Acts #4 – To Boldly Go!

Peter and John Get Arrested
So, Peter is speaking at Solomon’s Portico to the men of Israel. Among those men are a group called the Sadducees. Between the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and Peter’s sermon the power within the Sanhedrin changed from the Pharisees, who were the legalists, to the Sadducees, the rationalists or modernists or aristocrats. They did not believe in the resurrection. They did not believe in the supernatural and had a strong emphasis on free will. They were very oriented in ethics, not theology, and even held the Pharisees in contempt. The fact that Peter is constantly mentioning Jesus’ resurrection is really getting to them, and so we read that they got “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming n in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). And so they arrested Peter and John and put them in custody because it was already evening and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, comes together in the morning (although they did not do so with Jesus’ trial). Yet Peter’s sermon achieves the desired result as “the number of men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). And so Luke continues cataloging the growth from 120 (1:15) to 3,000 (2:41) and now the men alone were about five thousand, suggesting that the total number of Christians would have been well in excess of 10,000. The incredible growth of the church occurred in response to two activities empowered by the Holy Spirit: the powerful preaching of the gospel message about Jesus and the “many wonders and signs.”

Before the Sanhedrin
The Jewish high court consisted of 71 members (70 elders according to the pattern of Numbers 11:16 plus the high priest as presiding officer). It was dominated by the priestly Sadducees with a Pharisaic minority, represented mainly by the scribes (lawyers) of the court. Annas was of the Aaronic priesthood, but he was deposed by the Romans, and Caiaphas was put in his place. Caiaphas was the acting high priest, but appointed by the Romans; he was not of the line of Aaron. Caiaphas was in power for the Romans, but not really accepted by the Jews. Annas is still of powerful influence, although not officially in power. When Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin the next morning, they are asked by what power or name they do their work. Again it’s Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, who takes charge and speaks up, saying that if they are being charged for doing “a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well.” (Acts 4:9-10). Peter doesn’t point to himself for healing the lame beggar. He also doesn’t just point to Jesus. He makes it perfectly clear that it is the Jesus whom the Sanhedrin crucified and whom God raised from the dead. Again Peter is pointing to the finished work of Jesus Christ and also putting the finger where it hurts. He says to the Sadducees that Jesus was raised from the dead and alive as they speak. Then Peter continues by quoting from Psalm 118:22, which is the psalm the Jews sang on Palm Sunday, and is also a reference to Isaiah 28:16, where Peter points out again that the miracle is because of Jesus Christ. He is answering their question twice. A double whammy!

And then Peter tops it off by verse 12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved“. Wow, talk about directness and boldness. He is definitely not beating around the bush here. Peter’s statement that there was salvation in no other name was an implicit invitation to the Sanhedrin to place their faith in Jesus. It was Jesus’ name that brought physical deliverance to the lame man, the same powerful and exclusive name that brings eternal salvation to all who call upon him. Peter emphasizes this by saying that it is the only name under heaven by which a person can be saved. Further, there is no other name among men that saves. This echoes the words of Jesus on all sides, who said that “all things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27), and who said “I am l the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Boldness, and More Boldness
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition” (Acts 4:13-14). The boldness of Peter and John, combined with the fact that they were uneducated common men who had been with Jesus, shut the Sanhedrin up. They had nothing to say. After they conferred with each other, the Sanhedrin cowardly don’t even confirm publicly that a miracle has happened, while the lame beggar is standing right there! Instead they command Peter and John not to talk or teach in the name of Jesus anymore. Peter is really on a roll here and continues his attack against the Sanhedrin saying, “whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

Now when Peter and John return to their friends and explained what had happened, what do you think they did? They not only pray for even more boldness (Acts 4:29-30), but they also pray for the Sanhedrin! They are praying to God who made the very material world which the Sadducees rely upon! Their prayer for boldness in witness shows a determination to directly disobey the command of the Sanhedrin. They do not pray against those who persecute them but pray for their own faithfulness in witness. They quote Psalm 2 which is a dialogue between the world (we have no king but Caesar), God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And in light of that they define the world as Herod (the Hebrew authority), Pontius Pilate (the Roman authority), the Gentiles (all nations), and the peoples of Israel (Acts 4:27). So basically everybody. Their prayer is based on the sovereignty, wisdom, and active government of God. And what happens? The LORD grants their prayer, and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31).

The Sanhedrin was the leading Jewish authority at that time. Do you stand up against our current day authorities when the finished work of Jesus Christ is put into question? Do you pray for the authorities you have to deal with? Do you pray for more boldness to stand against any opposition to Jesus Christ? Are you expectant of being filled by the Holy Spirit and your dependence on Him? This is a call for boldness. Do you accept the challenge?

