Tag Archives: Bible

Acts of the Apostles 4.1-12

When we last left off Peter and John had just performed a miracle in the Temple by making a man who had born lame able to walk. This attracted a crowd of people, presumably mostly Jewish, to which Peter delivered a second speech proclaiming to his fellow Jews that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for, so they should repent of their lack of faith in Jesus as Messiah and join the community that He established “in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” (Acts 3.19). We did not, however, learn of the reaction of the people to Peter’s speech; that is reserved for the following verses, the first part of which will be covered in this post.

As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Book of ActsFollowing Peter’s Pentecost speech there is no mention of any opposition to his words, but here, for the first time in the narrative, opposition is encountered. The Sadducees were a sect of Jews who taught that there was no resurrection (Matthew 22.23; Mark 12.18), so naturally they would be disturbed if someone was proclaiming that someone rose from the dead. Not only did this challenge one of their defining teachings, but it also was a threat to their power as well since they were members of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of ancient Israel to which all questions of the Jewish faith (e.g. the Law; Law of Moses) were finally put; one of their defining teachings being proven false threatens their credibility to accurately interpret and decide on matters of the Jewish faith.

So in order to keep their credibility and power they have Peter and John put in jail. However Peter’s words had already had an effect on the people since “the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” The word translated “men” here is the Greek term andron, which usually refers to men or husbands; so the number of male Christian believers is now at about 5,000, and the total number of believers presumably higher with women and children added in. Often the Jews, when discussed in relation to Biblical events, get a bad rep, however a significant number of them did come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and the early Christian community was primarily composed of Jewish converts. Let’s not forget that.

5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Annas and Caiaphas are mentioned previously in Scripture as presiding over Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (specifically mentioned in Matthew 26.57-68 and John 18.12-28), so they are no strangers to opposing Jesus and His followers; in fact they were part of the group that persuaded Pilate to have Jesus crucified. Peter is certainly aware of who these men are and what their feelings are towards Jesus and His followers, but that doesn’t dissuade him from continuing to proclaim what he has consistently proclaimed: that Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, buried, and rose again and there is salvation in no one else; He is the Messiah that we have been expecting and His kingdom has been established.

Thus far in the narrative Peter has given three speeches and each speech has been delivered to the same audience: Jews, and had a consistent message: Jesus the Nazarene is the prophesied Messiah you have been waiting for, so repent of your lack of faith in Him and join the community He established. Even when faced with a group that he knew to be hostile towards his message he still did not change it, but proclaimed it faithfully. His faithfulness was not due to him being logically convinced of a theological system of beliefs, but rather because he had witnessed the events he was proclaiming and could not deny his experience.

I have mentioned previously that Christianity is based on the historical event of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, not on any particular system of theology; the theology can fall away and be proven false, but as long as Jesus rose from the dead Christianity is true. I say this is the basis because this is what the Apostles themselves claimed as the basis of the faith, and we have seen Peter state that basis three times now in the Acts of the Apostles.

As Christians the basis of our faith should be this basis as well; Jesus has risen and defeated death and through Him we have eternal life and salvation. In the Christian culture I was raised in I found this basis unfortunately neglected and not proclaimed to the extent I believed that it should have been. To me it seemed that more effort was devoted to defending particular doctrinal or theological beliefs (though this certainly does have a place), and not enough to proclaiming and reminding me of Jesus’ resurrection and the implications of that event.

The Biblical Storyline

In the previous post the Apostle Peter referenced a promise God gave to Abraham (who was then known as Abram):

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

This quotation comes from Genesis 12.1-3. Genesis is the first book in the Bible and is the book of beginnings. Not so much the beginnings of the Earth and mankind (though these are briefly mentioned), but the beginnings of the rest of the story contained in the Bible. Understanding the events of Genesis is critical to understanding the events in the rest of the Bible; without this understanding the events of the Bible will seem like one big disjointed mess that doesn’t make a bit of sense. So before we can understand this promise to Abram in Genesis 12, we first must go back to the beginning of Genesis and understand the events that transpired earlier in the book.

The Bible has a protagonist (the central character) and an antagonist (the opposition to the central character). The protagonist in the Bible is God and is introduced in the opening sentence of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.” The antagonist is Satan and is introduced in Genesis 3.1, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.”

