ACTS 28: Arrival in Rome

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V 1   Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta.

“Malta.” An island about 60 miles south of Sicily. 

V 2   And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold.

Showed us unusual kindness.”Uncorrupted by mainland society and eager for news from the outside world, island cultures can tend to be very warmhearted and hospitable.

“The rain… cold.” It was late autumn/early winter now. 

V 3-5  But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand.
       
So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.”
       
But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.

“Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks.” Paul didn’t mind doing menial chores and was a good example of a humble, loving shepherd.

“A viper came out.” Snakes often hide in wood piles. It “fastened on his hand”, and”the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand.” In other words, the snake truly did bite him. The bite of a viper causes the following symptoms: intense pain, swelling, necrosis (death of a part of the body), hemorrhaging, internal organ breakdown, blood cells destroyed. Without medical treatment, a viper bite meant certain death. However, Paul “shook off the creature… and suffered no harm.”

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V 6   However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

  “He would swell up, or suddenly fall down dead.” The islanders’ first reaction was that Paul must have been a “murderer” whom “justice (divine retribution) does not allow to live”. But later, seeing no harm come to him, “they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” This reaction reminds us of the citizens of Lystra who, after the lame man’s healing, proclaimed Barnabas and Paul to be the gods Jupiter and Mercury. (Acts 14) Reactions like this are to be expected when someone is operating in the full power of God. When this happens, as Barnabas and Paul demonstrated in Lystra, it is vitally important to continue giving God the glory, to walk humbly before Him and others, knowing that such God-given power, although admired so much by others, must be used only in love for the benefit of others and for God’s glory, not one’s own. 

V 7   In that region there was an estate of the leading citizen of the island, whose name was Publius, who received us and entertained us courteously for three days.

“Leading citizen of the island… Publius.” Publius was the Roman governor of the island. 

V 8-9   And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him.
       
So when this was done, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.

“Sick of a fever and dysentery.” Because of poor sanitation, dysentery (or gastric fever) was widespread in the ancient world (and in many parts of the world today). Paul’s healing of this man led to “the rest of those… who had diseases” to come and be healed.

During this voyage Paul was not on any official mission from the church, although he knew that God was sending him to Rome with the great prospect of being “brought before Caesar”. He would have had every excuse to isolate himself, but instead, he remained accessible and well aware of the needs that surrounded him on the ship, and now here on this obscure island in the Mediterranean. The measure of character in a person is seen by what he does when no one is looking, when there are no other guideposts but God and conscience to direct his actions. Paul certainly proved himself such a man of character during this whole sea voyage chapter of his life. 

V 10   They also honored us in many ways; and when we departed, they provided such things as were necessary.
       
“Honored us… provided us such things as were necessary.”

Paul and his companions were well rewarded by the island people. 

V 11   After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island.

“After three months.” They waited until the winter months were over when sailing would no longer be dangerous. “An Alexandrian ship.” Probably another ship of the imperial grain fleet on its way to Rome from Egypt. “The Twin Brothers.” The constellation of Castor and Pollux, the sons of Zeus (Jupiter) who, according to Greek mythology, were believed to bestow protection on sailors. That may have been the name of the ship, or its figurehead, or an image painted or engraved on the forepart of the ship. 

V 12   And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days.

“Syracuse.” An important city on the island of Sicily. Tradition has it that a new group of believers sprang up there during their 3-day stopover during which time the ship may have off-loaded some cargo.

Map - Sea Voyage

V 13-14  From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli,
       
where we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome.

 “We circled round.” Or, “coasted about, sailed along“. “Rhegium.” A harbor on the southern tip of the Italian mainland. There the ship waited one day until a favorable “south wind” allowed it to sail northwards through the Straits of Messina that separated Sicily from Italy. “Puteoli.” Modern Pozzuoli, located on the Bay of Naples near Pompeii. It was Italy’s most important port since it serviced the city of Rome and was also the main port for the Egyptian grain fleet.

“We went toward Rome.” After seven days in Puteoli where they had “found brethren”, Paul and company continued on to Rome, travelling now on land via the road known as the Appian Way. 

V 15   And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

“The brethren… came to meet us.” There was already an active Christian community in Rome to whom the brethren in Puteoli must have sent word about Paul’s arrival.

“Appii Forum.” A market town 43 miles south of Rome in the Appian Way. “Three Inns” – A rest stop on the Appian Way, about 30 miles south of Rome.

“Paul… thanked God and took courage.” To see some fellow-disciples again, especially those from Rome, after all those perils at sea must have been a great encouragement.

Arrival at Rome

V 16   Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.

“We came to Rome.” For years Paul had been wanting to get to Rome, and now at last in the early spring of A.D. 60 or 61 that heart’s desire was fulfilled.

“Paul was permitted to dwell by himself.” Unlike the other prisoners, Paul was given special treatment, probably through the intervention of Julius, the centurion who had escorted him from Palestine. By now, Julius must have felt a little ridiculous, after witnessing Paul’s exemplary behavior and exploits during the sea voyage, to have to play the role of guard over his “prisoner” whom he now looked up to with utmost respect. 

V 17-20  And it came to pass after three days that Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: “Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans,
       
“who, when they had examined me, wanted to let me go, because there was no cause for putting me to death.
       
“But when the Jews spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation.
       
“For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”

“Leaders of the Jews.” The most prominent men from Rome’s synagogues. Paul begins this final defense of the faith by declaring his innocence of any wrongdoing against the Jewish people or their traditions.

Paul Teaching in Rome

V 21-23  Then they said to him, “We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you.
       
“But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
       
So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.

“We neither received letters… nor have any of the brethren… spoken any evil of you.” Thankfully, due to the slowness of communication and travel in those days, there were no Jewish enemies from other cities in the neighborhood to stir up trouble. “We desire to hear from you.” The Jews in Rome expressed an interest to hear what Paul taught, having heard only wild rumors.

“Concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.” If nothing else, this statement shows that already the Gospel had in the few years since Jesus’ death and resurrection spread quite far and wide in the Roman world. Why the new “sect” of Christians had become so rejected – “spoken against everywhere” – can be understood from John 15:19 where Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love his own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

“From both the law of Moses and the prophets.” Paul’s usual method throughout Acts for witnessing to the Jews was to use the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.

“From morning till evening.” Despite his “chain”, Paul was able to teach as much as he wanted. 

V 24-27  And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.
       
So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers,
       
“saying,

‘Go to this people and say:
“Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand;
And seeing you will see, and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”‘

“Some were persuaded… and some disbelieved.” Again Paul was disappointed by his fellow-Jews’ lack of openness and receptivity, and quotes for them the passage in Isaiah 6:9-10, “hearing ye will hear, and shall not understand…”  The very act of expounding the truth, of trying to open the eyes and ears and hearts, causes blindness, deafness, and hardness of heart because that’s what happens spiritually when truth is rejected. It’s like a psychological defense mechanism that comes into play in the minds and hearts of those who don’t want to receive the truth. In 2Thessalonians 2:10-12 Paul expressed it well: “Because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved… God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie.” And in Romans 11:25, “Blindness in part has happened to Israel.”

By this time Paul must have fully realized there was not much point in going too far out of his way to get the Jewish people to believe the Gospel. Of course, many individual Jews became dedicated believers and worked hard to spread the Gospel in those days, but the majority continued in their old belief system. As for the group in Rome, it seems they at least did not try to raise persecution; Paul’s cause now rested with the court of Caesar, and the Jews in Rome probably did not want to risk pursuing the matter, and thereby drawing the attention and possibly the anger of Caesar upon themselves by interfering in a matter that belonged under Roman jurisdiction. In Israel they could get away with such interference, but not here in the heart of the Roman empire. 

V 28-29  “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”
       
And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.

“The salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles.” Twice before Paul reacted with righteous indignation and frustration with his Jewish brethren and signaled his intention to go to the Gentiles for “they will hear it!” (13:46-47, 18:6) It is fitting that the Book of Acts should end on this note – making it clear to the world that the Bible and the Gospel were meant, not for the benefit of the Jewish people only, but for all mankind. The scope of God’s Word is universal, designed by Him as His message and blessing for all the peoples of the world. God’s people lie scattered in all nations, for the heart of man is the same the world over. And as Paul learned (the hard way it seems), God was no longer showing any special favoritism to the Jews, to one nation only, when there were so many other nations of the world desperately in need of and desirous of the Gospel.

“Great dispute among themselves.” Rather than embrace the new truths they had just heard through Paul, some of the Jews started to ponder and analyze them. Their carnal minds got in the way of following the leading of God’s Spirit.This reminds us of the reaction Jesus experienced in John 7: “So there was a division among the people because of Him.” (verse 43) Some believed that He was the Messiah, while others of the Jewish leaders, looking for an excuse not to believe, opted to “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:24) They found a reason, they thought, to justify their unbelief: “no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” (John 7:52)That reason, however, was just a case of jumping to conclusions; had they bothered to do some research, they would have learned that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as foretold in the Book of Micah (5:2).

When asked, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29) It is a fight sometimes to believe. It doesn’t always come naturally.                      

The Law of Moses was instituted some 1,500 years before the coming of Christ, and it was the enlightened and revolutionary path to follow in that day. But in process of time it became inadequate to serving God’s greater purpose of bringing all nations to the Light of His Truth. And when Jesus came along, He shattered that old framework of beliefs and practices that the Jews had become accustomed to. No more need for circumcision or animal sacrifices, for example, because forgiveness of sins now came through Jesus Christ. But because many of the Jews were comfortable with and felt righteous about keeping the Law of Moses, they were unable to adapt to God’s new framework for them; they had everything figured out, and that old mindset made it difficult to let go of the past. This same tendency exists in any movement or organization; it seems to be a basic weakness in human nature to resist change, especially when the old ways and habits have become comfortable. 

