Understanding The Bible
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BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
THE BOOK OF THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Was Joel's prophecy said by Peter to
be fulfilled?: 2:16
It is commonly said, even by dispensationalists, that Peter said Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled (2:16). The word "fulfill" is not used by Peter. On the contrary, we submit that Peter said in substance: "These men are not drunk. This is a holy day and it is not yet 9a.m. (v. 15). This is NOT wine; this IS the Holy Spirit." Peter is then led by the Holy Spirit to quote the most significant passage in the 0. T. on the Holy Spirit which
(1) emphasizes His coming upon all kinds of people and of all ages, men and women, young and old;
(2) it is a passage that closes with an evangelistic appeal (v. 21). Thus their amazement is answered (v. 12); their mocking is answered (v. 13); and Peter goes on with his message of Christ's death, resurrection, and exaltation (w. 21-36), with its appeal to repent (v.38).
Thus Peter does NOT say, "This fulfils that spoken by Joel, "
but "this IS that, " i.e., "this is the Holy Spirit; He is the explanation of
these supernatural happenings" of 2:1-11. Obviously verses 19-20 were NOT
fulfilled. Hence, the claim of Pentecostalists that this age was opened by a
fulfillment of Joel's prophecy, which may be taken as symptomatic of what to
expect throughout the age, is incorrect and unfounded.
Incidentally the phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit" does not occur in Acts 2. We know this fact did take place by a comparison of 1:5 with 11:15-17, but 2:4 emphasizes that it was the FILLING with the Spirit that was associated with these exhibitions of supernatural power. The Spirit's BAPTISM caused all who believed to become one body, sharing the common life of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). This is what formed the Church. Thus Pentecost is the Church's Birthday. The "filling" was that which provided power for witness and service.
Peter's use of the Keys of the Kingdom: 2:38
It has been suggested that in accordance with our Lord's words in Matthew 16:16-19, Peter had the honor of using "the keys of the kingdom" in opening the door of the sphere of outward profession on three major occasions:
(1) for the Jews at Pentecost, Acts 2;
(2) for the "mongrels, " mixed Gentiles and Jews at Samaria, Acts 8;
(3) for the Gentiles, Acts 10.
Peter's leadership among the apostles should not be confused with any idea of supremacy, which was
(1) never stated by our Lord,
(2) nor claimed by Peter,
(3) nor conceded by his associates (e.g., Galatians 2:11, 6-9).
Actually James was the presiding officer in the early church at Jerusalem, 15:13-21.
Peter's tacit offer of the Kingdom:
See Scofield notes on 3:20 and 21 for excellent material. In v. 19 Peter pointedly emphasizes that repentance would lead to the return of Christ (v. 20) to fulfill what the prophets had said God had in store for Israel. This offer hinged on the fact that "through ignorance" (v. 17) they crucified Christ. This agnoia (ignorance) was willful and unforgiven on the part of Israel's leaders (Matthew 12:31-32). But it was forgiven on the part of the people, who were deliberately misled by their leaders. Spurgeon, who is not a dispensationalist, makes a strong case for the thesis that our Lord's words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, " could not have been a prayer for INDIVIDUAL forgiveness of the soldiers, etc. Spurgeon argues that God never forgives an individual unless he repents. He proposes that this is a general passing over of mankind's guilt in the sense of the general reconciling work of Christ as revealed in 2 Corinthians 5:19. Another writer has suggested that in the light of Acts 3:17, the Father answered Christ's prayer on the cross ("Father, forgive") by forgiving the nation of Israel, giving them opportunity to repudiate and rectify the tragic mistake of their leaders in rejecting their own Messiah (in their position as representatives of the nation).
This would be in substantial agreement with 1:6-7. Notice the apostles asked, "Lord, wilt thou AT THIS TIME restore AGAIN the KINGDOM to ISRAEL?" Contrary to the traditional interpretation by non-dispensationalists, our Lord did not reply in rebuke, "Have I been so long time with you, and you do not YET know that I have not been talking about any crude Jewish political, earthly kingdom, but only of my rule over the hearts of men, my spiritual kingdom!" No, our Lord said no such thing. He did not rebuke them. Their question, in the light of Scripture, was perfectly proper and in order. Our Lord simply explained that THE TIME ELEMENTS are in the Father's hands. They should start witnessing (v.8) and leave everything to the Father's time.
Thus this answer allows full freedom for a re-offer of "the kingdom AGAIN to ISRAEL," but does not pre-announce the result. To the silly question, "What would God have done about the Church IF Israel had repented, " we reply: "That problem is God's, not ours. All God's approaches to men leave flexibility for human reaction, but always WITHIN the plan of God. The method might vary, but the end-result is always sure." One might as well ask, "What would have happened if Adam had not sinned?" These are things hidden in the counsels of God and present no problem to Him, even though we may not have the facts or ability to reach a solution. We should never ask, "What if?"
