this group. The mockers were referring to the babbling sound of the many languages; they were looking for an excuse to slander. Eph. 5:18 is not comparing being filled with the Spirit to being drunk; it is contrasting two opposing experiences. Drunkenness results in lack of self-control; self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Gal. 5:22-23 describes the Spirit-filled Christian.
22-23 Who is Peter addressing? Jews. Just as Jesus said in 1:8, believers would first be witnesses to those in what city? What does Peter remind them that they did? What did he say was the purpose of the miracles, wonders and signs? Were these wonders well-known to all? Who actually performed the signs? What do we learn about God in 23? Does God know everything that is going to happen? In our lives too? Do things just happen for no reason? Is the world out of control? What about the things in our lives? Peter says their actions were part of God's plan, but they were still responsible to God for their freely chosen actions. He tells the Jews THEY were responsible; he also says that godless men (Gentiles) were responsible. The sins of ALL men, including us, are responsible for putting Christ on the cross. All are equally guilty.
24-28 What facts are we told about Christ in 24? 22-24 is the Gospel--the good news--in a nutshell. Jesus, who was God in the flesh, died on the cross for the sins of all men, and was raised from the dead to prove that He IS God and that He has defeated death for us. Psalm 16:8-11 sounds like David is speaking about himself, but now the Holy Spirit (the author of all Scripture, Heb. 3:7, 10:15-17) interprets that passage for us, showing us that it spoke prophetically of Christ's resurrection.
29-31 Peter clarifies this interpretation of Psalms 16. What does he say David was? David wrote many Psalms that prophesy about Christ, the great tribulation and the millenial kingdom.
32-36 What were all the believers eye-witnesses of? Did the listeners dispute this statement? If the resurrection had been a hoax, as some claim, they would not have tolerated this statement nor reacted as they do in the next few verses. What happened after Jesus ascended to heaven, 33? Again we see the significance of outward evidence, for the benefit of those who would doubt. 36, who is this sermon directed to? The Jewish nation had rejected Christ as their Messiah. Now, with the evidence of the resurrection, which could not be disputed, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, which could not be disputed, Peter offered Jews the opportunity to personally accept their Messiah.
37-38 How did they respond? Had Peter given an "invitation"? They were convicted by the truth. What does Peter say they must do? What does "repent" mean? To change one's mind about something. This verse taken alone could give the impression that baptism is necessary for salvation, but the rest of the Bible does not support this idea. How are we saved? Eph. 2:8-9. Was the thief on the cross saved? Was he baptized? Can any outward act bring salvation? The outward act of baptism is to follow salvation, making a public statement and picturing Christ's burial and resurrection, as well as our own dying to self and being risen with Christ. Hasn't Peter left out what we today think is the most important thing to tell unbelievers about--God's love? Interesting...
What else does Peter say happens when we receive forgiveness of sins? Some believe this verse teaches that it is a separate event that follows salvation because it is mentioned after baptism is mentioned; that is not necessary so. But ALL believers have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, according to Rom. 6:1-6, I Cor. 12:13/Acts 5:32. Keep in mind that in Acts, God is doing a new thing, and this is a period of transition. We must be careful not to take things out of context but compare all Scripture.
This passage is very interesting because it is the first recorded instance of the salvation experience in the church age. What four things are part of the salvation experience, 38? Three of those things--repentance, forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit indwells us--we have no problem with. But how does baptism fit in? We know that the Bible teaches that outward rituals or experiences do not affect our inner spiritual state. Yet we are often told that baptism is to accompany salvation. Why?
I believe that the solution to the baptism question is: in their day baptism was done differently than today. In that day, baptism was already a known and accepted practice among the Jews--a way of publicly aligning one's self with a religious sect or belief. We see this first with John the Baptist's ministry, who preached repentance in preparation for the soon appearance of the Messiah. In Acts we will find that people believe and are baptized.
Today people believe and "go forward," in many churches--or perhaps, go forward and believe. Then a period of time usually elapses during which the person may be counseled to make sure they truly did believe, they are counseled about implications of baptism, and varying periods of time elapse before the person decides they are ready to go ahead and make the public proclamation of baptism before the church.
At that time, baptism was a public proclamation of faith, but was not done privately before believers in a church. It was truly a public declaration of becoming a follower of that man who had just been hung on a cross for His "offenses." It was like putting a target on your back; persecution awaited followers of Jesus Christ, both from the Jews and from the Romans. It was probably done in the nearest river or water source, therefore boldly proclaiming to any present (in public) their new and dangerous stand.
I believe public baptism was to immediately follow repentance because it was the outward sign of what just happened inwardly. So in 38, we could say that those who repented showed it by public baptism. Salvation involves an inner change and an outward witness of some sort. Salvation brings forgiveness of sin and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Today some churches encourage the one who wishes to believe in Jesus to signify that by "going forward," where they then pray with someone to receive Jesus. Personally, that seems backward to me. Rather than asking someone who is dead in their sins to "go forward," it seems to me that we should ask those who have believed to proclaim that publicly before the church by "going forward." Or at least explaining that "going forward" is not necessary, that they can believe any place and any time, but that shortly afterwards, they should publicly declare their faith, so the church knows they are now a believer, can rejoice with them and encourage them in the faith. (I believe many many people have been truly saved by "going forward," but it has led many to falsely believe that BECAUSE they went forward and said what is commonly called "the sinner's prayer," that they are saved. People need to clearly understand that believing is what saves them, not the going forward or the saying of certain words.)
The reason for the time delay in our churches, between salvation and baptism, is generally to ascertain that the person has indeed understood and truly believed. Wouldn't instant baptism give false assurance to those who perhaps had not truly understood and believed? In Bible days, was this a problem? I doubt it, because of the reality of the unpopularity of Christianity and because of persecution. Why would anyone fake their repentance, or half-heartedly or uncertainly take the name of Jesus, knowing what may lay ahead? Perhaps today if we published the names of our new converts in a truly public way--say, in the local newspaper--we might be able create a similar scenario and end up with less "false conversions." Not that I am seriously suggesting that, but I'm just trying to help us understand the difference between baptism in the early church and baptism today, and to understand why the Bible says "repent and be baptized" or "believe and be baptized"--both meaning the same thing.
39-41 Who might be those who are "far off"? Other distant people? Those who would be born later? So who is this salvation offer for? Who initiates salvation--us or God? This refers to "election," Eph. 1:4,5,9,11. Why doesn't God choose everyone? Mt. 22:14, how many have been invited? Did all who invited accept the invitation? Was Peter saying THAT generation (nation, age, time) was more perverse than any other, or just describing them, in the same way that every generation can be described? How many accepted Peter's message? We don't know how large of a crowd was there, but surely this had to be the majority of them. It doesn't mention that any of them spoke in tongues.
42-43 What four things are we told about the first church? What is #1 on the list? What was done with the teachings of the apostles? So we could say "God's Word" or "doctrine" or "correct doctrine." We see from Acts and the Epistles that the apostles taught from the Old Testament, which was all the Scripture they had at that time. We see that their writings were already considered Scripture, II Pet. 3:16 (putting Paul's letters in the same category as "the rest of the Scriptures"). The Old Testament taught about the Messiah to come; the apostles taught how Jesus was the fulfillment of those prophecies. "Fellowship" doesn't mean "socializing;" it has to do with partnership or participation (Strong's). The fellowship of believers is participating as partners in the body of Christ. Breaking bread probably means the Lord's supper but could include sharing meals. Why do you suppose they felt a sense of awe? Were the apostles the ones "doing" the signs and wonders? What does "through" mean?
44-45 They were not commanded to do this; why do you think they did it? What did they probably think was just around the corner, 17-21? If the day of the Lord was any day now, how might this affect their plans for the future? We never again read of the early church doing this, or that Christians should do this. Apparently as time went on, they realized that this was not the most practical way to live. In fact, later the church at Jerusalem was in need of financial help from other churches, Rom. 15:26, I Cor. 16:1-3; this may have been one reason why.
46-47 What are these first Christians doing? What was their attitude? Were they in the temple because they were confused about Judaism, because that is where God's people met, or because this was the logical place to speak with other Jews about the Messiah? What was the result of their lifestyle? This paints an ideal picture of the first church, but these were ordinary people; how long do you suppose it was until the church began to experience bickering, gossip, discrimination and power plays? Paul's letters will soon be addressing those problems.
1 Many make a big deal of references to the apostles continuing to go to the temple, saying they were confused about Judaism and the Gospel, trying to do both at the same time. However, Peter's preaching in Acts 2 did not give any hint that he was saying to continue keeping the Law while accepting the message of Christ; he said to repent and be saved FROM that which they were involved in. They may have continued to pray and worship God even though they obviously prayed and worshipped elsewhere, or they may have gone there to find crowds of Jews to give their message to. It does not say they went at the hour of sacrifice but of what?
2-10 Was this Peter's first miracle? We are not specifically told that, although we have not read of any previous one. However, compare Mt. 10:8, when Jesus sent out the 12 early in His ministry. Later He sent out 70 other disciples, Luke 10:1, and they were given power also, 10:17. So it seems likely Peter had performed other miracles. This seems to be his first one since Pentecost. Do you think that the things recorded are the only things the apostles did? Did Peter do this in his own power, his own name?
Does this mean if we lay hands on someone and try to heal them by saying these words, it will happen? Why or why not? Does the Bible say that God has granted this power to all believers? What was the purpose of signs, wonders and miracles? Did the apostles and early church continue this practice? Compare II Cor. 12:7-10, 12; Phil. 2:25-27; I Tim. 5:23. Paul makes it clear that the apostles had the sign gifts, but does not heal himself or ask someone else to, nor did Paul tell Timothy or Epaphroditus to. There was no mention that their physical problems were due to lack of faith.
Many Christians, like this man, think God is very interested in fixing their health problems; what is God really interested in changing? What evidence are we given of the change in this man? If this man was well known because he had been at the temple gate for so long, wouldn't Jesus have passed him many times? If it was God's will to heal this man, why didn't Jesus do it earlier? Is it sometimes God's will to leave us in our problems for a while? Why? We also saw this in John 11 when Jesus allowed who to suffer greatly for a while? If it was God's will for Lazarus to live, why did Jesus allow this family to undergo this trauma? We all experience the death of loved ones; this is a picture of the temporary nature of our pain and separation. Does God's plan often involve pain and stress? What does Rom. 8:28 promise? Does that mean that all things FEEL good?
What personal application CAN we make from 6? Believers are told to give to the Lord's work, but what about those who are barely getting by? Must we give money? Must we give a certain amount? Might there be other ways to give? What do we have besides money that we can give? And whether we give money or something else, are we giving it in OUR name or Jesus' name? Who are we really hoping will get the credit? Who are we really drawing attention to? God is more interested in our heart (motives) than our outward deeds. Does God need our money or whatever? Why does He want us to give Him what we have?
What details does Dr. Luke point out about the healing--what specific body parts? What specific actions does he point out as the result of the healing?
The miracles of Jesus (and the apostles) actually confirm the creation account in Genesis of a literal six-day creation from nothing. If you believe in the miracles recorded in the Bible, then you should have no trouble believing in six-day creation. And if you believe that God can create the universe from nothing in six days, then you should have no trouble believing in miracles. Many people doubt the creation account because of the false claims of the unscientific theory of evolution; for more on this, see my online book, Evolution: Fact or Philosophy?
11-12 What opportunity does this incident lead to? This is the second recorded sermon Peter gives. Both are given in response to something that has happened; they are unplanned, but Peter clearly gives the basic message of the Gospel. How does he use the healing to lead into his message? Who is his audience? Are we ready at all times to take advantage of an opportunity to turn the conversation to Jesus without sounding awkward or fakey or stumbling all over ourselves?
What application can we make from the end of 12? How should we think or feel about ourselves or others that God is using in a powerful way? Is there a temptation to pat ourselves on the back, to give the glory to Self instead of God? When others compliment or speak highly of what we do, what should our response be--inward and outward?
13-16 Does Peter start with Jesus, or with God? Which God is he talking about? Aren't there many "Gods" today also? We need to clarify to others that we are talking about the God of the Bible, not a new age God or Allah or the God we imagine Him to be. How does he immediately relate to where they are presently at in their religious beliefs? He immediately presents them with Jesus, and with their sin. What important facts does Peter stress in 15? Jesus' death and resurrection. He doesn't present it as his personal "belief" but as what? What other important element does Peter stress? Was this man healed because he did something to earn it?
How can we apply Peter's example to our opportunities to speak to others? We are not eyewitnesses of the resurrection. But we can stress that the Bible is an accurate historical document that records many eyewitnesses. If someone wishes to deny that the Bible is true, then they need to show that it is not true. There is more manuscript evidence for the Bible than any other historical document. Archaeological evidence also confirms the reliability of the Bible. The mathematical impossibility of fulfilled prophecy is proof that the Bible was not written by mere men; rather, men wrote down what God inspired them to write.
To use Peter's method, we start by acknowledging and respecting where the person is at in their beliefs about God, then present them with Jesus, His death and resurrection, and faith. Today, many people talk about the importance of faith, meaning, whatever you choose to believe in, as long as you believe in something. This is not much different than positive thinking. Peter stresses faith in Christ; it is not merely faith.
What gutsy accusation does Peter make in 13? Isn't this the same crowd that was easily swayed to demand the crucifixion of Jesus? Isn't he taking a huge chance of setting them off and endangering his own life? Does he care? Why not?
17-21 The Jews' expectation of their Messiah did not include the idea of suffering, but rather military victory. What did Peter himself used to believe, Mt. 16:20-23? Yet what does Is. 53 teach about the Messiah? Peter had not understood before, but what do we see about Peter now that relates to John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13? Does ignorance equal innocence? We do see that the Bible teaches that we will be held responsible for what we do with the amount of light we have.
Along with the fact of the resurrection, Peter points them to fulfilled prophecy, and the need for what? Is repentance the feeling of being sorry? A change of direction is needed. Faith plus repentance results in what, 19? There are many beliefs and religions--systems of good works--but only faith in Jesus Christ can deal with our sin problem. What is another word for "the Christ" in 20? Where did he tell them Jesus is now? That means He is alive. What further information about the Messiah does he remind them that their prophets said? What does "until" imply? The Messiah will return (the Second Coming) and do what? This period of restoration has been promised to Israel throughout the Old Testament prophets, especially by Jeremiah: 29:14, 30:3, 17-18, 31:23, 33:7,1,26. This is what the disciples asked Jesus about in Acts 1:6. Does prophecy have a place in a salvation message? Why?
22-26 Peter continues to relate Jesus the Messiah to the facts his audience already knows, building his case logically. So is it true, as many Christians believe, that the Old Testament is merely about Israel and the New Testament is about Jesus? What Old Testament authorities does Peter point them to? Is there any reason for today's Christians to read and study the Old Testament? How does Peter relate Jesus to the Abrahamic Covenant in 25? Who was Jesus sent to first, 26? First implies a second; salvation is not just for the Jews (as they thought) but for who else? (Peter won't REALLY learn this until chapter 11.) Weren't the Jews a religious people? So what did Peter mean by their wicked ways? Will God bless those who have not turned from their wicked ways? We have in Peter's message the paradox that people are told to repent, but also that it is God who turns people from their wicked ways--God's sovereignty PLUS free will, both at the same time, working together in a way that we cannot understand. And again we find that Peter did not speak to them about God's love, yet today Christians focus on this topic more than anything else. Soon we will get to Paul, and we will see what HE preaches about.
1-4 Did the Jewish leaders dispute the fact of the miracle? What did the Sadducees believe according to Mark 12:18? So what were they concerned about? What did they do about it? But the "damage" was already done; what was the result of Peter's extemporaneous "sermon" at the temple to the crowd that had just witnessed the healing of the man lame from birth? We don't know if this implies that besides the men, there may have also been many women who believed.
Did they "give their lives to Jesus"? What is the Bible terminology used? Do we have anything to give to Jesus? This wording is not only not found in the Bible--it distorts what the Bible teaches about salvation by adding the humanistic appeal of us having something to give Him. This contradicts Eph. 2:8-9. God already gave us the gift; our role is to simply receive it. (As the hymn says, "nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling.") It also implies that WE initiate salvation, but the Bible teaches that God initiates. We merely respond. It may FEEL like we are choosing/initiating, but we are to take our doctrinal beliefs from Scripture, not from our feelings. We interpret our feelings and experiences by the filter of God's Word; we do not filter God's Word through our experiences or feelings. Then Scripture becomes subjective and meaningless. I Cor. 1:9, Eph. 1:4-5, II Thes. 2:13-14.
Did they "ask Jesus into their hearts"? Again, this terminology presents US as initiating and JESUS as responding--the opposite of what the Bible teaches. It minimizes and trivializes Jesus and what He did. The Bible speaks of loving God with our heart and believing with our heart. While II Cor. 1:22 says the Holy Spirit dwells in our heart, I Cor. 6:19 says the Holy Spirit dwells where? Eph. 3:17, Christ dwells in our hearts. The Greek word in both places includes the idea of "mind"--in other words, our "inner man" (Eph. 3:16).
Salvation is usually presented as believing; less often, we read of receiving or being born again. For churchy people, this may not be much of a problem, but when presenting salvation to unbelievers and especially to children, such unbiblical terminology can sound rather mysterious. Children take words very literally; many have a problem with the idea of JESUS being in there. They wonder how Jesus gets into their heart. It isn't actually Jesus inside us, it is the Holy Spirit; Jesus is the visible form of God. Yet to keep things simple, we seldom present salvation to children as the indwelling of the invisible Holy Spirit. To avoid confusion, present the Bible message as the Bible itself presents it.
Rev. 3:20 presents Jesus standing at the door knocking. Where? To whom? What is this church like? What will Jesus do with this church? It is a false, unbelieving church. This is not a salvation verse or salvation situation; it is about the coming apostasy and God's judgment on the false, institutional church.
5-7 Again, are they disputing the fact that a miracle had taken place and been witnessed by many? That was impossible to dispute, so what strategy do they try now?
8 We know much about Peter from the Gospels; what is different about him here? The NASB has a margin note of another possible wording for "filled": "having just been filled." According to 4:32, what resulted from the filling of the Holy Spirit? This gives us some insight into what the filling of the Holy Spirit is.
What does it mean to be filled with or full of the Holy Spirit? Does it refer to receiving salvation? Some say yes. Does it refer to speaking in tongues? Some say yes. How do we get that filling or fullness? Are we to ask to be filled? Some say yes, even daily. Is it the same as being indwelt by the Spirit or baptized in the Spirit? These similar terms can be confusing.
In the Old Testament, we find the terminology in Ex. 31:3 and 35:31, where Bezalel is filled with the Spirit along with wisdom, understanding, and craftsmanship, for the purpose of fashioning articles for the tabernacle. In Micah 3:8, Micah compares himself, "filled with power--with the Spirit of the Lord," with the false prophets. So true prophets were filled with the Spirit when they were prophesying.
Luke 1 says John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit while yet in the womb; his mother Elizabeth was filled at the moment he "leaped in her womb," and his father Zacharias was filled when he prophesied. Luke 4:1 says Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit following His baptism and when He was led into the wilderness to be tested.
Before Acts 2, believers were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit; He was with them but not in them, John 14:17. Before Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon individuals temporarily, apparently to empower them for a particular task.
Eph. 5:18 tells us to be filled with the Spirit. We are told that we are indwelt, baptized, sealed with the Spirit when we are saved; those events are not repeated and we have no personal control over them. Being filled with the Spirit is something we can do something about. We are not told how to be filled, but nowhere do we find people asking to be filled.
The only other use of these terms are in Acts: in 2:4, 4:8,31, 6:3,5, 7:55, 9:17, 11:24, 13:9,52. A reading of these passages gives us a clearer idea of what is meant. In 2:4, when the Spirit is first given, it resulted in supernaturally speaking in other languages. In 4:8, it characterized Peter when he began to preach. In 4:31, it accompanied the speaking of God's Word with power. In 6:3 and 5, it described certain believers, also describing them as full of wisdom and faith. In 7:55, it described Stephen as he was preaching powerfully.
In 9:17, Ananias laid his hands on Paul, who had just seen Christ on the road to Damascus and had believed in Him, and told him that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. In 11:24, it described Barnabas, who was also said to be a good man and full of faith. In 13:9 it described Paul as he confronted a magician and caused him to be blinded. In 13:52 the disciples were said to be continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Rom. 15:13 uses similar terms: being filled with joy, peace, and hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some teach we must specifically ask, daily, to be filled, or else anything we do for God has no value, having been done in the flesh. I spend years trying to remember to ask daily, and mostly forgetting; consequently, I ALWAYS felt guilty, like a total failure, like giving up. Finally I got to wondering where the Bible says to ask, and that we need to ask every 24 hours or it runs out, so to speak. The Bible does not teach this method of being filled with the Spirit; nowhere do we see people asking to be filled nor instructions for us to ask. It is probably not "wrong" if you do pray for this. In studying this concept, the mostly helpful thing I found was J. Vernon McGee's teaching that the term "be filled" in Eph. 5:18 is the same word used of a ship's sail, being filled with the wind, so that the wind may take it where it will. He says we are to be yielded to the influence of the Spirit in that same way, rather than to be filled with and controlled by Self.
What can we conclude from all these passages? When Paul tells or commands us in Eph. 5:18 to be filled, the term includes these meanings: be amply supplied, be completed, fully carry, increasing, make complete, make full, supply. What are we full of (supplied with) if we are not full of God's Spirit? Who did we depend on before we depended on God? When God indwells us by His Spirit, the Bible doesn't say or imply that He comes part way in, more or less; He comes IN. He is there. We don't need to get more of Him; who do we need to have less of? Yielding ourselves to God will result in John 3:30. The more we are yielded to Him and less to Self, the more we will be full of wisdom, faith, joy, peace, hope, and God's power--all the terms used above, very similar to the listing of the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22-23. Being filled with the Spirit sounds like perhaps describing someone who is spiritual...mature...walking according to the Spirit rather than walking according to the old fleshly nature, Rom. 8:4-13, I Cor. 3:1-4.
An excellent biblical article, though lengthy and rather scholarly, can be found on the internet, "The filling of the Holy Spirit: Is it the Biblical basis for Christian maturity?" by Arthur F. Temmesfeld, Th.M., http://withchrist.org/filling.htm
9-12 Peter could have just answered their question by saying "in the name of Jesus Christ." But he seizes the opportunity and again gives the salvation message to these Jewish leaders. 11, again we see him using the Old Testament Scriptures as a point of reference to the Jews, pointing out that their own Scriptures spoke of Jesus the Messiah. What does he accuse them of?
Why is 12 such a strong and controversial passage? In that day, there were many gods; to claim that there is only ONE was quite radical. Today there are many definitions of "God" or "god." We are to be tolerant of all beliefs--all are equally "good." Is this what the Bible teaches? Do we have the boldness to give the Bible message of only one way to God? Did Peter care if this truth offended anyone? We must be careful not to be personally offensive, but we should not worry if God's truths may offend someone. If someone asks you if you really believe that all who don't believe in Jesus will go to hell, and it bothers you to say "yes" because it sounds so harsh and "narrow-minded," you might say: "That is what the Bible teaches, and I believe that the Bible is God's Word. I'm just telling you what GOD says."
There are various views on healing among Christians, but it is interesting to note that the same Greek word is used in 9 for "made well" as in 12 for "saved." Luke, the author, was a doctor and could have chosen to use another word that meant therapeutic healing like a physician would do, but he didn't. Every reference to "made well" in the New Testament uses this term for "saved." Only John 5 uses a different term regarding the man at the pool. So what actually took place in this man's body and life? Is God's main concern that our bodies be free of disease and pain?
Did Peter tell them how much God loved them?
13-18 What are Peter and John like now? Why? How can we apply this to ourselves? Do we have to be smart or educated to be able to speak to others effectively? Did the Jewish leaders deny this miracle? How did they feel about it? What did they tell Peter and John?
19-22 What difficult decision might a believer have to make? Who should we be most concerned about pleasing, in every decision? What had they seen and heard? Apostles were eyewitnesses. Does 20 tell us how we should be, or is it just describing how these men felt at this point? Why don't most of us feel this way? Doesn't this seem to characterize new believers the most? What do new believers soon learn about how people receive their constant "witnessing"? If people know that every time we see them, we start talking about Jesus, how do most people react? If we back off and are more careful about who we witness to and how and when, is that rationalizing, or is it just wise?