        A danger that comes with old mindsets is that you can have things so pigeonholed and boxed in that it’s difficult for you to receive new, fresh things from God. Old mindsets can cause you to use carnal reasoning instead of being guided by the Lord’s Spirit. They cause rigidity.
        The principle of flexibility can be summed up in three short words: All things change! We need to be flexible; we need to be open. We need to understand that the Lord may want to do something new, and when He does, then God help us not to get in the way.
        It’s the danger of every religion or movement to solidify, to become established and settled down. Even those who started out as revolutionary, in time they became brittle old bottles because they stopped flowing with the Spirit of God. Without the flow of the Spirit, there’s no life.
        (from publication of The Family International – Dec, 2008)
 

V 30-31  Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him,
       
preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

 “Preaching the kingdom of God… with all confidence, no one forbidding him” – Even though under house arrest, with the help of his fellow workers, Paul had enough freedom that he could evangelize both Caesar’s household and much of Rome. (Phil 1:13, 4:22) So the Lord certainly knew how to turn Paul’s seeming “defeat” into a great victory. He planted Paul right in the center of the Roman world where he could have an enormous influence in spreading the Gospel. It was also an ideal opportunity to write more epistles, which were sent to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon. 

*** 

The Book of Acts ends abruptly here. Probably, Luke had sent the document at this time to Theophilus, the Roman dignitary to whom the Book of Acts was addressed. (Acts 1:1) This would have happened prior to Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment (in 62 A.D.). If the Book had continued, it might have related Paul’s work after his release, then his second imprisonment, and finally, his execution. Paul did make a fourth missionary journey after his acquittal, and it is fairly certain that he went to Macedonia and Crete. (See 1Timothy 1:3, Titus 1:5.) It’s possible he may have made it also to Asia Minor, Greece, and even Spain during his last years of freedom from about A.D. 63 to 67. In First Clement, written A.D. 95, it speaks of Paul preaching in “the limits of the west”, which seems to indicate that he did indeed make it to Spain, as he had long desired. (Romans 15:24) Epistles to Timothy and Titus were written during these final years of freedom. Then Paul was arrested again, and from a jail cell, while awaiting execution, wrote his last epistle, Second Timothy. He was beheaded in approximately A.D. 67, after having served the Lord for some 35 years.  His death happened about the same time as that of Peter the apostle who also, apparently, was in Rome then. Tradition has it that Peter was crucified upside down; this was his request because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as did his Lord. 

Other events that took place around this time were the martyrdom of James, head of the Jerusalem church, in 62 (or 66) A.D., the persecution under Nero in 64 A.D., and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

As mentioned, the Book of Acts does not seem to have come to a proper conclusion. But then the Acts of the Apostles never did end. For it is an ongoing story; the exploits of God’s men of faith have marched on through the centuries even to the present day. It is a story that will only reach its climactic, thunderous conclusion at the glorious second coming of Christ and the Rapture – an event that is drawing ever closer in the closing years of this present age of history. 

~ End of Commentary on the Book of Acts ~

ACTS 27: Shipwreck!

Sea voyage copy

V 1   And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment.

“We.” This marks the return into Paul’s company of Luke, probable author of the Book of Acts, who, along with the other Greek disciples, had to make himself scarce for awhile after Paul’s capture by the Jews in Acts 21.

“Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment.” A “Regiment” (or “cohort”) of that name was stationed in Palestine during the reign of Agrippa II. A Centurion commanded 100 men, but here Julius was more likely doing special duty (with a smaller contingent of soldiers) escorting this special prisoner Paul and “some other prisoners”. 

V 2   So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.

“Entering a ship.” They found a ship going to ”Adramyttium”, a city on the northwest coast of Turkey (near Troas, or Troy); the ship would “sail along the coasts of Asia” and get them part way to Italy.

“Aristarchus.” Known as one of “Paul’s travel companions”, he had been seized by the mob during the Ephesus riot (Acts 19:29), then accompanied Paul to Jerusalem (20:4). He later became a “fellow prisoner” during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment. (Col 4:10) 

V 3   And the next day we landed at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care.

“Julius treated Paul kindly.” Likely, it was Paul’s positive conduct that influenced the centurion so that he was more a prisoner in name only. At the port city of Sidon, Julius even “gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care.” 

V 4   When we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the shelter of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.

 “Sailed under the shelter of Cyprus.” That is between Cyprus and the mainland, so as to avoid getting swept out to sea by the “contrary winds”. 

V 5   And when we had sailed over the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.

“Sailed over the sea… off Cilicia and Pamphylia.” That is, the ship kept close to the shore of southern Turkey (“Cilicia and Pamphylia”)and docked at Myra, one of the main port cities for the imperial grain fleet; these were large ships that carried Egyptian grain to Italy. 

V 6   There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing to Italy, and he put us on board.

“An Alexandrian ship.” They boarded one of those grain ships going to Italy. This would save them from a lengthier journey in a smaller ship that would have to hug the Mediterranean coastline all the way to Italy. 

V 7   When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone.

“Cnidus.” A port on the extreme southwest corner of Turkey. “The wind not permitting us.” From Cnidus the ship could not sail due west for Italy because of a strong, opposing headwind, so it had to turn southwards to Crete, a large island off the southwest coast of Turkey. As they reached the eastern tip of the island near Salmone, they found some relief from the strong northwest winds.

Sea voyage copy

V 8   Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.

“Passing it with difficulty.”  The ship had to fight its way – tacking or zigzagging back and forth – to the southern coast of the island to a sheltered bay called “Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea”. 

V 9-10  Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them,
       
saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.”

“Much time had been spent.” Precious time had been lost trying to sail from the port of Myra against the winds.

“Sailing was now dangerous.” Travel on the open sea (away from shore) was dangerous from mid-September to mid-November, after which shipping ceased altogether until February.

“Because the Fast was already over.” For the Jews this “Fast” marking the Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur) was a special day of fasting when they would confess and make atonement for their sins. (Leviticus 23:27-32) Since “the Fast was already over”, that meant it was late September or early October. By this reckoning Paul knew the time had come when it would be dangerous to travel further, and so he “advised them” to stay put: “I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss.” 

V 11   Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.

“The centurion.” Because this was an imperial grain ship of Rome, the centurion was the ranking official on board and had the last word, not the captain (“helmsman”) nor the “owner”. Had the centurion been able to recognize Paul’s spiritual authority, he might have paid more attention to him, but Paul was after all only one of the prisoners. It seems they were just as headstrong as Paul himself had been once upon a time when he was so insistent about getting to Jerusalem in spite of dire warnings from his co-workers. 

V 12   And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.

The “Fair Havens” was known by the professional sailors as “not suitable to winter in”. Apparently, they did not relish the idea of being stranded in a remote outpost for several months and preferred, if at all possible, to go elsewhere. So they decided to head 40 miles to Phoenix, a harbor on Crete’s south coast that was reputed to be a more convenient place for them to endure the winter. 

V 13-14  When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete.
       
But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon.

“The south wind blew softly.” Conditions looked ideal for this short journey “close by Crete”, but the sea can be an unpredictable master at times, and sure enough, they encountered “a tempestuous head wind… called Euroclydon” ; this wasa strong, dangerous windstorm from the northeast, greatly feared in those days by Mediterranean sailors. 

V 15   So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive.

“The ship was caught… let her drive.” Unable to make any headway, they let the ship be driven by the wind. 

V 16-17  And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty.
       
When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven.

 “Running under the shelter of an island called Clauda.” In the shelter of this island, 23 miles southwest of Crete, the ship experienced a temporary reprieve. “Secured the skiff.” The island provided just enough shelter from the wind to enable them to prepare the ship for the storm. They started off by hauling the ship’s lifeboat on board. Then “they used cables to undergird the ship”. By wrapping cables around the hull, winching them tight, this helped the ship endure the battering of the wind and waves.

“Syrtis Sands.” Refers to a feared region of sandbars and shoals off the coast of Africa, which had the reputation of being a graveyard of ships.

“Struck sail.” They would have lowered the topsails and/or a drift anchor to slow the ship’s progress since the wind from the northeast was blowing straight towards the “Syrtis Sands”. As much as possible, they might have angled the other sails in such a way as to guide the ship westwards and thereby avoid getting shipwrecked on the southern shoals.

V 18   And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship.

“They lightened the ship.” Still “exceedingly tempest-tossed”, they threw overboard some of the cargo  so that the ship could ride more easily over the waves. 

V 19   On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands.

“The third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard.” Perhaps the beam that supported the mainsail with its ropes and rigging.

V 20-26  Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.
       
But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss.
       
“And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.
       
“For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve,
       
“saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’
       
“Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.
       
“However, we must run aground on a certain island.”

“Neither sun nor stars appeared for many days.” Not having compasses or GPS systems in those days, sailors relied on the sun and stars to ascertain their direction and position. But cloudy skies had obscured any view of the sun and stars, and the ship was now completely lost and directionless.

When it seemed that “all hope that we should be saved was finally given up”, Paul who had experienced so many times God’s hand pulling him out of dire situations, said, “Take heart, men”. His faith was a great strength to those on board the ship. His I-told-you-so reminder that “you should have listened to me” was mercifully brief, but it was enough to establish his authority as the one in charge of the situation. He went on to recount that “there stood by me this night an angel” who told him, “You must be brought before Caesar”. This reaffirmed the promise the Lord had made to Paul in chapter 23:11 and was the guarantee that the ship was in God’s hands and would be saved. Paul was even able to predict, “We must run aground on a certain island.”