Acts #3 – The Healing and the Reaction

The Healing of the Lame Beggar
We read in Acts 2:46 that they were attending the temple every day. On one day when Peter and John were going to pray at 9 pm in the evening (which is apparently the hour of prayer) they saw a man lame from birth at the temple gate. We read that the beggar asks for alms, not healing, but that Peter replies that he will give him something far better instead. There are two ideas here to be identified. First, we need to recognize that this is a natural continuity of the work of Jesus Christ. In this case through the Holy Spirit through Peter and John. It is a continuation of what Jesus started in the Gospels. Secondly, this event could be considered the first miracle of the Church period. Both of these are comforting ideas. Another idea is that the lameness of humanity is the Church’s opportunity. Christianity came to give men life, to put them on their feet and to enable them to do without alms. They did not just give him an handout, they empowered him. They gave him a gift that canceled disability, communicated ability and created worship.

Peter’s Second Sermon
Peter’s second sermon is a response to the fact that all who witnessed the healing of the lame beggar were “were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3:10). Again, like in his first sermon, Peter is addressing the Jews. He starts off by asking why the Jews are so amazed at this for Jesus performed all sorts of miracles when He walked the earth. Thereby saying that this miracle should not be ascribed to them but to Jesus. Again, he addresses that the Jews denied and killed Jesus (remember, Pilate tried to let Jesus go, but the crowd wanted Barabbas). Pharisees are the legalists, the literalists. They, to a fault, tried to take every detail of the Law and make a burden out of it. They were the extremists. The Sadducees were the opposite kind, they were the modernists, the liberals. They did not believe in the resurrection, and did not believe in angels, and did not believe in the supernatural. So during the life of Christ His conflict seemed to be in large measure with the Pharisees, because that was the power ruling block at the time. In the time shift here between that era and now, the primary power group were the Sadducees in the Sanhedrin. They were the ones that got unglued with a display of the supernatural. Certainly, the healing was a problem; but even more so the presentation that Jesus Christ rose from the dead was something that the Sadducees clearly could not handle. It went completely contrary to their whole position.

But then Peter says that the Jews “acted in ignorance” (Acts 3:17), although they were responsible and held accountable. Remember that Jesus says on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). The significance behind this idea is that ignorance makes the difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter. For manslaughter the remedy is the City of Refuge (Numbers 35:9-34). The principle here is that in ancient Israel there were no prisons or police force, and so six cities were appointed to where one could flee in case of manslaughter. A close relative thus became responsible to serve as the “avenger of blood,” (verse 12) and execute the divine sentence on a murderer. The cities of refuge were necessary, for fear that an angry relative take revenge on a person who killed a loved one inadvertently. This wise and humane system not only protected the innocent, but also secured Israel from the dangerous rounds of blood feuds common in many societies. One could hide in a City of Refuge until the High Priest died. Remember that all of Scripture talks about Jesus? Put Jesus in the center here and you will see that we all by our sins are responsible for the manslaughter of Jesus, that we should be kept safe from the Avenger of Blood (God the Father), and are in need of a City of Refuge. Who is our City of Refuge? Jesus. Who long can we stay there? Until Jesus (our High Priest) dies. When is that? Never! Once you are in the City of Refuge you are kept safe forever from the penalty of sin. Wow, what a security!

Peter then promises three results of repentance: (1) forgiveness of sins; (2) times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and (3) the sending of Jesus Christ, which refers to His Second Coming of which Peter then continues to talk about. In Luke 4:16-20, at the start of His ministry, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61:1-2, but notice that when you read Isaiah 61:1-2 that Jesus does not finishes the second verse, but stops at the comma. Jesus did not include “and the day of vengeance of our God” because the display of his wrath awaits Christ’s second coming. But to “proclaim liberty to the captives” is a reference to the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10). The Jubilee year is very important to God. The Sabbatical year was so important the God put Israel into slavery for 70 years for not obeying the law. (2 Chronicles 36:21). In any case, Peter makes it clear that Jesus will remain in heaven until the times of restoration of all things, and since the repentance of Israel is one of the all things, there is some sense in which the return of Jesus in glory will not happen until Israel repents. Peter is essentially offering Israel the opportunity to hasten the return of Jesus by embracing Him on a national level, something that must happen before Jesus will return (Matthew 23:37-39; Romans 11:25-27). The main thrust of Peter’s sermon is that this is the natural outcome of their history. To the extent that they understood the Old Testament, they should not be surprised.

Acts #2 – A Mighty Rushing Wind

Pentecost and Leaven
It is the day of Pentecost, which is not only one of the seven Feasts of Israel, it is also one of the three feasts which requires that every able-bodied Jewish male was required to in in Jerusalem. This means that Jerusalem was crowded with people from all over to celebrate this feast. Now without going into an extensive study on the feast of Pentecost, it may be a good idea to give some background to get a better picture. The first three feasts are in the spring, which are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits. The last three feasts are in the fall, which are the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. In the middle there is the Feast of Pentecost (meaning the fiftieth day), which is 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits. Each feast has a ceremonial role, a historic commemorative role, and also a prophetic role. Without going into much detail, the first three feasts were prophetic to Jesus’ First Coming (respectively, His death, His burial and His resurrection). The last three feasts are prophetic to Jesus’ Second Coming.