In the opening chapters of Genesis the actions of the protagonist, God, are to create a world and establish man and woman to rule over it (Gen. 1.26-28). The antagonist, Satan, opposes God by corrupting this established order and causing humanity to be ruled over by creation (Gen. 3.1-7). In response to Satan’s actions God promises to destroy Satan and redeem humanity (see Gen 3.15, especially: “…He shall bruise you on the head…”). The rest of the Biblical story develops along this line: God’s plan to crush Satan and redeem humanity, and Satan’s opposition to God’s plan.

With Noah humanity is wiped out and the anticipation is that Noah is the promised deliverer, the Messiah, promised in Gen. 3.15. However Noah allows himself to be ruled by creation as well (Gen. 9.21), thus demonstrating that he is not the Messiah. When we arrive at Abram (Abraham) God reveals that it is through Abraham’s descendants that the Messiah will come (Gen. 12.1-3, especially vv. 2b-3a), then specifically through Isaac (Gen. 21.12), then Jacob (Gen. 28.10-15, esp. vv. 13-15 which reiterate the promise to Abraham in 12.1-3), then David (2 Samuel 7.4-17).

This is why Matthew begins his Gospel by tracing Jesus’ genealogy: his audience was primarily Jewish, and they believed that the Messiah would come from David’s descendants, thus it was important to establish this fact right away. Luke also affirms Jesus’ descent from David in his genealogy as well (Luke 3.23-38).*

So when we come to Peter’s statement in Acts 3, “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” what Peter is saying is that the Messiah that was promised by God who was to come from the nation of Israel has come! Since this was promised to you, and this promise has been fulfilled, accept it so that you and the rest of humanity may be redeemed!

For a more in-depth discussion of the biblical storyline see Dr. Charles Baylis’ videos. It is from his work that I drew the majority of this post from also. You can find the videos here: http://biblicalstory.org/home

Next up, Acts 4.

*Yes the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 have variances in them. No I’m not going to discuss them in this post as it is off topic.

Acts of the Apostles 3.11-26

In the previous passage (3.1-10) Peter and John went to the temple to pray and upon finding a man who had been lame from birth, through the power of Jesus, made him able to walk. The people at the temple recognized the man and were amazed at what had happened to him. In this passage Peter addresses the crowd that had gathered around him and John.

Book of Acts11 While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

Much like he did in his first speech (2.14-36) Peter here is rebuking the people for not understanding what has taken place. He begins by saying that it was not by his power or John’s power that this man was made to walk (v .12) and then moves on to identify Jesus as the one who made the man walk (v. 16). Peter is very specific in his identification of Jesus, making sure that no one mistakes who is referring to. Peter identifies Jesus as:

  1. Delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate (v. 13)
  2. Put to death (v. 15)
  3. Raised to life (v. 15)

There are a couple of interesting contrasts I wish to point out in this passage. Both of these are being contrasted with the first part of v. 13, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus…”  In v. 14 the Jews decided to exchange the “Holy and Righteous One” for a murderer.* Instead of worshiping, praising, or otherwise exalting Jesus the Jews decided instead to set a guilty murderer free rather than the innocent Jesus when they were given the opportunity.

Not only did they not set Jesus free when given the opportunity, but they even condemned him to crucifixion (v. 15)! Rather than accept the life that the “Prince of life,” Jesus, offered them they not only rejected him, but had him killed so that no one could accept the life he offered. This of course didn’t work as God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of the Old Testament; Yahweh (YHWH, Jehovah); the Jewish God; raised Jesus from the dead.

17 “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

Peter continues his speech by granting to the Jews that they may not have known what they were doing at the time when the crucified Jesus. However Peter does believe, as I stated earlier, that they should be aware of what they did by now. He argues that Jesus’ death and suffering was predicated by the prophets. Isaiah 52.13-53.12 predicts the suffering and eventual death of the Messiah and Peter is arguing here that Jesus was the one who fulfilled this prophecy.