An interesting comparison: In the account of Jonah and the whale, because he had rebelled against God’s call, Jonah’s presence on the ship threatened to destroy it, but in this case, because Paul was in God’s will, his presence on the ship was its guarantee of preservation. (Jonah 1:9-12)

V 27   Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land.

“Fourteenth night.” 14 days had passed since the ship’s departure from the Fair Havens. “Adriatic Sea.” The central Mediterranean Sea, not the modern Adriatic Sea between Italy and the Balkan coast. “Sensed that they were drawing near some land.” Unable to see anything at night, nevertheless, the sailors’ instincts told them that land was nearby; perhaps they could hear the crashing of waves on a shoreline. 

V 28   And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms.

“Took soundings.” They measured the sea’s depth using a weight attached to a length of rope. “Twenty … fifteen fathoms” – 120 feet… 90 feet. 

V 29   Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come.

“Dropped four anchors from the stern.” Anchors from the rear would hold the boat in place, hopefully, and keep the bow pointed towards shore. The idea now was to delay the landing until daylight came, and they could see where it would be safe to guide the ship. 

V 30   And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow,

“Under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow.Pretending they needed to stabilize the ship’s front section, these scoundrel sailors let down the same lifeboat they had hauled in earlier (v16) so they could “escape from the ship”. Dire situations seem to have a way of bringing out either the best, or in the case of these sailors, the worst in human nature. 

V 31-32  Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”
       
Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off.

“Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Paul saw through the sailors’ ruse and faithfully reported it to those concerned, knowing the sailors’ skill would be needed to further guide the ship. “The soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff.” Paul’s warnings were being taken seriously now, and though the boat could have been helpful to use for the shore landing, it was still better to get rid of it and thus make sure the sailors stayed on board the ship. 

V 33-36  And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing.
       
“Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.”
       
And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat.
       
Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves.

“Continued without food.” Because of seasickness and the difficulty of preparing and preserving food, there had been a “long abstinence from food” (verse 21). Passengers and crew had eaten little or nothing in the two weeks since departing from Fair Havens. It was likely too that feelings of despair and the hope of finding divine favor had encouraged the fasting to continue even though it wasn’t needed anymore. In fact, they needed some extra strength now – “this is for your survival” – as they would soon embark on the difficult struggle of making their shore landing.

“Not a hair will fall.” A common Jewish saying to indicate absolute protection. (Luke 21:18) “Then they were all encouraged.” 

V 37   And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship.

“276 persons.” That was a large number, typical of ocean-going vessels of that time. Modern jet airplanes may average a similar number of passengers. 

V 38-39  So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea.
       
When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible.

They lightened the ship.” Now in shallow water, and needing to get as close to shore as possible, the main cargo of wheat was thrown “into the sea”.

“Did not recognize the land.” The landscape was not familiar to the sailors, but they saw a place where there was a “bay with a beach”, a quiet spot where they could more easily land. 

V40   And they let go the anchors and left them in the sea, meanwhile loosing the rudder ropes; and they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made for shore.

“Made for shore.” No doubt it was a tense moment as they allowed the ship to be driven into the shore. The seamen “let go the anchors” while “loosing the rudder ropes” that had been girding the ship to help it endure the storm; without them the pilot could more easily steer the vessel. They “hoisted the mainsail to the wind” and headed at long last for shore. We could perhaps relate to this in modern times by thinking of what it would be like to be in an airplane that had to make an emergency landing in a farmer’s field instead of at an airport. 

V 41   But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves.

“A place where two seas met.” A sandbar formed just short of the shoreline by the converging of two currents. 

V 42-43  And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape.
       
But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land,

“And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners.” They feared facing punishment or even death if they let the prisoners escape. “But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose.” He commanded the soldiers “who could swim” to go first so they could be ready to receive and guard the prisoners as they came to shore. 

V 44    and the rest, some on boards and some on parts of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.

“And the rest… all escaped safely to land… some on boards, and some on parts of the ship”. As the Lord had promised to Paul, “God has granted you all those who sail with you.” (verse 24).

Wreck

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 28)

ACTS 26: Paul’s Defense before Israel’s Foreign Rulers

Festus and elite

V 1   Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself:

“Stretched out his hand.” A common gesture made at the beginning of a speech. Paul’s intention wasn’t so much to defend himself (there were no accusers there) but, since he was supposed to explain his cause to Agrippa so Agrippa could explain it to Festus so Festus could explain it to Caesar, then it was really just the Lord’s set-up and perfect opportunity to reach these members of elite society with the message of the Gospel.

Festus and elite

V 2-3   “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews,
       
“especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.

“I think myself happy… I shall answer for myself.” Paul was “happy” for this opportunity to give his side of the story and thereby quench all the rumors and accusations that Agrippa and others of the rulers may have heard from the Jews. This reminds us of his statement before Felix two years earlier, “I do the more cheerfully answer for myself.”(24:10) Paul was glad too that Agrippa was “expert in all customs and questions… among the Jews”. Unlike governor Festus, or even governor Felix, king Agrippa was brought up in Israel and had a reputation as a pious Jew with a good understanding of Jewish beliefs and customs. Now Paul had the opportunity to explain his beliefs in much greater depth than he had before with other officials. 

V 4-5  “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know.
       
“They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

“If they were willing to testify.” The Jews did not like to admit that Paul was once “a Pharisee” who lived “according to the strictest sect of our religion”. This background added more weight to Paul’s testimony and message of dissatisfaction with the limitations of traditional Jewish religion. 

V 6   “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.

“The hope of the promise.” Refers to the coming of the Messiah and His Kingdom, as well as the Resurrection of the dead. 

V 7   “To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.

“Twelve tribes.” The 10 tribes of northern Israel had been dispersed by the Assyrians in the 700’s B.C. But before that event, members of those tribes had intermingled with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin; many also had fled to Judah in advance of the approaching Assyrians. So in effect Israel still consisted of “twelve tribes”.

“Accused by the Jews.” It was absurd that Paul should be accused for promoting the glorious fulfillment of promises contained in the very writings to which the Jews considered themselves to be such staunch adherents. 

V 8   “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?

“God raises the dead.” If Agrippa was “expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews” (verse 3), then he had probably swallowed the Sadducees’ line of disbelief in the Resurrection. Since the Sadducees came from the rich and powerful class, then likely, Agrippa had plenty of interaction with them. And there was also his interaction amongst the Romans. As unbelievers, they, of course, would think of the Resurrection story merely as some form of wishful thinking or superstition. We can gather this from Festus’ casual observation earlier that the Jews “had some questions against him [Paul] about … a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.”  (25:21) So Paul, aware of the general climate of doubt surrounding Felix about the resurrection, asks, “Why should it be thought incredible?” That, after all, had been the “hope of the promise” of the Jews for generations and was now a central pillar in the Christian faith.

The coming of the Messiah had reversed the effects of the Curse: in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God told them (and all mankind), “You shall surely die… For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 2:17, 3:19) But when Jesus came, He taught and demonstrated by His own death and resurrection that God was now offering mankind, including those who had died before His coming, the glorious promise of living on after death in the heavenly realm, and even in the earthly realm. (John 11:25, 1 Peter 3:19-20, 4:6) No more did the death experience have to be shrouded in feelings of permanent loss, hopelessness, or gloom as in times past. 

V 9   “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

 “Indeed, I myself thought… to do many things contrary.” Paul shows his understanding of Agrippa’s unbelief, testifying of his own unbelief previously. 

V 10-11  “This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
       
“And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

“I cast my vote.” Literally, “I threw my pebble”; this was the manner of voting in ancient times. The statement implies that Paul may have been himself a member of the Sanhedrin – or if not a member, certainly very close to that ruling circle.

“Compelled them to blaspheme.” To renounce their faith in Christ. Detailing his former crimes like this may have helped Paul to better relate to Agrippa who also may have been guilty of committing serious crimes. As a king, likely he would have known what it meant to use violence, incarceration, or murder against his rivals, just as Paul had done. 

V 12-18  “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
       
“at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.
       
“And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
       
“So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
       
‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.
       
‘I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you,
       
‘to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

In these verses Paul once more recounts the dramatic testimony of his encounter with the Lord on the Damascus road. (Acts 9:3-16, 22:6-16)

“To open their eyes… to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance.” This was the Lord’s new job description for Paul, and indeed, the job description for anyone who wishes to follow in Christ’s footsteps.

“Sanctified by faith that is in Me.” “Sanctify” comes from the Greek for “to separate or set apart”. Faith in Christ causes His disciples to be different, set apart from the world. “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:15-16)

V 19-20  “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
       
“but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

 “Not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Saying it this way suggests that it was not easy to follow the “heavenly vision”; it was also a more humble way of putting it rather than to boastfully proclaim that he was just so obedient. Paul was too well aware of his shortcomings to put it in such a way. It was more like, “Well, I know I’ve made lots of blunders and wasn’t as obedient as I should’ve been sometimes, but at least I wasn’t disobedient to the heavenly vision.” 

            … Not even Paul counted himself to have attained. He kept making mistakes for the rest of his life… Nevertheless he was a good apostle, a faithful evangelist, and did a tremendous job, in spite of all of his shortcomings, failures, sins, mistakes, and blunders. (From lecture by David Berg – 13 Dec, 1970) 

“Works befitting repentance.” Paul was faithful to encourage believers to go beyond just believing and endeavor to change their lifestyle, and to win others to the faith. 

V 21   “For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.