How did the crowds react to what had happened? Why did the Jewish leaders react differently from the crowd of Jewish people? Do different people respond differently to the same evidence about God?
23-middle 24: STOP! Think about what has just happened-what would we probably pray at this point? What might be the first words of OUR prayer? Now read the rest of 24. How did they start their prayer? We find this often, especially in the Old Testament--starting prayer by recognizing what about God? Compare Is. 37:14-16 (then read the rest of the prayer, 17-20). Why start a prayer this way? How does Jesus tell us to start our prayer, in the Lord's Prayer? Focus on God first, THEN on us and our concerns. (Thankfulness and gratitude are good, but when we thank God for things in our prayers, isn't that still focusing on US?) How do we start our prayers? So when Peter and John returned and reported to the others, the first thing they did was pray. This is the first recorded prayer in Acts--the first recorded prayer by an apostle, by a leader in the church--the first recorded prayer of the church. That probably makes this prayer significant for us. Notice the elements of this prayer.
25-26 What are they saying about the Holy Spirit? Who is the author of the Bible? Does the passage quoted apply to Peter's time, or to the end of the Great Tribulation? Zech. 14:1-3, Rev. 19:19. Or both? We see many prophetic passages having application to different time periods, including both a partial fulfillment and a later complete fulfillment. Does the Old Testament have anything to say to today's Christian? How does knowing Scripture influence our prayers? Their response to the events of their lives was to relate them to what they read in God's Word; should we do the same? Do we recognize that God's hand is at work in EVERYTHING that happens? When we fail to recognize that truth, how does it affect our attitude? When we DO recognize it, how does it affect our attitude?
27-28 Who all are mentioned here? Are they believers? Do these two groups of people include all mankind? What does 28 say about them? What two things about God are mentioned? Those two things do what? (KJV: determined before)
Does that mean that all mankind are robots, doing exactly what God tells them to do, having no choice or free will? If we were robots, programmed to do exactly what God wanted, could we be held responsible for our actions? Did God force Adam and Eve to sin? Eph. 1:1-14 also talks about predestination, in connection with the elect (those who have believed and those who are yet to believe). Somehow, God gives us free will, yet works everything that we do into His Big Plan. Can anyone thwart His plan? Is it His will that we sin? Does He permit our sin and use it in His plan? God's ideal will is that we not sin--that we choose His moral standard; His permissive will is that He permits us to do as we choose--that we may choose our own moral standard, with consequences, of course. Although these terms are not found in the Bible, we find both concepts, so it is convenient to use those terms.
Does everything that happens fit into His sovereign will? Ps. 103:19. Is God working in everyone's life, all the time, according to this passage in Acts? Jews and Gentiles, believers and unbelievers, rulers and unimportant people, rich and poor? This first Christians recognized and understood this truth. Even if we can't see God working, or understand how He possibly could be? When we understand this important truth, how will it affect our attitude towards whatever we see happening around us? How will it affect our prayers about those situations?
Is God waiting for us to ask Him to work on something before He starts to work on it? Is that the purpose of prayer? Do we need to ASK God to work in someone's life or in a situation? What might we do instead? When we ASK Him to work something out, we HOPE He will but we may still feel anxious because we don't know if He will answer that prayer. But when we THANK Him that He is ALREADY at work there, since the Bible says so, we have peace knowing that He is already at work. I think this is one of the most important things we need to understand about God.
29-30 Does God need to be reminded to notice what is going on in our lives? Who really needs to be reminded? Sometimes what we say to God is really to remind ourselves of what we know is true. Isn't prayer a way for us to express our concerns to God? Does God understand if we say unnecessary things in our prayers?
Many teach that when we pray, we need to listen for God's voice; how does God speak to us-how do we "hear" His words? Should we listen for an "inner voice"? Why should we be careful about "inner voices," revelations, dreams, etc.? What does Heb. 1:1-2 say about whether or not God is continuing to speak to us in new ways? In the Old Testament times, God spoke in various ways, including through the prophets and through vision, dreams and revelations. The Bible does not teach that He is continuing to speak in those ways. If He has more to say than we find in the Bible, then the Bible is incomplete and insufficient for our needs, contrary to Col. 2:10, II Tim. 3:15-17, II Peter 1:3, Psalm 19. This is important because today many Christians and churches teach otherwise.
If you "feel" God is saying something to you, be careful. It if isn't written in the Bible, you can't know for sure it is "God's word" to you. Your feelings or perceptions are very subjective; your own thoughts or impressions can SEEM to you like God speaking, but how can you know for sure? How does the Holy Spirit lead us? John 16:13, Acts 12:17, 13:17, Rom. 8:14, I Cor. 12:2, II Cor. 11:3, Gal. 5:18, II Pet. 1:21.
What do they ask for in 29? Strong's: confidence (KJV, boldness) = outspoken, frank, blunt, assured, confidently, openly, plainly. Could we pray for this? We see this is a biblical thing to pray for. Could this also apply to what we write or how we live? How do they refer to themselves in 29? It is more a "slave" than just an "employee." Do we think of ourselves in this way?
What do they understand that God will be doing, 30? Do they ask God to allow THEM to do these miracles? Do they even mention themselves in connection with this miraculous signs? What does that tell us about the apostles?
Have they asked God to make things turn out in a particular way, like to make the persecution stop? Should we ask God to make things turn out the way we want? Why or why not? Isn't this what much of our prayer life is about? The Bible gives us many prayers as examples of how to pray; notice how little we find godly people asking for "stuff" or for things to turn out a certain way.
31 What happened after they prayed? Shaken could be literal or figurative, as in, stirred up. I wonder if it means literally shaken, since it says "the place," not "they." What happened to the people there? Did they ask to be filled? What accompanied the filling of the Holy Spirit? Does that imply they all stayed in that place and just spoke to themselves or each other, or that they then went out and spoke to other people? What can we infer from this passage as to WHY in this instance all, these people were filled with the Spirit?
This is the third time Acts refers to people being filled with the Holy Spirit (2:4, 4:8). Also 9:17, 13:9, 13:52. Other than Acts, the only other reference is in Eph. 5:18. Understanding this term is best done by comparing Scripture, not adding to Scripture. Perhaps the term might compare with the Old Testament concept of the Spirit coming on someone mightily, with power, temporarily, to empower them for a particular task. It doesn't appear to be a continual experience, as is the indwelling of the Spirit. One of the Strong's definitions is "to be strongly influenced by." This could be the implication of Eph. 5:18, contrasting with being under the influence of strong drink.
32-33 How many had believed by now? Heart (Strong's): thoughts, feelings. Soul (Strong's): breath, spirit, vitality, life, mind. Did they have to try to create unity? Eph. 4:3 says we are to what? (Strong's: watch, guard, keep an eye on, prevent from escaping. Eph 4:13 says what about unity? Strong's: arrive at. What things accompany arriving at the unity of the faith? The issue of unity is also important in the church today. Much of the watered-down teaching and music are attempts to CREATE unity by trying to tone down or be silent about facts that some may not like.
We have already seen that having all things in common was not commanded, but what attitude does it show? What is the main evidence the apostles were speaking about? What were they all experiencing? God's favor. Grace can also mean a graciousness of manner; the early believers were not obnoxious in how they witnessed. Why are some believers obnoxious witnesses? How can we be more gracious witnesses for Christ?
34-37 Again we are told about having all things in common; now we are given more detail, and a couple of specific instances, here and in the next chapter. Who is the first person we are told about? We will read more about him; he will become important in the story of the early church, so we are given some background on him. What did the apostles nickname him? What can we infer from that name? The next time we see him, he is taking the new convert, Paul, under his wing and bringing him to the apostles. (Feet may be literal or figurative; I would assume figurative, based on observing Luke's style of writing. Literal feet would seem to imply the apostles were like gods or little rulers.)
1-6 Ananias could have kept his property, or sold it for any amount he chose; what did he do that was wrong? Is this like embezzling? What might have been his motivation? How did Peter know what he had done? God might have revealed it to him, or he could have heard talk, or it could be that when Ananias brought out the money, others present that knew something about the deal said something, and Peter, as the one in authority, confronted him. Did Peter put him to death? Do you think Peter might have been as surprised as anyone else when he dropped dead? Was he killed miraculously, or might he have been so struck with fear at being publicly exposed that he had a heart attack? We don't know. Why are we sometimes more afraid of people's opinions than God's opinion?
Satan had "filled his heart"; does that mean Ananias was demon-possessed? We don't even know if he was a true believer, so we can't really infer from this passage how Satan influences a believer. Does it mean that Ananias really wanted to be honest but Satan forced him to do wrong? Might "fill" mean to top off what was already there, like a gas tank? What does this teach us about how Satan works in our lives? Can Satan make us do something we don't want to do? How do you suppose Ananias got to this point? Did this just happen out of the blue? What might have happened before "what happened" happened? When we continue in sin, what happens to our hearts? Twice it states that Ananias lied to God, so this wasn't just about deceiving the church. What might it mean to lie to God? What do we learn here about God and the Holy Spirit?
What might we wonder about this couple's marriage? We might wonder if Ananias and his wife were truly believers, or if they were make-believers. Are true believers capable of this type of sin? Don't things like this go on all the time in churches? Can we always know if church members or others we think are saved, are truly saved? What does Matthew 13 say about the wheat and the tares? Have we ever done something that might make someone else wonder this about us? What does Mt. 13:24-30 tell us about the church age?
7-11 Now Peter knows what will happen to her too. To put God to the test: To see if God could be deceived, be fooled, to see if God would do anything about this, to see how much you can get by with before He does anything about it. Probably not wondering so much if God Himself would do anything to them, but His designated human leadership under this new arrangement-the church. What was the effect, 11? What place does this type of fear have in our lives?
After Moses died, Joshua took over and led Israel into the promised land; who tried to see if he could get away with stealing and hiding forbidden items from the battle of Jericho, Joshua 7? We know that God usually does not zap people; in both cases, God is letting His people know what about Himself and the new thing He is doing? Can God be tricked or trifled with? So what lesson was there for the new church?
Here is the first use of the word "church" in Acts. Sometimes it refers to the church universal, sometimes to the church in a specific city or the congregation meeting in a specific place; the context makes it clear. Here is the first incidence of blatant sin in the church, and the first incidence of church discipline. Does Peter look the other way, or minimize the sin? Sin in the church IS to be dealt with; God has given churches the responsibility and the mandate to discipline those within the church who continue in unrepentant sin. Mt. 18:15-17, Luke 12:51, Rom. 16:17, I Cor. 5:11, II Cor. 2:6, Gal. 2:11-14, Eph. 5:3,11, I Thes. 5:14, II Thes. 3:6, 14-15, I Tim. 5:20, II Tim. 3:16, 4:2, I John 1:6-7, Titus 1:9, 2:15, 3:10, Rev. 2:20. How do you think this incident might have changed the early church?
12-16 In what ways was God using the apostles? Who seems to be the main apostle, the leader of the church? We are not given specifics about the others, but Peter was not the only one doing miracles. How prevalent were the healings? What had Jesus prophesied about Peter in Mt. 16:18? We don't know if Peter's shadow actually had any effect, or if this is just recording how people were thinking at that time. Isn't faith what brought healing? We see here both true faith and superstition or misplaced faith, just as we do today. Today some think the gift of healing is still in operation. Have you ever heard of anyone today who heals ALL, instantly and completely, that are brought to him? God is still in the business of healing, and He sometimes uses individuals, but I see no evidence for any individual having the gift of miraculous healing as the Bible speaks of it.
Does it say the new believers were added to "the church"? How big was the church now? Where were they meeting? (A large public area) What was their attitude? Can you imagine thousands of brand new Christians? What might be some positives and negatives about that situation?
17-26 Who was put in jail? Why? Angels: Some translations may say "the" angel of the Lord, but it should be "an" angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord, in the Old Testament, was Christ (the pre-incarnate Christ). Do angels appear to men with wings? The only wings we read of are on the seraphim and cherabim. When angels appear, they are as men dressed in white. "Angel" may also be translated "messenger." What are some things we learn about angels in Heb. 1:14, Psalm 103:20-21? Angels appeared several times in Acts, but in the Epistles (instructions for the church) we are not told anything about looking for or expecting angels, except for Heb. 13:2. We ARE warned that Satan and HIS angels may appear, II Cor. 11:14, Gal. 1:8. Revelation is full of angels; they will be very active in the great tribulation.
What did the angel tell them to do after he opened the gates? Did they obey or hide? Do you think they had fear? Meanwhile, what happened? These men were the Jewish Council, or Senate, or Sanhedrin. What kind of leaders were they? Like Ananias and Saphira, they feared men but not God.
27-33 How many in Jerusalem knew about Jesus? They avoid using His name. What are they concerned about in 28? Hadn't they willingly accepted responsibility for His blood, Mt. 27:25? Who is the spokesman for the apostles? Does Peter avoid stepping on important toes or antagonizing them? Why doesn't he just placate them and try to get the apostles out alive? What does he again accuse them of? Is he saying Christians don't have to obey civil authorities? Some actually believe this, particularly about paying taxes. Compare Rom. 13:1-2. What important facts does Peter pack into his short message? Obedience to God, the resurrection (many eyewitnesses), Jesus as Messiah, man's sin, forgiveness in exchange for repentance, the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Today many present a soft and false version of salvation: "Jesus, I receive you into my life"-nothing about sin, repentance, or recognizing that Jesus died on the cross for our sin and was raised again, proving He alone is God. In 33, are their hearts convicted or hardened? Compare Acts 2:37. When the Bible says God hardened someone's heart, is it a heart that is soft, or already hard? Did Peter speak to them about God's love?
We have been noticing new teachings about the Holy Spirit. 32 states that all believers receive the Holy Spirit. Compare I Cor. 12:13. Baptism means to be immersed in; when we receive the Holy Spirit, we are "immersed" in Him. Both events happen when we believe on Jesus Christ; we do not need to seek a separate experience. Some Christians believe that after receiving salvation, we must then try to receive or be baptized with the Holy Spirit; usually they mean by the demonstration of speaking in tongues. They believe that if you haven't spoken in tongues, you haven't been baptized in the Spirit. This is why many in those churches are pressured to speak in tongues; this pressure can easily result in faking the gift of tongues, which is extremely easy to fake, and is found in various cults, so is not necessarily proof of the Holy Spirit. We also find in 32 that Peter uses the word "obey" instead of "believe," implying that the two are interchangeable in receiving salvation. Compare John 3:36. Believing is contrasted with disobeying, meaning "to disbelieve."
34-39 What do you think of Gamaliel? Is he right? What is he concerned about in 39 that the others were not concerned about? This reminds me of Joseph's brothers who wanted to kill him, but Reuben and Judah shrank back from actually killing him.
40-42 Beaten, flogged, flayed: for disobeying the order not to preach. What do you think of the apostles' attitude in 41? "Rejoicing" can also mean: full of cheer, calmly happy. "Shame" can also mean: despised, dishonored, to suffer maltreatment. To suffer shame doesn't mean to feel ashamed. The first persecution. So what were the apostles mostly doing, 12-16 and 42? Do you think they were also working to support themselves and their families? I wonder if this might have been the primary purpose of the money brought to the apostles in 4:32-37?
1 What are believers called here? What's the difference between a believer and a disciple? Are some believers not disciples? Why?
Twice the church is referred to in this passage but by what terminology? The church is the name for all those who believe. It is not a building or a man-made organization. There were no Gentile believers yet, just two groups of Jews. What two groups made up the church at this point? Hellenistic Jews had adopted Greek language and customs. Hebrew Jews spoke the native Hebrew, sticking to Hebrew customs.
If the enemy can't keep us from Christ, he has many other tactics, including bad feelings, perhaps from purposeful wrongs, perhaps from unintentional wrongs where we wrongly attribute bad motives to someone else. Within a short time, another problem came up (besides Ananias and Sapphira); what was it? Either the whole church was eating together, or the widows were being taken care of as a group. Which group got preference? Why? Apparently there was some religious "elitism" in the church already-the Hebrew Jews looked at the Hellenistic Jews as being not quite in the same category as "them" (perhaps traditionalists vs. compromisers?). Paul described himself as a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5).
2-6 Did the 12 ask the congregation what they thought should be done? How would you describe this beginning biblical framework for church government? Does it appear that one man was the designated leader of the church at this point? The leadership made a decision and took it to the congregation for a vote and to decide how to implement it. Then the 12 would finalize the decision, "whom we may put in charge." What was the job of the apostles?
What division of labor was needed as the church grew? We would call them deacons; later epistles give qualifications for deacons and deaconesses. Were the apostles power-mongers? The same word is used in 6:1 for daily serving (of food) and in 6:4 for ministry (of the word); both mean service. There are many ways to serve God. Deacon, I Tim. 3:8, means one who serves.
Who should be chosen for this job? First qualification was honesty; the KJV says "of honest report." They were going to be handling financial distribution. Do all Christians have a reputation for perfect honesty? Those in leadership must be honest.
Being a good money manager was not enough though-a spiritual worldview was also important. "Full of the Holy Spirit:" we discussed this term earlier. Is this term implying that those who served tables needed to speak in tongues or perform miracles? Obviously this is not the implication; would you say they were to be men who were strongly influenced by the Holy Spirit? Here it is related to having wisdom. Does it seem odd to imagine the apostles, or these new deacons, standing in the church kitchen dishing out food? That is probably not the case; is seems that such a job would not require Spirit-filled men. They were in charge of organizing the food distribution; also, the word "tables" can refer to money tables, where financial brokering takes place. The situation may have been one of doling out money to the widows on the list, to meet their needs, I Tim. 5:9-16.
Who chose them? What did they do after they chose them? We would call this commissioning or ordaining-leaders being chosen by other leaders, experienced proven leaders putting their stamp of approval or blessing on new leaders. Could we conclude that leaders are not to be self-appointed or "lone rangers"?
7 What three things were happening? So how large might the church in Jerusalem be now?
It's unclear whether "obedient to the faith" means to the teachings and doctrines of the apostles, or to faith as the new principle for righteousness as opposed to the old Jewish emphasis on works. What was the role of the priest? So some of the priests were "getting it."
8 As much as I like the NASB, here is one place where I don't agree with it. The KJV says "full of faith" not "full of grace." Looking up the word in Strong's supports faith, not grace. Only one person in the Bible is said to be full of grace-who, John 1:14? What else is He full of? These two things cannot describe any human. I used to listen to a Catholic TV program, and they often quoted the rosary, which says "Hail Mary, full of grace." Understanding that the phrase means "sinless," they used that to support their belief that Mary was sinless. But the Bible does not support that belief. If Stephen was indeed "full of grace," then "full of grace" could not mean "sinless." But he was full of faith.
Was Stephen one of the 12 apostles? So we can assume that either a few others have taken the role of apostle, or that some who are not apostles have the gift of signs and wonders. We do see that 6:2 mentions "the twelve" rather than a larger number.
9-15 Which important upcoming character was from Cilicia, Acts 21:39? Why couldn't they refute Stephen? Jews plot and lie against him; what earlier event does this remind us of? If you have a real case against someone, do you need to resort to lies? Have you ever had your words twisted, purposely or inadvertently? Who might have been in on this group that later told Luke, the writer, what had been secretly said? What did Jesus say that would make them think He was planning to destroy the temple, John 2:19? What important Mosaic customs did Jesus' death and resurrection do away with that would concern the Jewish leaders and their power over the people, Heb. 10:9-10? Did Stephen's face have a "sweet angelic smile," or reflect God's glory? Why wasn't his face full of terror or panic? How can we keep from terror and panic when the bottom falls out of our lives?
This long chapter is Stephen's speech before the Council, concluding with his death. He is speaking to Jews, so he begins speaking about whom, 1? He goes on to rehearse the history of Israel-why might he take this approach rather than begin arguing, preaching Christ, or defending himself? Perhaps he is trying to not alienate his audience but to point out their common background. I can just see them nodding and thinking, "NOW he's talking right!" But what sad truth summarizes their history? He begins to point this out in 35, 39, 42, 43. In 44-48, which part of their accusation does he address? Stephen reminds them that God continually lays out more of His plan, with Jesus being part of that plan. Even the forefathers resisted God's plans. When God began dealing with Abraham, the forefather of the Jews, was there a temple or the Law? So how important was the temple, really? Today, is the church really "God's house"?
What change of tactic do we see in 51-53? "You…you…you…" Does he speak to them of God's love? Who does he say their prophets spoke of, 52? Although he doesn't mention any names, who at the end of 52 does he say is that promised Messiah--who had they just betrayed and murdered? What does he accuse them of in 53? 54, were they convicted and repentant? The same words are used in 5:33 (exasperated); different words are used in 2:37 (stung, pricked with a sharp point). What is similar and what is different about these feelings and response? A radio preacher speaking on the Bible's definition of sexual immorality, compared to today's worldly practices of easy sex and sex before marriage, wondered which response his audience was having. Why do people react the one way or the other way? Where else will there be gnashing of teeth, Mt. 8:12?
What unusual thing happened to Stephen in 55-56? Does it say he saw God the Father? Can anyone see Him? Why? What CAN be seen? He was claiming Jesus was God, just as Jesus had claimed-blasphemy in the eyes of the Jews, and an excuse to kill him.
Some unbelievers are apathetic; others, like these, are infuriated. They mob him, 57. Today, do we have religious fanatics that will kill for their beliefs? John 16:2-3. Who is part of this ugly scene, 58? His story begins in the next chapter.
Stephen was the first Christian martyr; many more would follow. They didn't start throwing stones as he was speaking; they took him away to be stoned.
Vine's Word Study: "According to the Rabbis, the scaffold to which the criminal was to be led, with his hands bound, was to be twice the size of a man. One of the witnesses was to smite him with a stone upon the breast, so as to throw him down. If he were not killed, the second witness was to throw another stone at him. Then, if he were yet alive, all the people were to stone him until he was dead. The body was then to be suspended till sunset."
Bruce: "The drop from the place of stoning was twice the height of a man. One of the witnesses pushes the criminal from behind, so that he falls face downward. He is then turned over on his back. If he dies from this fall, that is sufficient. If not, the second witness takes the stone and drops it on his heart. If this causes death, that is sufficient; if not, he is stoned by all the congregation of Israel."
59 What happens to the Christian at death? We are immediately with the Lord. Also, Luke 23:43, II Cor. 5:8, 6:3, John 14:3, Phil. 1:23, Heb. 12:23 (believers' spirits are already in heaven).
Whose words does he echo in 60? Why would Stephen pray this? Perhaps because he still hopes the Jews will turn to Christ? Who in this crowd did turn to Christ? So he was an answer to Stephen's prayer. Stephen's use of Jesus' very words indicates he must have been an eyewitness of the Lord's death and resurrection (along with the evidence that he seemed to be on par with the twelve). Apostles were to be eyewitnesses of the risen Lord, 1:21-22; that eyewitness account was the basis of their preaching, 2:32, 3:15. What figurative language for "death" does the Bible sometimes use? Sometimes "sleep" just means "sleep"; the context makes it clear.
1-3 Luke introduced Saul at the end of the previous chapter; he will soon become the central character. What was wrong with Saul holding coats? Was he enabling the sin of others? If we do that, are we somewhat guilty also? "Hearty agreement": (Strong’s) feel gratified, be pleased, have pleasure. He wasn’t just "OK" with it; he was enthusiastically behind it. What did Stephen’s death lead to? Where was the church located up till then? What had Jesus said in Acts 1:8? Jerusalem was in the region of Judea; Samaria was the region to the north, and was also the name of a city in Samaria. Samaritans were half-breed Jews with a somewhat distorted version of Judaism; they were hated by the Jews.
Did Saul actually kill Christians? Compare his own words in Acts 22:19-20, 26:9-10. "Made havoc" pictures a wild boar ravaging a vineyard. Was Saul a lawless criminal, or a misguided religious zealot? Did he think he was doing right at the time? Would God use that same zeal later in his life? He imprisoned Christians; what would later happen to him? God forgives the eternal consequences of our sins when we repent, but the Bible also says that in this life, we reap what we have sown.
4-8 What good came of this persecution? Does God sometimes use painful, even evil, things to bring about a good result? Does He even use our own sinful choices and actions? If we see that those we are praying for don’t seem to be going the right way yet, does that mean God isn’t working in their lives? Does persecution damage or strengthen the church? Why?