Peter continues his argument, that since Jesus fulfilled the suffering and death that was predicted of the Messiah that they should repent so that times of refreshing will come and the restoration of all things begin. The prophets prophesied that Israel would go into exile for not following the covenant that had established between them and God; this happened during the Babylonian (586 B.C.) and Assyrian (722 B.C.) captivities. Following these captivities the prophets prophesied that there would a restoration when Messiah came, but it first required repentance from Israel. So Peter is exhorting his fellow Jews and saying to them, again,  that the Messiah they have been waiting for has come, so they should repent of their lack of faith in Him so that the prophesied restoration may come about; God made this covenant with you (Israel) and your ancestors, that through you the Earth would be blessed, so enter into this blessing so that the world may be restored.

And if you’re curious, Moses’ prophesy referred to in vv. 22-23 is found in Deuteronomy 18.15-19. The statement that God made to Abraham quoted in v. 25 is found in Genesis 12.1-3.

Thus far in the Acts of the Apostles, following the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have seen two sermons by Peter directed towards his fellow Jews arguing that Jesus is the Messiah they have been waiting for. Following his first sermon we saw about 3,000 Jews join the Christian community and be baptized. Will his audience here respond in the same fashion?

Wow, look at that, only took me two posts to get through an entire chapter this time!

* The incident being referred to here can be found in Matthew 27.11-26; Mark 15.1-15; Luke 23.1-25; John 18.28-40.

Acts of the Apostles 3.1-10

At this point in Luke’s account Peter has just finished his speech to his fellow Jews attempting to persuade them that the Galileans they see are not drunk, but are filled with the Holy Spirit as was prophesied by the prophet Joel. As a result about 3,000 of those who heard him recognized Jesus as the Messiah and joined the Christian community.

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. 4 But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” 7 And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8 With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 10 and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

While the events of this passage are fairly straightforward I do want to point out a couple of things about it. First, the word “now” at the beginning of verse 1. When an attempt is made to chronologically layout the events of a Biblical book, or books (e.g. the Gospels), one of the criteria used to determine where a particular event falls chronologically is if any progression of time is given from the previous event. So if an account has an event A and then event B follows A in the account and begins with something like “following this” we know that chronologically event B follows event A. However, if an account has an event C and then event D follows event C in the account, but begins with something like “now” it gives us no indication as to where event D falls chronologically in the account; even though it follows event C in the account it may well have occurred before event C chronologically. So if we were to attempt a chronology of the events of the Acts of the Apostles it would begin with the events of chapter 1, and following that would be chapter 2, but when we came to chapter 3 we would put it off to the side until we had gone through the rest of the events and determined as much chronologically as we could from them before attempting to insert these events into the chronology.

This leads me to an important point regarding Bible study: the order of events as related in a narrative is not necessarily indicative of their chronology. The authors of Scripture were not primarily concerned with recording an exact succession of events as a biography or history might, but rather were using the events to make point; they were concerned with showing what the events meant, not recording the exact order of the events. So when we read a Biblical book we should be linking the different events through what they reveal: about the people they are describing, and also about God. The Scriptures tell a story and it is grasping and understanding this story and our place in it that is the goal of Bible study, not the organizing and memorizing of facts and events. This is why, I think, the authors of Scripture composed their accounts they way they did, because they were concerned with showing people how they should live as a result of these events. If their primary concern were to have the people simply know events a chronological account would have sufficed, but I do not believe this to have been their primary concern.

Second, a man who had previously been unable to walk was made to walk. The lame walking was prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 35.6a) as one of the events that was to occur during Israel’s restoration under Messiah. Jesus has already been identified by Peter as the Messiah (see ch. 2), and here we see Jesus identify himself as Messiah by healing a lame man through Peter. This is now the second indication to Israel that the kingdom they are expecting to be inaugurated by the Messiah has come and is present among them.

Also, note where this event took place: in the temple. This is important because it identifies for us that the audience of Peter’s next speech is primarily, or entirely, Jewish. And we will look at Peter’s speech in the next post.

Acts of the Apostles 2.37-47

Peter has now finished his speech defending the Galileans who were accused of being drunk (see 2.14-36) and in this passage we see the response of the people to Peter’s speech.

Book of Acts37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Before moving forward in this passage it is helpful to remember the identity of “they” in v.37. “They” refers to Peter’s audience who just heard his speech, which is specifically identified for us in v.14 as “men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem.” So then the crowd Peter was addressing was most likely predominantly, if not entirely, Jewish. Knowing this identity helps us understand their actions in the following verses and why Peter said what he said in vv.14-36.