“For these reasons.” Paul’s preaching of total dedication and his witnessing to the Gentiles were the real reasons for the Jews’ hatred of him. The Jews, because of their loathing of the Gentiles and envy of Paul, objected to the good things he was doing, which had nothing to do with being a “creator of dissension”, the original accusation put before governor Felix. (24:5) Paul’s passion to preach the truths of God, even if not understood by Festus, showed clearly that the Jews’ accusations were only the result of an internal religious dispute. This turned out to be a good way for Paul to defend himself. Without dwelling too much on nitty-gritty details about the case, his approach gave a clear presentation of the Gospel message and at the same time showed that he was no “creator of dissension” (“mover of sedition” – KJV). 

V 22-23  “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come -
       
“that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

“That the Christ would suffer… be the first to rise from the dead.” Christ’s suffering and Resurrection, along with that of all believers, were foretold in the Old Testament. (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Psalm 16:10) 

V 24   Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”

 “You are beside yourself!” Poor Festus had been left floundering by this message that was geared more for Agrippa who already had some familiarity with the strange truths Paul was bringing forward. From his Roman, secular viewpoint the idea that the dead could live again sounded preposterous, and he finally blew his cool, shouting, “much learning is driving you mad!” Jesus had to face similar reactions from those whose perspectives were too limited to be able to grasp His extraordinary new teachings and activities. (Mark 3:21, John 8:48,52, 10:20) If it were not for the fact that Agrippa was the main audience, Paul would have tailored his approach to better suit Festus’ more limited understanding of spiritual matters, as he had done before in other situations with those who had no knowledge of Judaism. (Acts 14:8-18, 17:16-34) 

V 25   But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.

“I am not mad.” Paul didn’t allow himself to get intimidated by this outburst but continued, saying, “I speak forth the words of truth and reason.” That was quite a straightforward remark to make before the Roman governor, but it was needed in this situation to set aside one of the Devil’s favorite spins: accusing God’s people of insanity. The words “truth and reason” conveyed the message that Paul’s words were just the opposite of flippancy, folly, or the derangement that Festus thought Paul had fallen into. In all this Paul continued to show respect to the governor, calling him “most noble Festus”. 

V 26   “For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.

“The king… knows these things.” Paul addresses Agrippa; in fact, he seems to be challenging him. That Festus could not grasp what Paul was saying was understandable, but for Agrippa, Paul said, “None of these things escapes his attention”. (And the implication is that if Agrippa were to give his assent to “these things”, it would help Festus to believe also.)

“Not done in a corner.” Jesus’ death and the claim of His resurrection were common knowledge in Palestine. It’s not as if the king hadn’t heard about this already; it was just that he had trouble believing it. 

V 27   “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”

“Do you believe the prophets?” Paul answers for him, “I know that you do believe”, since it would have been too difficult in that setting for Agrippa to give a direct answer. “Yes” would make him look foolish to his Roman friends. “No” would have outraged his Jewish subjects. 

V 28-29  Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
       
And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”

“You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Paul’s words had certainly hit the mark. It sounds as if Agrippa was saying that he was at least now a secret believer but was not able, for whatever reasons, to proclaim it publicly. And who knows what effect Paul’s words had on some of the other influential people who were present at the hearing? At any rate the receptivity of these mostly Gentile rulers was far greater than that of the Jewish rulers of Israel, the Sanhedrin, whom Paul had encountered just recently, and also two years earlier, and by whom he was nearly killed. 

(Jesus:) … Claim your country for Me! Claim its leaders, its upper levels of society, for Me. Get out there and reach them – and not just gently and lightly, but challenge them to do something for Me and others. Make disciples of your nation. (from publication of The Family International – Feb, 2002) 

“Except for these chains” – Perhaps this was a subtle way of encouraging the rulers present to do what they could to secure Paul’s release. 

V 30-32  When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them;
       
and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.”
     
 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

“This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains… might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Agrippa, who was favorably influenced by Paul’s message before the court, probably would have seen to it that Paul was set free right then and there. But the case had already been transferred to Rome, so apparently nothing else could be done at this point. Agrippa probably was not aware of the fact that Paul’s appeal to Caesar had saved him from being sent to Jerusalem where the Jews would likely have killed him. (See Acts 25:2-3,9-12.) At any rate everything the Lord had said through Agabus the prophet was coming to pass: that Paul would be delivered “into the hands of the Gentiles”. (21:11)

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 27)

ACTS 25: Paul Escapes Once More from the Sanhedrin

Map - Herod Agrippa II

V 1-3  Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
       
Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him,
       
asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem – while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.

“He went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem.” Festus was acquainting himself with the situation in his new “province”, especially through interacting with the “high priest and the chief men of the Jews” who, of course, lost no time in informing him “against Paul”.

“Lay in ambush along the road to kill him.” The Sanhedrin were again trying to get Paul into their territory so they could find the opportunity to kill him. This time they were not just accomplices to the criminal acts of a rogue bunch of Jews (as in Acts 23:14-15) but were themselves the plotters. It is difficult to fathom how this ruling body, who claimed to be God’s representatives to the Jewish people, could fall into such depths of maliciousness. Their criminal behavior can perhaps be explained as the sad end result of allowing pride, envy, and bitterness to build up, coupled with a stubborn refusal to yield to the truth and will of God.

We can understand why Jesus said to them, “You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness [iniquity-KJV]…  Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:28,33) It should be remembered, however, that this group was a very small bunch (albeit very influential), but they were not representative of all the Jewish people, many of whom had become dedicated Christians and, like Paul, were committed to changing the world of their day with the good news of the Gospel of Christ. 

V 4   But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly.

 “Paul should be kept at Caesarea.” As the headquarters of Roman government in Judea, Caesarea was the proper place for Paul, a Roman citizen, to be tried. To his credit Festus did not at this point allow himself to be unduly influenced by the Jewish “lobby” in Jerusalem. 

V 5-6  “Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.”
       
And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought.

“Sitting on the judgment seat.” This signified the hearing was an official Roman trial. 

V 7-8  When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove,
       
while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.”

“Many serious complaints … which they could not prove.” This should have been the end of the matter. 

V 9   But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”

“Wanting to do the Jews (the Sanhedrin rulers) a favor.” Festus had just spent “ten days” in Jerusalem with “the high priest and the chief men of the Jews”(verse 6,1), who no doubt used the time to get him somewhat under their influence. Perhaps the Jews were hoping to take advantage of the newcomer from Rome, hoping to get him to commit to some compromise with them before being fully informed about their murderous intentions. The previous governor Felix also had tried to “do the Jews a favor” through the decision to continue Paul’s imprisonment. (24:27) Likewise Herod Agrippa I, 15 or so years before, after executing the apostle James, “saw that it pleased the Jews”. (Acts 12:3) And now Festus, “wanting to do the Jews a favor,” was about to go down the same road. This compromise, “to go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged”, would play directly into the Jews’ hands, giving them the opportunity to murder Paul somewhere on their own territory, away from the well guarded city of Roman Caesarea.              

V 10-11  So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know.
       
“For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

“I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat.” Paul wisely rejects Festus’ compromise, reminding the governor that he, as a Roman citizen, had every right to be tried before Caesar.

“I do not object to dying.” The implication here is that going to Jerusalem would mean certain death, but since he had not “committed anything worthy of death”, therefore, he should not be sent to Jerusalem. 

V 12   Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”

“Conferred with the council.” Festus’ advisers. “To Caesar you shall go.” To send Paul to the Jews would offend Roman law; to try Paul and acquit him would make Festus unpopular with the Jews. So Festus was no doubt happy to grant Paul’s appeal, for then he could wash his hands of the whole affair; the case would be transferred out of his court to the emperor’s. No doubt, Paul was elated to receive this verdict. It not only gave him protection against his enemies, but most important, this was his “ticket” to Rome, the place he had been wanting for several years to visit. 

V 13   And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus.

“King Agrippa.” Herod Agrippa II was well versed in Jewish affairs. He was the son of Herod Agrippa I, who killed James and had Peter imprisoned. His great-uncle was Herod Antipas of the Gospels during Jesus’ ministry while his great-grandfather, Herod the Great, ruled at the time Jesus was born. The Herodians were Edomites, descendants of Esau, and were used by the Romans to rule as puppet kings over the Jews. Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herodians, ruled the territory northeast of Festus’ jurisdiction of Judah and Samaria. (See map.) Incidentally, the Romans made sure to keep shifting the Herods’ jurisdiction from place to place; this kept the dynasty weak, preventing them from building up a solid power base in Israel.

“Bernice.” Agrippa’s sister and consort. Their incestuous relationship was the talk of Rome where Agrippa had grown up. Bernice for a while became the Emperor Vespasian’s mistress, then his son Titus’s, but she always returned to her brother Agrippa. So she certainly got around and probably wielded some considerable behind-the-scenes influence among the elite ruling circles of that time. She and Agrippa also had as their sister Drusilla who was married to the former governor Felix.

Map - Herod Agrippa II

V 14-21  When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix,
       
“about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him.
       
“To them I answered, ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’
       
“Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in.
       
“When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed,
       
“but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.
       
“And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters.
       
“But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.”

“It is not the custom of the Romans.” Many aspects of the Roman judicial system are still in use today, and their principle of allowing an accused person a fair trial – to meet “the accusers face to face” and have “opportunity to answer for himself” – proved its worth. In this case, the fair trial allowed Paul the opportunity to prove his innocence and thus save himself from certain death at the hands of his religious enemies.

“Festus laid Paul’s cause before the king.” Festus reiterated the events of the last few days concerning Paul to his visitor King Agrippa.