This viewpoint of a reoffered kingdom may also explain the strange statement of Stephen, who cried out as he was being stoned that he saw Christ "STANDING at the right hand of God" (7:56), whereas in all other N.T. instances after this He is said to be "SEATED." Could it be that by this graphic means God is emphasizing that a great transition is taking place, that God is giving Israel nationally an opportunity to reverse their leaders' awful sin of rejecting their Messiah, and thus He--as it were--is seen standing, awaiting their decision? God the Father was rejected in Samuel's day (1 Sam. 8:7-8). Christ the Son was put on a cross (Luke 19:11-14). Now, the rejection of the Holy Spirit's miracle-studded testimony (7:51-60) to the risen and ascended Christ, sealed in the blood of the first martyr, closed the door of opportunity to Israel nationally "until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom. 11:25-26). So Jesus SAT DOWN! And it fulfils Jesus' warning that they would not believe "though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:30-31; Matthew 12:38-42).
The Jews require a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22). The risen Christ's authority is authenticated by a multitude of signs, and the apostles' message underlined as true, in a way Jews would best understand. Though there are signs after this point in the book, it will be noted that most of them are in connection with Jews or those closely acquainted with them. There is a tendency for them to lessen as an instrument of witness as the book progresses.
The right of private property - Christianity or Communism?: 5:4
Much has been made by some writers about the Jerusalem church sharing their possessions with one another (2:44-45), as though this were "Christian Communism." It should be carefully observed that it is the OPPOSITE of the whole philosophy of Marx. The Christians saw one another's need, were moved with love, and voluntarily shared, in harmony with James 2:14-16 and 1 John 3:17-18. No one HAD to sell all and put it in the family pot. Peter makes his whole case against Ananias on this point (5:1-5). ALL was his (v. 4). The sin was not in failing to give all, but in posing as giving all when part was kept back. This was lying to the Holy Spirit!
On the contrary Marxian Communism says you have no right to private property. All belongs to the state, and if you try to hold on to it, the state will take it from you, if necessary, by killing you. There is no love here, and the whole thesis is anti-Scriptural. Every exhortation to a believer to give is pointless unless his property is, in the first instance, rightfully his. If it is not his, how can he "give" it?
It might also be remarked that this well-intended "communal life" or "community (sharing, fellowship) of goods" was a dismal failure as far as meeting the need of the church permanently. It was right for an emergency, but not for a way of life. The Jerusalem church is the only church for which Paul had to take up an offering!
Was the Church revealed only to Paul,
or also to Peter and others?: 10:11 ff.
Although this vision of Acts 10 is admittedly symbolic, the passage is a definite revelation to Peter that God has made a major change in His dealings with mankind (v.28). Peter demurs at God's command (v. 14), but the Spirit of God is insistent that he adjust his thinking and action to this change (w. 13,15-16,19-20, 28, 34-35, 45, 47; 11:12,17-18). The beasts and fowl represented both Gentiles ("unclean" according to the law) and Jews (ceremonially "clean"). They were present together in this vessel (or sail) let down from heaven (cp. John 17:18), declared cleansed by God (w. 15, 34-35), and then caught up to heaven (v.l6, cp. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The thesis that the revelation of the Church was given alone to Paul is denied by Paul himself when he says that it was "revealed unto" God's "holy apostle^ and (N.T.) prophets" (both words plural) "by the Spirit" (Eph. 3:5). It is denied by this revelation to Peter, shared with Gentiles at Caesarea (Acts 10:24-29) and Jews at Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-11), which plainly teaches that God is calling out both Gentiles and Jews unto Himself in this age (Eph. 2:11-22). This was Peter's own evaluation of what God did through him at Caesarea (Acts 15:7-11,14; see John 14:20).
Another pivotal point: 11:18-19
The Scofield note on 10:44 is extremely important and helpful. It will be observed that those scattered abroad after Stephen's stoning "went every where preaching the word" (8:4). But 11:19 not only defines the "every where" of 8:4, but makes it clear that they preached "unto the JEWS ONLY." This heightens Peter's experience, emphasized in the previous note, and makes particularly emphatic the words of 11:18. The Jerusalem church, which was really upset over Peter's going to Gentiles at Caesarea and was about ready to excommunicate the first "pope"(!), 11:1-3, was won over to the viewpoint that GOD is doing something NEW, something very different from anything they had yet known. They "glorified God" because "to the (dogs of) Gentiles" He had "granted repentance unto life." Someone has well said that if there had been a Gentile in the audience at Pentecost, Peter or one of the apostles would have called a policeman. This marks a great change and is the "mystery (sacred secret) hid in God" (Eph. 3:1-6). Imagine it, GENTILES share equally with Jews in the Church (Eph. 3:6; 2:11-18)! Only God could have thought up such a thing! Cp. Rom. 11:26-36
Precise accuracy of Luke as a
The word translated rulers here is actually politarchs. Knowing critics formerly attacked the historical worth of Luke's writings on points such as this. Politarchs were normally not rulers of a smaller area like Thessalonica, but at Thessalonia alone it has been discovered, as Luke said, that the rulers were called politarchs.