The Jews had expectations (and still do) for the coming of the Messiah and the inauguration of a kingdom as prophesied in the Old Testament. Peter’s speech was aimed at convincing them that Jesus was the Messiah that they had been expecting. After hearing Peter’s argument they were “pierced to the heart” when they realized that they had crucified the Messiah they were expecting, so they ask the Apostles what it is they should do, and Peter tells them to repent and be baptized.

In the context of this passage what the Jews are repenting of is their lack of belief in Jesus’ Messianic identity. Up until this point they had rejected Jesus’ identity and even crucified him. So Peter calls them not only to cease rejecting Jesus as Messiah, but to accept Jesus as Messiah and join the 120 or so others who at this point comprise the Church by being baptized.

While Christendom disagrees over what happens during baptism, it does agree that it is an essential part of the Christian life. It was commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28.19, and is commanded here by Peter. V.41 indicates that baptism is one’s entrance into the Church, or the worldwide community of Christians, and that baptism should follow coming to some level of belief concerning Jesus. In this particular episode it seems to me the level of belief achieved was acceptance of Jesus being the prophesied Messiah. Today most churches expect you to understand not only Jesus’ identity, but the foundations and basics of the Christian faith. These are best summarized, I think, in the Nicene Creed.

43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

These verses describe the early community of believers and what was happening amongst them. I believe these verses to be fairly straight forward and not requiring much explanation. However I do want to emphasize a few things. First, they were devoting themselves to the Apostle’s teaching (v.42). They recognized that the Apostles had been chosen by Jesus and tasked with instructing others in what Jesus had taught them. We should imitate their humble attitude when we devote ourselves to the teachings of the Apostles (i.e. read the New Testament). Not only does Christianity claim to be historical, but it also claims to be revealed. The Apostles did not teach their own ideas, but rather taught what had been revealed to them by Jesus, and so to challenge the teachings of the Apostles is to challenge the teachings of God.

Secondly, they were devoting themselves to prayer (v.42). Prayer is an essential part of the Christian life and must be practiced throughout the day. Our prayers should be focused on things that will be spiritually beneficial for us, not things like new boats and cars. Written prayers are a great way to learn to pray for things that are spiritually beneficial. See the post on Acts 1.12-14 for more on this topic.

Thirdly, they were devoting themselves to fellowship and eating together (vv.42, 44-47). These verses are fairly self explanatory as to what this fellowship entailed, so I won’t expand much upon it. I do want to emphasize though that the Christian life is lived in community and this includes helping others in need (vv.44-45) and worshiping together (vv.46-47). The Christian life cannot be lived in isolation, it must be lived within a community of believers.

For the next post I’m going to explain more about salvation, baptism, and what it means to have joined the Church. It really does deserve its own post and I think it is important to understand.

Acts of the Apostles 2.22-36

Book of ActsIn these verses we have the last half of Peter’s response to the people who accused the Galileans of being drunk. In the first part Peter said that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of the signs that the prophet Joel said would occur when Messiah comes. In this part we see Peter arguing that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. 

Peter begins his argument by recounting the pubic nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry, which was known to everyone (see v. 22 “as you yourselves know”). Jesus’ ministry was not a private affair between him and 12 other men, but was instead a public affair. Jesus was out amongst the people teaching and performing signs and wonders. Even Jesus himself says this in John 18.20, “Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.” Christianity doesn’t claim to be based on a private revelation given to one person or a select group of people, but rather claims that its founder taught and worked miracles in public.

The only way Peter could say, “as you yourselves know” and for his words to be taken seriously so that we have them not only preserved, but also believed 2000 years from when they were spoken, is if what he is claiming is true. Otherwise, if his words were false, they would not have been taken seriously and his words not believed nor preserved; he would have been laughed at and dismissed by his audience.

In vv. 23 Peter reminds his audience that Jesus was put to death publically by crucifixion and that they witnessed this event. Then in v. 24 Peter makes the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, which he then moves on to support in vv. 25-32.