“Their own religion.” Festus noted that the Jews had “brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed”. He was expecting to hear that Paul would be accused of murder, sedition, and other such traitorous deeds. But instead, they accused him of “some questions … about their own religion”. Any charges to do with religion did not belong in a Roman court.

“I was uncertain of such questions.” As a newcomer to the area, and having a different religious background, Festus could not comprehend this controversy between Christians and Jews.

“Augustus.” Means “revered” or “worshiped one” and was another title, in addition to ”Caesar”, that was bestowed on the emperor, who at that time was the infamous Nero. 

V 22   Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

“I also would like to hear the man myself.” This implies that Agrippa had been wanting to do so for some time. (God prepares people’s hearts.) Being “expert in all customs and questions” of the Jews (26:3), he had more than a passing interest in finding out firsthand what Paul, Christianity’s leading spokesperson, had to say about this radical new movement that had swept through their land in those days. 

V 23   So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.

“With great pomp… with the commanders, and prominent men of the city.” This was an elite gathering of the rulers and influential people of that region, an unusual set-up and opportunity for Paul to reach this upper level of society. These people were present, not so much to sit in judgment of Paul, but they were curious to see what it was about this man who had aroused such controversy among the Jews. Of course, the outcome of the hearing would have some bearing on how Festus might word his report to Caesar, but other than that Paul was free to speak as he pleased to this select group of people. 

V 24-27  And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.
       
“But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him.
       
“I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write.
       
“For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”

“Crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.” From this we get an idea of how intense was the opposition against Paul and the new Christian movement, an attack which was coming from “the whole assembly of the Jews”.

“I have nothing certain to write to my lord [Caesar]. Since Festus did not understand the nature of the charges against Paul, he didn’t know what to write in his official report to Nero. This would have been foolish, even dangerous, to send a prisoner to Caesar without a set of clear charges against that prisoner. “Especially before you, King Agrippa.” Festus hoped that King Agrippa’s knowledge of Jewish affairs could help him to make sense of the charges against Paul.

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 26)

ACTS 24: Trial Replay… before a Roman Governor

Felix

V 1   Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.

“After five days.” A short time for the Jews to prepare a case, hire an attorney (“orator”), and make the trip to Caesarea. They may have been worried that Felix would dismiss the case if they waited too long, or perhaps they were hoping to catch Felix off guard before he could form any definite opinions about it. “Tertullus.” Possibly a Roman, more likely a Hellenistic (Greek) Jew. 

V 2-4  And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: “Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight,
       
“we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.
       
“Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.

Tertullus introduces the case against Paul with much flattery of governor Felix. ”Most noble Felix.” Roman governor of Judea, 52-59 A.D. Felix was a former slave whose brother won the favor of the emperor Claudius and secured for him the governorship of Judea. He was not a remarkable ruler and achieved little during his time in office, except that he vanquished the Egyptian rebel whom Lysias referred to in Acts 21:38. Felix’s tough rule angered the Jews, and the emperor Nero ousted him from the governorship “two years after” Paul’s hearing (verse 27).

“Through you we enjoy great peace.” This flattery was likely meant to prepare Felix to react strongly to the main charge that Tertullus was about to bring against Paul, that he was a “creator of dissension” (“mover of sedition” in KJV). How different was the Sanhedrin’s approach in these new circumstances: when in their own territory and in the presence of a minor Roman official (Lysias), they showed no respect for the proceedings and thought nothing of striking Paul and creating a big commotion. What a different face they put on here, now that they were standing before the Roman governor in the Roman city of Caesarea. 

V 5-9  “For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
       
“He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law.
       
“But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands,
       “commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.”
       
And the Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.

“We have found this man a plague (“pestilent fellow” in KJV).Tertullus goes on to list the accusations that the Jewish council was making against Paul.

Firstly, “a creator of dissension… throughout the world… a ringleader.” The Romans did not tolerate those who incited rebellion, and in a Roman court this would have been the most serious charge. These carefully chosen words were meant to throw Paul’s deeds into as bad a light as possible. Tertullus made sure to avoid mentioning any specific incidents of sedition for fear that the case would get shifted to some other governor elsewhere in the Empire. The Jews wanted Paul to be tried by a judge, Felix, over whom they could apply some leverage; as Judeans, they could complain to Rome against Felix, but not against governors in other districts.

Secondly, “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” This contemptuous reference to Christianity made it sound as if Paul was the leader of some kind of subversive organization that might pose a danger to Rome. It made Paul’s activities sound much worse than a mere charge of heresy against the Jewish religion, a charge which would not mean anything in a Roman court.

“Profane the temple.” This third accusation of blasphemy against God was only circumstantial evidence, but designed again to throw a bad light on Paul’s activities.

“We seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law.” This was just more whitewash: it ignored the crowd’s savage beating of Paul and falsely claimed that they were merely trying to arrest him. According to their version, “Lysias… with great violence took him out of our hands.” With Lysias absent from the proceedings, Tertullus hoped to put the Jews in a good light by shifting the blame for the violence on Lysias the chief captain. (This implied accusation against Lysias may not have gone down too well with the governor, especially if Lysias was known to be a trustworthy soldier; but at this point the Jews couldn’t contain their bitterness over Lysias’ suppression of them in Jerusalem.) The truth was that the Jewish mob had turned insanely violent, and Lysias had to, of course, use violence to put a stop to their rioting and to rescue Paul. The Jewish leaders were trying to make it sound as if the matter should have been left in their hands, and no doubt they were hoping that’s what might yet happen.

“The Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.” It might have seemed impressive that all these rulers of the Jews were giving their assent to Tertullus’ version of the Jerusalem incident. Paul’s enemies, without the slightest twinge of conscience, were ready to stoop to any level of falsehood and subversion to achieve their aims. 

V 10   Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered: “Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself,

“Many years a judge of this nation” – More than most foreign rulers, Felix had some acquaintance with Jewish laws, customs, and beliefs. (He was married to a Jewess.)

“I do the more cheerfully answer for myself.” Paul did not need an orator like Tertullus to speak for him; it was a sign of his trust in Felix that he was experienced and discerning enough not to be swayed by falsehood and flattery. By noting Felix’s “many years” as a judge, Paul was showing due honor and respect while at the same time encouraging him to be fair and come to a just verdict. 

V 11-13  “because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship.
       
“And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city.
       
“Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.

“Twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem.” Five of those days had just been spent in Caesarea waiting for his accusers to arrive (in verse 1). Most of the other seven days before that were engaged in the purification rites. Paul’s point was that, even if he wanted to, he did not have the time to organize or incite a revolt. 

V 14   “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.

“Believing all things… written in the law and in the prophets.” Unlike the Sadducees, who only accepted the Torah, and the Pharisees, who would not believe the promises about their Messiah as fulfilled in Jesus, Paul accepted the entire Old Testament as the Word of God. 

V 15   “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.

“Hope in God.” A great hope of the Jewish people was the “resurrection of the dead”. (Job 19:25-27, Daniel 12:2) Except for the Sadducees, the Jews understood that God was not a distant Being but had a great concern for mankind, both in this life and the next. They understood that every man would have to account for his deeds. The “just” whose good deeds had benefited mankind will be recognized and richly rewarded. The “unjust” who thought they had gotten away with their evil deeds will be found out and receive whatever retribution is coming to them. 

V 16-17  “This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.
       
“Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation,

“Conscience without offence toward God and men.” In the previous trial, when Paul said something similar –I have lived in all good conscience before God” – he got slapped across the mouth. But now circumstances had changed, and the high priest had to restrain himself.

I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation.” Far from seeking to stir up strife, Paul had actually gone on a humanitarian mission to Jerusalem. Paul focuses attention on the good things he was doing rather than overdo it with trying to prove his innocence. Along that line, Paul only said, “Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me” (verse 13). 

V 18-21  “in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult.
       
“They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me.
       
“Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council,
       
“unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, ‘Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.’”

“Neither with a mob nor with tumult.” For the Roman governor, it was the disturbing-the-peace issues that really mattered. Paul had not done any rabble-rousing among the crowds at Jerusalem. Only during the hearing before the small group of the Sanhedrin was there an incident that remotely resembled anything like that when Paul “cried out, standing among them (the Sanhedrin), Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged.” (23:6) Proclaiming the resurrection from the dead before the skeptical Sadducees may have upset them, but it was no crime, neither in Jewish nor in Roman law.

Other than the above incident, none of those who examined Paul a few days earlier had “found any wrongdoing” in Paul’s words or activities. They had no concrete accusations; it was nothing more than vaporous hype and spin cooked up by the orator Tertullus. 

V 22   But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.”

“Having more accurate knowledge of the Way.” Felix knew more about Jewish beliefs, probably because of his Jewish wife Drusilla. It is possible he may have gathered by now that the Christians, some of whom were his own soldiers, were no threat to society. (Cornelius, for example, was a converted Roman soldier.)

 “Adjourned the proceedings.” There was every reason to do this, for the Jews from Asia, who had first accused Paul (21:27-28), had failed to show up for the trial; furthermore, the Jewish leaders could not prove Paul to be guilty of any crime. So Felix adjourned the proceedings on the pretext of needing more information from Lysias the chief captain. By not making a snap judgment and deciding to wait until he could hear Lysias’ version of events, this guaranteed an unfavorable outcome for the Jews. Lysias had already said in his report everything that needed to be said, and there is no record that he was ever actually summoned. His further input, had he come, certainly would have set the record straight about how violent the Jewish crowd was. It would have exposed Tertullus’ version of events as slanted and false. In the final outcome the only verdict left for Felix, according to Roman law, was not guilty. This, of course, would infuriate the Jews and bring on more trouble. As governor, Felix may have felt his main responsibility was to maintain order. From his viewpoint the best decision was no decision. 