The Feast of Pentecost is prophetic for the birth of the Church (being the spiritual Body of Christ). It is described in Leviticus 23:15-17, which says: “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.” Now you have to be aware of Jewish customs to notice something peculiar here, namely that the breads are baked with leaven. All the other Jewish feasts and offerings are dealing with unleavened bread. In Exodus 12:15; 12:19-20; 13:7 it is actually described that leaven should be removed from the house during these feasts, except for Pentecost. The idea of leaven is always used negatively for the reason that leaven corrupts the dough by puffing up and is therefore symbolic for sin. So, the symbol for the Church is leaven. Now it is said that this is because the Church is not perfect (yet who is!), but I think it also has something to do with the fact that the Church are Gentiles, which are considered unholy from a Jewish viewpoint.

The Holy Spirit is Coming
Now all the disciples (about 120) were all gathered in one place, which is mostly likely the upper room where they were regularly met, and is most likely close to the temple grounds (for we will see that they will be baptizing 3,000 new believers soon – which would be quite hard in the upper room). Now, in John 3:8 Jesus makes reference to the Holy Spirit as wind, but it seems that this wind is much wilder. So strong that it causes attention throughout the town. When they are filled with the Holy Spirit they are speaking in tongues, but this must not be seen as a gift of the Spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 14), but must be translated as speaking in other languages as they were understood by various people present in Jerusalem. Could the fact that they could all understand each other have something to do with lifting the curse of Babel? Who knows… Now there 16 countries listed here which are present in Jerusalem, but I assume more countries are actually represented for Pentecost is one of the mandatory festivals and it mentions men “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)

Peter’s First Sermon
Peter’s sermon answers their question, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12), and it’s is a very intricate masterpiece. We also see here that the Holy Spirit is indwelling Peter. In the Gospels Peter is often speaking without thinking, but here he is being skillful and elegant. Although the sermon answers the question about what does this [the Holy Spirit] mean, it is in fact not a sermon about the Holy Spirit, but about Jesus, the Son of God. It is important to recognize that Peter is addressing the Jews here. The sermon is built on three sections of the Old Testament, namely Joel 2:28-32, Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1.

The Foretelling of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32)
Peter picks out a section of the Old Testament which is not the earliest nor the latest, but the most crisp passage on the promise of the Holy Spirit. Interesting detail maybe is that whilst in “our” Bible this section of Scripture is part of the second chapter, in the Hebrew Bible this section gets its own chapter and thus stands out quite a bit. This section of the promise of the Holy Spirit is followed by some end-time prophecy. Peter speaks of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as what was prophesied by Joel, but he also implies that not the complete prophecy has come to pass yet. The start of this section will probably shock every Jew as Peter says that God will pour His Spirit on all flesh (meaning also the Gentiles!). Furthermore, the idea of prophesying is no longer limited to the prophet (as they were used to having a prophet and a priest), but that it will be made available to everybody. Verse 19 and 20 obviously speaks about end-time prophesy as this clearly hasn’t happened yet. In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus says that “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” It may be that one of the reasons that Peter includes this prophecy which is still to come because he wants to get to the closing line which says that “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21), which give him the opportunity to say that “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 22-24)

Hope of Everlasting Joy (Psalm 16:8-11)
Peter then moves on by using a psalm by David to be used as a prophecy of Jesus, where it first talks about life (Psalm 16:8,9a), then death (Psalm 16:9b, 10) and then resurrection (Psalm 16:11). Peter’s point here is that this cannot apply to David for “he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” (Acts 2:29), but that Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out” (Acts 2:33). Peter’s central theme is the study of the person of Jesus Christ: His role, mission, character, and nature of the Messiah.

Sit at My Right Hand (Psalm 110:1)
Peter’s final verse is to point out that David’s body did not ascend into heaven, but that it is Jesus who ascended back into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father until He makes His enemies His footstool. Jesus Himself refers to this same verse in the Psalms. Notice that it says “until.” Christ’s enemies will definitely be made His footstool. What a great promise!