The rest of this chapter is about Philip, who we met in 6:5; how is he described there? Is he an apostle? What do we learn about him in 8:6? So did only the apostles have the sign gifts at that time? Sign gifts were to authenticate the message; they would cease with the passing of the apostles, and the test of authenticity would be correct doctrine instead of signs.
Although Samaria was north, it says he went "down;" Jerusalem was on a hill and Samaria was in a valley. Philip was a Greek, one of the Hellenistic Jews, also looked down on somewhat by the Hebrew Jews. Perhaps this is why he, not a Hebrew Jew, was willing to go to Samaria. Did Philip speak of Jesus or of Christ? What is the difference? Jesus was the man; Christ is another word for the Messiah. How was Philip received in Samaria? What do we know happened earlier in Samaria, John 4? Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman in the city of Sychar, about 5 miles away; what resulted, John 4:39-42? So is it possible that the good news about Jesus had spread to the neighboring city?
9-13 What had the crowd been doing, 10? What did they do in 6? These people were looking for something; what do you think they noticed different about Philip’s message than Simon’s? 12, the good news was about what? We saw throughout the Gospels, and especially in Matthew, this emphasis on the coming earthly kingdom of God, as promised throughout the Old Testament. We also saw that Jesus broadened the concept of the kingdom to also include a present spiritual aspect of the kingdom. What two things did they do in 12? Believed and were baptized; the inner change is demonstrated by the outward act, as we saw and discussed back in 2:38.
"Magic" comes from the word "magi," a priestly clan in Persia, known for astrology and occult practices. Another word for "magic" is "sorcery" or "witchcraft;" read Deut. 18:9-14. What does Gal. 5:20 say about this? Where did Simon’s power come from? Is occult power real or fake? Read about Pharaoh’s magicians in Ex. 7:9-12, 20 & 22, 8:6-7, 16-19. What happens in Acts 8:12? What happened to Simon in 13? What was the purpose of Philip’s miracles? What was the purpose of Simon’s magic? So the source was different and the purpose was different. Do we see any humility in Simon? Humility is the mark of the Christian, the opposite of the pride (the exaltation of Self). Does Simon’s faith focus on Self or on God? Did Philip think he was a true believer? Might the church today have members who appear to be believers but are not? How does this affect a church? Which damages a church more—persecution from the outside, or problems on the inside?
14-17 What had happened now that was new? The Samaritans were of Jewish descent and belief but looked down on by the Jews. The Holy Spirit had already fallen on the Jewish believers; why were Peter and John sent? They had been saved under the ministry of Philip who was not an apostle. The apostles wanted to be clear that God was saving Samaritans too, not just Jews. They welcomed the Samaritans into the church.
When they laid their hands on believers and prayed, how did others know that someone had received the Holy Spirit? What attesting outward sign had God provided to show that something inward had taken place? Perhaps tongues; the purpose of speaking in tongues was to be a sign. Perhaps even the tongues of fire or the sound of the rushing wind, as in Acts 2. Has Simon received the Holy Spirit yet? Catholics think Peter was the first pope, yet here he was sent by the others; he sounds like one of them, not one above them.
18-24 What does Simon want in 19? The term "simony" comes from this incident, attempting to profit from sacred things, buying or selling religious offices. Does Simon receive the Holy Spirit? Why not? Does Simon sound like a believer in 21-23? 13 says he believed; has he lost his salvation, or was he not a true believer to begin with? Some teach that a true believer can lose his salvation by sinning, and can regain it by repenting; some teach that a believer can choose to give up his salvation and no longer believe or follow Christ. This incident does not support either of those scenarios. In 13 Simon was baptized with water; does baptism save? Apparently not. Outward acts do not create inward changes; no passages teach that they bestow God’s grace.
The Bible does not teach that the Holy Spirit comes and goes; it says the believer is part of the body of Christ, I Cor. 12:12-13,27, Eph. 5:30. It does not say we are ever removed and put back, removed and put back. What does Eph. 1:4 say about this? The Bible says nothing about God un-choosing us or changing His mind. Sin does not cause us to lose our salvation, John 13: 10, I John 1:9. If someone who appears to be a believer appears to leave the faith, he is either like the prodigal son, who will eventually return, or he was not a true believer in the first place. Believers and unbelievers can look just alike to us, Mt. 13:24-30, 36-40.
What is required for forgiveness, 22? Does God forgive those who have not repented? In 24 he only wants to be sure nothing bad happens to him; is this repentance? Are we required to forgive those who have not repented? Eph. 4:32 says we are to forgive "just as" or in the same way as God forgives. Paul contrasts what two opposite attitudes in 31-32? What attitude should characterize the Christian? If someone who has sinned against us does not repent of their sin, should we carry bitterness, anger, malice toward them? Part of the confusion about forgiveness is our definition. Does forgiving mean to say that what the person did is OK, or does it mean we no longer require that person to pay us what they owe us, that we give up the desire for revenge?
25-26 Peter and John and Philip now visit many Samaritan towns; what had John’s attitude been toward Samaritans back in Luke 9:52-54? Why does he have a different attitude now? They had been preaching in cities, where there were many people to be reached. Now God wants Philip to go where? What might Philip think? Can we know ahead of time where God might have a divine appointment for us? We are not told to listen for voices or visions, but when our plans get "changed," might we interpret that as God having changed our plans for us? Should we be upset, or should we think, "Well, I guess God has something else in mind…" and look for what that might be?
27-31 Was this man a Jew? Not by birth; apparently he converted to Judaism. What had he come to do? What does "worship" mean here? What must the Jews do only in Jerusalem at the temple? Offer sacrifices; what feast had the Jews recently observed, 2:1? What does "worship" mean for us who no longer sacrifice? Rom. 12:1-2. Read Daniel 3 for more insight on what worship is; note the words it is paired with. Today many have re-defined the word "worship" to mean singing, or a particular type of singing, or the musical part of the Sunday morning service. For a better understanding of what worship is, get your Strong’s Concordance and look up every place where the word is found, comparing context and the parallel terms for worship that are often used (bow down, serve, etc.).
What is he doing now? Would this important man be traveling alone, or would he have a driver, possibly even many other people with him? Why would he be reading loud enough for Philip to hear and understand him? Reading aloud might have been the custom. Might he be reading TO someone with him, like his driver, or others in his entourage? If God wanted you to go up to a very important person and speak to him, could you? Philip boldly asks a leading question; this is part of effective witnessing—asking questions, like Jesus began with the woman at the well—not TELLING people stuff we think they should know.
32-35 Did Philip have the New Testament? How did he preach Jesus from the Old Testament? There are over 300 prophecies of the Messiah, which Jesus fulfilled. Many Christians think the New Testament is about Jesus and the Old Testament is about Israel; actually, Jesus is the subject of the entire Bible—how man came to need a Redeemer, whose line He would come in, prophecies about Him, preparing the nation Israel to recognize and accept Him, and even His many appearances to man. He often appeared as "the angel of the Lord," and any time God "appeared" to men, it would be as the second person of the Trinity, since God the Father is spirit and not flesh.
Many Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah; how does this Jew respond? Was it an accident that he "happened" to be reading from Isaiah 53 or had God set this up in advance? Have you seen things in your life that, looking back, it was obvious God set up in advance? How does this make us feel about God and about what is happening in our lives? Was Philip the social equal of this man? Does that matter? Did this man on a spiritual quest seem bothered about this "commoner"? Our mutual bond in Christ transcends all barriers.
36-40 Philip must have spoken about the importance of baptism and how it is the demonstration of placing our faith in Jesus. Or perhaps he knew from the religious customs of the day, see notes on 2:38. Who else witnessed this public statement of faith? The driver. What must precede baptism? What did he believe? Jesus was not a man but God in the flesh; He is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Savior from sin, the substitutionary atonement of Isaiah 53. Based on the previous incident earlier in this chapter, why do you think Philip clarified what was necessary for baptism? Do you think Philip was concerned about whether this man was a true believer? Can we always know for sure? How was he baptized? Immersion is the biblical teaching, just as Jesus went down into the Jordan.
What happened to Philip? "Snatched" or "caught up" (KJV) is the Greek word "harpazo" meaning: seize, catch up or away, pluck, pull, take by force. This word is also found in I Thes. 4:17. Christians speak of the "rapture" although this word is not used in the Bible; it is merely another term for being carried away (emotionally) and is related to "rape," being taken by force. Those who have trouble believing that this will really happen to Christians should note that there is biblical precedence for God "snatching" people up and moving them elsewhere. Also II Cor. 12:2,4, I Kings 18:12, II Kings 2:16, Gen. 5:24.
In this chapter, we see the church expanding from Jerusalem, and growing to include not just Jews but also Samaritans and Jewish converts from other nations. Soon we will see the Gentiles added to the church. God is making it clear to the Jews that salvation is equally available to ALL people.
1-2 Where is the high priest found? So Saul was on his way from where to where? How was Saul described in 8:3? How did he describe his actions in 26:9-10? Does he seem a likely person to be saved? Was he seeking for a relationship with Christ? Is any unbeliever seeking that? Today it is popular to talk about "seeker-friendly churches." Should a church be a place where an unbeliever feels comfortable? Why or why not?
Would a Christian look at Saul and think, "Wow, God is really at work in him; I can see that he is right on the brink of salvation!" Can we tell who God is preparing for salvation? What kinds of things bring people to God-good things? bad things? anything? God uses everything that happens in people's lives. He is always at work in everyone's lives--bringing unbelievers to Himself, conforming the believer to Christ's image. Rom. 8:28-29. So how should we "pick" who to be praying for?
What term is used for the church? This is used several times in Acts. Is Christianity a set of beliefs that we hold? Can you hold those beliefs without them affecting the WAY you live? Where in the Gospels does Jesus call Himself this?
3-7 Some manuscripts add the words, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (This pictures a stubborn ox.) Read Saul's own account of this experience in Acts 22:6-16 and 26:12-18 (in 22:10, he adds a few more words that were said). What does Ananias say in 9:17? And Barnabas in 9:27?
Does God speak to him about His great love for him? What does God tell him he has been doing, 5? What does Saul suddenly understand that to mean, since he has been persecuting PEOPLE? He is told that He is speaking to whom? Who does Paul address in 6? So what can we assume from the few words Saul speaks (including "what shall I do, Lord" from 22:10)? Is this Paul's salvation experience, or is he actually saved a few days later? Is everyone's salvation experience the same? Does Saul say "the sinner's prayer" or some version of it, which we are often told is necessary for salvation? What DOES he say? Does God confront people in different ways? Should there always be repentance (change of direction) as we recognize our sinfulness and believe who Jesus really is and what He has done?
8-9 In II Cor. 12:7 Paul speaks of his "thorn in the flesh" that he asked God to remove, but God did not. Several clues lead some to think it may have been a problem with his eyes; perhaps this is the source of the problem. Why might God have chosen to let him have an on-going problem or weakness in his eyes? To remind him of what?
Does it say Paul fasted? He may just have not been able to eat or interested in eating, physically, mentally, or emotionally. Saul had just heard a voice from heaven, obviously God Himself, whom Saul devoutly served. But God had just revealed Himself to be whom? Suddenly Saul is confronted with the reality that Jesus IS God; what does he suddenly realize about the activities he has been savagely engaged in? Those people he has been dragging off to prison and death are TRUE believers! Saul must be devastated as the light comes on. As the magnitude of his sins hits him, he probably experiences a deep depression, which, combined with his blindness, would leave him with no desire to eat or drink.
Some Christians believe that fasting is important for believers today; however, nowhere in the epistles (God's directions to the church) are believers told to fast. The only place fasting is mentioned regarding the church is in Acts 13:3 and 14:23. It is always important to remember that Acts was a time of transition, and the leaders of the new church, all being Jewish, still held to many Jewish ways, and this was a problem for Jewish believers, as we see throughout the Epistles. Since the church is never told to fast, the fact that the early church leaders fasted in a couple of instances does not exactly amount to a teaching that today's Christians should be fasting.
Is. 58 has an extended passage on the purpose of the Old Testament practice of fasting, which was never commanded by God but was practiced by various cultures in that day, including pagans, to show humility, Dan. 6:18, Jonah 3:5. Fasting was accompanied by sackcloth, ashes, and mourning. In Mat. 9:14-15, Jesus is asked why His disciples do not fast. He answered that they did not "mourn" because the Bridegroom (Himself) was with them, but when He was gone, they would "fast." He equates fasting with mourning, as the Old Testament does. The many Old Testament references use these terms with fasting: weeping, mourning, sin, sackcloth and ashes, humbling one's self, seeking God's favor. When Jesus fasted for 40 days before being tempted by Satan, these were obviously not His reasons. Apparently He wanted to show that even in a physically weakened state, the Son of God was sinless.
As Christians, we do not need to mourn and try to be humble enough to get God's attention and get Him to listen to our prayers. We are now under grace and come boldly to God in prayer, Heb. 4:16. Is. 58:3 begins with Israel's complaint to God that they fasted yet He did not see, that they humbled themselves yet He did not notice. In 58:6-7, God explains what it is that He prefers to fasting. 8-12 tells that righteousness is what will cause God to hear them and answer their prayers. Since God has never commanded fasting in the Old or New Testament, Is. 58:8-12 seems to be a much more authoritative teaching on what God desires from us. We need to be careful not to add to God's Word.
Today, reasons often given for fasting include having more time to devote to prayer, even though the Bible itself speaks of fasting as mourning. Nowhere is the church told to fast in order to have more time to seriously pray; actually, we are told to pray without ceasing, I Thes. 5:17. If we wish to devote all our waking hours to prayer in a given day, eating should not interfere with praying. We can pray while we eat. We can pray while we cook a meal, eat it, and do the dishes afterwards. We can pray while we are doing many other things. Some say that if our physical needs for food, drink and sex are always completely met, then we lack the spiritual appetite or the spiritual energy for communion with God. But it seems there is no reason why a person with a normal appetite and fulfilled marital relationship can't spend just as much time in meaningful prayer as a person who deprives himself.
Another reason sometimes given for fasting is to hear from God. Has God already spoken to us--how? Does the Bible teach that He continues to speak? Some Christians do believe in continuing revelation, but the closing words of the Bible, Rev. 22:18-19, warn against anyone, even someone claiming to be a prophet, adding to God's words. Does God "speak" to us in the sense that His Holy Spirit enlightens us as we read His word, or that He may use another person's words, or even some circumstance, to direct us in His ways? Of course. But if we are "listening" for a "voice," we are apt to be deceived by the voice of Self, or worse, Satan himself, who is only too eager to give us false signs. Someone seeking to hear a "voice" may attribute whatever he "hears" to God when the message may not be from God at all. The only words we KNOW are from God are found in the Bible.
What might God have been teaching Paul through the three days of blindness? How did Paul get around? How do you suppose Paul handled that helplessness?
10-16 Was Ananias anyone special? Does God use ordinary people, or only pastors and missionaries? How did the Lord speak to him? A vision is something seen, not imagined. Several times in the book of Acts, the Lord speaks in a vision to Paul or Peter, or in this case, about Paul. In each case it was about something major or new. Some think that this is biblical teaching that we can and should expect the Lord to speak to us in this way also. The Epistles contain the directions to the church; nowhere do the Epistles tell or imply that Christians should expect visions. Remember that Acts records the beginning of a new era; God was doing something new, and used miraculous signs to confirm His message. What did the church in Acts not have that we have? The Bible tells us that it is God's complete revelation; any new messages are to be rejected, Gal. 1:9. Col. 2:18 specifically warns against those who claim to have visions.
Even though he had this vision, Ananias still had serious doubts about the validity of what he heard. He sort of disagrees, almost argues, with God; do we ever do that? Why? What do we learn about Paul in 13-14? In 15-16? In Acts 1, the 11 apostles chose one to replace Judas; here God makes it clear who His choice is. Just as Jesus chose the other apostles, He chooses Paul; apostles are not appointed by men or self-appointed. Why is it hard to wait and see what the Lord will do? Paul was zealous in the wrong direction; now God will use his zealous nature in the right direction. Where do we find the doctrine of election in this passage?
Compare 16 to Gal. 6:7. Does this mean Paul's sins against other believers were not forgiven and that he is to be punished for those sins? Is reaping the same as punishment? Some sins have natural consequences. In other cases, God allows us to taste or experience or deal with the same type of sin that we engaged in, perhaps to convict us of earlier sins that we have not fully dealt with. This type of punishment or chastisement is temporal; the eternal consequences of our sin have been forgiven, but that doesn't mean we get off scott-free. Perhaps this is what II Cor. 5:10 speaks of-God deals with us about our sins, but we do not pay the eternal price for them because Christ paid that price. Is it always God's will to keep us from suffering, troubles, stress, anxiety, and pain? Why might that be part of His plan for us?
17-22 Paul had been on his way to Damascus to find Christians; does he find them? Does Paul receive or get baptized by the Holy Spirit at this point? No, those things happened at the moment of conversion, earlier. Now he is filled, which as we have seen, appears to be something that happens for a time, for a purpose, from time to time—here, for immediate service. Believers here are not yet called Christians, nor is the term "church" used here; what are they called in this passage? So was Paul saved on the road to Damascus, or here when he is filled with the Holy Spirit? What else does he do immediately following his salvation? They go together because the inner change is witnessed by the outward act, as we have been seeing (2:38, 8:12,38). Paul's conversion is also interesting because a human was not involved at the moment of conversion, but as soon as a believer encounters him, he is baptized.
Paul immediately begins to speak out; what is his first message? This was also the focus of the Gospel of John: who is Jesus? This is important to establish with people we speak to. How are Christians referred to in 21? 22, how do you suppose Paul was able to prove this? So what does this tell us about Paul's knowledge of the Old Testament? Is it important for us to know the Old Testament? Jesus does not come until the first Christmas; how does the Old Testament speak of Him? It sounds like Paul stayed at Damascus as some time passes.
23-25 Again, time passes. The basket incident is explained further in II Cor. 11:32-33. As we saw in 16, it appears that Paul may be reaping what he has sown; now the tables are turned. 19 refers to "the" disciples; now what are they called in 25? What does this tell us?
26-30 Where does Paul go? Who does he seek there? His reputation preceded him. Doesn't this happen when famous (or infamous) people claim to become Christians? Should we immediately believe everyone's conversion story? Why or why not? We met Barnabas in 4:36; what was he also called? Why do you suppose Barnabas believed Paul? What did he tell the apostles about Paul? What was an apostle? (an eyewitness of the risen Lord, one who learned directly from Him, who was then sent out) Do you think Barnabas already had an inkling that perhaps God had chosen Paul to be one of the apostles? Where do they send Paul? Should all new believers have a mature Christian take them under their wing? How could we do that?
Luke gives us a shortened version of Paul's life at this point. Let's compare Paul's own version in Galatians 1:13-24. We read how God called him, in Acts 9, but now he knows that God actually called him when? What does that tell us about us? What is that doctrinal truth called? (hint: Rom. 8:33)
We just read that Paul was first in Damascus, then went to Jerusalem, but what does he explain here in Gal. 1:17-18? So how long after his conversion did he finally go to Jerusalem and meet two of the apostles-Peter and James? We read here that Paul escaped from Jerusalem and was sent to Tarsus; in Gal. 1:18-21, he says he went from Jerusalem to where? Tarsus, his hometown, was a city in this region. He went by ship from Caesarea.
Why do you suppose he went to Arabia for 3 years before meeting and consulting with the rest of the apostles? The answer is in Gal. 1:11-12; just as did the other apostles, he saw the risen Lord, was taught directly by Him, and was commissioned by Him to go to others with the gospel. Although we saw that he did immediately begin to tell people about Jesus after his conversion, do we see him as a brand new Christian setting himself up as an apostle or an evangelist? What should new believers do before attempting to teach or start some ministry? Why? But meanwhile, EVERYONE can witness about the Lord.
31 How was the early church faring in locations other than Jerusalem? So because of Gal. 1, we know that at least several years have passed. This period of peace lasted about 10 years.
32-35 Meanwhile, Peter stays in Judea. West of Jerusalem, on the coast, he visits a group of believers. We don't know if Aeneas was already a believer; it sounds like he was one of the saints Peter visited. What happened to him? What resulted? This was the purpose of miracles-not to bring the world freedom from sickness and death which are a result of sin, but to validate the messenger as truly sent from God and bearing God's true message. This is the first time in Acts that believers are referred to as "saints"-those called out, those set apart for God's special purpose. The Bible does not say that a saint is someone who is especially good.
36-43 So when a wonderful Christian lady died, immediately Peter was sent for, being about 5 miles away. Was this miracle performed in front of unbelievers? But what resulted? Apparently Dorcas's abilities were sorely needed in the church. Why was Dorcas brought back to life but not someone important like Stephen? Peter stayed in the area for a period of time, providing us the setting and background of the story in chapter 10.
1-8 This chapter presents a major doctrinal transition for the church, but besides that, there are several interesting things to notice about how God works. Was Cornelius a Jew or a Samaritan? He was a Gentile. What was he like, 2? Who else feared God? This could include both his family members and his household servants or slaves. How did God speak to him, 3? What was his reaction to seeing an angel? Angels are apparently commanding figures, not sweet warm fuzzy creatures like the pictures we see commonly. The angel gives him specific directions. How does he respond? This was probably a trip of almost two days. Was Cornelius a Christian? But did God intervene in his life in a very unusual way? Do unbelievers find God, or does He find and draw us? Sometimes in very unusual ways?
9-16 Meanwhile, who also sees a vision? Why does he refuse to obey in 13-14? Has Peter done this before-contradict or refuse God? Mt. 16:21-22, John 13:8. Some believe Christians are still bound by the Old Testament Law; how does this verse answer that? Can we eat anything we want? Is everything good for us? We have freedom but should use common sense. Peter knew he was no longer under the Law, but we see that believing Jews still thought they needed to follow SOME of the Law; what does God clearly say here about that? Three times means this is important, but might it also mean that three times Peter refused and God had to tell him again? Like when he denied Jesus three times and Jesus later asked him three times if he loved Him?
Do we, like Peter, sometimes need to have our minds changed about something important? Can we always see how God is working things together in our lives? But can we KNOW that He is? Rom. 8:28.
17-23 What does God tell Peter to do? What do the men tell him? Why do you think Peter took other believers (Jews) with him? If we must engage in a tricky situation with another person or another believer, might it be a good idea to take another Christian along? God's timing was perfect, if not miraculous; have you ever experienced a "miracle" that was not exactly a supernatural event but the timing was too amazing to be coincidence? Is this generally a sign that God wants us to know He was behind what happened? Is God able to make His purposes known? Is He limited by impossible situations? Have you seen Him work in impossible situations in your life? Peter didn't get what God was doing at first, but did he follow anyway? II Cor. 5:7.
24-29 Now we are almost to the crux of the story. What new and important truth has God revealed to Peter? This is probably the first time he has ever entered a Gentile's house. Today most Christians seem to think worship has to do with singing. What does worship mean in 25? The Bible often uses the terms "bow down," "serve," "yield," and "sacrifice" in connection with the term "worship." What does Rom. 12:1-2 teach about worship? Does Peter just start blurting when he arrives, like he used to, or does he ask questions to find out where this person is at? Is that a good way for us to speak to unbeliever-asking leading questions rather than TELLING?
30-33 Cornelius makes it clear that this visit has been orchestrated by God. How do you think Peter is feeling about now, as he sees this unfolding? This chapter gives us a fascinating insight into how God is sovereign over all circumstances, over believers and unbelievers, how He works out His plan in spite of our doubts and lack of understanding, and how He is able to do whatever He wants in the most unusual of ways. How should this knowledge affect our attitude toward life? Do we really need to worry about God's ability to deal with our situation? How should it affect our prayer life? Do we really need to suggest to God how He should work in a situation? Is it really possible that our plan is better than God's plan? Can we trust Him even though we don't see how He is going to work things out?
34-43 Why is Peter surprised in 34-35 about a fact that we all understand and accept? By "nations," he means all nationalities outside the Jewish nation. Why did God have to go to such lengths to teach Peter this? Jews thought God did not accept Gentiles unless they converted to Judaism. It's hard for us to comprehend the loathing the Jews felt toward Gentiles, or the astonishment Peter must have felt. The Mosaic Law forbade them to enter the house of a Gentile or to eat with Gentiles, because Gentiles were unclean before God. This was a VERY BIG deal to Jews. Didn't the Old Testament speak of Gentiles coming to the Lord? Perhaps Peter remembered these Scriptures.