V 23   So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.

“Have liberty… not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.” This was certainly a very mild form of incarceration.

V 24   And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

“Drusilla, who was Jewish.” Youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I who had executed James (12:1). She was Felix’s third wife, and not more than 20 years old at this time. Felix, entranced by her beauty, had lured her away from her former husband.

“Felix… heard him concerning the faith in Christ.” To his credit Felix was intrigued by Paul and open to learning more from him.

Felix

V 25   Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”

“Felix was afraid.” Hearing about “righteousness, self-control (temperance), and the judgment to come” shook Felix to the core, and he dismissed Paul, escaping for the time being the conviction he was feeling. 

V 26   Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.

 “Money would be given him by Paul.” Likely, this was some form of bribery which, although illegal under Roman law, was commonplace.

“Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.” Having to interact with a bribe-seeking high official must have been a dreary exercise for Paul, and this went on for two years. Whether Felix continued to engage Paul in any more serious discussions on spiritual matters, we don’t know. Why no money was procured for Paul’s release is also not known: perhaps for moral reasons; perhaps Paul did not want to deplete the resources of the Jerusalem church, or there may have been some other reason. 

V 27   But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.

“Porcius Festus succeeded Felix.” Because of Felix’s brutal suppression of a riot in Caesarea, the Jews complained to Rome, and Nero had him recalled and replaced by Festus. Unlike Felix, Porcius Festus was a member of the Roman nobility. He ruled only for two years before he died but was considered a better ruler than Felix. To prevent any more trouble coming his way from the Jews, Felix tried to “do the Jews a favor” and “left Paul bound”.

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 25)

ACTS 23: Sanhedrin Scuffle and a “Dark” Moment

Sanhedrin scuffle

V 1-2   Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”
       
And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.

Paul no sooner began to speak, than the “high priest Ananias” commanded him to be smitten “on the mouth” - a shocking way to start off the hearing. Although Paul was trying to put his best foot forward with integrity and sincerity, “looking earnestly at the council”, stating that he had “lived in all good conscience before God”, the High Priest was not the least bit interested in any kind of open discussion; his mind was made up and was not about to be confused with the facts, or with any of Paul’s overtures that might lead to some form of reconciliation. This vicious reaction by the High Priest certainly manifested the depth of intolerance and ill-will that the ruling Jews bore towards Paul, who years ago had defected from their ranks. In their minds he was a traitor who had begun the hated Gentile Christian movement. Ananias, one of Israel’s cruelest and most corrupt high priests with his pro-Roman policies, so upset the Jews that they killed him in 66 A.D. at the onset of the Jewish revolt.

“Strike.” Same word used to describe the mob’s “beating” of Paul (21:32). Likely, he received a vicious enough blow. According to Leviticus 19:15, Ananias’ action was illegal: “You shall do no injustice in judgment… In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”

V 3   Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?”

“God shall strike you.” About eight years later Ananias was assassinated.

“You whitewashed wall.” Paul flared up in anger, not knowing he was addressing the high priest. Whitewashing could hide defects in the construction of a wall. (Ezekiel 13:10-16) Like the “whitewashed wall”, a priest who acts “contrary to the law” could hide his defects under the cover of the prestige of his office. “Whitewashed” was a metaphor for hypocrisy that Jesus also used to describe his religious enemies – as “whitewashed tombs.” (Matthew 23:27)Paul detested the hypocrisy he sometimes encountered among his fellow Jews, and his feelings along those lines may be understood well from the Book of Romans, chapter 2. 

V 4   And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?”

“Do you revile God’s high priest?” They were quite taken aback by Paul’s harsh rebuke of the high priest. 

V 5   Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

“You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” Even though Ananias was quite worthy of the rebuke, nevertheless he was a ruler in authority, respected by his own people, and should have been granted the respect that his position demanded. (Exodus 22:28) We could compare this to how David behaved with King Saul. David could have killed Saul but refused to take matters into his own hands. Despite Saul’s jealous, vindictive attitude towards David, David continued to recognize him as the “Lord’s anointed”. (1Sam 24:10) It was needful to maintain stability in the kingdom, to wait for the Lord’s ideal timing when power could more easily be transferred from the house of Saul to the house of David without a lot of bloodshed. In a similar manner, Paul showed due respect for the ruler of the Israelites; he quickly realized his mistake and apologized: “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest.”

V 6   But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”

“The council.” The Sanhedrin, the same group that had crucified Jesus and stoned Stephen and had always fought against the activities of the Early Church. By now Paul realized he wasn’t going to get a fair hearing from them, so he took a bold course of action. Knowing something about the inner tensions between the Sanhedrin’s two factions, he appealed to the Pharisees, reminding them that he too was a Pharisee and that “of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged”. This was the main bone of theological contention between the two factions. Paul was not just using this as a ploy; belief in the resurrection of the dead was central to both Pharisees and Christians – which is why many Pharisees (but not Sadducees) converted to faith in Christ. (Acts 6:7, 15:5, John 3:1) 

V 7-8  And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.
       
For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.

“A dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” The Pharisees followed many legalistic rituals and traditions and believed in the afterlife and resurrection. “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit.” The Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch (five books of Moses) and thought there was no mention there of the resurrection and went on to deny anything supernatural, such as the existence of angels or the afterlife. (Jesus skillfully corrected their wrong doctrinal thinking on this in Matthew 22:23-33.) The Sadducees were often wealthy aristocrats, compromisers for gain and political opportunists. They were the “liberals”, rationalists who looked down on religious tradition and legalism, which they felt sprang from the Pharisees’ “superstitions”.

The only thing that united the two groups was their opposition to Jesus and the early church; the Pharisees felt threatened on the religious level, and the Sadducees on the political level. With this kind of status quo club pursuing its own interests and opposing what He stood for – truth, love, and the change that mankind so desperately needed – it is no wonder Jesus referred to them as a “brood of vipers”. (Matthew 23:33) This collaboration between Pharisees and Sadducees continues nowadays in the form of an unholy alliance between church and state. As the Pharisees did then, so nowadays do certain sectors of Christianity abandon their core principles in order to gain the favor of the warmongers and rulers of secular society, the modern day Sadducees. 

V 9   Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”

“The scribes of the Pharisees’ party.” So intense was the theological dispute that the Pharisees were even willing to defend Paul. Even though he was a leader of the hated, new sect of Gentile Christians, the Pharisees did share the same fundamental beliefs, which they, along with Paul, cherished greatly. Although Paul was using a “divide and conquer” strategy, it was also a needed challenge to certain members of the council to shake off compromise and stand up for their beliefs.

“We find no evil in this man… let us not fight against God.” This reminds us of Gamaliel’s warning several years earlier to the council when it wanted to kill the first apostles: “Take heed to yourselves… keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work… is of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found to fight against God.” (Acts 5:35,38,39) Thankfully, many of these rulers, even though they had gone somewhat astray into the realm of power politics, still had a conscience toward God. This fear of displeasing God kept them in check – just enough to keep the first apostles, and now Paul, alive and free to continue their work. 

V 10   Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.

“Fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces.” The dissension within the Sanhedrin that had been brewing and suppressed for so long now broke to the surface in an explosive confrontation. Passions got so enflamed, even violent – presumably as they fought over Paul – that the chief captain had to again rescue him from the jaws of death.

Sanhedrin scuffle

V 11   But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”

“The Lord stood by him and said, Be of good cheer.” Paul probably needed the encouragement as he may have felt quite disappointed with the negative and hostile reaction of the Jews whom he had been hoping, naively it would seem, to win over. This last antagonistic reaction of the Sanhedrin dashed to pieces any hope that the Jews as a nation could be won to Christ – although they could still be won on an individual basis of course. Also, it may have been dawning on him that he had made some serious errors in judgment, giving no heed to the Lord’s and his counselors’ warnings not to go to Jerusalem.

Men of God throughout history often had to face these dark moments as a result of their errors: Moses in the wilderness, Samson blinded and thrown into the Philistines’ dungeon, David driven off his throne, and the list goes on.  But because they didn’t lose faith, God was able to use them in spite of their mistakes and gain even greater victories out of their seeming defeats. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD…Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24)

And so it was, after this fiasco before the Jerusalem crowd and now the Sanhedrin, God promised Paul his heart’s desire that he would “bear witness at Rome”. (19:21) It should be noted also that the Lord commended Paul because he “testified for Me in Jerusalem”. Although Paul had gotten a bit off track, nevertheless, he was faithful to continue to testify to the Truth, and the Lord honored him for that.

       Then, too, while we do need to walk carefully and earnestly that we miss not God’s great will for us, yet let us not be anxious lest, because we are so human, so frail, so fallible, we may make some mistakes in the details and specifications of that plan. We will do well to remember this. God has a beautiful way of overruling mistakes when the heart is right with Him. That is the supreme essential. The one attitude of ours which can mar His purpose of love for our lives is the refusal to yield that life and will to His own great will of love for it. But when that life is honestly yielded, then the mistakes in the pathway which spring from our own human infirmities and fallibleness will be sweetly and blessedly corrected by God, as we move along that path. It is like guiding a ship. Our trembling hand upon the wheel may cause trifling wanderings from her course. But they seem greater to us than they are in reality. And if we but hold our craft steadily to the polestar of God’s will as best we know it, she will reach her destined port with certainty, notwithstanding the swervings that have befallen her in the progress of her voyage. (“It’s Just like the Plan” – from James McConkey’s Life Talks: A Series of Bible Talks on the Christian Life 

It seems the Lord did gain some great victories out of this seeming defeat, as we find out later – not unlike how the Lord did for Samson after he was blinded and thrown into the Philistine dungeon. Paul’s capture served as the means by which he was able to go to Rome and continue teaching there, even in Caesar’s household. Of course, he did lose his freedom for a few years, and after being released, his activities may have drawn more attention from the Roman system than was desirable.