25 For David says of Him,

‘I saw the Lord always in my presence;
For He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.
26 ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted;
Moreover my flesh also will live in hope;
27 Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
28 ‘You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’

29 “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 

Peter quotes a passage from Psalm 16.8-11 and then proceeds to explain how these verses cannot refer to King David himself since David died, was buried, and his tomb is (or was during Peter’s time at least) still with them (v. 29). David thus did go to Hades (i.e. the place of the dead, everyone goes there regardless) and his body did suffer corruption. This is in contrast to what Peter claims about Jesus. According to Peter Jesus was raised from the dead (v. 24) and is thus not in Hades nor is his body decaying and suffering corruption. Peter is saying that David was predicting the resurrection of the Messiah in these verses, and that since Jesus was resurrected he fulfilled this prophecy and that all the Galileans, those who are accused of being drunk, have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection as well (vv. 30-32).

33 Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
35 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’

Peter continues by saying that not only has Jesus risen from the dead, but is seated at the right hand of God (representing supreme power and authority). He supports this assertion by citing Psalm 110.1, a passage which was believed to be describing the Messiah (Matthew 22.41-46; Mark 12.35-37; Luke 20.41-44).

36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Peter’s conclusion can be summarized this way: “Based on everything  that I have just said, that what you hear with the people speaking in your native tongues is the fulfillment of the signs the prophet Joel said would accompany the coming of the Messiah, and that it was predicted that the Messiah would be raised from the dead and would ascend into heaven, and that these Galileans have witnessed these events, know for sure that this Jesus, whom you crucified, is the Messiah that you have been waiting for.”

Next week we encounter the response of the people to Peter’s speech.

Acts of the Apostles 2.14-21

Here’s a recap before we get started:

 1.1-11 – IntroductionThis book is a continuation of the author’s previous account, the Gospel of Luke. The author informs us that this account will deal with the coming of the Holy Spirit, which was promised by Jesus during his Earthly ministry.
1.12-26 – Replacement of Judas: When the Apostles were praying after having returned to Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension it is revealed to Peter that someone should be selected to occupy Judas’ apostleship since it is now vacant following Judas’ suicide. Matthias is selected to occupy the vacant office.
2.1-13 – The Coming of the Holy Spirit: During the Jewish festival of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and rested on each one of “them” (probably referring to the group of people that were gathered to pray together in 1.12-14) and they were speaking in foreign languages so that those who were also in Jerusalem struggled to explain to themselves how it was possible that they were hearing people from Galilee speaking in their own native languages, since the Galileans most likely did not know the languages in which they were speaking.

Acts of the Apostles 2.14-21

Book of ActsIn the previous section we saw some of the Jews who had come to Jerusalem from foreign lands explain to themselves the phenomenon of the Galileans speaking in the languages native to those foreign lands by saying that they were drunk, or “full of sweet wine.” In this next section we have Peter’s response to those who alleged that the Galileans were drunk.  Just to be sure, the women who were gathered with the Apostles to pray in 1.14 are also included in the group referred to as “Galileans.”

14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
18 Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
19 ‘And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
20 ‘The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
21 ‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Interestingly, Peter is said to “take his stand with the eleven,” referring to the eleven Apostles. However we have already seen Judas’ vacant office be occupied by Matthias in 1.12-26. The text seems to indicate a clear progression of events up to this point, meaning that the events happened in the order in which the text places them, so there should be twelve Apostles at this point in the account. The most likely explanation to me seems to be to take the phrase to mean Peter in addition to the eleven Apostles.*

The third hour of the day referred to in v. 15 is 9 a.m., so it is highly unlikely that they would be drunk so early in the day. Instead Peter says that what is happening is what the prophet Joel said would happen and quotes from Joel 2.28-32. Unlike in chapter 1, this passage that Peter quotes is actually predictive of something, that something being the coming of the Holy Spirit. The passage that Peter has quoted here lists several signs that will accompany the coming of the Holy Spirit:

  • The Spirit will be bestowed upon men and women, slaves and free. In short there will be no distinctions made when the Spirit is bestowed; it can be bestowed upon anyone. And everyone who receives the Spirit will see visions, dream revelatory dreams, and prophesy.
  • There will be wonders in the sky above and on the earth below including: “blood, fire, and vapor of smoke;” a darkened sun; and a moon of blood.
  • Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.