This is why it is so important to know Scripture; when a tricky situation comes up, we need to compare what we know that the Bible says. Might similar problems exist in the South or other areas who still struggle with the black/white issue? What about in other countries, where there are distinct differences between social classes, or between men and women? Might there be problems in a church between "big givers" (business owners) and the poorer "workers"--the "have's" and the "have not's"? Should the main financial supporters of a church have the right to run the church? Are they more important in a church to those who give less?
Then Peter goes on in 36-43 to give them the message about Christ. Let's look at a few elements of his message. Many question the Bible's teaching that salvation is ONLY through Jesus Christ, and ask, what about the heathen that never heard about Him? Does 35 speak to that issue? However, does that mean that anyone who recognizes that there is a God and who tries to do his best to be good, will be saved, by his good works? Cornelius was such a man; did God therefore accept him the way he was, or did God see that he received more light about Jesus Christ? Peter says Cornelius was such a man, but recognizes that he is ready to believe in Christ, and as such, will be welcomed by God; does that mean welcomed into heaven, or welcomed into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Cornelius was not welcome before he heard about Jesus, or God would not have supernaturally sent him the message about Jesus.
Can we conclude that if you act on the light you have, God will see to it that you receive more light? If you feel backed into a corner by someone who questions this, you can always assure them that the Bible teaches that God is a righteous judge, whether or not we understand HOW He will judge.
How widely known was Jesus and His deeds? He said God anointed Jesus; in the Old Testament, who was the Anointed One? The Messiah, the Savior to come, the Lamb of God. In 38 we again see the Holy Spirit equated with what? Remember when you read the Old Testament that believers did not have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that we have as New Testament believers.
In his short message, Peter speaks of the cross, death and resurrection, and who Jesus is. These are the important basics. Does he speak of God's love? 43 gives what basic message? The Old Testament is about whom? 41, who is "us"? The apostles, who were all eyewitnesses of the risen Christ. So could there be apostles after they died, or today? Many who believe that all the spiritual gifts are present today teach that some have the gift of being an apostle.
44-48 And now for the "shocking" conclusion…what happens in 44? Does it specifically say they believed? In 43 Peter had said what about believing? And what happened to show that they all did that moment believe? Did only Cornelius believe? Did anyone "say the sinner’s prayer"? That is one way of believing, but not the only way! How did Peter and the other Jews respond to this, 45? They were amazed: astounded, insane or out of their minds with astonishment, beside themselves. How did they know, 46? There may have even been the tongues of flame and the sound of the rushing wind of Acts 2, since Peter says "just as we did." As we have been seeing, what act is to accompany and witness to the inner change that just took place?
So again, we see that the purpose of tongues is what? An outward sign of the invisible Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 Jewish believers spoke in tongues as a sign that they had received the Holy Spirit. In 8:14-17 Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues as a sign that this took place; it doesn't specifically say they spoke in tongues, but we might assume this since something happened that made it obvious that believers had received the Holy Spirit. Now Gentile believers speak in tongues as a sign that they too received the Holy Spirit. There will be one more such incident in Acts 19.
So what is the important change in the church that takes place in this chapter? Did it happen because the apostles decided that maybe they should start preaching to the Gentiles also instead of just the Jews? Who initiated this event? This is a pivotal event in the church, but there will continue to be divisions between Jewish and Gentile believers for some time, as we will see in the Epistles. The only other time in Acts that we read of the outward sign of tongues is 19:1-7; Apollos and his group believe in John the Baptist's teachings about Jesus but have not yet heard of the giving of the Holy Spirit. They lack teaching, but now receive the Holy Spirit through Paul's teaching and the laying on of hands. Tongues is a controversial issue, but hopefully what we have seen in Acts clarifies the matter. It will come up again in I Corinthians 12 and 14, where Paul addresses problems in the Corinthian church.
1-3 Who heard about the events of Acts 10? Who are "those of the circumcision"? The Jewish church? No-the faction of Jewish believers who believed that circumcision was necessary for salvation. So we see that there were already factions in the early church, even on the very basic issue of how people are saved. What was their first reaction? Who are "uncircumcised men"? Gentiles. Who did the Gospel first go out to? It was entirely Jewish at first. In Acts 8 the Samaritans believed the Gospel and received the Holy Spirit; now Gentiles believe and receive.
4-15 Peter retells the story of Acts 10. Luke could have just said, "And Peter told them what had taken place." Because God moved him to repeat the details of the story, what can we surmise about the importance of this event? God is making it VERY clear that Gentiles can also be saved, in the same manner as Jews. What does Paul say about this in Rom. 1:16, 3:29-30, 9:24, Gal. 3:28? Many Jewish Christians had trouble accepting this truth.
We are again, 15, given the reason for a visible/audible sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit; what is the reason? The Bible indicates that tongues were temporary, I Cor. 13:8. The early church did not have the written New Testament; we now have the completed New Testament which teaches us that all believers receive the Holy Spirit. This fact no longer needs to be established as it did at the first. It is important to always take into consideration the actual historical situation and the context, in order to come up with an interpretation of any passage.
16-18 After retelling the story, Peter tells that he had concluded what? Have we ever stood in God's way? Might we try to stop God from doing something we don't really want Him to do? Like what, possibly? Might we do this in our prayers-telling Him that we want THIS to happen, that we don't want THAT to happen? Isn't that the same as telling God what He ought to do or not do? Is that setting ourselves up as God's judge-putting OUR judgment above HIS?
What might be a better way to pray? How can we know what things we can ask Him to do and what things we shouldn't ask Him? John 14:14-what does this mean? Does it mean to just tack these words on the end of our prayer: "In Jesus' name, amen"? What does it mean if someone says, "Stop in the name of the law!"? By the authority of. What kind of things did Jesus ask God to do? What kind of things does Paul pray for? This type of study can help us understand how to pray for others and ourselves. The Bible never presents prayer as a means of getting "stuff" or getting our way.
What can we infer from "quieted down" in 18? Sometimes it is hard to change our opinion, but we see that this Jewish faction was able to consider the facts and draw the right conclusion about accepting the Gentiles into the church. (However, we will find throughout the Epistles that the Judaizers continue to be a faction and a problem.) The two visions, the supernatural timing of the visions to coincide as they did, and the evidence of the Holy Spirit were impossible to refute.
Do you think it might have been hard for them, humanly speaking, to accept the facts? Have we ever had to back down from rashly spoken words or an initial reaction that turned out to be wrong or needed to be changed? Why do some people have trouble doing that? Have you ever experienced an ordinary event that had such unusual timing that it couldn't have been just coincidence? What should we conclude from those experiences?
19-20 Now for the first time we see the church preaching to Gentiles; this chapter shows a major development in the church. We see Jews speaking to Jews, and Greeks speaking to Greeks. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, or might it be both? Why?
21-26 Does this mean God is a physical being and has an actual hand? Doesn't the Bible say God is spirit? The Bible often uses what we call "anthropomorphic" terms to speak about God the Father-describing Him in human terms. Why might the Bible do that? What might "hand" refer to? God's power. What two terms are used to refer to salvation? Both happen at salvation: believing and repentance (turning). Does the church really have ears? Again we see that the Bible uses obviously figurative language at times.
How was this new church established? What did we read that Barnabas' name meant, 4:36? He is not one of the 12, but he is apparently one of the leaders of the church. How is he described in 24? Again we find the term "full of the Holy Spirit." We have been trying to understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit, a controversial term today. Today charismatic Christians use it to mean those Christians who have experienced the "second blessing." They do not believe we all receive the Spirit at salvation but this experience must be sought be believers and must be evidenced by speaking in tongues. If someone asks you if you are Spirit-filled, or if a church describes itself as Spirit-filled, this is a reference to those who speak in tongues, along with the practice of other supernatural spiritual gifts, especially healing.
We must check all things against Scripture itself, not what people claim to do or experience. Do we read that the Holy Spirit came upon these believers, or that an apostle was sent to lay hands on them so they would receive Him? Should we conclude that these did NOT receive the Spirit at salvation and therefore must seek a later experience? Some believe this. Or should we conclude that now this new gift of God takes place normally and invisibly at salvation and no longer needs to be validated by a miraculous phenomenon? What does Paul say in Rom. 8:9? There will be one more instance in which the Holy Spirit particularly comes upon a group of believers by means of an apostle laying his hands on them, in Acts 19.
What did Barnabas and Saul do? They built up this new church with leadership and teaching. What important "first" happened at Antioch? Christians have been referred to in many ways in Acts, all of which help us understand what a Christian is: those who call on the name of the Lord, saints, those belonging to the Way, disciples, believers in the Lord, those who believed, those who were being saved, the brethren.
27-30 Some believers from Jerusalem came that had what spiritual gift? The subject of spiritual gifts is somewhat controversial today; some believe the gifts are for today, while some believe that some of or all of the gifts ceased with the passing of the time of the apostles. Those who believe they are for today often redefine the supernatural gifts to fit our experience today; prophecy is often defined today as the ability to effectively preach or teach or effectively explain God's Word to others. But here it seems to include the same dual meaning as prophecy in the Old Testament, where the prophet both speaks the words that God puts in his mouth, and also has the ability to foretell future events.
I believe that the gift of prophecy no longer operates because it served a temporary purpose and is no longer needed, I Cor. 13:8. The early church did not have the written New Testament to guide believers so God spoke supernaturally through individuals to remind the church of the teachings of the apostles. Today we have the entire written Word; God has no more to say and is not adding to His Word. There are churches that teach otherwise though.
Is tithing required in the church? 29 speaks of giving; do we see tithing (a tenth being required) taught here? What principle is taught? In Acts 4:32-35, where we also read of giving, is tithing the principle? Many teach that we are still to tithe, usually citing Mal. 3:10. The first rule of biblical interpretation is to consider the context; in that passage, who is being addressed, commanded to tithe, and promised the blessing-Israel, operating under the Law, or the church (not yet in existence), who will be operating under the principle of grace? Is there any New Testament passage that speaks of the tithe to the church? None. There is nothing wrong with giving 10% if you wish, but we do not find this principle given to the church. We are no longer under the law but under grace. Giving IS to characterize the Christian. Some perhaps use the term "tithe" to mean regular giving, but giving and tithing are not the same thing and we need to be careful in our terminology so as not to give Christians the impression we are required to give 10% as in the Old Testament. It is SO easy for Christians to fall into the trap of legalism.
Who is the money sent to, 30? Let's talk about leadership in the early church and how it relates to leadership in our churches today. This is the first reference to elders in the church. There will be numerous references in Acts to elders in the church, often mentioned as "the apostles and elders." Elders are not mentioned in the lists of spiritual gifts; elders were appointed in every church by the apostles or other elders. Interestingly, the word "pastor" (translated "shepherd") is only found once in the New Testament, Eph. 4:7-11, where it is apparently a spiritual gift. We read of elders in I Tim. 5:17-19. In I Tim. 3, qualifications are given for overseers (translated "bishops") and deacons. In Titus 1:4-9, elders seem to be equated with overseers (7). Read James 5:1 and I Peter 5:1-5. Peter speaks to the elders as shepherds, so elder may overlap with pastor. II John 1 and III John 1 both address the elder of the church, not the pastor. Finally, in Revelation we have numerous references to the 24 elders John sees in heaven. So what might we conclude about the roles of elder and pastor, then and today?
1-5 This Herod is the grandson of Herod the Great, who was in power when Jesus was born. What happened to Peter and John after they were arrested and put in jail, Acts 4:21? What happened after some apostles were jailed, 5:18-19? What happened to Stephen? What was Saul then doing to Christians? What now happens to James? There are several named James; this is James of the three closest friends of Jesus--Peter, James and John-the first apostle to be martyred. Do we find this apostle replaced? There will be no further apostles after the 12.
Then what happens to Peter again? Do you suppose Peter thinks he will get out again, or that he will end up like James? What had Jesus told him in John 21:18? Why did Herod do this-what is he like? What is another name for the days of Unleavened Bread? Ex. 12:11-15. (The KJV says "Easter" here; Easter was celebrated by Christians at the time of the Passover week. Commentators disagree over which term is the more correct translation. But the Jews would have been celebrating Passover, not Easter.) How did the church respond to this event? This is one of the important functions of the church body-to pray for others. Does fervent prayer convince God to do something He hadn't planned to do or is reluctant to do? Does fervent prayer mean to tell God specifically what we want Him to do? Might it mean to demonstrate to Him (and remind ourselves) how completely we are relying on Him and trusting Him to do what is best?
6-11 Would you be able to sleep if you were in Peter's situation? Why do we lose sleep when we have a crisis? Sometimes we feel worry, fear, panic. Sometimes we can't turn off our minds as we sort through what is happening or the possibilities of how we should act. How can we experience God's peace in this situations? Why do we struggle with uncertainties even though we believe in Jesus and believe we trust Him? Why might Peter not be worried about his upcoming death? Should we worry about dying? The only tragedy about a Christian dying is the pain of those left behind.
Peter was bound with two chains to two guards with guards at the door. Herod had just executed James and plans to execute Peter in a few days. There is no way out of this impossible situation--right? What can we learn from this? What about Daniel being thrown to the lions or his friends being thrown into the furnace. What if we are in an impossible mess because of our own fault or sins? What about Jonah in the fish's belly? Will God deliver us from every bad situation? If we ask God fix it and He doesn't, might we get mad, bitter or lose faith? So how should we pray about such situations--what could we ask that we KNOW will be answered "yes"?
What do we learn here about the function of angels? Did God deal with James and Peter the same way? What can we learn from this? I've had people tell me something God did for them and assured me that God would do the same thing for me, but what does II Cor. 5:7 say? Why do some die tragically and others do not? Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that God's ways are inscrutable; there are some things about God and His plans that we just cannot know in this life. Eccl. 3:11, 6:12, 9:1, 11, 11:5.
12-17 Mary is obviously a common name of that time. John Mark is Mark. The James in 17 is probably the Lord's brother, who was a leader in the church at Jerusalem. Apparently they believed in personal angels. Why do you think God had Luke record the incident with Rhoda for us? Does God have a sense of humor? Perhaps they were not praying for Peter's release; what else might they have been praying? Does God answer our prayers in unlikely ways we could not have foreseen? Should we pray for others to be delivered from their painful, frightening or discouraging situation? Is it God's plan to make our lives as smooth as possible? Compare II Cor. 12:7-10, Phil. 1:12-14. In Acts 5:17 Peter obeyed God's command to continue preaching after he was released from jail, but this time God doesn't say that.
We know that the early church, although comprised of thousands in Jerusalem, often met in homes. Today there is a movement called "house churches" but they believe each house church should be independent of any larger group or leadership. What is the danger of that? In Acts, we see ONE church in Jerusalem, under the direction and teaching of apostles and elders, portions of which meet in smaller groups in homes at various times. How might that change our churches today? What might be some advantages and disadvantages of doing so?
18-20 Were the guards innocent or guilty? Who had them put to death? Does God allow evil people to do evil things? Why would God do this if He is really loving, good, and all-powerful? Why did God give people free will? Review Genesis 3.
21-23 Sometimes God steps in and judges evil. Sometimes He just lets people reap what they have sown. Sometimes it appears to us that people have gotten by with their evil--does anyone? The Bible does give us several examples of God judging both believers and unbelievers by immediate death, but not usually. The Bible has much to say about God judging, and that He will judge righteously. Does He make mistakes? So if it looks like it to us, what should we think? We get a picture here of what the political climate was at this point in the life of the early church. Herod had received enough light to be held responsible for his pride and unbelief. He had just seen Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison, yet he continues in pride and unbelief.
24-25 Luke now switches from Peter's story to the story of Paul (Saul), who will be the subject of the rest of the book. What had Saul and Barnabas done, 11:27-30? Who did they bring back with them? This will lead to problems later.
In this chapter, we find a number of subjects that can cause controversy in the church--spiritual gifts, fasting, laying on of hands, and being filled with the Spirit. So we want to look carefully each time controversial subjects come up so we can get a truly biblical outlook on each topic by comparing ALL passages on each topic.
1-3 After Chapter 12's story of Peter in jail in Jerusalem, the scene returns to Antioch, where we were at the end of 11, with Barnabus and Saul. Some think this Simon may be the Simon who earlier carried Jesus' cross. Some think Lucius is Luke, and that this is when he met Paul. Who is listed first? Who is listed last? This order will soon change. We find that they are listed with several others as the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch. We later find prophets and teachers mentioned in I Cor. 12:28-31 and Eph. 4:11 as two of the spiritual gifts. So how many in this church had these gifts? Not very many.
Spiritual gifts can be a controversial subject. Some believe these gifts were only for the early church and ended with the age of the apostles. Some believe that certain gifts ended and others continued. Others believe that all the gifts are still given to the church today. I believe that they were given to the early church only because of their special circumstances-churches operating under the leadership of new Christians who lacked spiritual maturity and lacked the written New Testament.
Some who believe prophecy is for today's church believe prophecy means receiving word-for-word messages from God, including foretelling events, just as in the Old Testament. Others believe the gift of prophecy today should be interpreted to mean the forth-telling of God's message, as in preaching and teaching. In 2, how is the gift of prophecy manifested?
Those who believe the gifts are for today believe that those who teach in the church need to have the spiritual gift of teaching. In the New Testament, different words are used for teaching. The word used here, and a few other places, means doctor or master-a master teacher or head teacher, a teacher with great authority (didaskalos). Apparently a master teacher was specially gifted by the Holy Spirit. But throughout the Epistles, teachers are often mentioned without reference to having a spiritual gift; several passages, using different Greek words for teach/teaching/teacher, imply that many should be teaching others as they mature in the faith. Requirements are that they be godly, faithful, able to teach. The term for master teacher was used of Paul, as it was of Jesus.
What are they doing in 2? How does 2 answer the question: Is the Holy Spirit a person or just an influence for good? So should we refer to the Holy Spirit as "He" or "it"? Ministering to the Lord would mean acting as a servant; the NIV says "worshiping." Here is one of two places in Acts that we find fasting; the other is in 14:23. (KJV also uses the word in 10:30.) It was never commanded by God, except possibly in Lev. 23:27 on the Day of Atonement, "afflict your souls." The Jews adopted it as a religious practice-part of their prayer ritual. Apparently the Jewish Christians in the early church held onto some of their Jewish practices for a time; there was often controversy in the early church as to whether or not Jewish practices should still be practiced, for example, Acts 15:1-29. Jesus spoke to the Jews about their practice of fasting, chastising them for their wrong motives in wanting to be noticed by others rather than only by God, in fasting as well as other areas such as giving.
Is fasting for today's Christian? Fasting is taught by many churches today and justified by the many Bible references to it--most are in the Old Testament but a few are found in the New Testament. Jesus referred to fasting in the Sermon on the Mount; He did not command that people do it, but He said "when" you fast. Many take this almost as a command, saying, "He didn't say IF, He said WHEN." Note the context of Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18. He is teaching about the concept of doing your good works in secret so that you are not consciously, or even unconsciously, hoping that others will notice what a good thing you did. He is teaching that our motives are just as or even more important than our actions.
In Mat. 9:14-15, Jesus is asked why His disciples do not fast. He answered that they did not "mourn" because the Bridegroom (Himself) was with them, but when He was gone, they would "fast." He equates fasting with mourning, as the Old Testament does. The many Old Testament references use these terms with fasting: weeping, mourning, sin, sackcloth and ashes, humbling one's self, seeking God's favor. When Jesus fasted for 40 days before being tempted by Satan, these were obviously not His reasons. Apparently He wanted to show that even in a physically weakened state, the Son of God was sinless.
Today, reasons often given for fasting include having more time to devote to prayer, even though the Bible itself speaks of fasting as mourning. Nowhere is the church told to fast in order to have more time to seriously pray; actually, we are told to pray without ceasing, I Thes. 5:17. If we wish to devote all our waking hours to prayer in a given day, eating should not interfere with praying. We can pray while we eat. We can pray while we cook a meal, eat it, and do the dishes afterwards. We can pray while we are doing many other things. Some say that if our physical needs for food, drink and sex are always completely met, then we lack the spiritual appetite or the spiritual energy for communion with God. But it seems there is no reason why a person with a normal appetite and fulfilled marital relationship can't spend just as much time in meaningful prayer as a person who deprives himself.
So why would the New Testament believer fast? Does it make God more likely to answer our prayers? Do we need to weep and mourn over our sin to seek God's favor? Why not? What is different now than in the Old Testament? Before Christ's substitutionary death on the cross, sin had not yet been paid for; animal sacrifices atoned for sin (temporarily covered it) but didn't bring forgiveness. We now can approach the throne of grace with confidence, Heb. 4:16. We don't need to grovel and seek God with weeping and mourning.
Is there any spiritual value in depriving your bodily needs? In the Old Testament, God gave them many rituals that pictured spiritual truths that would be revealed later to the church. The physical pictured the spiritual. What does John 6:63 say about the physical?
I don't believe that fasting is necessary or important for today's Christian, although it has some benefits for health, for practicing self-discipline, and perhaps for temporarily denying bodily needs in order to better concentrate on God. Fasting and prayer is mentioned a few times in Acts; we know the apostles and many early believers were originally Jewish and struggled with whether or not to continue many Jewish practices. We don't find fasting mentioned in the Epistles; apparently the early church did not practice it, nor was it commanded.
Who is to be sent out? Does the Bible say there is any special power in laying on of hands, or any outward ritual? The physical merely pictures the spiritual, so laying on of hands apparently indicated here a commissioning, an identifying with them in purpose. Some think you are healed or receive the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands, but reading all passages on healing or the Holy Spirit will clarify that this is not so. Laying on of hands may accompany these things some of the time, but not every time. Outwards acts are only symbolic of inner realities.
Many believe that today, a pastor or missionary must "experience" some sort of "call," but the only place the New Testament mentions such a direct call is here, where Barnabas and Saul were the first to be set apart by the Holy Spirit for a new work--they were to be the first missionaries. Some may "sense" a "calling" to be a pastor or missionary, but biblically, it's a big stretch to say that all who desire to minister must therefore "experience" a "call." God does not speak in an audible voice today, so "experiencing" a "call" as something you "sense" is a pretty subjective idea. How did the Holy Spirit speak here? Probably through the voice of someone with the spiritual gift of prophecy. (See notes on I Corinthians 12-14 for more on this gift.) The Bible teaches that all believers are to be about God's work--God has already "called" all of us in Mat. 28:19-20. Some pastors and missionaries have told of being required to give testimony of "experiencing" a "calling" before being ordained as a pastor or accepted by a missions organization, even though this is not a biblical teaching or requirement. Somehow it has become widely accepted as doctrine.
4-8 Some think that the apostles were confused about the distinction between Jew and Christian because they went to the synagogues; however, what was the best place to find religious Jews to whom they could preach their message? This was their practice, to approach the Jews first. John is John Mark, or Mark. He may have been an apprentice or trainee, but he may also have been providing first-hand information about Christ. The island of Cyprus was Barnabas' birthplace; it was about 140 miles by 50 miles, with the city of Salamis at one end and Paphos at the other end. A proconsul is like a governor; who has attached himself to the proconsul? Bar-Jesus means "son of Jesus/Joshua"; Elymas means "magician." Does being born Jewish (or to Christian parents) mean that someone is necessarily a believer in God, in the God of the Bible-then or today? Why would he care what the proconsul believed? Are there some people who are just plain anti-God or anti-Christian?
9-12 Here is where we first read of Saul's name being Paul, and from here on he is called Paul. Who speaks up here? Up till now, which had been the more prominant character? This chapter marks a change; from here on, Paul's name is always given first, indicating his prominence. Did Paul have the Holy Spirit already? So apparently this filling was something else, temporary, to address this particular situation. Does Paul pray to be filled, or is it something that God just does? Have we ever read of believers asking to be filled, or praying daily for this? If it were important to do this, wouldn't we be told? It appears that the incidents we are told about, where Christians are filled with the Spirit, are written to let us know that when we need "extra" power, God gives us what we need at that moment.
What would you say if you were in this situation? What do you think of Paul's choice of words? Why do you suppose Paul spoke up and not Barnabas, who had been the leader up till now? I'm guessing that Barnabas, "son of encouragement," had perhaps a kind, gentle, uplifting personality. Perhaps Paul saw what needed to be done and saw that gentle Barnabas wasn't going to be able to deal effectively with this man, so he took the lead. Is there a time for a Christian to be gentle, and a time to be bold and outspoken? Can YOU be whichever one is necessary? What resulted from Paul's approach?