Had Paul not gone to Jerusalem, his life would have followed a different course. But even though Paul did not follow that course (because of having ignored the leading of the Spirit), the Lord was not limited but was able to devise yet another plan. It was not as if the Lord was left lost and floundering(although Paul may have felt that way for awhile). God can be a surprisingly flexible, changing, flowing Supervisor. And, most likely due to Paul’s humbling and repentance, the Lord was able to reconstruct the road of his life. Whether the course of Paul’s ministry turned out better or not as a result of his compromise at Jerusalem, would be difficult to judge or speculate on. Of one thing we can be fairly sure: Paul probably returned to being more submitted to the leadings of the Holy Spirit – a humbler man, and also more willing to receive counsel from others. Everyone at some time in his life has had to learn certain lessons through the school of hard knocks, and Paul was no exception.

Perhaps the best way to look at this episode in Paul’s life is to understand that God knew what his weaknesses were, and He simply let Paul go his own way for a bit to, first of all, teach him some needed lessons, and secondly, to drop him into the hands of the Romans; this gave him the safe conduct and protection from the Jews he needed to continue his ministry in other lands. But at the same time, God wanted to teach him and us some valuable lessons. Paul was truly a valiant warrior in the Lord’s cause. But the tendency in church history has been to over-glorify its heroes, glossing over their mistakes and thereby losing the valuable insights and lessons that can be learned. 

        Reading these book reviews of the famous saints and missionaries gave… me a feeling of inferiority complex that I’m never going to measure up to standards like that or that kind of survival of torture and persecution!
        God lets us have a few great saints to be examples and ideals, but… the saints and the great heroes of the Bible and all were so exalted and so high and so far superior, it just made you feel like, “Oh well, what’s the use of trying? I could never be like that, I’ll never make it!” – and you don’t even feel like trying hardly because they’re so far beyond and above you!
        …They were unrelated to our present existence. They were out of this World, they were just in another World. But what I’ve tried to do in my writings – or I think the Lord’s tried to do – is to show you how human they were and how much like us they were. I think it’s more important to bring some of those characters down closer to your level where you can see there’s some possible hopes for you. That’s why King David was always such a great encouragement to me, a man who could sin and be as wicked as he was and yet the Lord forgave him and called him a man after His Own heart! I always figured, “Well, if he made it, I guess I can make it!”
        (from lecture by David Berg - 2 Nov, 1981) 

        It’s encouraging to people to see that you’re not perfect, even their leaders are not perfect, they’re human. Look at Moses! Look at King David! Look at Joseph! I mean there is just one long string of them in the Bible and even in church history. They were all men. – Men of faith, but all of them had feet of clay and all of them made mistakes and the Lord had to show that they were men and flesh and blood and just as weak as we are and made mistakes like we do, and it was all the Lord! And it had to be all the Lord, for they became shining examples – not of their own greatness but of their utter dependence on the Lord.
        Just like salvation, it’s “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God!” (Eph.2:8,9) “Faith cometh by hearing the Word of God” (Rom.10:17), but we’re saved by grace through faith. And it’s not of ourselves, lest any man should boast, it’s the gift of God! And once in awhile He has to kind of rub our noses in it and humble our pride and show everybody how weak and fleshly we are.
        That’s the crux of the matter! … We’re all sinners, we’ve all come short of the glory of God! (Rom.3:23) That isn’t what God blames you for. He blames you for not calling on Him to help you and for not repenting, not letting Him change you, not letting Him do it. You can’t do it yourself. You just have to turn your life, your mind, your heart and everything over to the Lord and let Him do it…
        I’m sure the Lord knows what He’s doing. I’ve had some things happen to me I couldn’t understand, except I know they kept me humble and they worked out His plan. When you’re really willing to resign yourself to the will of God, whatever it may be, whether you think it’s good or bad, the Lord lets you go through some of those tests sometimes, even to let you think He’s being a little too hard on you! …
        Like dear old Dr. Mitchell used to say, “God does some things to us to make us humble and sometimes He repeats them or does other things to us to see if we’re still humble!” It’s sort of God’s intolerable compliment. One thing for sure, God knows what He’s doing, so even if you don’t understand it and you don’t know what He’s doing, He does, so you just have to wrap it up in a little bundle of faith and tuck it away till some day He reveals why.
        He knows how to keep you in line, keep you in check so you don’t get the big head and don’t get too puffed up and too self-confident, have too great a sense of false security! The Lord really knows how to keep you in line, keep you in shape, toeing the mark so you won’t miss the mark! So, praise the Lord!
        The whole name of the game is faith and trust and to trust Him anyhow! “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him!” – Even if you weren’t a shining example and didn’t have a glorious victory! – You trusted Him in seeming defeat, and that’s a victory in itself, to be a good loser! – More than a conqueror!
        Look at the martyrs! – “These all died in faith!” – That’s the greatest thing that could be said of them! They died and they were killed and they were martyred! – But they never lost faith, they never lost heart. “These all died in faith!” (Heb.11:13)
       
That’s the greatest victory of all, when you seem to be defeated and you still trust the Lord! That must be the greatest and the most pleasing thing of all to God. – Faith in the face of disaster, faith in the face of agony, faith in the face of death! – “These all died in faith”!

       (from lecture by David Berg – Dec, 1983)
 

V 12-13  And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
       
Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy.

“Bound themselves under an oath.” It’s a little incomprehensible to us in a secular age this ancient custom of invoking divine judgment on themselves like this. But the vow wasn’t quite as rock-solid as one might think. If by chance they were unable to carry out their murderous plot, the would-be assassins did have a loophole; they could be released from the vow as long as one of the priests or rabbis was willing to officially absolve them from it. 

V 14-15  They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul.
       
“Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

“Chief priests and elders.” This excluded the “scribes”, mostly Pharisees, who were ready to defend Paul. The Sadducees were the main rulers of the Sanhedrin and had become the real bitter opponents of the new Christian movement. This was apparent all the way back in the very early days; when Peter and the apostles were at the peak of their popularity, they were opposed by whom? – “the high priest… and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees). These particular rulers “were filled with indignation” then, and they had not changed. (Acts 5:17) And they were the ones now in league with this band of thugs who were “ready to kill him (Paul)”. According to their plan, the rulers would find some pretext to draw Paul away from the protection of the main body of Roman soldiers, and the group of 40 Jewish assassins would do the rest of the dirty work. 

 V 16   So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.

“Paul’s sister’s son.” Paul’s nephew had somehow “heard of their ambush” and their dastardly plot to murder him, so he “entered the barracks and told Paul”. (Since Paul was not under arrest, but only under protective custody, he was able to receive visitors.)

Pauls Nephew

V 17-22  Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.”
       
So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.”
       
Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?”
       
And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him.
       
“But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.”
       
So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.”

Paul’s nephew reveals the details of the Jews’ plot to the commander and to beware of their plan to try to have another audience with Paul, for at that time would “forty of them lie in wait for him”. The commander warns the “young man… tell no man that you have revealed these things to me.” This could have been for the sake of the safety of Paul’s nephew or for the purpose of keeping a step ahead of the Jews, or both. 

V  23-24  And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night;
       
“and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”

“Bring him safely to Felix the governor.” To avoid an explosive confrontation with the Jews and save Paul’s life, the commander knew he would have to foil the conspirators’ plot by sending Paul immediately to his superior in Caesarea, Governor Felix.

It must have been a very serious situation. Lysias the commander sent almost half of his 1,000-man garrison to accompany Paul. The “200 soldiers” were elite legionnaires of the Roman army. These, along with “70 horsemen” and “200 spearmen”, made for quite a powerful contingent. When God wants to protect you, He certainly knows how to do it! “Third hour of the night.” These forces were made ready about 9 p.m. By traveling at night, it would be easier to slip away from Paul’s would-be assassins. 

V 25-30  He wrote a letter in the following manner:
       
Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings.
       
This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman.
       
And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council.
       
I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains.
      And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him. Farewell.

“He wrote a letter.” The chief captain’s letter to governor Felix briefly explains the cause and purpose of his sending Paul to him: “I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but nothing charged against him deserving of death or of chains.” This evaluation was similar to that of several other Roman officials of the time: Pontius Pilate, Gallio, the Ephesian city clerk.

“I… commanded his accusers to state before you.” Because of the plotting of the Jews in Jerusalem, it was unsafe to conduct a hearing there, and Lysias was obliged to burden Felix with the case. Caesarea, a well-fortified city built by the Romans as their center of administration in that part of the world, was a much safer place to conduct the hearing. 

V 31   Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.

“Antipatris.” A Roman military outpost about 35 miles from Jerusalem. Travelers from Jerusalem to Caesarea often rested there. For the footsoldiers to march any more than that would have been too exhausting. 

V 32   The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks.

“Horsemen.” They were now in the more Gentile region of Samaria. With less danger of ambush, the footsoldiers were no longer needed.

V 33-35  When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.
       
And when the governor had read it, he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia,
       
he said, “I will hear you when your accusers also have come.” And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.

“Asked what province he was from.” Felix needed to know if he had jurisdiction to hear Paul’s case. “From Cilicia.” Judea and Cilicia were both under the jurisdiction of Syria at that time, so Felix could hear the case.

“Herod’s Praetorium.” Felix’s official residence in Caesarea. 