The immediate accompanying sign that Peter likely has in mind is prophesying, since in v. 11 it says, “…we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” The second accompanying sign Peter likely has in mind is the darkened sun and moon of blood. The Gospels record that during Jesus’ crucifixion the sky was darkened from about the sixth hour (noon) to the ninth hour (3 p.m.), and Luke adds the detail, “because the sun was obscured” (Matthew 27.45; Mark 15.33; Luke 23.44-45). What is likely being described here is a lunar eclipse since it can last for several hours and turns the moon a reddish color, giving it the appearance of blood.

Peter interpreted Joel’s prophecy to be referring to the kingdom of Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, which is why he changed the words “After this” to “In the last days.” To a Jew the “last days” refers to the coming of Messiah when he will restore Israel politically and reign forever. This is the first stage of Peter’s argument that the promised Messiah has come since the sun was darkened and the moon appeared red like blood, the Spirit was bestowed, and men and women are prophesying.

The proper response of the Jewish people then is in the last line of Joel’s prophecy that Peter quotes, “Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” It is only by belonging to the kingdom of the Messiah that they will be saved, otherwise they will perish. Here saved seems to mean in the sense of delivered from punishment; e.g. spending eternity with God rather than separated from God.

So to summarize Peter’s speech so far: these people are not drunk, but this is the fulfillment of the signs that the prophet Joel said would occur in the last days when Messiah comes, and you all should recognize this and join us and receive the Spirit as well.

In my opinion Peter could have stopped here and would have made his point quite clearly. Peter however continues his speech, and we will continue also, but in the next post.

* The other possibility I can think of is that there was some distinction made between Matthias being an Apostle and the remaining eleven Apostles that Jesus himself had chosen. My main problem with this explanation though is that 1.26 says that Matthias was added to the eleven Apostles, which seems to go against there being any such distinction made.

Acts of the Apostles 2.1-13

Book of ActsNow we finally come to the event that the opening verses of the book prepared us to expect: the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is a very significant event as it marks the beginning of the Church. Since there is so much to cover with this event I will be breaking this up into several posts.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of

Book of ActsMesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

First, the author provides for us the date on which the Holy Spirit was given: the day of Pentecost. This is a Jewish feast and it is dated 50 days from Passover. So, since Jesus was crucified on (or near) Passover*, rose 3 days later, and presented himself alive to the apostles over a period of 40 days following his resurrection before he ascended (see 1.3), we can conclude that approximately 10 days have passed since Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It’s easy to skip over details like this, that seem to have no other purpose than to provide a date, but I would advise you not to do so. Such details are incredibly important. Details like this, and the genealogies (especially the ones in Matthew and Luke), tie Christianity to historical events, dates, and people. Christianity is based on historical events, such as the resurrection of Jesus, his ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (all of which have been recounted to us by this point in the book). Christianity is not a philosophical system that someone produced in a vacuum. Christianity doesn’t hinge on a particular doctrine, but rather on the historical event of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Christianity is only false if these events did not happen.

As a side note, Mike Licona has some great resources (free and paid) to take advantage of if you are interested in investigating the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. His site is: RisenJesus.com.

It is this relation to actual historical events that sets Christianity apart from most, if not all, of the other major religions of the world. It is also this relation to historical events that I personally find to be the most persuasive aspect of Christianity. If there lived a man who claimed to be God, was killed, rose again, and ascended into heaven I have to explain those events somehow and come to a conclusion about them; I can’t merely dismiss them as fiction if they actually happened.

We can see an example of people trying to explain to themselves a supernatural phenomenon in this passage. When the Holy Spirit came there was a noise, and tongues of fire came and rested on the Apostles. When the noise was heard the people who were in Jerusalem, people from every nation under heaven,  gathered together and were perplexed because they heard men who were from Galilee speaking in their (the people in Jerusalem, i.e. not the Apostles) own language (for the languages see the list in vv. 8-11). We can see two different attitudes to the event: 1) some are perplexed and bewildered and seeking to understand how this could be possible; 2) others are dismissive of the event and mock the Apostles as simply being drunk. Neither group is doubting the event happened, but rather is trying to make sense of it.

So to recap this passage: when the Holy Spirit came there was a noise, the people of Jerusalem gathered together when they heard the noise and found the Apostles speaking in their (the people of Jerusalem, i.e. not the Apostles) own native languages. This perplexed them because they identified the Apostles as being from Galilee who likely did not learn the languages in which they were speaking. Pay attention to these events and remember the signs that accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit, it will be important later.