13-16 For more on John Mark's decision, compare 15:36-39. We get the idea that there was a problem here. Again, where do they go to find Jews to speak to? Paul addresses two groups, "men of Israel" (Jews) and "you who fear God" (Gentile proselytes). Some commentators say that the custom was to invite visitors or learned guests to speak in the synagogue. Talk about a captive audience… Paul addresses Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue.
17-41 As did Peter and Stephen, Paul takes the approach of giving a brief history of Israel. This approach gives the Big Picture-what God has done and is doing. It's easy to focus on ME and MY NEEDS; why do we need to be reminded of the Big Picture? We won't read this passage but will pick out a few things to talk about.
17 What people did God choose? Why? For what purpose? Rom. 9:4-5. Many people get confused on this matter, mistakenly thinking that God chose them in the sense that they are ALL saved. Individuals are saved by believing, whether in the Old or New Testament.
What do we learn about the Israel's attitude toward God in 18? In 21? What do we learn about David in 22? Was David just as sinful as other men? Why does God call him "a man after My heart" as Samuel described him in I Sam. 13:14? A comparison of David with other Old Testament characters reveals that when others sinned, they generally made excuses or passed the buck; see David's typical response in II Sam. 12:9,13. What should we learn from this? In 23, Paul transitions from David to whom? So he is telling them that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He reminds them of the message of John the Baptist, 24. 26, Paul is addressing both Jews and Gentiles.
27-29, what does Paul tell them? He speaks twice of fulfilled prophecy; this is one of the strongest proofs of who Jesus is. What does he speak of in 30-31? Paul supports the fact of the resurrection with eyewitness reports. 32-37 give several examples of the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture. He gets to the crux of his message in 38-39, which is what? 39, who is this good news for? Do you suppose all the Jews were excited to hear that the Gentiles were now welcome on equal ground? Has Paul spoken to them about God's love?
42-44 How was their message received by both these Jews and religious Gentiles? 43 sounds like many already believed. "The Jews" in 45 would be the Jewish leaders; read what Paul and Barnabas say to them in 46. This is a major turning point in the early church; it builds on what happened with Peter in 10-11. So at this point, Paul becomes the apostle to the Gentiles; Peter's ministry will be to the Jews.
48 The Gentiles who had eagerly received the message now did what? Who specifically believed? Many believe this supports Calvinism doctrine of election, where God chooses those He will save (which means He chose the rest to be damned). Yet the Bible repeatedly admonishes us to believe and receive--which would be an impossibility for any not already chosen but who would instead be among those God destined for hell. The key is the word "appointed"/NASB or "ordained"/KJV. The Greek can also be translated "disposed," which fits Scripture much better, and which is more correct in the grammatical tense of the Greek. The biblical meaning of election is rather that God elects for service, for the fulfilling of His purposes. God's elect include Israel, the church, and Christ the Son.
49-52 When you are trying to please the Lord, does everything automatically work out great? Why are some people, even Christians, so easily influenced by crafty people who lie or gossip? How should we respond when we are the recipient of those lies or gossip? When things don't go well, should we look at that as a sign that God is not pleased with us, or that God is not working in this situation and we should back off and do something else? How can you have joy when people are attacking you for your faith or your stand on an important issue?
Again we see that being filled with the Holy Spirit is not presented as something we DO or ASK for; it seems to be a product of what? Although some believe Eph. 5:18 is a command, I think Paul is just telling Christians to live in such a way that they are being filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit, which happens when we are serving the Lord and living in a way that is honoring Him.
1-7 Who is referred to by "they", comparing Acts 13:48-52? Where are they now? This area is modern-day Turkey. For what purpose did they go to the synagogue? And what resulted? There were always some Jews who believed, but there were always the Jewish leaders who willfully and perversely denied God's message, and tried to keep others from believing. Paul and Barnabas' boldness came from a reliance on what two sources? Because they relied on the Lord and not themselves, what was the Lord doing, in 3? So what was the purpose of signs and wonders? The New Testament makes this very clear, over and over. The disbelieving Jews had no excuse for their disbelief. What almost happened to Paul and Barnabas? So what did they do?
8-10 We don't know what signs and wonders took place in Iconium, but we are told of one specific incident in Lystra. Did Paul just pick someone out of the blue to heal? In two other places in Acts, we read the phrase "fixed his gaze on him" in connection with signs and wonders about to take place, 3:4 and 13:9. Perhaps God directed their attention to the person He had chosen, and as they focused their attention on that person, God revealed to them the message He had for that person. Do you think this man merely experienced physical healing? It says he had what? The Bible often uses a term that can be translated either "healed" or "saved," implying that both were involved.
11-18 Here Barnabas is referred to as an apostle, even though he was not formally one of the twelve. How does Acts 1:21-22 define an apostle? How did Paul and Barnabas respond to the actions of the people? Did they start out by pointing these pagans to Jesus Christ as the Messiah God had promised? Why not? How instead did they begin? With religious people, we can talk to them about the Bible and Jesus. With non-religious people, we might start by pointing them to God, with our main evidence being His creation, which God has provided for ALL to see, Rom. 1:20. They did not yet speak of sin, but they did say "turn from" which is similar to "repent." We don't have to use Bible words that unsaved people may not understand; explain Bible concepts in terms people can understand and relate to. Do they speak about God's great love for sinners?
In 16-17, we learn some important things about how God works in people's lives. First of all, "nations" is a way of referring to the Gentile nations--a terminology for non-Jews. It is not saying that God deals with each individual nation. The only nation that we know for sure that God deals with as a nation is Israel. The Old Testament is the story of how God dealt with Israel. Here we read about how God deals with the rest of the world--the Gentiles. We could even substitute the word "unbelievers."
What do we learn in 16? Don't many people get hung up on the question, "Why does God allow evil? If He was really loving, good and all-powerful, He would do something about it!" Have you ever thought that? So why DOES God allow evil? Hint: go back to Gen. 3. Will God force people to be good, or to stop sinning? Will He stop you from doing something sinful that you are contemplating? Why not? When He gave us free will, He allowed sin and evil to enter the world. Here is a good example of why we should not allow what we SEE and FEEL to dictate our theology. Instead, we should read the Bible to find out what God is like, then INTERPRET what we see and feel according to what the Bible says.
This brings up another important Bible concept. Is it God's ideal will that we sin? Yet it says He PERMITS us to sin. Sometimes we talk about God's IDEAL will, and His PERMISSIVE will. When we sin, we are out of God's IDEAL will, but is His will still being accomplished in our lives? Rom. 8:28. He uses everything that happens, good or bad, to work out His ultimate plan. Everything that happens isn't "good," and doesn't feel good. But God uses it for HIS good purpose. What is that purpose, Rom 8:29?
What do we learn in 17 about how God works in the lives of unbelievers? Does knowledge of God always start with the Bible, with Jesus, with church? Another big question people have is, "What about all those people who never heard? Surely God can't judge and condemn THEM!" What does this verse say about that? Blessings comes to all--saved and unsaved. How does God expect people to respond to those blessings? He calls them a "witness" to Himself. If people choose to ignore the witness of creation and of God's blessings, He will hold them accountable for those choices.
This is what I really love about Bible study. First you read a passage to see what happened, what was said, what the situation was, what characters were involved, what the setting was, etc. Then you look at that passage and find what it tells you about God, about what He is like, how He works, how it fits with the rest of the Bible, how it clarifies the Bible to me, and how that all applies to me and my life. God did not speak those verses directly to me, but He speaks to me through them.
19-20 Who shows up now? Where did they come from? About 100 miles; what does this tell us about the Jewish leaders, who had recently had Jesus crucified? What does it say about the crowds? Compare Mark 15:11. What does this tell us about human nature? And what had almost happened to Paul and Barnabas back in 5? What happens now? Paul stood by and approved when Stephen was stoned; doesn't God sometimes use the concept of reaping-what-we-have-sowed to discipline us and humble us? Why do you suppose just Paul was stoned? Isn't it ironic that the pagans accepted them but the religious people stoned them? 20--is this a miracle? Many think that the near-death experience Paul wrote about in II Cor. 12:1-10 happened at this time; most near-death experiences we read about (often unsaved people) do not mirror what Scripture teaches about heaven and Jesus. We should never take our Christian beliefs from someone else's, or our own, experience, but from Scripture, realizing that Satan is the master deceiver and the source of all lies. Who are these disciples in 20? Where do Paul and Barnabas go now?
21-23 What happens in Derbe? Where do they return to? What had just happened to these apostles in those two towns?? Why would they go back? If Paul and Barnabas were stoned or almost stoned, how safe do you think it was be become believers in those towns? Yet what do we see happening in 22-23?
Do the apostles tell them that if they become Christians, everything in their lives will now turn out better? Do we sometimes have this idea? When we read the Old Testament, especially Psalms and Proverbs, we see that God DID promise His people that if they obeyed, He would bless them with physical blessings. If we are not careful in our Bible study, we might assume those promises are for us too. This is a common misconception among Christians. Did He make this same promise to the church--do we find this repeated in the New Testament? Here's the promise to the church: Eph 1:3. Those who believe the "health/wealth gospel" should compare John 16:33, Rom. 8:35, II Cor. 1:5, Phil. 1:29-30, I Thes. 3:3, II Tim. 3:12, I Pet. 4:12-19. God deals with the church differently than with Israel. They are two different dispensations, or periods of time: the age of grace and the age of law. In different dispensations, God has set up different means of testing man.
Here is the second reference to fasting, in connection with commending the new elders to the Lord--perhaps like ordination. In a few more chapters, we will read about Paul taking a vow and observing Jewish feasts. So we find that early Jewish Christians, including Paul, have the freedom to continue to engage in Jewish practices like fasting, vows and observing the feast days. But we don't find fasting TAUGHT in the letters to the churches.
24-28 They continued on their missionary journey--the world's first! They eventually returned to the church at Antioch, where they had begun. What do they do next, 27? How do our feelings about missions change when missionaries come visit our church and give a first-hand report of their personal experiences? Who had they been preaching to? Who had been working with and through them? When we have an opportunity to speak to someone about the Lord, is it really US? We must exercise our own free will, and in doing so, we allow God to work through us to accomplish His purposes. 28, they stay about two years.
This chapter is about a major church problem and how the early church functioned and handled problems. All churches have problems and ought to look to Scripture to see how to handle them.
1-5 What was the issue? Who was behind this? Who appear to be the leaders in the Antioch church? Who made the decision for them to go to Jerusalem? What were they doing along the way, in various Jewish congregations? Jerusalem was apparently the headquarters of the Jewish believers, and the Antioch church was apparently the headquarters or home church of the new Gentile believers.
6-11 There was much what, 7? It's good to have open discussion about differences. Who settled the question? Based on what? His experience back in Acts 10-11. What is Peter's stand on the issue? Some commentators call them false teachers but Luke does not use that terminology; are they unbelievers who are trying to cause trouble, or are they misguided believers? There are Christians today who believe in salvation through Christ's shed blood on the cross, but also believe we must keep the Mosaic Law (or at least parts of it, although the Bible says if you try to keep the Law, you MUST keep it ALL). Or our church may have Christians who have some "funny" unbiblical ideas or who just haven't been taught what Scripture really says.
12-18 Paul and Barnabas give evidence of God's working among the Gentiles. Then who speaks? Peter and James were leaders of the Jerusalem church (not the disciple James, but the half-brother of Jesus). Elsewhere Paul refers to them as pillars of the church. 15, what is his opinion based on? He goes on to quote Scripture proving that God had always intended to save Gentiles too. 16, the tabernacle of David refers to Israel, not just the literal temple. 16-18, Amos prophesied that after the Messiah returns and established the messianic earthly kingdom, there WILL be saved Gentiles in that kingdom. So we have Peter giving evidence of Gentiles being saved, and James giving Scriptural backing for Gentiles being saved. Our beliefs should never be based on experience alone; we should always filter our experiences through the lens of Scripture, our final authority. It is so important to read and study God's Word--the truth--so that when we hear something that is false, or not completely true, we will be able to distinguish truth from error.
19-21 James makes his judgment based on those two things. He has the final word so is apparently the head of the church, not Peter. (So Peter is obviously not the first pope, as the Catholics teach.) Also, rather than requiring the Gentile believers to keep the Law, he suggests asking them to refrain from some common Gentile practices that would offend Jewish brothers in their churches. (see Lev. 17-18) Some suggest that the Gentiles engaged in marital practices forbidden by Lev. 18, while others suggest that the Gentiles had developed very loose standards of morality, kind of like today where everyone lives together and no one says much about it, even among Christians.
I might add that the Jewish believers seemed very concerned about Gentiles offending their legalistic mindset, and not too concerned about their Jewish practices, carried over from the Law, offending the Gentiles who understood that there was now freedom in Christ. Neither view should be taken to an extreme. This clash will continue to be a problem throughout the New Testament church. Isn't this a big problem among Christians--getting offended by differing views and practices? How can we minimize this problem?
This is the last time Peter is mentioned in Acts. He was the main character up till now, but Paul becomes the main character in the rest of Luke's account, and apparently in the early church.
22-31 Paul and Barnabas would return to Antioch, along with two leaders, Judas and Silas. Who decided this? Here we see how the early church operated. Do we see a church run by one authoritarian man who allows no input from other believers but demands he be obeyed without question? Unfortunately, there are churches like this today. Beware--this is not the biblical church model. Do we see the congregational vote making the sole decision? Do we see the elders, or what we might call the Board, making the sole decision? Today some churches only believe in having elders, and some only believe in having deacons. The Bible speaks of both. Of course today we do not have apostles, because we no longer have eyewitnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (although some today claim they are apostles, by changing the meaning of the biblical term).
24, what do we learn about the original troublemakers? What we do learn in 25? It's great when a church is of one mind, but what happens when they are not? In this case we see that the problem people changed their minds based on the debate that was held. 28 tells that who was active in this decision? Yet we saw no supernatural visions, revelations, prophetic messages or messages in tongues; how does the Holy Spirit direct the church? Through godly believers who seek God's truth through prayer and the revealed Word of God. The Gentile believers are happy to learn that they are indeed saved on the basis of their faith alone.
Four things are mentioned in 28-29. It's interesting to note what was NOT mentioned here. Not only is circumcision not mentioned as important to the Jewish believers. Some teach that the Sabbath is still to be observed today by the church; if it was, surely it would have been listed here with the things the Jewish believers thought were essentials. So we can conclude that the church did not worship on the Sabbath; instead, we find several references to their meeting on the first day of the week, Sunday. In the Old Testament the Sabbath pointed to the creation; in the New Testament the Lord's day pointed to the resurrection. In the Old Testament God was seen as the God of creation; in the New Testament He is seen as the God of the resurrection.
Today many churches have differing ideas about communion--what it is, and what it means. Some teach that the wine and bread actually becomes the blood and body of Christ. They believe that to receive God's grace, we must partake of His actual body and blood, although nowhere does the Bible teach this. Here we see that the Jewish believers still had a repugnance about eating anything with the blood in it; this was stressed in the Old Testament, Gen. 9:4, Lev. 17:10-11. If they thought the wine became blood, they would not drink it! And how could Jesus have given them His actual body and blood to eat and drink at the Last Supper, when His actual body was right there in front of them? We are to take the wine and bread in remembrance of Him, Luke 22:19, I Cor. 11:24. So this passage clarifies our understanding of communion.
This is an important story about disputes in the church, which may be over small or large issues. This was a major issue--salvation. Did they react by splitting or gossiping about each other? What was done in 7? Did the original troublemakers sincerely believe what they were teaching? Did they change their belief? Why? What problem do we see in 24? This is why churches have leaders and constitutions and statements of faith. What can happen if everything is too loose and unorganized?
Do you think the problem people were truly saved? They thought, and taught, that you had to also be circumcised and keep the Law. But they changed and agreed that salvation was by faith alone. We all know people who have faith in Christ, but seem to also have other beliefs, and we wonder if they are truly saved. It's impossible for us to know, but we see here that the Bible teaches that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone, based on the Bible alone.
32-35 Judas and Silas (who is also referred to later by his Roman name, Silvanus) bring a prophetic message from God. Remember, they did not yet have the written New Testament, only the Old Testament, so God supernaturally spoke through individuals in the early church as He did through His prophets in the Old Testament, whose writings came to be recognized as Scripture. As God spoke through chosen individuals in the early church, their writings also became recognized as Scripture.
36-41 Was Paul sinless? Here we have an example of a situation in which Paul probably sinned, since it takes two to have a sharp disagreement. It doesn't state that either held the right or wrong position; it one was right or wrong, it seems Luke would have said so. How might we characterize the personality types of Paul and Barnabas? Paul seems pretty hard-nosed, Barnabas is known as the "son of encouragement." Can you see how they would take different views of John Mark and the previous experience with him? Or Paul could have been totally in the right, standing by strong convictions. Or is it even possible that they were both right in their convictions?
Are there individuals in the church that might be more inclined to stand for the truth even if someone's feelings might get hurt? Are there some who would not hurt someone's feelings for anything, even if biblical beliefs had to be compromised? Personality types as well as issues are a factor in church problems. Might there be some who are not in leadership yet promote teaching that is not the accepted belief of the church? Might there even be some who appear to be Christians but are not, creating problems and maybe even being involved in teaching? 15:8, only God knows who are truly saved. There are so many pitfalls and snares that Satan can use to try to make a church ineffective. Is it realistic to think that churches will not have problems? We can look to the New Testament to learn how the early church dealt with their problems.
When we sin, or just make bad choices, there are often negative consequences. But doesn't God continue to work in our lives, even if we didn't do everything just right? God's ideal will (Plan A, so to speak) is that we do right, but He permits us to go our own ways (Plan B, so to speak). If we miss Plan A, we are not then "out of God's will" so that He is no longer dealing with us or leading us. God's will is always being worked out in our lives, whether through Plan B or C or D. How do we see that God worked through this unpleasant and unresolved conflict? What happened that was good, that might not have happened otherwise? God is gracious and continues to work with us where we are at in our lives.
And surely God continued to work in both Paul and Barnabas as they struggled with their attitudes toward each other, each feeling possibly smug or self-righteous or bitter or hurt, or whatever, until He changed them into a more Christlike attitude. How does that change happen? Do we sit around and wait until He changes us? Or does He do it through circumstances and our own choices. Phil. 2:12-13 explains how this works. God also changed John Mark; he later wrote the gospel of Mark, and II Tim. 4:11 indicates a change in his relationship with Paul.
1-5 Paul returns to Derbe and Lystra (14:6-20); what had happened to him in Lystra? Who had believed and was part of this church? Compare II Tim. 1:5.
Why would Paul want to take Timothy? Were there seminaries in those days to prepare men for the ministry? They became very close; what does Paul call him in I Tim. 1:2,18? What had just been decided about circumcision in the last chapter? So why would Paul do this?
Timothy is already a believer; this circumcision was not for salvation. This verse can be confusing because when we see the word "Jews" we are not sure if it is talking about Jews who have believed, or the rest of the Jews. If it were talking about Jewish believers, I would wonder if Paul had really done the right thing. But after comparing commentaries, I think he is talking about the unsaved Jews; Paul wishes to preach in their synagogues, and Greeks were not allowed. So this would make Timothy acceptable on their preaching mission.
Sometimes, might the same act be either right or wrong, depending on the circumstances and the motives involved? How can we make sure we don't go in the direction of situational ethics, whether there is no absolute right and wrong? What about things expressly forbidden in Scripture? The Bible says clearly what is right and wrong.
What was happening in these first century churches, 5?
6-10 Do you know what modern country they are traveling through? How do you suppose the Holy Spirit directed them so clearly? In those days God did sometimes speak through a prophetic message, a vision, dream or revelation, but probably not here since a vision in mentioned in 9 but not 6-7. Perhaps God just shut the doors on their attempts to travel in those directions, through circumstances. Asia referred to the western province of the region. What do you suppose they thought when the Lord forbid them to go to people in the area where they wanted to preach? Why do you think God forbid them? Is the answer in 9-10?
What might we learn from this? Have you ever had something similar happen? You wanted to do something--something that was good even, but God shut the doors? What did you think? Did you find that He had something else for you? Did you learn that immediately, or much later? What does this do for our spiritual growth? What if you DON'T see, even much later? Does "seeing" sometimes, help us have faith and be OK in those times when we DON'T see?
Did God appear or actually speak to them in the vision? The vision is of what? The end of 10 says what? Because of the vision about the man, they drew conclusions about how God was directing them. Does it even say they had been asking for guidance? Doesn't God guide and direct our lives whether we specifically ask that or not? So do we need to hear a voice or see a vision to figure out His leading? Can you think of some ways He has directed you by opening or closing doors, planting a thought in our minds, or some other way? Have you found that often when something happens in a really unusual way, or very "coincidentally" falls into our laps, that is God getting our attention and letting us know that was His doing? Should we try to pry open a door that seems to be closing, because that is OUR will? Should we look for or base our decisions on a "feeling" in our spirit? Should we look for circumstances to be pleasant as a sign we are in God's will? Does the Bible teach that God has a particular will we must seek and find for each of life's decisions?
Did Paul preach about 10 steps to a more successful life, or how to be happy and fulfilled? What is the gospel? Luke, the writer, now uses the term "we" rather than "they" as he had been using; what can we infer? Some commentators conclude that perhaps Luke's services as physician were needed at this point, perhaps by Paul. Or perhaps God pointed them toward Troas because that's where Luke was and it was God's plan that he join them? Perhaps this had a great deal to do with him writing the account of Acts. Don't we often find that God has multiple purposes in the events He brings about?
11-15 Do they finally learn why God had closed the other seemingly good doors? God has many creative ways of directing us--to be in a certain place where He has something for us to do or say or learn, or to "happen" upon something in the Bible, in a book, on a website, on the radio or TV, etc.--or even for an unbeliever to FIND Him.
They always approached the Jews first. There is no mention of a synagogue, but since they chose a Sabbath day to preach, we can assume they found some Jews--apparently not enough men to even have a synagogue. Instead, they look for and find a what? KJV says "where prayer was wont to be made" meaning it was the custom or even a legal arrangement. Who is there? Doesn't sound like what missionaries might be looking for, but they speak to these women. Even though women in those days were not considered equal with men, what does Paul say in Gal. 3:28? This was revolutionary thinking in those days. Yes, those differences exist, but they make no difference in our standing before God.
What are some interesting facts we learn about Lydia? "Worshipper of God" may mean she was a Jewish proselyte. She was not a Jew but was from where? Apparently there she had attended a synagogue and become a worshipper of God, as opposed to the idols worshipped by others. It sounds like she may have been the first to believe here. Who knows, perhaps she had even started this ladies' prayer group. People believe because God does what, 14? Compare 16:14 with 10:1-2; what similarity do you see between her and Cornelius? Based on what happened with each of them, what truth can we glean about how God works in people's lives? Were both followers of God, as best they knew how? Did either know about Jesus? Did God bring that knowledge to them? Did they receive that knowledge? Compare Rom. 1:20-21; how did those people respond to the knowledge they had about God? What did God do, according to 24, 26 and 28? So how might we pray for those who are not yet saved? People always ask, "what about those who never heard?" If they want to know the truth, the Bible teaches that God will get it to them, one way or another--like Cornelius and Lydia. If they aren't truly seeking and desiring God's truth, they will not truly find Him--like Pharaoh and Esau.
Is 15 saying that of her family, only Lydia believed, but that then her entire family was baptized, even though they were not believers? We know the Bible teaches that baptism is for believers to make a public profession of faith, so we can assume here that when Lydia believed, her family heard and also believed, following her lead, as with Cornelius who had invited his relatives and close friends, who also believed and were all baptized. Doesn't God often use one person to bring others in their family to the Lord? We don't even know if she had family since none are mentioned; it may refer to her servants.
What is Lydia's response to Paul's group? What can we infer about her importance, her home and the prosperity of her business, where she is from? Purple dye and cloth were luxury items. So does this section apply to us, or to missionaries? Here we have the humble beginning of bringing the gospel to Europe, via Greece. Baptism is not specifically mentioned in Paul's other church planting or watering; apparently it is mentioned here as an important first in the bringing of the gospel to Europe. Paul himself did not baptize, I Cor. 1:14-17; the New Testament does not give specific instructions on who may baptize others. Even though often our pastors baptize today, there is no biblical reason why believers may not baptize other believers. We see the biblical pattern--the inner act is immediately witness to by the outward public act (see 2:38).