What’s the Point?!
Peter has now quoted from three portions of the Old Testament, building his sermon on Jesus Christ. The result? The Jews were cut to the heart and ask Peter what to do. Peter’s answer? “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In the subsequent verse Peter says that this call is not only for Israel, but also “for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39)

Acts #1 – Final Preparations

Some Background
Although not explicitly stated, the writer of this book is Luke, who also wrote the Gospel according to Luke. Both books are also written to the same person, Theophilus. Now there are some speculations as to who Theophilus was. His name means ‘lover of God,’ but this may have been a nickname. One speculation states that both Luke volume 1 (the Gospel) and Luke volume 2 (Acts) were written as official documentation for Paul’s appeal to Rome. As a Roman citizen Paul was allowed to hand in written documentation in defense of his arrest. Considering the title of Theophilus (most excellent – which is a title generally used for a Roman official), he could have been the official who prepared the necessary appeal documentation. In defense of this speculation it is said that the book of Acts never shows Paul as an instigator of the riots (not even with Stephen’s murder) and that also throughout the book the Romans are never portrayed as the bad guys. So, both the gospel according to Luke and the book of Acts are written by the same person, to the same person, but also with the same subject, namely Jesus Christ. Yes, the Holy Spirit is very prominent, but as is consistent with His mission He bears only testimony of the Son, Jesus Christ (John 15:26). The book of Acts is the transition between the Kingdom message and the Church. The Kingdom was offered to Israel first, but they rejected it, which opened the door to the Gentiles. The book of Acts is the continuing story of God’s plan and promise to all flesh, not just Israel or the Church. If the book of Acts is the transition between the Kingdom and the Church, then the book of Revelation is the transition between the Church and the Kingdom.

Forty Days of Ministry
The book of Acts is the only place where it mentions the exact number of days between the resurrection and the ascension, namely 40 days (Acts 1:3). In those days Jesus was talking to His disciples about the Kingdom of God. Some of these accounts are recorded in the Bible, such as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18) and the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), but I can only imagine how great it must have been to sit in on those private Bible studies where Jesus is explaining the Kingdom of God.

Jesus also told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. It is not that the Holy Spirit is making His first appearance in Acts for He is already there from the beginning in Genesis 1:2. But there are some special considerations regarding the Holy Spirit’s appearance in Acts 1:2 besides the fact that He will baptize (indwell) the Body of Christ (not just those who happen to be there!) on Pentecost. This has to do with what Jesus said to His disciples in John 16:7, where He says: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.“. Here Jesus implies that He and the Holy Spirit basically cannot be there at the same time (which has nothing to do with His omnipresence, for at Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit is there), but this is maybe a topic for another blog.

The Ascension
At the ascension the disciples ask Jesus whether He is going to restore the Kingdom to Israel, which was a natural question to ask as a lot of the Old Testament prophesies were pertaining the restoration of the Kingdom. The Jews however were thinking about a political kingdom and that Jesus would overthrow the Roman oppression and rule Israel. Yet Jesus was talking about a totally different Kingdom. The Jews did not know of His plans, nor where they really equipped for what was coming. Jesus’ answer was that it was not for them “to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8). Notice the small difference between what Jesus says here and in Matthew 24:34 or Mark 13:32 where He says: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). The verses in both Matthew and Mark say that no one knows, not even the Son (Jesus). Yet here in Acts, Jesus does not mention Himself to not know. Was Jesus informed by the Father between then and now, in the three days maybe between His death and resurrection? It could be accidental, but I don’t think that anything in God’s plan is accidental. Still, it is conjecture.

Notice also that Jesus does not cancel the Kingdom of Israel. It is about timing, not an event. In Matthew 10:5-6, Jesus sends His disciples on a small field trip with the following instruction: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This is in complete contrast to the mission He is about to send them on in Acts, which is to go not only go to Jerusalem and Judea, but then also to Samaria and to the end of the world, which are the Gentiles. The Kingdom message was first exclusively for Israel. John 1:11 says that Jesus “came to His own, and His own people did not receive him.“. Israel rejected Him, and Jesus “drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’” (Luke 19:41-44). Because of this Israel has been set aside for a time, for Romans 11:25 says that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” The Book of Acts is a transition between the Kingdom message, which is the primary thing we see in the Gospels, and that mystery which is called the Church. Then the book of Revelation is going to be a transition from the Church (chapters 2-3) back to the Kingdom.

The Two Men
Who are the two men? A topic of wide debate. Are they Moses and Elijah (like with the transfiguration)? Are they the same two men who accompanied the Lord in Genesis 18 with Abraham? Are they the two witnesses in Revelation 11? In any case they give an interesting prophecy that Jesus will come back the same way as He went, of which Zechariah 14:4-9 says, “On that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to o the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

The Upper Room
The rest of the chapter deals with the disciples going back to the upper room to pray, and to find a replacement for Judas to complete the eleven remaining apostles. After casting lots (which is a biblical principle – see Proverbs 16:33) they chose Matthias as the new twelfth apostle. There are scholars who say that choosing Matthias was a big mistake, and that Peter (like in the Gospels) was speaking to quickly here. The reason being that Paul (Saul) would be the twelfth apostle, and that’s the reason why Paul in nine of his fourteen epistles is beginning with defending his apostleship.