That wraps up this post. Maybe finishing chapter 2 in the next post. And that’s a big maybe, there’s a lot to cover in the rest of the chapter.

*I’m not going to reconstruct a timeline here, but you can see the sequence of events by starting with Matthew 26.17; Mark 14.12; Luke 22.1; and/or John 13.1 and reading the rest of the account(s).

Acts of the Apostles 1.15-26

Book of ActsWhen we last left off the 11 disciples had returned from Mt. Olivet to Jerusalem and were devoting themselves to prayer, presumably for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. They were joined by others for a total of about 120 people gathered together in prayer. We pick up the action beginning with verse 15:

15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,

‘Let his homestead be made desolate,
And let no one dwell in it’;

and,

‘Let another man take his office.’

“At this time” indicates that it was during prayer (again, presumably for the coming of the Holy Spirit) that Peter stood up and spoke the words that follow. I believe that this is a significant thing to note as it is indicative of Peter’s state of mind when he spoke these words. His mind was concentrated and focused on God (he was in prayer after all) when he spoke these words. Thus we can be confident that the words he spoke were of God, and not of himself.

The point of vv. 18-19 in this account is to inform the readers about Judas’ fate as this is left out of Luke’s gospel. I will briefly mention that vv. 18-19 do not align exactly with Matthew’s account of Judas’ death; Matthew 27.5 simply says that Judas went out and hanged himself. An exhaustive attempt at reconciling these accounts is not something I wish to do, so I will simply say that they can be reconciled this way: Judas went out and hanged himself over a cliff and after he had been hanging for some time the branch broke and when he fell his intestines burst open. The accounts do agree however that the field became known as the “Field of Blood” (Matt. 27.8).

Going back to v. 16 Peter says “the Scripture had to be fulfilled” and then in v. 20 he quotes two separate passages from the Psalms. The first, “Let his homestead be made desolate, And let no one dwell in it,” is from Psalm 69.25. The second, “And let another man take his office” is from Psalm 109.8. Both of these Psalms are describing someone who has been betrayed by those to whom he has shown nothing but kindness and is suffering as a result. By betraying Jesus and delivering him into the hands of the chief priests Judas fulfilled these passages by living out the actions described of the betrayers; he caused an innocent man to suffer harm. Peter then is quoting these passages not to say that these Psalms are predicting Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but rather to say what should happen to Judas as a result of his betrayal of an innocent man.

The first thing that Peter says needs to be fulfilled is: “Let his homestead be made desolate…”; this is essentially asking for someone’s destruction. This “destruction” could be the loss of everything he has worked for his entire life, such as in the case of Job, or it could include the loss of his life. Judas fulfilled this by taking his own life.

The second thing that Peter says needs to be fulfilled is: “Let another man take his office.” This has not yet been fulfilled at this point in the account, thus Peter is calling those who have gathered to pray to take up this task of selecting someone to take Judas’ place.

21 Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Peter specifies two criteria that must be met for Judas’ replacement: 1) he must be a man, and 2) he must have been with disciples during the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry (this started with Jesus’ baptism by John and ended with his ascension). Peter’s prayer in vv. 24-25 before they draw lots indicates that it is Jesus who revealed to Peter that someone should be selected to occupy the office that Judas left vacant following his death. Then they draw lots and Matthias is selected and added to the eleven apostles.

After reading this passage I ask myself: “Why did someone have to be selected for Judas’ vacant office before the coming of the Holy Spirit?” Or in other words, “Why is this event significant enough to be recorded in Scripture?” It is evident that Peter was directed by Jesus to select a replacement for Judas’ office, but why I cannot say. Perhaps the best explanation I can offer (I emphasize that this is just my opinion) at this point is that since there were twelve tribes of Israel and it was important that no tribe lost its inheritance in the Promised Land (pre-exile of course), so it was important that of the twelve appointed apostles no one lose his inheritance. Since Judas lost his inheritance with his suicide someone then had to be appointed to replace him and receive his inheritance. I’ll avoid going into more detail regarding this for now so this post doesn’t get too long, but if a further explanation is necessary I will be glad to provide it.