Philosophers at Athens: 17:18, cp.
These men were disciples of two Greek philosophers:
(1) Epicurus (342-271 BC), who had abandoned as hopeless the search by reason for pure truth (cp, John 18:38), seeking instead true pleasure through experience;
(2) the Stoics followed Zeno (280 BC) and Chrysippus (240 BC). Their philosophy was founded on human self-sufficiency, inculcated stern self-repression, the solidarity of the race, and the unity of Deity. Epicureans and Stoics divided the apostolic world.
Seven external factors favoring Paul
and the spread of his message: 13:1ff.
It has often been pointed out that God had providentially prepared the first century world for the expeditious spread of the gospel by the church by:
1. A world government
2. World peace
3. A world "trade language, " Greek
4. Famous Roman roads, linking various parts of Roman world
5. General skepticism in educated circles in regard to pagan deities
6. The empire-wide dispersion of the Jews, who took with them their monotheistic faith
7. The translation of the Old Testament into the world "trade language' (Greek LXX)
Six elements of Paul's missionary
It is interesting to identify and understand certain basic elements dominating Paul's successful missionary strategy:
1. Paul chose great urban centers (first, those not yet preached in, Rom. 15:20).
2. Paul used synagogues as the connecting link between his message and the men he tried to reach (Jew and Gentile proselytes to monotheism were in the synagogues).
3. Paul used Old Testament Scripture concerning Messiah as the heart of his message (e.g., at Thessalonica, 17:3).
4. Paul adapted his message to his hearers' needs; he obtained immediate attention and held it. "I am become all things to all men that I might win some, " 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
5. Paul revisited churches to confirm them and saw that men were elected to carry leadership, 14:21-23. (He was a firm believer in follow-up work).
6. Paul emphasized the unity of church and encouraged them to help one another. "One body, many members. "
How many missionary journeys were
there? Three? Four? Five?: 13-28
Three missionary journeys are usually taught for Paul's ministry. However, some make the third journey conclude with 20:3a, as we do in our outline, and make the trip back to Jerusalem a separate item. Others include the trip back to Jerusalem in the third journey and conclude it somewhere in chapter 21, depending on what they do with the remainder of the book. Some figure FOUR journeys, including the trip back to Jerusalem in the third journey, and the trip to Rome as the FOURTH. A few writers suggest FIVE journeys, the three usual ones, the trip to Jerusalem as the FOURTH (20:3b-21:17); and the events at Jerusalem, in Caesarea, and the trip to Rome as the FIFTH (21:17 overlap to 28:31).
A map of the first century Mediterranean world is placed on the next page. Get acquainted with the various seas, islands, and countries/provinces, so that, without looking at the top of the sheet, you can identify each number. Refer to a good map, as in the New Scofield Bible (or your Oxford Atlas--they are the same), and get used to tracing each journey by key cities (a list is given on page 13).
Which day should Christians
particularly keep as a worship day?: 20:7
Although it is basically true that Christians should be holy in every day of the week (Rom. 14:5), from early times Christians particularly kept the first day of the week. The passage in Acts 20:7ff. is helpful here.
(1) It is significant to note that although Paul was in Troas seven days (v.6), neither he nor the local brethren made any move to meet for the breaking of bread (a church meeting, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34) until the first day of the week (v.7). This would indicate the custom at Troas and, by implication, the custom of the other churches (cp. 1 Corinthians 16:2).
(2) The argument that early Christians kept the seventh day, based upon attendance at synagogue services by Paul and others (Acts 17:2), ignores the fact that the missionaries took their message to people wherever they gathered--to schools, homes, market places, lecture halls, courtrooms, the temple, or gathering places for scholars (Acts 16:13,44; 17:1,17,19,22; 18:4,7; 19:9; 20:8-9; 21:26,34; 23:35; 25:6,23; 28:7,30). Their purpose was to witness in every possible way (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). However, the issue at stake is "When did Christians gather?", not "To whom and on what days did Christians witness?", for they did this constantly.