16-19 What two terms does 16 use about this slave-girl? Where did she get her power? Occult activities may be faked, or may be real, from demonic power, the Bible frequently tells us. Do demons really know the future? Just because she "told the future" does not mean that what she said came to pass, like horoscopes. But people will believe that stuff.
So why is she saying 17? One wonders if the message was being given in a ridiculing manner, given Paul's reaction. Or perhaps she wanted to believe but the evil spirit or demon dwelling in her prevented her? 18 doesn't say that she believed after Paul cast out the spirit, but it's possible. Weren't miracles for the purpose of causing people to believe? We are often told that physical healing and spiritual healing went together. According to 19, did she continue to be involved in demonic activity? KJV says "grieved" rather than "annoyed" in 18, which makes more sense to me; he was grieved at the condition of the girl. I wonder why he waited many days before releasing her from the spirit. Also, would he want his ministry associated with someone engaged in demonic activity?
19-24 KJV says "these men, being Jews" in 20; Jews were despised by the Romans. It seems there has always been prejudice against the Jews. What had they done that "threw the city into confusion"? Is godly behavior in an ungodly world always well-received? Would they have cared if there had been no adverse economic impact? Does the world care what people worship? But what about preaching that Jesus is the ONLY way to God? So was there any trial before their punishment? Bloody, bruised and in great pain, what is done to them next? Do you suppose the prison was like ours today? Stocks had 5 holes, for neck, ankles and wrists.
25-26 What were they doing? How could they do that? What might we THINK they would be doing? What can we learn from their example? The Greek does not have the words "and singing." Why do you suppose they were added--what does it say without them? Can singing be prayer? We often wonder how it would be to be persecuted, tortured or martyred for Christ; here we get a clue about how God helps them rise above their circumstances. "Listening" is a word that means listening intently, gaining application--they were wide awake. Wouldn't Paul and Silas think God had miraculously allowed them to escape? But what happens next that these two men choose to stay and respond to?
27-32 The jailer knew he would be punished or executed for allowing his prisoners to escape. Why was he trembling--the prisoners were all there? 30, why do you think he would ask this--what could prompt such a question? What might he have heard that night (and put together with the words of the girl who was possessed)? And he obviously understands that this was no normal earthquake. 31, people can't "believe in" Jesus Christ unless they know WHO He is and WHAT He did and that they are SINNERS in need of forgiveness; they then go on to explain the gospel message. Did they speak about the love of God? If you just say "believe" and someone responds, "I believe," what does that really mean? Probably nothing, yet the person has been wrongly led to believe that he is now saved.
Paul and Silas were on a journey to strengthen new churches, but they found themselves preaching in a jail. We need to always be ready for any opportunity the Lord might drop in our laps, and to always be living in a such a way that whoever may be listening or watching may be influenced for the Lord. Also regarding 31, some take this verse to mean that if you are saved, somehow your family is also OK; why is this not so? The jailer was told that both he and his household could be saved, because they ALL heard the gospel message. They were not all saved because of HIS faith.
33-34 After the jailer and his household heard the gospel, and they all believed, what took place, apparently at the same place he washed their wounds? As we have been seeing, "believe and be baptized": first the inner act of faith, then immediately publicly witnessed by the outward act. He has the opportunity to minister to those who just ministered to him. We see that believing in Jesus brings about immediate change in one's behavior and outlook on life.
35-40 So was the purpose of the earthquake to miraculously free Paul and Silas, like Peter's two experiences? No, they are still in prison. So what was its purpose? Isn't it amazing the lengths God sometimes goes to in order to bring someone to salvation?
Was Paul right to demand his rights as a citizen, or should he have just quietly gone his way, chosen to give up his rights, thankful for his freedom? Or might we criticize Paul's display of "attitude"? The Bible does not imply here or elsewhere that he was wrong in doing this, so here we see biblical precedent for a Christian standing up for his rights as a citizen. We will see more examples of this later in Acts.
We could also make the application that being a Christian doesn't mean you have to have the "doormat" mentality. If something isn't right--in your church, your family, your school, your town, your country--you can stand up and say so. Of course we must be wise in HOW we do that. Might some Christians choose to stand up and say something, while other Christians might think it best to say nothing but just accept it? Our personality type is going to factor into our decision--yet can't an aggressive, arrogant personality learn to be softer, while a wimpy personality can learn to stand up for what's right? Is one right and the other wrong? It probably depends on our motives and the circumstances. What might be some right or wrong motives for those choices? We also find the principle that a public wrong needs to righted publicly, not privately. And might we infer from this that a private wrong ought to be righted privately, not publicly?
Paul and Silas "get out of Dodge" after a final meeting with the believers to exhort and encourage them. We have seen Lydia and her family saved, as well as the jailer and his family--two completely different types of people, completely different sets of circumstances, and God worked in very different ways. There are also other new believers. Paul and Silas have seen God work in some amazing ways. Now Luke uses the pronoun "they" again, not "we," so apparently he leaves them at this point.
1-4 What are the people called who live in this town? So here is the background of the story of these two epistles, which Paul wrote shortly later while still on his missionary journey, in Corinth (we find him there at the beginning of Acts 18). Where does Paul go? Why? How long did he stay? What is the gist of Paul's message? Is it the love of God? The fact of the resurrection is always key, and who Jesus is. Did any believe? We continue to see that women play an active role in the church (but not preaching or leading).
5-9 Who stirs up the people against them? Why? This would obviously be the unbelieving Jews, not the ones who were now believers. HAVE they upset the world? Why would "the world" feel that way? Is it really about Caesar? So why are they saying that?
10-15 Where do they go next? And where in that city? What is noteworthy about these Jews? Paul calls these people "noble-minded." They "searched": scrutinized, investigated, questioned, examined, judged, searched. What can we learn from them? If you hear something taught or preached that is from the Bible, WHY should you then go and study for yourself? Isn't that why we have teachers and preachers, so that we don't ALL have to do all that studying for ourselves? How should we approach Christian books, TV, radio, even churches, and decide what to accept and what not to accept, or what needs more thought or investigation?
What was their Scripture? Remember, they did not have the written New Testament. Compare Luke 24:27,32. Many Christians today think the Old Testament is not for us and we don't need to read it; is it for us? Why should we read and study it? What are some key passages Paul may have used? Perhaps Psalm 22, Isaiah 53; if you have Jewish friends, you might consider taking them to these passages. What happens in 13--again? 14, apparently Paul was the main preacher.
16-17 Paul at Athens--the city full of idols, named for the goddess Athenia. Its chief building was the Parthenon, famous for its beautiful Greek architecture, but also the temple where the Athenia was worshipped. Paul noticed that this city was quite religious. What two places did he speak at, and why? As usual, he began with the Jews.
18-21 The Areopagus is Mars' Hill; Ares was the Greek the god of war, and Mars was the corresponding Roman god. So this is often called Paul's Mars' Hill address. These two philosophies were kind of like groups we have today. The Epicureans were atheists, somewhat similar to our evolutionists. They believed there was no real truth, only what our own experience tells us, and that life ended at death, therefore the most important thing in life was the pursuit of pleasure--particularly sensual pleasure, like sex and food. The Stoics were pantheists, somewhat similar to our New Agers; they were into divine energy, harmony with nature, universal good, the whole world is God. They valued self-sufficiency, virtue and wisdom; they did not value the emotions. So their society was involved in many gods and goddesses of nature--not the sovereign one true God of creation. We are not "pagans" worshipping "idols" are we, today? Or are we? What idols do people worship today? So does this passage have application to our society today?
What Paul was teaching was a new concept to them--"strange" meaning "foreign." As today, they were open to whatever your personal philosophy was--probably not in the pursuit of truth, but curiosity. Today they say, "Oh, that belief is great for you! That's good you have something that's meaningful for you. No, I'm not into that--I have my own belief that is true for me." So can people like this be reached with the truth? Have you known people like this? What has worked for you in speaking with them?
22-23 Note Paul's first sentence; why does he start like this, what is his strategy? (KJV says "superstitious," NASB says "religious." Superstitious would sound rather insulting.) What can we learn from this? He gains their interest by relating to where they are at, making an observation about THEM. People like it when we notice things about THEM. 23, then we see that, while he was around town, what did he observe? Perhaps he even consciously had been looking for a "hook" or a "link" or some sort of opening that he could use to effectively transition from where they are at to what he wants to talk about. He commends them for being so religious and makes specific reference to their objects of worship, commenting on one in particular that grabbed his interest. In other cultures too, there seems to be a dim memory of some higher, more powerful God than the ones they worship. (Or they could just be trying to cover all bases, in case they had forgotten some god.) Compare what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John 4:22.
This reinforces what we have seen elsewhere, that if someone has SOME knowledge of God and acts on it, God will see to it that they receive more light. The Athenians, the Samaritan woman/the Samaritans, Lydia and the women in her group, Cornelius (Acts 10), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), and many tribal groups to whom missionaries have been sent. So how does this answer the question people ask: "what about those who never heard?" Will God cruelly allow people to go to hell who never heard? Has ANYONE "never heard?" Is God a righteous judge? We don't need to know HOW He will make His decisions, but we can be confident that He is right.
24-26 He begins by explaining who that unknown God is, then wastes no time but tells what He did and how He is NOT served by man-made images or temples, unlike their gods. Why does he not start by taking them to fulfilled Scriptures, like he does with the Jews? What important basic truth about God does he present in 24, 25 and 26? He tells them God is sovereign over all; did he need to use the word "sovereign"? He doesn't speak in Christian-ese. Does God need anything from us? Our money? Our service? Then why give those things--why does God want us to? Does God simply KNOW everything ahead of time, or does the Bible say He has actually determined and appointed what will take place? Does this conflict with the fact that He has given us free will, complete choice? If we can't understand on God's level, does that make something not true? God operates on a different, higher dimension than we are capable of. That's why He is God and we are not.
27-28 Now what does he tell them? Does he shake his finger at them and say "YOU NEED TO SEEK GOD!" HOW we choose our words is important. He says God is not far from each person--believer or unbeliever. We see this throughout the stories in the Bible, how God is working with each person where they are at, to open their eyes and draw them to Himself. What is the theological term that means God is everywhere? Omni-present, read Psalm 139:1-12.
What is important about what he says in 28? He again tactfully refers back to what THEY know and think; it's not about PAUL, it's about THEM. People like it when you talk about THEM and Paul knows it. He wisely looks for bridges to relate what he is saying to what they already believe. What does Paul say about his approach in I Cor. 9:19-23? We also see that these pagans retained some vague general knowledge that there is a God who is the father of all. Knowledge of God was passed down through Noah's three sons, but over time, that knowledge was watered down and corrupted into many religions. Yet the kernels of it remained.
29-31 Now that he has identified with their own beliefs, he builds his case on that commonality: 29, "Being then..." and 30, "Therefore..." What logical conclusion does he draw about God in 29 regarding their idols? Is he saying that all men are saved and going to heaven? No, he goes on to tell them what God requires. What key point does he finally get to in 30? Remember that it's not enough to point people to God; they need to be aware that they are sinners and they must repent. There is a lot of vague "belief" in God today that is not based on dealing with our sin. He doesn't use the term "sin" but "repent" means to change your mind, and the fact that God will "judge the world in righteousness" implies moral judgment.
And 31, why should they believe what Paul is telling them about this God's message? THIS is central; this is why people should believe. Does he say they should repent because of God's great love for them? The resurrection is not just something we believe; it is a FACT, and it is PROOF of God's truth. We should not shy away from speaking about it in those terms. People may choose not to believe it, but it is a fact that has never been disproved. We also tend to shy away from speaking about judgment to come, but that fact is what makes our message compelling. Compare Paul's points in 31 with John 16:8. (29, KJV says "Godhead," which we use to mean the Trinity, but from the context and from Strong's, I'm not sure that was the implication here--that the meaning is more "divinity.")
32-34 There will always be mixed reactions to God's truth. Two who believed are mentioned by name although we don't hear of them again. They may have been significant in some way, or perhaps Luke's original readers may have known of them.
So what have we learned in this chapter from Paul about how to reach different kinds of people and how to communicate God's message? How did Jesus approach the woman in John 4? This is important--HOW do we talk to people? HOW do we begin? HOW do we get their interest? What terminology and what examples do we use that are effective with THAT person? HOW do we present something different than what they believe without creating hostility to the Gospel? Be sincerely interested in the other person; draw them out, and listen to them and sincerely try to relate to that person where they are at. Our attitudes and motives are important.
1-4 Where does Paul go after Athens? Corinth was a center of commerce, and very immoral. All about sex, kind of like Las Vegas. Even their religion was about sex, complete with prostitutes. Paul meets and stays with who? We will read more about them in Acts. Where had they come from? Apparently they were already believers there in Rome, and apparently later return to Rome, Rom. 16:3; when Paul writes his letter to the church at Rome, he sends them greetings. Where does he go to find an audience? What else do we learn about Paul? We read elsewhere in the Epistles that he was always concerned about not being a burden or asking for money--he was concerned about appearances, how he came across to people. How does he appeal to them to get them to believe? Entertainment? An emotional high? Plenty of food and coffee? Some people think you have to turn off your brain to become a Christian--what does this say? Are we to make a leap of faith and hope if we believe hard enough, it will become true? Is faith more about feelings or facts? Faith just means to believe.
5-11 Timothy and Silas arrive from Thessalonica, with news of how that new church is doing. At this point Paul writes his first epistle to that church to address their concerns and his concerns about them. Who does Paul always go to first? How did they respond? What outward public act witnessed the inner act of believing? We find here that God holds people responsible for how much of His truth they know--whether through preaching of the Word or through observation of His creation and His blessings. Where did Paul start preaching instead? Can you imagine the tensions and drama that were going on, especially when Crispus believed and joined them? Why would God tell him not to be afraid--what can we infer about Paul's concerns? Are we ever afraid?
What is the answer, according to 10? What were the unbelieving Jews always trying to do to Paul? For some reason, Paul baptized Crispus, one of the few he personally baptized (I Cor. 1:14). This city was extremely immoral; wouldn't it seem hard to believe that many there would believe? Don't we often look at sinful people and think, THEY will never come to the Lord? How do we see the doctrine of election in 10? So before we even believe, God considers us His people. How does He bring those people to Himself? Circumstances (does He guide that also?), and the convicting of the Holy Spirit. As we look at unbelievers around us, keep in mind that God is always drawing unbelievers to Himself, and those that are His, will respond. So what happened to the threats of danger, 11?
12-17 Corinth was the capital of Achaia. Again we find the unbelieving Jews attacking Paul. IS accepting Jesus Christ as Messiah contrary to the Law and the Old Testament Scriptures? But how did the attack pan out? Apparently Sosthenes became leader of the synagogue after Crispus became a Christian. NASB says "the people" beat him, but KJV says "the Greeks," so perhaps he was reaping what he sowed. Proverbs says if you dig a pit to trap someone else, YOU will fall into it. He tried to have Paul punished, but instead HE was beaten. Remember that the Jews were always a minority and were generally hated by the Greeks, so now HE experienced the religious persecution he tried to bring on Paul. Interestingly, his name is mentioned one other time, I Cor. 1:1 (or it could be someone else of the same name). So reading between the lines, what can we infer about him and what happened to him after this incident? I wonder if Crispus was instrumental in his conversion to Christianity. The proconsul Gallio seems to be operating on the basis of separation of church and state; the state should not be interfering in religious matters.
18 Paul leaves, and some others with him; in what order do we now see these two names? Earlier the husband was named first, but from now on we see them reversed; what might we conclude from this hint? We continue to see much evidence of involvement of women, from the days of Jesus' ministry through the early church, even though in those days women were considered second-class citizens.
Paul has taken a vow. We see that even though he preaches that Gentiles should not be bound by Jewish law, customs or rituals, what if Jewish believers want to continue observing them, Col. 2:16? Where else do we find mention of room for believers to hold different positions on non-essential matters? Rom. 14. But it is easy, in so doing, to observe them in a legalistic matter, Gal. 4:9-11.
19-21 Where does he go briefly? How is he received there? Who stays behind in Ephesus when Paul leaves? 21, KJV adds "I must by all means keep this feast that comes in Jerusalem" but this is not found in many manuscripts so the NASB leaves it out. Again, is Paul being legalistic, or exercising his freedom in Christ to observe what is meaningful to him from his Jewish background?
These two incidents--Paul's vow and the feast--shed some light on our understanding of other Jewish practices we have read about in Acts, such as fasting and circumcision. We see that Jewish believers had freedom to observe those things if they wished. But we never see them taught or commanded in the letters to the early church. We must likewise think carefully about practices Christians engage in that may rooted in culture or church tradition rather than specifically taught in the Bible, and taught for the New Testament church, rather than Israel.
What can we learn from the rest of 21? How can we know if God wills us to do something? People want to know, what is God's will for me? We've talked about God's ideal will, that we obey Him--instructions for His moral will are found all through the Bible. We've talked about His sovereign will--how He works out His plan regardless of what choices we make. Compare these verses, noting use of the word "if," Rom. 1:10, I Cor. 4:19, 16:7, Heb.6:3, James 4:15, I Peter 3:17. So does God's sovereign will leave room for various possibilities? Can we know God's sovereign will before it happens? Could we say that it appears to be something we discover after it happens? Hopefully this clarifies the topic of "God's will" a little.
22-23 Paul returns to his home church; this is the end of his second missionary journey, of about 1300 miles, on foot, ship and perhaps horseback. But he doesn't stay long; what does he do? This is the beginning of his third missionary journey. This is what Paul does--he travels and preaches.
24-28 After Paul left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus, who shows up there? What was he like? Since he only knew John's baptism of repentance, looking for the Messiah who was about to come, perhaps he didn't even know of Jesus' ministry, the cross, the resurrection, or the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why did Priscilla and Aquila take him aside? Why did they do this privately? How did Apollos accept this? How MIGHT this couple have wrongly handled this instead? How MIGHT Apollos have wrongly responded instead? What can we learn from this about dealing with people? What does 27 remind us about salvation?
What two basics does 28 remind us about Christianity? He could have said, "well, you just had to be there and SEE it!" or "I know you have your own belief, but this is MY belief" or "you're going to have this great FEELING inside!" or "well, you just have to believe really hard..." No, our FAITH is in the FACTS about Jesus Christ as found in Scripture, not in FEELINGS or EXPERIENCES. Notice that even with only the Old Testament Scriptures, a compelling case can be made for Jesus Christ--who He is, what He did and why--because of our sin and God's righteousness and judgment to come, and His great love and mercy. Yet do we see anyone in Acts preaching about God's love?
1-7 Acts 18 ends with Apollos where? Corinth is in the province of Achaia (Greece) if you look on a Bible map, which is handy when studying the missionary journeys of Paul. Now Paul returns to Ephesus, but is he at the church? Here is another instance of speaking in tongues, so we want to notice what is going on here. Many Christians read Acts, see people speaking in tongues when they are saved, and on that basis assume that all Christians ought to speak in tongues when or after they are saved. But we need to keep in mind the transitional nature of the book of Acts. Several new things are happening, and Luke records them for us--the beginning of the church, the giving of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church. We need to study tongues in context--in the entire book of Acts, and within the entire context of the early church (the Epistles).
These disciples are in Ephesus and have heard an incomplete message; who did we just read about at the end of Acts 18 that was in Ephesus, preaching, but knowing only of the baptism of John? So perhaps they heard and responded to the preaching of John the Baptist, or perhaps of Apollos. Have they received the Holy Spirit? This can't mean they haven't heard of Him, since John DID preach about Him; many commentators say this means they haven't so much as heard whether He has been GIVEN--whether He is now on the earth. So they were believers in the same way Old Testament believers were saved--accepting and looking ahead in faith to the Messiah to come. It's not clear why they were rebaptized but Apollos wasn't; again we see that Acts is not teaching us doctrine, but recording events that happened. As we discussed in 2:38, baptism was a well-known religious ritual whereby people publicly witnessed to their alignment with a particular belief. Baptism is an outward testimony to an inner act of faith.
4, Paul tells them who that One is--Jesus. They obviously believe, and what happens in 5? What happens in 6? The Holy Spirit comes on them in a way that is obvious--tongues and prophesying. Here we also have another instance of laying on of hands. This is apparently why some groups lay hands on those they are praying for that they may speak in tongues, associating the two and thinking that all Christians should speak in tongues. But we need to analyze what we have read about tongues in the book of Acts.
Tongues are only mentioned three times in this book, in three significant situations: 2:4 when Jewish believers first receive the Holy Spirit, 10:46 when Gentile believers first receive the Holy Spirit, and 19:6 when Old Testament believers believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. They are implied but not mentioned specifically in one other situation, 8:17-18 when Samaritan believers receive the Holy Spirit. God gave tongues as a sign of the initial giving of the Holy Spirit so that there could be no dispute that each of these groups just mentioned were all equally saved and part of the church. The only other mention of tongues is in I Cor. 12-14 where Paul corrects the misuse of spiritual gifts by the quarreling, immature, carnal Christians at Corinth. No mention of tongues is found in letters to other churches, nor does Paul teach about or command this to any other church. So we need to be careful in studying tongues in the context of Acts and the entire New Testament. It is a big leap to say that tongues accompanies salvation. Rather it seems to be given in a time of transition from Judaism to its fulfillment in Christianity.
8-10 There in Ephesus Paul preaches to the Jews. Typically, some believe but many hardened their hearts and refuse to become obedient to the Scriptures. It's interesting that Christianity at this point is often referred to in Acts as the way of salvation, the way of the Lord, the way of God, or just the Way or that Way. What did Jesus say about Himself in John 14:6? So Paul, as usual, ends up leaving the synagogue, and continues preaching elsewhere--Tyrannus must have been a believer. Ephesus becomes his headquarters for two years as the word of the Lord is preached throughout all that province called Asia, either by Paul himself or those ministering with him.
11-20 Paul had performed miracles before, but these miracles are what, 11? They are described in 12. Ephesus was notorious for its magicians, occultists, demon possession, sorcery and exorcisms. How does the context of the story give us a clue as to why God would work in such an unusual way here? Today TV evangelists will offer things like anointed handkerchiefs or water; should we assume that since God gave Paul power to do these unusual miracles in this situation, that therefore all who claim to have special handkerchiefs have the same miraculous power from God? We have often talked about the purpose of signs and miracles; the Bible makes it clear that they were to prove or attest to the validity of this new message, this Way--that it was from the one true God, and that Jesus was God just as He claimed.
13-16 Those in 13 spoke in the name of Jesus; why did they not get the same results as Paul? Can just anyone pray in the name of Jesus and expect to get what they prayed for? God makes it clear that His power is greater than occult/demonic power. It's interesting that the demon recognized Jesus--remember that demons are fallen angels, and that there is spiritual warfare between angels and demons going on in the unseen realms. What resulted in 18-20? Did they "believe" but continue their occult practices? True repentance and life-changing belief results in turning from sin to Jesus.
18-19 This scenario may seem removed from our situation today, but not really. Christians dabble in such things as horoscopes, ouija boards, music or games with satanic or occultic themes. What about kids' books that are based in fantasy, spells, magic, sorcerers and witches? When it comes to children, where is the line between innocent make-believe and danger? What about Halloween? Not all Christians will come up with the same answers on these questions, but our answers should be grounded in an understanding of what the Bible says about Satan, spiritual warfare, and deception. "Deception" by definition means something that is tricky, hard to spot. We see here that these believers were convicted that occult activities were sinful practices and made a clean break. It's not that our mindset ought to be "no" to everything; rather, we can find plenty of good books, good music, good games, and wholesome activities to fill our time and our minds.
21-22 We see that Paul was not traveling and preaching alone but often had others with him, Timothy being the one he later writes two letters to. He has plans to visit other places but stays a little longer in the area of Ephesus, where this next incident takes place.