Summary
Before we move on let’s recap what has happened so far. The author has told us this is a continuation of his “first account,” which we identified to be the Gospel of Luke. Thus Luke-Acts is best read as one continuous book. He begins the second account by telling of Jesus’ ascension and that he (Jesus) commands his disciples to go into the city and wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Thus the expectation going into this account is that the Holy Spirit is going to be featured prominently. But before the Holy Spirit comes Peter is directed by Jesus, while in prayer, to select someone to replace the office that Judas left vacant with his death, and that for some reason it was necessary for someone to replace Judas before the Holy Spirit was bestowed.

Up next, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Finally.

Acts of the Apostles 1.12-14

Book of ActsIf you get a little angry when television programs delay the part you’ve been waiting to see after having just advertised it, you may feel the same way about this next passage. The previous passage (1.1-11) left us with the expectation that the Holy Spirit was going to come, but this next passage does not contain that event. Instead the author has decided to tell us of the decision to fill the office that Judas Iscariot left abandoned following his suicide. This post will focus on vv. 12-14 as it provides an opportunity to teach a very important lesson concerning prayer. The next post will finish the passage with vv. 15-26.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

Following Jesus’ ascension they leave the place where it occurred, Mt. Olivet, and went back to Jerusalem to the room where they were staying and devoted themselves to prayer. This is in accordance with Jesus’ command in 1.4. The author also pauses here to tell us that there were more present and praying than just the Apostles. While the exact identity of the women present here is unknown I will point out that several women are mentioned in Luke’s gospel as having either accompanied Jesus or provided for him during his ministry: Mary Magdalene, Joanna (Herod Antipas’ household manager), and Susanna (see Luke 8.1-3). Jesus’ mother and His brothers were also present. The word translated “brothers” in this verse is adelphos. It can refer to physical brothers, but it is also translated “brothers and sisters” and is translated as “brethren” in the following verse. In the next verse we find out that the total number of people gathered and devoting themselves to prayer was around 120.

There aren’t “right” or “wrong” ways to pray, but I do think there are profitable and and non-profitable ways to pray. I often see prayer described as “bringing your requests before God,” but what I don’t often see described is what these requests should be. I have found not knowing what to pray for to be quite detrimental to my personal spiritual life, and I imagine it has had the same effect on others as well. We can certainly pray for things like a spouse, a new job, a baby, healing for a friend or family member, etc, but if we only pray for these things our thoughts will be primarily focused on these requests being granted and we will feel disappointed and angry with God should they not be granted. These are not bad things to pray for, but they should not be the only things that we pray for, nor should they be the primary things that we pray for. If our prayers are focused on these things God becomes a divine cosmic genie whose sole purpose is to give us what we want, rather than the purifier and sanctifier of our souls.

Instead, I believe, that our prayers should be primarily focused and concerned with requests that will make us more like Christ. This is the goal of the Christian life while on Earth after all, at least to the extent that it is possible to achieve in a Fallen world. I’ve found that praying written prayers everyday is one of the best ways for me to learn what I should be praying for and where the emphasis of my prayers should be: on requests for sanctification (becoming more like Christ). Prayer is profitable when we focus our requests and mind on things that will sanctify us, and is unprofitable when we focus our requests and mind on personal desires (e.g. spouse, baby, healing, etc).

My morning and evening prayers consist primarily of written prayers with personal requests being brief (e.g. one sentence or so for each one). Doing it this way allows me to focus on what I am praying for rather than on composing my prayer. I was surprised at how much easier prayer became and how much more eager I was to do it when I removed from myself the burden of having to compose my prayers each day.

Most likely any liturgical Christian tradition (probably all actually) is going to have written prayers or prayer books that they use regularly. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer is great since it contains the services of Morning and Evening prayer which can be used for personal devotion by omitting some of the parts (you can find it online here: http://commonprayer.org/offices.cfm), but will be of limited benefit if not used within the Anglican liturgical cycle (I don’t think you should use it outside the Anglican liturgical cycle). The Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions also have prayer books available as well, just make sure that you don’t get one that is intended for use in monasteries and convents; monks and nuns have devoted their lives to prayer and can afford to do it for hours a day, everyone else cannot and is not expected to. Also be aware of prayers to Mary and other saints if you have objections to that sort of thing.

So that wraps up this post. I didn’t get as far as I wanted to, but the prayer thing is pretty important and I think real instruction in prayer that is profitable is quite lacking in Evangelicalism these days. Next up is 1.15-26.