(3) It is also significant that our Lord arose and appeared to the disciples in the upper room on the first day of the week (John 20:19-24) and that He waited a full week before He appeared again to them (when He convinced Thomas, John 20:25-29). It is unthinkable that, after the wonderful fact of our Lord's resurrection, the disciples should not have met with one another day by day. Thus by waiting a full week till the next first day our Lord seems to have underlined deliberately that day. It likewise seems evident that the Holy Spirit was given on the first day of the week at Pentecost.
(4) The argument that the Church kept the seventh day until an edict of the Council of Laodicia (4th century AD) caused a change to the first day ("the mark of the beast") is historical fiction. The edict was not issued to change the day Christians gathered to the first day. On the contrary, the edict was issued to affirm that the first day was the only official day that the Church kept, and to declare heretical those who still persisted in retaining the seventh day. The Epistle of Barnabas (c. AD 100), the Epistle of Ignatius (AD 107), the writings of Justin Martyr (AD 145-150) and Irenaeus (AD 155-202), all affirm the first day.
The Lord's Day was not selected in place of the Sabbath, but as the day to celebrate our Lord's resurrection, which emphasized His victory over sin, accomplished by His death on the cross. It was a new day for a new people belonging to a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Its characteristic is not "rest, " but "joy" (Matthew 28:9, margin) and service for the Lord (Matthew 28:10). All is in contrast with the Sabbath.
The Herodian family: 12:lff.
The Herodian family were important in N.T. history. The first to come to our attention is Herod the Great, who was king when Christ was born (Matthew 2:lff.). His family was nominally Jewish but actually Idumean (i.e., Edomite). The Romans had appointed his grandfather Antipater I (or Antipas) governor of Idumea (died 78 BC), and Julius Caesar had made his father Antipater II procurator of Judea (47-43 BC). The Roman triumvir. Mark Anthony, appointed Herod the Great tetrarch of Galilee (41 BC). In 37 BC, he became king of Judea also. He was an able and important man. He greatly increased the splendor of Jerusalem, erecting the temple which was the center of Jewish worship in the time of our Lord.
Herod's slaughter of the babies at Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16) was in keeping with his notoriously cruel character. When he murdered two of his own sons in 6 BC (Alexander and Aristobulus), Emperor Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) exclaimed: "I would rather be Herod's hog than Herod's son!" Herod died in March, 4 BC, and was succeeded by a son, Archelaus (Matthew 2:22), who reigned 4 BC to AD 6, when he was deposed. Archelaus was one of fourteen children borne to Herod the Great by eight of his ten wives. Not all are mentioned in the N. T., but those who are (and some others in the family tree) are charted below to assist you to trace this complicated family. One difficulty is the constant use of the family name Herod by many members of the family.
Besides Archelaus, three other sons of Herod the Great are mentioned in the N. T.;
(1) Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1; Mark 6:14; Luke 3:1), tetrarch of Galilee, 4 BC-39 AD (when he was banished);
(2) Herod Philip (Boethos) (Matthew 14:3; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:19);
(3) Philip (Luke 3:1), tetrarch of territory east of Jordan, 4 BC-AD 34.
Two children of another son of Herod the Great, Aristobulus (a son not mentioned in the N. T.) are part of the N. T. story:
(1) Herodias (Matthew 14:5; Mark 6:17ff.) and
(2) Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1, 6,18-24). Emperor Caligula rewarded his loyalty in AD 37 by giving him the tetrarchy of Galilee, formerly ruled by his uncle Philip, and in AD 39 he added Herod Antipas's territory of Galilee and Perea, followed by Judea and Samaria in AD 40. He was the Herod who slew James (12:1-2) and intended to slay Peter (12:3-19), but whom God smote with death (AD 44) for accepting divine honors (12:18-24). Herodias was the woman who was previously married to her uncle Herod Philip (Boethos), but left him to live unlawfully with another uncle, Herod Antipas, whom John the Baptist rebuked (Matthew 14:1-14; Mark 6:14-29). Salome, a daughter of Herodias, mentioned but not named by the N.T., was involved in the death of John (Matthew 14:6-11; Mark 6:22ff.). Salome's first husband was her great uncle Philip (the Philip of Luke 3:1).
Others of the Herodian family named in the N. T. are three children of Herod Agrippa I:
(1) Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25:13ff.; 26:1-2, 27-32). He was brought up in Emperor Claudius's household in Rome;
(2) Drusilla (24:24), governor Felix's wife;
(3) Berenice (25:13, 30), who was present at Paul's defense before Festus and her brother, Herod Agrippa II. Agrippa was only seventeen when his father died (Herod Agrippa I, AD 44, 12:23). He was gradually given power, first Chalcis (AD 48), followed by the tetrarchy of Philip (AD 52). He urged the Jews not to take arms against the Romans, but when they did, he fought with the Romans against them. After the capture of Jerusalem (AD 70), he moved to Rome, where he died (c. AD 90).
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