23-27 Artemis is the goddess Diana, the goddess of nature, widely worshipped at that time. Apparently a meteorite had fallen there which they interpreted to be an image of the goddess; a massive temple to her was built there, one of the "seven wonders of the world" at that time. Small images were carried about and kept in houses as charms. So we can see perhaps why God have Paul the power to impart healing through objects like handkerchiefs or aprons; God met them where they were at and showed them His power was greater than their superstitions and occult objects. Can we say that God meets individuals where they are at and works with us uniquely in our situation? Have we ever experienced that? So when we think of others we are concerned about, whether saved or not, isn't God able to work with that person, no matter how impossible it looks to us? These examples in the Bible are there to strengthen our weak faith!
We often think that all this stuff about idols and false gods is not applicable to us in our country, but nature worship is making a comeback. What is the name of the nature goddess we are hearing about more and more? In New Age circles, they think the earth is a living organism, including both its living and non-living parts, and should be worshiped, as Gaia, who was actually the ancient Greek earth goddess. We wonder why some of the environmentalists are so adamant about their beliefs--well, it is their religion.
Are these Diana-worshippers really so devoted to Diana and their religion, or what is their pretend-devotion really about? The Bible speaks of those who are "lovers of truth," but is truth the first priority for EVERYONE? Will some people believe whatever is convenient as long as it is good for their pocketbook or self-interest? Many were saved; how was their faith being evidenced? in their change of buying habits, change of lifestyle, so much that the city's economy was being affected. If we don't like what's going on in our city or country, should we attack what is happening, or just live out our Christian convictions? Is there a difference in the CHURCH taking on a social or political agenda vs. individual Christians choosing to be socially or politically active? Does the Bible teach that the way to change society is through political activism or evangelism? Do we ever see Paul preaching against the evils of the day? What is his focus? Does the Bible teach that Christians are to take over society? Some believe it does, but I do not find that. Can Christian values and practices be imposed on unsaved people? Some think the Old Testament laws that God gave Israel are to be applied to all nations, but God gave them to a nation that worshiped Him. First people must be brought to a worship of God; then their values and lifestyles will change.
28-34 So what happens now? Who's in the majority and who's in the minority? The Christians and Jews were in danger here. We are used to thinking of America as a somewhat Christian nation, but is that changing? Could something like this ever happen here? What about during the tribulation? Things will get real ugly for believers.
35-41 Finally the town clerk calms the crowd.
1-6 Paul leaves Ephesus after the commotion about Artemis. What happens in 3? What do we learn in 4? What an opportunity for these various believers to spend time with Paul, traveling and ministering, and learning from him. 5-6, "us" and "we" tells us who has joined them again?
7-12 What miracle is recorded here? To us it sounds like Paul had been preaching all day since we meet in the morning, but at that time, the first day of the week was a workday, so he may have only been preaching in the evening. They continue until morning; they know Paul is leaving and want to hear everything he has to say.
What do we learn in 7 about the early church? When speaking to the Jews, they went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. But when meeting with the church, we see them meeting on Sunday. Seventh Day Adventists point out that the Sabbath has never been changed! This is true--it is still Saturday. But we never see the early Christians meeting on the Sabbath--they meet on the first day, commemorating the resurrection. Perhaps some Jewish believers still observed the Sabbath as a day of rest, which is what it was given for, but it was not the day of meeting together.
13-17 They stop at Miletus. Paul apparently keeps some of the Jewish feast days. He sends for who? They come from a distance of about 30 miles. 18-35 are his parting remarks to the leaders of the Ephesian church.
18-21 Here we see Paul speaking to believers, rather than preaching to unbelievers. It's interesting to see what he talked to them about. What do we learn about how Paul ministered? He may have taught individual families in their homes, or more likely, this is a reference to house churches. We may not be preachers, but we can minister to people in our homes, on a one-to-one-basis. What are the basics of salvation, 21? We need to speak of BOTH. We need to present Jesus as the Savior, which means we need SAVED from our sins and the judgment to come. Too often He is just presented as something good to add to our lives to make them even better. When we speak to people about the Lord, do we stick with the basics, or do we get side-tracked onto non-essential subjects?
22-24 And now what? How does he feel about his life and his purpose in life? It might be good to think of our purpose in life, and how we feel about our lives and our future, in similar terms. This makes us think of missionaries who willingly choose to go to dangerous places, with no guarantee of personal safety. We may never have received a calling like Paul's, but do we each have some sort of ministry? What might that be?
25-27 Because of his concerns about Jerusalem, he believes he will never see them again--can you imagine how that made them feel? Why can he say he doesn't have a guilty conscience? If we have an opportunity to speak to someone about the Lord, and don't, should we feel guilty? And what should we do about that guilt? How can we better prepare ourselves for such situations? What does 27 say about a pastor preaching on just a few favorite or "safe" doctrines, or using one verse to launch a sermon full of stories, quotations, jokes, and man's thoughts? Have you ever heard a sermon like that? How did you feel about it--did you like it?
28-31 NASB, "shepherd"; KJV, "feed" in 28. A shepherd's job is to see that his flock is fed and protected. (Does this include entertain?) How does a pastor feed the church? How does he protect them? Twice Paul warns them (28, 31) of what danger to their church? What does the New Testament teach about the church dealing with problems from within? Many churches shy away from biblical church discipline; what results? In 17 we find the word "presbuteros" (senior, older, elder). In 28 Paul uses the word "episkopos" (bishop, superintendent, a Christian officer in charge of a church). So you see where we get the various terms: elder, bishop, even Presbyterians (who have elders) and Episcopalians (who have bishops). Elder and bishop are pretty much the same thing--overseer. Paster and shepherd are the same. We also read about deacons, who seem to serve rather than rule.
From what two directions will this danger arise? Outside, 29, and inside, 30. "Perverse" to us has immoral connotations; it just means to distort, corrupt, misinterpret (Strong's). How many churches today are strict about correct biblical doctrine? And how many will actually deal with any threat? Unfortunately, today many churches are down-playing the importance of correct Bible doctrine in order to attract and not alienate larger numbers. Would you rather go to a large church with wishy-washy teaching, or a smaller church that is following the Bible closely? So is Paul's warning just to church leaders, or to us also? What can we do if we detect such a threat to our church?
32-35 So can Paul protect them anymore? Commend: set before God for His protection (Strong's). How can we be protected? By His Word. How can God's Word protect us from this threat? Is money Paul's motive in gaining converts? He reminds them that he did not take advantage of them financially; apparently accusations were made against him. What example does this set for us? Many small churches have bi-vocational pastors; what are the advantages or disadvantages of this? Does the Bible say there is anything wrong with getting paid to preach or minister? I Cor. 9:6-14.
36-38 They pray together before leaving. Should we use 37 as a model for how we should act toward other believers? Why not? In their culture, kissing was a common gesture of respect, friendship or greeting (on the forehead, lips or hand--men kissing men, women kissing women); in our culture, the Christian must be careful of sexual connotations. Handshakes are common now; hugs are OK but not all people are comfortable with hugs from the opposite sex, and there are many degrees of hugging! Be careful.
1-6 Remember the Luke is a historian; he records many authentic details of the journey. What did they do in Tyre for a week? Why did he disregard their advice? (20:22-24) It's unclear whether they were giving their advice because the Spirit had revealed to them what troubles awaited Paul, or whether the Spirit was commanding him not to go.
7-9 Now who do they spend time with? Everywhere they either make converts or meet with and strengthen the believers. What spiritual gift did Philip have? Remember the incident with the Ethiopian eunuch? What about his four unmarried daughters?
10-14 We meet another prophet. Just as in the Old Testament, prophets receive and speak a direct message from God, which may include foretelling events. Does the Lord direct Paul not to go to Jerusalem? There is disagreement over whether Paul disobeyed the Lord by going on to Jerusalem, also considering that he was sent to minister to the Gentiles. Perhaps God was testing Paul to see if he would go even if he knew what trouble await. Compare Acts 9:15-16. If God WAS telling Paul not to go there, but he disobeyed and went, is God still going to use and work through whatever happens? Do we always do a great job of obeying God? Maybe we're not sure what He wants, or maybe we don't really care so we're not seeking, or maybe we purposefully go our own way. But the Bible makes it clear that God continues to work with us, even in our sin and weakness.
Should Paul, or should we, avoid speaking for God in situations that may be uncomfortable or dangerous? If things turn bad in our country, could we take Paul's attitude--could we stand for the Lord? Christians in many countries are being imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith; what does that say about our version of feel-good Christianity? Is 14 our response to life, even when things don't feel or look good? Where else do we find this admonition? Jesus teaches us to say this in Mat. 6:10; compare His own example in Luke 22:42, and Mary, Luke 1:38. Should we pray for specific things, or pray this? Is it possible that our will in any given situation is better than God's will?
15-19 What did Paul do as soon as he got to Jerusalem? Again we see James as the head of the church there--the presiding elder.
20-26 The Jewish believers, even the leaders, are still concerned about acting pretty Jewish. Many Jewish Christians still wish to observe Jewish customs; some were saying Paul had been teaching new believers to FORSAKE the customs of the Mosaic Law. (Remember, before in Jerusalem we had the problem that some Jews even thought Gentile believers must be circumcised to be saved.) Their solution: they advise Paul to sponsor these Christian Jews who are taking a vow (a Jewish custom, allowable for a believer but obviously optional). This is to prove Paul is not against observing the Law. Compare Paul's comments in I Cor. 7:17-20, 8:8, 9:19-23. How would you summarize what Paul is teaching? We can see that different Christians might choose different ways to deal with situations, as well as with "gray areas." Paul talks about that in Rom. 14-15. So what might we conclude about legalism and freedom?
27-31 Does this strategy satisfy the Jews? These do not appear to be Jewish Christians, but it's hard to say. Compare 28 to Acts 6:13--who is being talked about, 8-15? What do you think Paul might be remembering when he is accused of this? Might he be thinking he deserves what Stephen got, especially since he was involved and approving of that incident? Do you think here and in previous life-threatening situations, he was actually OK with the idea of dying for Christ--who willingly died for HIM--if that's what it came to?
32-40 At first the commander thinks he is a terrorist, but then he realizes he had beaten and chained an educated man, and he quickly makes amends, allowing Paul to speak, probably hoping to quell the riot. Paul has been beaten, the Jews want to kill him, but what is he trying to do now? Is his thought, "how can I save my life and get out of here?" What is the most important thing in Paul's life? Is it his personal comfort? Is it to avoid stress at all costs? Is he saying, "How could a loving God allow this to happen to me?" Even when we're in the middle of a stressful chaotic situation, what can we do? If we remember that others are noticing how we act in that situation, and that God is allowing it for a reason, how might that affect our thoughts, feelings and actions? What is Paul's deep desire, Rom. 9:1-5? Do you suppose this crowd of Jews is larger than he usually gets to address in a synagogue? So here we see what Paul chooses to say to them, now that he has the chance. A minute ago he speaks in Greek, but now in Hebrew? Why the difference? We will see in the next chapter what he says to the crowd and how they respond.
1-5 What are some strategies we see Paul using here to reach these Jews? They understood Greek--why would he speak in Hebrew? How else does he identify with them? Paul was not just a Jew--he was a strict Pharisee, like many of them. How can we adapt these strategies to our attempts to reach others for the Lord? Why doesn't he start out by just TELLING them what he wants them to know about Jesus, and that they need to change? 5, the council of the elders would be the Sanhedrin.
6-11 What strategy does he use now? So we should try to relate to the other person as much as possible, so they can identify with where we are coming from. Then we need to tell them what changed for us, and maybe HOW. In 7, why does the voice say you are persecuting ME (in 8, identified as Jesus)--how was Paul persecuting Jesus? Wasn't he persecuting Christians? Eph. 1:22-23. 10, God had appointed things for Paul to do. Do you think He has appointed things for us to do? The Lord told Paul what those things were, Act 9:15-16. How can we know what God has appointed for us to do? Are we to seek voices or visions or revelations, about specific directions for our lives? We don't find Paul teaching that approach in his letters to the churches; what does he teach in II Tim. 3:15? What else does God give us, James 1:5?
12-16 Ananias is shown to also be a strict law-abiding Jew, someone they could approve of. Why does he say "the God of our fathers" instead of just God? Why is it significant that Paul SAW and HEARD the Lord? Compare Acts 1:21-22. This confirms that Paul is indeed a what? I Cor. 9:1. He is in the same category as the other apostles, who must be eyewitnesses of the risen Lord. 16, can physical water actually wash away sin? How is sin removed? Since baptism was to follow salvation as a public declaration and testimony of the washing away of our sins, the two are often mentioned as one, but water baptism can only PICTURE the inward change brought because of the death, resurrection and new life in Christ.
17-21 Now Paul relates an interesting conversation he had with the Lord. Why does he tell them he was praying "in the temple"? Again, he reminds them that he is still a good Jew, even after believing in Jesus. WAS Christianity really different than Judaism?--it SHOULD be the logical result for every Jew who knows and believes the Old Testament. Have you ever wondered why God sent Paul to the Gentiles, not the Jews, since he was so highly qualified to reach the Jews? Apparently the early church, all Jewish at that time, would not have received or believed or approved him because of his history as a persecutor. As Paul spoken at all about God's love?
22 The Jews listened to him until what point? What did he say that offended them so much? What did Jews think about Gentiles? Even Jewish believers at first had a hard time accepting the fact that God would save Gentiles also, on the SAME basis that He saved THEM. To these unsaved Jews, it probably sounded blasphemous. SURELY God would not save GENTILES? If this is Paul's message, that is so egregious that he ought to DIE! Jews were extremely prejudiced against Gentiles. Think of the black/white conflict in our South in the past.
22-30 Why doesn't the commander know what the ruckus was about? What language was Paul speaking? How does Paul get out of the scourging? So is it biblical to stand up for our rights, or should he have "turned the other cheek" and kept silent (Mat. 7:39-40) and let them mistreat him?
Are these contradictory? It helps to remember that Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7) at the beginning of His ministry when He began by offering the promised earthly kingdom and Himself as the Messiah to the Jews who were looking for the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. In this context, we see the Sermon on the Mount as giving the principles and conditions for living in the kingdom, when Christ would be ruling righteously with a rod of iron; individuals were not to take vengeance into their own hands (7:38-39) apparently because in this righteous kingdom, the Messiah's righteous administration would take care of wrongs. In the kingdom, apparently mankind will be held to an even higher standard of conduct than under the Law; even their thoughts and motives must be pure. Remember that at this time, Satan will be bound (Rev. 20:1-6) and not tempting or deceiving mankind.
We see in this section how God used several elements of Paul's background: his education, his knowledge of the Law, his ability to speak both Hebrew and Greek, his ability to understand and empathize with the Jews (even the most legalistic, zealous ones), and his Roman citizenship. God used these elements both in his outreach to the Jews and to the Gentiles. Sometimes we look at our lives and they look like a patchwork quilt, but wasn't God working His plan from the very beginning of our lives? Will He use us uniquely in His way and His time, with the situations and people He knows will cross our path? Paul had an opportunity to speak before the Jews, and the next day he will speak before the Council of the Jews, or the Sanhedrin.
1-3 What did Paul say he did in Acts 26:10 that indicates he had been a voting member of the Council/Sanhedrin in the past? Gal. 1:14 also implies his high status. Keeping this in mind, why do you think he gazed intently at them before starting to speak? Might he be making eye-contact with those he knew well? Did he see friendship and open-mindedness in any of those eyes? We don't know. His opening statement assured them that he was still a good Jew. So does Paul see faith in Christ as something different than what the Old Testament taught, or as the logical conclusion a Jew would come to?
What does Ananias apparently think of what he just said? Paul knew the law; he was highly educated. Punishing a prisoner before judgment was handed down was against the Roman law; this Ananias was known to be unscrupulous. So we have the high priest making it clear that he didn't care if he followed the law or not in Paul's matter. We don't know how Paul spoke the words in 3. Perhaps he blurted out an angry response; does that response fit with what we've seen of Paul in previous incidents where he was mistreated? So how else might he have said this? Perhaps he stared him down for a moment, then spoke this as a word of prophecy. So what does 3 teach about how we might respond when laws are not followed?
4-5 Again we have two possibilities here. What might we wonder about Paul after comparing Gal. 4:14-15 and 6:11? Or again, we may wonder what tone of voice he used; could this have been sarcasm? Why might he have said this sarcastically? Are we to honor our laws and leaders, even if they are unjust? Rom. 13:1. Do we ever see the New Testament church engaged in social or political change? What ARE they told to be doing? What might Paul be concluding about now regarding his chance to defend himself or speak about the Lord?
6-10 In 6 we read the only statement Paul was able to make to this group; why would he say this? The first half of 6 gives us an insight into Paul's strategy in choosing his next words. After the mob wanted to kill him, 21:31, and the Romans were wanting to scourge him, 22:24 (often resulting in death), and now there is obviously no justice to be found in this court, Paul could see the writing on the wall. He apparently decided that turning the two factions against each other would get HIM off the hook. He aligns himself with the Pharisees and the point of doctrine that divided the two groups. But in so saying, he also managed to make his own main point; what key truth does he "preach"? Another riot develops; how does he escape the danger?
11 How do you suppose Paul feels that night in jail? He had two opportunities to preach to the Jews; how did these turn out? How do we feel when we have an opportunity to speak to someone about the Lord, and either we don't find the words we want, or they don't respond the way we'd like? We don't know if Paul did the best he could, or if he was feeling defeated because he didn't do better.
Might he be wondering if, the way things are going here in Jerusalem, he'll ever have any more chances to witness and preach? Might he be wondering if he should never have challenged the high priest? Paul is human and fallible like us. Again the Lord actually appears to him; what are His first words? Why would He say this? Looking ahead at 12, are things going to get any better the next day? Are our lives sometimes like this? Going from one disaster or near-disaster to another? Is the Lord with us? How can we "be of good cheer" when life is like that, and things might even be worse tomorrow?
Does He say to Paul, "What did you say THAT for? Why didn't you do better?" Does He say that to us when we fail to speak up for Him the way we'd like to? Rather, the Lord affirms that Paul DID do his best to witness for Him, and assures him that he WILL have another opportunity. Our best is often not very good, but God doesn't require perfection, just willingness to try.
12-15 How serious are these Jews? What did they say back in 22:22? What had Paul said that infuriated them? Here we see what can happen when people with religious zeal do not have a relationship God, which the Bible says must be on what basis? John 14:6. They think nothing of lying and killing to accomplish their purposes; do we see anything like this today? Paul's situation certainly looks hopeless, doesn't it? Have we ever been in a situation that looked hopeless?
16-21 What do we learn about Paul's family here? How might the nephew have learned of this plot? So Paul just happened to have family here, and the son just happened to hear of the plot? Or was God using and weaving together these elements too?
22-35 So was the nephew allowed to speak to the commander? Did Paul refuse the nephew's help, saying, "Oh, don't worry, I'm trusting the Lord to protect me"? Should we do whatever is in our power to solve our problems, or does trusting the Lord mean doing NOTHING? Does God often use people and earthly resources to provide us with His help? Did the commander believe the nephew? Did he decide to protect Paul and act on this information? Did Paul refuse the armed escort because he was trusting the Lord? Did Paul arrive safely at Caesarea (a 65 mile trip)? Any of these could have turned out differently--who is really in charge here?
Paul still doesn't know what the future holds, but so far, he has been delivered from numerous close calls. What lesson can we learn from this story to apply to our lives when things look bleak? Will God ALWAYS deliver us from danger or trouble? Doesn't He sometimes let the "bad thing" happen? So how should we pray when things look hopeless? And how should we act/think/feel?
In this chapter we will see Paul in the center of religious and political gamesmanship. None of Paul's adversaries are concerned with God's truth; all are concerned with their own religious and political agendas. Do we see anything like this in our world today? Even in churches? Has man's basic nature changed at all?
1 Paul has been delivered safely to Caesarea, to Felix the governor, in spite of the threat on his life by the Jews, and is awaiting his accusers. Now who arrives? Where did we just see this Ananias? In 23:1-5. Remember Claudius Lysias had sent along a letter--what had he concluded about Paul, in 23:29? These elders would be representatives of the Sanhedrin Council, where Paul had attempted to speak until a riot broke out. The attorney (orator, KJV) would be a Roman advocate, since the Jews were not well-versed in Roman law.
2-9 Tertullus presents their case against Paul. He starts with typical lawyer stuff--political posturing and flattery (Felix was actually a very cruel ruler). What specifically does he accuse Paul of? Do the charges sound worthy of death? Does he present any hard evidence? Only rumor and innuendo. To make them sound more serious, what negatively "loaded" terms does he choose? "Nazarenes" was a contemptuous name for Christians. Today we see similar strategies used in the creation/evolution controversy. Since scientific facts are on the side of creationists, evolutionists must resort to name-calling, emotionalism, false charges, and exaggeration, a sure sign that they lack facts to back them up.
10-21 Paul is now allowed to speak in his own defense. In contrast to the heated opposition, he gives simple facts and denies their charges. What did the Lord tell Paul on the road to Damascus, 9:15-16? What does he do here--defend himself or speak a word for the Lord? Or both? How does he present himself in 11? If he were only defending himself, couldn't he have stopped after 13? When he begins to admit his beliefs in 14 and on, why doesn't he just blurt out that he believes Jesus Christ is God and is the only way of salvation? What is his witnessing strategy in 14? Does he ever mention the name of Jesus? So in what way did he give the message about Jesus?
14, sect (heresy, KJV) refers to a party or division. Paul is referring to the charge in 5, and the fact that within Judaism, there were already sects--the party of the Pharisees and that of the Sadducees. So he is saying he is still a good Jew, merely a follower of another Jewish sect. He always points out to the Jews that accepting Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior is NOT another religion but actually the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures that they know and believe. He says he believes "everything," subtly pointing out that by rejecting Jesus, they DON'T believe everything in the Law and the Prophets.
21, when Paul had made the statement to the Council about the resurrection from the dead, how did the Pharisees first react to Paul, 23:9? Why, 23:7-8? But now the Jews are against him, 23:27, not one party or the other. Why would the two parties first divide over him, then unite against him? Today do we see religious groups that believe and teach that other groups are not "right," yet both (or at least, some members of both) unite for or against a particular cause? What causes? Do you think this is good? wrong? dangerous?
What can we learn from Paul here about how to witness to others? Should witnessing be confrontational? Depending on who we are speaking to, and where we are, might we choose our words carefully, tactfully, in a way that relates to what that person already believes, not alienating them, but in a way that invites questions or discussion? And again we see Paul successfully using the legal system--not rolling over and giving up. This is not the place to turn the other cheek, according to Paul.
22-27 Has governor Felix been convinced by the heated exaggerations of the accusers? Paul was obviously innocent of the trumped-up charges, so why does Felix keep him in custody? Who is he trying to please, or appease? Does this remind you of Pilate, who had Jesus crucified even though he knew He was innocent--in order to please who? Who should WE be most concerned about pleasing? Even if it displeases others?? Apparently Paul's presentation gave him a clearer understanding of "the Way" than what he had before. Why did Felix get frightened? What did Paul talk about, 24-25? Why might he choose these subjects? Are these subjects we would choose to talk to someone about if we had a chance to tell them about Jesus? Compare John 16:8.
Don't we often prefer to tell people that Jesus loves them, will fill that hole in their heart, and make their life better, etc.? Might this be why many people appear to become Christians, then fall away from their "faith" or never grow? What is the advantage of speaking to them about their sin problem, that God will judge sin, and the need for righteousness in order to go to heaven instead of hell? Which approach does the Bible teach? Many people don't believe they are sinners; what part of the Bible can we take them to in order to convince them of their hopeless condition? The ten commandments--God gave us His law to show us our need for a Savior. THEN we can present them with the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ's shed blood.
Apparently he was a very cruel ruler. Also, his wife is mentioned; their relationship could create guilt in his mind. She was very young, had been engaged to a prince, who refused to marry her so she was married a king, and then Felix seduced her so that she left her husband and married him. Yet she was Jew by birth. Her father was the Herod Agrippa that was eaten by worms, Acts. 12:23. Knowing all this, perhaps Paul's remarks in 15-16 were designed to speak to Felix about his sin; he spoke of the resurrection of the wicked (implying judgment to come), and of keeping a blameless conscience. Why might Felix become frightened at Paul's message? We don't read that Paul tried to convince him of God's great love for him. After speaking with Paul numerous times, did Felix come to believe? We wonder if the ONLY reason they spoke to Paul was about money, or if there had been some real curiosity to know, at least at first? Do some people sit in church for years, hearing but not believing, keeping God at arm's length? The more light we have, the more God will hold us responsible for what we know. When people refuse to believe because they claim they are not convinced, what is usually the REAL problem they refuse to believe? The intellectual problem, or the sin problem?
1-5 What had just happened at the end of Acts 24? Shortly after that, Festus makes a trip where? How long had elapsed since Paul's arrest because of the hatred of the Jews? What is the plan of the Jews? But what is the plan of Festus?
6-12 What do the Jews do right after Festus returns to Caesarae? What does Paul say in 8? Summarize the exchange between Paul and Festus. Again we see Paul sticking to his guns, legally speaking. He uses the system to his advantage, and refuses to cave to pressure that would have him at a disadvantage; he will be safer where he is at. If you have "smarts," can God use that? If you aren't so smart, and make a decision that isn't so good, is God still working in that situation? Even if we haven't used our best judgment, is God still working in our situation? This Caesar is Caesar Nero, who in later years became extremely anti-Christian.
13-22 Agrippa was the son of the Herod who martyred James, and the grandson of the Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded, and the great-grandson of the Herod who killed all the baby boys when he tried to have baby Jesus killed. He lived with his sister Bernice in an incestuous relationship. Besides this particular relationship, she led a very immoral life. So this is who shows up now. He has no jurisdiction in this matter, but Festus wants his opinion. 18-20, what is Festus puzzled about? If he doesn't think Paul is guilty of anything, why doesn't he just let him go? Paul was a victim of political game-playing, but how is God using that for good? 22, we may wonder why Agrippa wants to hear Paul. He was very knowledgeable about Jewish beliefs and practices. We wonder if he truly was open to hearing God's truth about Jesus. But when we consider his background, and his response to Paul in the next chapter, it appears he is only curious.
23-27 Who all is in Paul's audience? What had God promised Paul in 9:15? How do you suppose Paul feels? Since Festus doesn't think he has committed any serious crime, what is he after now?
1-3 Now we have Paul's defense before Agrippa--probably his most important speech. This is not a trial; Agrippa is merely curious about this prisoner and his case. Paul will not be on trial until he appears before Caesar in Rome. Let's review the background context of this chapter. How long had Paul been waiting in prison, 24:27? Paul had done no preaching in that time except in his conversations with Felix and any other individuals he was around. What is now the setting according to 25:23? There was great what? What do rich, important people think is important? It was quite a royal show. Who all was present?
What do you suppose Paul is thinking and feeling? He addresses King Agrippa throughout this speech, yet he is well aware of his audience and the opportunity he has to present the gospel to many influential people. Why is he so happy to speak to Agrippa in particular? Felix and Festus weren't knowledgeable about Jewish teachings, but Agrippa was; he was in a unique position to understand Paul's message. Is his audience Jewish or Gentile? Apparently Paul's Jewish accusers were not present.
4-8 Does Paul still consider himself a Jew? Did he see being a Christian as something different from being a Jew, or as being the fulfillment of what a true Jew SHOULD be? What does he say is the main thing about being a Jew--faith in what promise? the Jewish belief he mentions in 8. Paul is setting the stage to talk to them about what? Today many people claim there are 10 lost tribes; what does Paul say in 7? This is because when the kingdom split, the faithful from all tribes in the northern kingdom moved to Judah so they could continue to worship at the temple, II Chron. 11.
9-11 Now that Paul has set the stage, he admits the cruel things he did in the past; why did he do them, 9? We see in 11 the same pattern we see in the Jews who hate Paul and his message so much that they follow him from city to city, trying to do what?
12-18 Now we have the centerpiece of Paul's message--the day his life changed. If you tell people what you believe, they can disagree with you, but when you tell them what happened to you, they can't disagree. And your personal story may draw people more than facts, and may be easier for you to share than a factual presentation. There is a place for both. Paul gives us a little more detail than the account we read in Acts 9. He points out that Jesus appeared to him; why did that change his thinking about who Jesus is? Jesus appointed him to witness to what? 17, the Greek word for "sending" is the word for "apostle," so here we see him chosen as an apostle personally by Jesus just as the other eleven were. So what is an apostle, according to 16? An eyewitness of the resurrection; there are no longer apostles. I Cor. 13:8 speaks of spiritual gifts that will cease; apostles would be one. He also mentions the fact that the things he later learned about Jesus were given him in direct revelation, not by human teaching--just as the other apostles were taught directly by Jesus.
Who needs the message of Jesus, according to 17? (perhaps Paul emphasized the word "Gentile" to his audience...) Would this be a way of saying, all unbelievers? What does 18 say about the eyes of all unbelievers? And that they are all in what? And that they are all under whose power? Paul speaks of the need for unbelievers to repent, but what word does he use? They must turn "from" and "to"--both are included in "repent." So often people are told to "accept" or "receive" Jesus, but can that truly be done if they haven't repented? And what do those who repent receive, 18? So is Paul telling his own story, or is he preaching to Agrippa and to all who are present? What an effective, non-confrontational way to get God's message out.
19-23 Now Paul brings his message right to Agrippa; he basically says, "What else could I have done? Wouldn't YOU have done the same thing?" He's inviting Agrippa to agree with him. In 20, how does he recap and reinforce his important point from 18? He has spoken of sin and repentance. By telling about his own past sin and repentance, he subtly implies that Agrippa too needs to do this, without saying so to his face. (Perhaps he again emphasized the word "Gentiles"...) He also says that repentance should be visible to others because of a changed life. Earlier he talked about being convinced because of seeing the risen Christ; now in 22, what authority does he appeal to? 23, what facts about Christ does the Old Testament teach? (I daresay that perhaps he again emphasizes "AND to the Gentiles"...) Does he ever mention God's love as a motivation for his own conversion, or for anyone else's?
24-26 What had Paul just said before Festus interrupts him? But how had Paul already paved the way for this statement, back in 8? When we tell people that Jesus died for their sins, what then should we also tell them? Why is that so important--what does it prove about Jesus? How could you use this same reasoning in talking to people who have doubts about the six-day creation story? If they believe God raised Jesus from the dead, why would it be hard to believe that He could create the world out of nothing in six days, like He said He did?
What in particular does Festus ridicule about Paul? His knowledge--about what? Can you study God's Word too much? What is the purpose of Bible study? Is it an end in itself? Those who do not know the Bible well, or do not value knowledge, excuse their lack of knowledge or lack of interest by ridiculing that knowledge in others. Some Christians and some churches minimize the importance of Bible study and emphasize love and unity; if we don't know and obey the Bible, do we really have anything to have unity around? Some emphasize spiritual experiences and emotions instead. What is the subject of Psalm 119? Every verse speaks of God's Word and tells us how we are to feel about it and what we should do about it. What does Jesus say about Bible knowledge in Mat. 22:37? The Bible repeats this command in Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27, so it must be important. What does Paul say in II Tim. 2:15, 3:15-17? If Bible truth isn't central, a church is only a social club.
Is Paul intimidated by this put-down? Does he get embarrassed, turn red or start back-pedaling? He addresses Festus with respect. If people disagree with or even ridicule our beliefs, can we still show confidence, and love for them? Paul speaks of truth; do politicians have much concept of truth, or respect for it?
27-29 Paul knows that Agrippa understands what he's been talking about--that Gentiles now have the same spiritual privileges as Jews, and how furious that makes the Jews. What was not done in a corner? The death and resurrection of Jesus would obviously have been widely reported; about 30 years have passed.
What does Paul ask Agrippa? We never see the concept of giving your life to Jesus, or inviting Him into our hearts--the Bible speaks of believing, of repenting, of being born again. If we use unbiblical terminology, we can create false perceptions. Does the Bible say we are to bring anything to Jesus (like our lives)? Does it say we have anything to give Him (like our lives)? People would like to think they have something to give, but they don't. Jesus is the one who gave. We don't invite Him; He invited us, and we are to respond to His invitation, with nothing in our hands to bring in exchange. Paul doesn't ask Agrippa to have blind faith; he asks him to believe in what? God's Word. He knows that Agrippa knows what the Prophets said; can someone believe the facts in the Bible without putting their trust in Christ? Being a Christian means having a personal relationship with Christ. "No man comes to the Father but by Me," John 14:6.
There are two ways to look at 28. Some commentaries suggest Agrippa is saying that Paul is about to persuade him to become a Christian. Others think he is marveling that Paul has tried to persuade him to become a Christian in such a short time. Perhaps he is saying, "don't you know who I AM?" Either way, why do you suppose Agrippa doesn't believe? Is it because he doesn't have enough evidence to believe? He is a politician, a pervert...and, like most people, a sinner with a pride problem. Many people have enough evidence but refuse to believe because they would have to do what? Paul invites all his listeners to believe as he does--either now or in the future.
30-32 Does Agrippa answer yes or no? Why won't he say yes? Why won't he say no? What would the Jewish audience think, or maybe do, if he said he didn't believe the Prophets? Why didn't anyone believe? Read I Cor. 1:18, 2 all.
Paul has had many opportunities to preach, but perhaps this is his finest hour, his boldest, clearest, most complete presentation. Are we told that anyone believed? We don't know who in the audience might believe later.
There is much application in this chapter for us. Whether we are preaching, teaching, witnessing, or just hoping to be prepared when an opportunity comes up, we should study Paul's strategies for reaching people. What are some practical ideas we can take from this chapter?
1-3 The last two chapters of Acts cover Paul's trip to from Caesarea to Rome, under Roman guard, with other prisoners. Who is the "we" in 1? As usual, he gives us many interesting factual details; Luke's account here is accepted as accurate in all details and an excellent historical record of the time. Who else is traveling on the ship? He is mentioned several times elsewhere as being with Paul, so evidently a fellow believer. Paul was treated well; in what way was he different than the other prisoners?
4-8 What happens in 6? How is the sailing?
9-12 What time clue do we find in 9? The Day of Atonement was probably early October, a dangerous time for sailing. Paul has a different opinion about the trip than the pilot and captain; does it say that the Lord told him this? It may have been a prophetic insight, or may just show that Paul was an experienced traveler and had been in shipwrecks before (II Cor. 11:25). Whose opinion carries the most weight? It didn't look good to stay, and it didn't look good to go on; are we ever forced to choose between two bad options? How should we as Christians deal with that situation?
13-20 They make a choice, and it initially appears that things might turn out OK; but before long, 14, things rapidly deteriorate. What was so bad in their situation about not seeing the sun or stars for days? Have things ever gone like that in your life? How do you react? Is it possible to trust God when all appears lost and even your life may be in danger?
21-26 The men were hungry and weak. According to 21, was Paul's earlier advice just that--advice--or a message from God? 22-24, but now he HAS heard from God; what two things was he told? God had already told him earlier that he would testify in Rome. Why do you suppose God decided to save all these unbelievers? What did he tell them in 23 about God? Why do you suppose he added that? He exhorts them to be courageous; KJV says "be of good cheer"--why does he say they should? He's telling them that God's Word is true and to be trusted. If God's Word says something but circumstances appear different, could you believe God's Word?
27-32 It's been two weeks since they left--a very long two weeks of trouble, fear and danger. Paul is now recognized as the leader. Apparently they weren't laughing or scoffing at his message from the angel.
33-38 What does Paul tell them in 34? What does he do in 35? Why? They throw everything overboard; this reminds me of the pioneers who left their possessions along the trail, helping their oxen or horses to get them to their destination alive. When survival is the question, do material things matter? Does God ever put us in tight situations to teach us something? What kinds of things?
39-44 Earlier the sailors wanted to abandon the rest; now the soldiers want to kill the prisoners. Both times Paul was able to keep everyone together and alive. They had no idea where they were, but they grounded the ship on the island of Malta, out in the middle of the Mediterranean. If they had missed it, they probably would have been goners. Did everything happen like God said it would? Have you ever had a really close call and realized that it was only by the grace of God that things worked out? How did that make you feel? How do you suppose the other passengers feel about Paul and about his God?
1-6 The shipwreck left them at the island of Malta, south of Sicily. KJV speaks of "barbarians," meaning they didn't speak Latin or Greek. It meant foreigners, not uncivilized people. Dr. Luke tells us about a medical miracle. What had Paul been doing? Serving. If we are doing good, doing what we are supposed to be doing, serving God or others, are we guaranteed everything will go good for us? When bad things happen, does it always mean we've sinned and are being punished? How did God use the viper incident? Mark 16:18 speaks of God's protection for those who might have a run-in with a snake; some have taken this out of context and made the handling of poisonous snakes a religious but unbiblical ritual. This is the only such recorded instance in the Bible.
7-10 Then Dr. Luke tells us about what other miracle? Does 9 say the others were healed, or cured? What would be the difference? Who might have given them medical attention? Does it say Paul preached there? Do you think he did?
11-15 Paul, his companions, the prisoners, soldiers and sailors leave the island; why did they wait three months? They sail to the east coast of Sicily, then up the west coast of Italy. Paul had obviously not planted a church here, but he HAD written the Epistle to the Romans three years earlier. Jews from Rome may have been in Jerusalem on the feast day of Pentecost might have been converted, then returned to Rome and formed a church. Romans is Paul's longest letter and the most detailed theologically, perhaps because he himself had NOT founded this church and he wanted to make sure they had access to all his teaching.
16 How might God have used this situation? How might this play into what we read in Phil. 1:12-13? So does Luke remain with him? We read of no more "we."
17-20 We have always seen Paul go first to the Jews, by visiting the local synagogue; what does he do here? What does he mean about the chain and the hope of Israel?
21-22 Finally here is a place where the Jews had not come to harass and threaten Paul's life. What is their response to Paul? What do we learn about "The Way" at this early time?
23-24 One commentator describes this group as containing "earnest inquirers after truth, frivolous worldlings, and prejudiced bigots." In other words, three types of people: sincere truth-seekers, people that just don't "get it" and maybe aren't even looking for it (yet), and those who refuse to believe.
What topics were Paul's main concern? God's love? Jesus and the kingdom. What is the kingdom? We talked a lot about this in going through the Gospels, especially in Matthew. There are two aspects of the kingdom: 1) the present spiritual kingdom, which we are part of if we are born again--eternal life; and 2) the future earthly kingdom, when Jesus returns to rule over the earth for 1000 years.
Is this what we should focus on in talking to unbelievers? If they are not clear on who Jesus is, then does anything else really matter? And if they repent and believe on Jesus, they are part of God's kingdom and will have eternal life. Should we talk to unbelievers about the Lord's return? His return will bring God's judgment on all unbelievers. Unbelievers need to know that judgment and hell await them unless they repent.
HOW did Paul try to persuade them? What is another term for "the Law and the Prophets"? The Law may refer to the books of Moses--the first five books of the Old Testament, or it may refer to the entire Old Testament. The Prophets refer to all the books following the first five. So this term means the Old Testament, or at that time, the Scriptures, because the New Testament was not yet written. Do we know the basics of Scripture well enough to use it to point someone to salvation?
Does Luke say that any "invited Jesus into their hearts" or "gave their lives to the Lord"? What biblical term DOES he use? Those terms are popular today but are not found in the Bible; they are actually unbiblical in meaning. Inviting Him says that HE responds to US, that we initiate it. This is wrong; we love Him because He first loved us. He chose us and called us. He invites us; we respond--we receive/believe Him. He gave His life for us; we have nothing to give Him, and must come with empty hands.
25-29 Who is the author of the Bible, according to 25? How can this be? 26-27, what did the Old Testament prophets say about Israel's spiritual condition? Are they the only ones like that? Did they not believe because they hadn't heard or didn't understand yet, or because they refused to believe after they heard all the evidence? 28, so did Paul continue pleading with them, on and on? If we have been speaking to someone about the Lord, and after hearing the evidence they deny that Jesus is God--refuse to believe--should we continue to press the issue, or does there come a time when we should do as Paul did? Remember, this was the source of the fury the unbelieving Jews had toward Paul, even desiring to kill him--that he taught that the Gentiles could also receive God's salvation on equal terms as the Jews.
We have seen all through Acts that Paul always presented the gospel to the Jews first in every place he went, but when they did not accept the truth, he then preached his message to the Gentiles. We often see the phrase in the New Testament, "to the Jew first and also to the Gentile." We saw in the Gospels that when Jesus came, He presented Himself to Israel as their promised Messiah, but they did not accept Him, John 1:11. So THEN He began preaching to the Gentiles also. This is probably the clearest in Matthew, the Gospel written to the Jews. The early church was made up of both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians; we will see as we go through the Epistles that there was often tension between these two groups which caused much conflict in the church.
Could you show someone the way of salvation using only the Old Testament? What might you show them? I didn't find something in every book, but here is what I did find. I'm sure someone else could find something in every book.
Genesis 1:26, Us, Our--the Trinity; 3, sin, Messiah/Savior/seed of the woman promised in 3:15; 22, pictures the Father offering His only Son as a sacrifice, on the same spot Christ will later be crucified, the lamb promised (John 1:29).
Exodus 12, blood of lamb saves from death; 20, 10 Commandments (Jesus is our sabbath, our rest from the works of the Law, Heb. 4:10).
Lev. 17:11, shedding of blood required for sin; 23, the 7 feasts of Israel point to Christ.
Num. 21:8-9, a type of Christ; 24:17, Christ, the star.
Deut. 6:4, God (plural) is one; 18:15-19, Christ/prophet; 21:22-23, crucifixion; 23:5 & 33:3, God loves (John 3:16).
Joshua means Jehovah is Savior, Joshua=Jesus, he is a type of Christ, leads his people to victory, promised land.
Judges, the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ, 6:22, 13:21-22.
Ruth, part of the line of Christ, Boaz pictures the Kinsman-Redeemer (Christ).
I Samuel, Hannah's prophetic prayer, especially 2:10.
II Samuel 7:12-16, prophecy of the Messiah and His eternal kingdom (not just a temporary political kingdom).
II Kings 1:3,15, 19:35, the angel of the Lord = Christ.
I Chronicles, genealogies, the line leading to Christ. 14:4, David's sons, leading to Mary and Joseph. 17:10-14, the Messiah to come in David's line.
Nehemiah 2:1, dates the beginning of Daniel's 70 weeks, the timeline of the Messiah; 9:37, Christ the King.
Job 16:21, the need for a Mediator between God and man; 19:25-27, the Redeemer will come to the earth in the last days.
Psalms, much about the Messiah. 2:2,7-8; 14:7; 22, the crucifixion; 55:12-15, betrayal (by Judas); 69, the crucifixion; 105:40 (compare John 6:51); 110:1, Father/Son.
Proverbs 8:22-31, wisdom pictures Christ; 30:4, God's Son.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 judgment is coming, we are all doomed if left to our own devices.
Song of Solomon, pictures the Shepherd King and His bride (the church).
Isaiah 7:14, virgin birth, and Messiah = God because Immanuel means "God with us." 9:1, Messiah will be from Galilee; 9:6, the Messiah/child/God's Son is equal with the Father. 35:5-6, how to recognize the Messiah. 48, esp. 48:16, Christ, the Son, the Messiah, is God--the third person of the Trinity. 50:6, Jesus before crucifixion. 53, the Bible's clearest explanation of Christ's substitutionary death. 55:1, salvation is free, He paid it. 59:1-2,12, we must recognize and repent of our sin which separates us from God; 15-20, God provided salvation, an Intercessor, a Redeemer. 61:1-2a, Jesus read this in the synagogue (Luke 4:18) as pointing to Himself as the Lord's anointed--the promised Messiah. 64:6, even our best deeds are not good enough. 66:2,5a, God accepts the humble (not the proud, like the Pharisees), those who know and tremble at (revere, obey) His Word.
Jeremiah 22:28-30, virgin birth, Joseph couldn't be Jesus' human father because he is in the cursed line (Mat. 1:11); 31:15, Herod tries to kill baby Jesus (Mat. 2:18).
Ezekiel 14:14, no man could convict Jesus of sin because He was sinless, no sinful man could die for anyone else's sin.
Daniel 2:44-45, He is the Stone cut without hands, whose kingdom will crush all others and endure forever. 4:25-28, He is the angel of the Lord in the fiery furnace. 9:25-26, of the 70 seven's (weeks), 7 plus 62, or 69 sevens equals 483 years, exactly from the decree (Neh. 2:4-8) until the year of Christ's crucifixion, when Messiah is cut off.
Hosea 5:15, Christ will return to heaven and come back again when Israel is ready to repent and accept Him as Messiah; 11:1, Christ is the Son of God, after His birth His parents took Him to Egypt until God told them to return home.
Jonah 1:17, Jonah's 3 days in the fish pictures Christ's death, burial and resurrection.
Micah 5:2, Messiah will come from Bethlehem, and He will be eternal/God Himself.
Habakkuk 3:13, the Messiah/God's anointed will strike Satan's head (fatal wound), compare Gen. 3:15--on the cross.
Zephaniah 3, the Messiah will destroy man's kingdoms and restore Israel's kingdom when they humble themselves.
Haggai 2, Messiah will overthrow man's kingdoms.
Zechariah 9:9-10, Israel's king will come riding on a donkey, He will bring peace to the nations. 11:12-13, bought by 30 pieces of silver, compare Mat. 27:3-10. 12:10, after God destroys the nations, Israel will recognize the One they pierced (crucified) and mourn/repent. 13:7, when the Shepherd is struck (crucified), the sheep (the disciples) scatter. 14:4, He will return to the Mount of Olives, compare Acts 1:9-12.
Malachi 3:1, the one whom God will send will be the Lord Himself, God in the flesh.
30-31 Does Paul's trial before Caesar happen right away? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? When things don't happen according to our plan or timetable, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Considering this, how should we try to look at the things that happen in our lives? The circumstances of Paul's death are unclear, but he was eventually put to death by Rome. He may have been re-arrested after his trial. What was he doing during these two years? Since he was renting his own quarters, he was probably working. And here he wrote the letters to the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians.
What are some things we have learned from Paul about witnessing, about our opportunities to speak to others about the Lord? What are the key points he makes? The subject of God's love is absent in this book; that fact is easy to miss, because it requires us to notice something that is NOT there. Yet today Christians tend to think that should be the key point in sermons or in personal witnessing to unbelievers. Yes, the Bible speaks of God's great love; John speaks of God's love more than any other writer. There are more references to us loving God and loving others than to God's love for us. Is it possible that we have overemphasized the subject of God's love, especially in connection with reaching the lost? Even in the Gospels, we don't find this the emphasis of Jesus in His preaching. In the past we heard of "fiery" preaching, of fire and brimstone preaching. Which more effectively brings about the sinner's desire for repentance? It's easier to tell your friends about God's love than to talk about sin and repentance and who Jesus really is, but is it as effective? I daresay that the "Dr. Spock generation" has changed the emphasis from strict discipline to love, not only in child-raising but in church circles. Discipline, or God's wrath, may be offensive, so let's soften the message and try to attract people with love. This may or may not be valid, but it's very interesting that we don't see God's love as the focus, or even as one element, of the preaching of the apostles.
What are some key historical developments we have seen in God's plan for the ages? One is the birth of the church, Acts 2--the beginning of a new dispensation, that of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who now empowers believers. This distinguishes the church from believers of other times, and will end when the church is caught up to meet the Lord in the air, I Thes.4:14-18, just before the beginning of the seven years of tribulation.
We find this in II Thes. 2. In 2:2 Paul speaks of the coming of the day of the Lord, which we saw throughout the Old Testament as referring to the period that begins with the day of wrath (the tribulation) and continuing through the thousand-year reign of the Messiah on earth. In 2:3 he speaks of the apostasy which must come first--the great departure, the rapture, the catching away of the church; after that the man of lawlessness will appear--the Beast, the Antichrist.
He repeats these facts again in 2:6-8. The only power able to restrain Satan's working is God Himself, the Holy Spirit, indwelling believers and empowering them with God's own power. 2:7, when the church is removed, that power will be removed, and the Holy Spirit will once again be present and active on the earth in the same way as He was in the Old Testament, but no longer indwelling believers with power. 2:8, at some point following the church's departure, the lawless one--the Beast --will be revealed.
Another important development in God's plan for the ages is the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church, Acts 10-11. This was actually prophesied in the Old Testament, Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, 51:4, but we saw in Acts that the unbelieving Jews tried to kill Paul on numerous occasions because he was preaching this truth.
As we go through the Epistles, we will read more about both these important truths--the indwelling of the Holy Spirit with power, and the church being made up of believing Jews and Gentiles, with the conflict that causes in the church.
Return to Jan's Bible Notes