Map to Caesarea copy

 

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 24)

ACTS 22: Mob Scorns Paul and the Gentiles

Defense b4 Jrslm Croed

V 1    “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now.”

“Hear my defense.” After this Paul defended his beliefs four more times in the Book of Acts.

Defense b4 Jrslm Croed

V 2   And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent. Then he said:

“In the Hebrew language.” Aramaic actually (or the Chaldean language). This was the language of Syria and Babylon and quite similar to Hebrew; it was in common use at the time in those Mideast countries. (Hebrew originated in Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham.) 

V 3   “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.

To answer the charge (in Acts 21:21) that he opposed the law, Paul states some important credentials to prove otherwise: 1) “I am indeed a Jew” 2) though “born in Tarsus” outside Judah, he was “brought up in this city” of Jerusalem and 3) taught “at the feet of Gamaliel”, the most celebrated rabbi of that day by whom he was 4) “taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law.”

“Zealous toward God, as you all are today.” It was helpful to warm up to theJewish audience by finding common ground with and complimenting them. 

V 4-5  “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,
       
“as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.

“I persecuted this Way.” Paul’s former zeal for the law was actually more fanatical than that of the crowd he was talking to.

 “The high priest bears me witness.” Bringing this point out helped to authenticate the startling truth of Paul’s testimony that he once fought against the followers of Christ. “The council of the elders.” The Sanhedrin, the Jews’ national ruling body and supreme court, consisted of 71 members, including the High Priest. 

V 6-16  “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me.
       
“And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
       
“So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
       
“And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.
       
“So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’
       
“And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.
       
“Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,
       
“came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him.
       
“Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth.
       
‘For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.
       
‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

Paul’s testimony appears here and also in Acts 9:1-9, 26:12-18. In any kind of witnessing there is hardly anything more convincing than one’s own life story and experience.

“About noon.” The time of day here emphasizes how bright must have been the “great light from heaven” that “shone round about” Paul.

“Annanias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews.” The mention of “Annanias”, a respected member of the Damascus Jewish community, would have carried some weight with the hostile Jewish audience. 

V 17-21  “Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance
       
“and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’
       
“So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.
       
‘And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
       
“Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’”

In these verses we get a glimpse of an event in Paul’s life that had not been mentioned earlier in the Book of Acts. “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple… in a trance and saw Him saying to me.” After his dramatic conversion on the Damascus road, this experience in the temple three years later was the next major turning point in Paul’s life. Paul was rather insistent then that he needed to convince the Jews in Jerusalem, feeling that he was very qualified to do so because of having once been a persecutor of Christians. But the Lord appeared before Paul – as He had done on the Damascus road – and told him very clearly, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” Then the Lord, after laying down this “no” to Paul’s desire to reach his Jewish brethren there, gave him the “yes”: “I will send you… to the Gentiles.” And that was the nudge that Paul needed to devote his life from then on to reaching the Gentiles. 

V 22   And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!”

“They listened to him until this word.” Up until this point the crowd had, under the Roman soldiers’ watchful eyes, been willing to listen. The people at large were grudgingly tolerant, it seems, to the name of Jesus and Paul’s testimony of his conversion. However, unlike the believers in the Jerusalem church headed by James, they were completely intolerant when it came to the idea that the Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jewish converts. It meant they would have to accept the fact that the Gentiles, their sworn enemies whom they were so prejudiced against, were just as much favored in the eyes of God. (In fact, maybe they were more favored now since the Gentiles were more receptive to the Gospel message than the Jews. That seems to be the gist anyway of the Lord’s message to Paul in the temple many years before.)

Paul’s repeating of that message to the crowd probably ruffled some feathers, especially when he said that the Lord had told him, “they will not receive your testimony concerning Me”. (Paul may have been hoping – wishful thinking – that this part of his message would sway the new generation and needle them into being more open-minded than their parents 20 years ago.) But nothing had changed; they still had the same small, closed-minded outlook as before, and when Paul testified that the Lord had directed him to sidestep the Jews and send him “far from here to the Gentiles”, that was the last straw. What Paul said was true enough, but the crowd could not endure this blow to their national pride and religious self-righteousness. So at that point, when Paul got to “this word” – the word “Gentiles” that is – the crowd went into a frenzy, yelling “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live.”

About 25 years earlier and also during the time of Pentecost, Peter the apostle had delivered two strong messages to the Jerusalem crowd. He succeeded in winning their hearts and getting them to repent over their crucifixion of the Messiah. (Acts 2-3) But those messages were done in God’s will, they were accompanied by some outstanding miracles, and no mention was made about the Gentiles. But on this occasion, none of those conditions were present. So it was nothing but a losing battle for the poor apostle Paul. Nevertheless, God’s “damage control” had gone into effect: Paul was saved from certain death by the intervention of the Romans.

Paul’s message to the Jewish people, if nothing else, did accomplish the purpose of showing how incorrigible the nation had become. They had virtually become God’s enemies by working against His plans of spreading the Gospel in the earth, and thus, He could no longer protect them from their enemies whom they were now supposed to try to love. (Matthew 5:44) Because of their hatred of the Gentiles (the Romans in particular), the Jews rose up in rebellion and managed to kick the Romans out of much of their territory in the Jewish Wars of 66 A.D. But the only result was that in 70 A.D. the Romans returned with a vengeance and completely dismantled the nation of Israel: they destroyed the temple, slaughtered her citizens, and scattered the rest into other nations. 

V 23-24  Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air,
       
the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him.

“Tore off their clothes.” Usually done in preparation for stoning, also a sign of horror at (what they considered to be) blasphemy, and just a sign of uncontrollable rage. “Threw dust.” Another sign of intense emotion. (Revelation 18:19)                    

“The commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks.” Lysias realized he would have to interrogate Paul privately away from the mob. Because of the crowd’s hostile reaction and his inability to understand what Paul had said (“in the Hebrew tongue”), Lysias may have thought Paul had tried to incite a riot or at least was guilty of something serious enough to require his being “examined under scourging”. This was a brutal Roman interrogation method; prisoners often died after being flogged with the “flagellum” (metal-tipped leather thongs attached to a wooden handle). 

V 25   And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?

As they bound him with thongs.” In preparation for scourging. Apparently, this was a method of stretching a person so that the effects of scourging would be magnified.

“Is it lawful… to scourge… a Roman.” Roman citizens were exempted from such brutal methods of interrogation. Paul’s claim was not questioned because the penalty for making a false declaration of Roman citizenship was death. (That rule would have eliminated the need to carry ID papers.) 

V 26   When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.”

“Take care… this man is a Roman.” The centurion warned the chief captain about taking action on something that could cost him his job, or even his life. 

V 27-29  Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.”
       
The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”
       
Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.

“With a large sum.” Roman citizenship was not officially for sale but, as Lysias must have done, it could be obtained by bribing corrupt officials. Paul had one up on the commander since he had the more prestigious status of having been born a Roman citizen. Having realized Paul was a Roman, “the commander was also afraid”, not just because of the threatened scourging, but also “because he had bound him”.

V 30   The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.

“He wanted to know for certain why he was accused.” The chief captain, not understanding much about the Jewish religion, must have felt quite bewildered about this whole uproar. He hoped to clear up the confusion by having Paul appear before “the chief priests and all their council”. That was a fairly large group – 71 people.

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 23)

ACTS 21: Paul’s Crash-Landing in Jerusalem

Mob

V 1    Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.

“Had departed from them.” Or “torn away from them” seems to be the original meaning. It was difficult to part from the Ephesian elders.

“Cos.” A city and an island. “Rhodes.” An island southeast of Cos in whose harbor stood the Colossus of Rhodes, a 30-meter statue to the Greek god of the sun, Helios, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. “Patara.” A busy port city in the south of Asia Minor (Turkey). Each port marked the end of a day’s sailing. The ship did not sail at night as that was dangerous so near the coast.

V 2    And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.

“Sailing over to Phoenicia.” Realizing he would never reach Jerusalem in time for the Pentecost Feast if they kept hugging the coast, Paul decided to risk sailing directly across the Mediterranean Sea to Tyre of Phoenecia on a bigger ship.

Acts 20-213 copy

Third Missionary Journey

V 3    When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo.

“When we had sighted Cyprus.” Seeing Cyprus to the north (“on the left”), they did not land there but “sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre”. The voyage from Patara to Tyre normally took five days.

V 4    And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.

“Finding disciples.” The church in Tyre probably was founded by those who fled Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom, a persecution that Paul himself had instigated many years earlier.

“Who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” Paul gets another warning from the disciples in Tyre. Note that, when others received messages against making the Jerusalem trip, the word “Spirit” is capitalized; this is because their messages came from the Spirit of God. But when Paul was “bound in the spirit to Jerusalem”  (20:22), the word “spirit” was not capitalized by the translators – an indication that Paul’s “spirit” and the Holy “Spirit” were not that much in sync with each other. 

V 5-6  When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.
       
When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

“They all accompanied us, with wives and children.” Paul and company received quite an escort and royal send-off as they left the city of Tyre.

V 7    And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day.

“We came to Ptolemais.” 25 miles south of Tyre.

V 8    On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.

 “We entered the house of Philip the evangelist… one of the seven.” Philip was one of the seven who were appointed to supervise the “daily ministration” in the very early church. (Acts 6:3) He was also the one who evangelized Samaria and witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch.

V 9    Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

“Four virgin daughters who prophesied.” That they were virgins may indicate they had some kind of special calling from God. In those days a married woman was bound to her household and had little opportunity to serve God outside of it. These daughters of Philip would not likely have been allowed to teach or preach in those days, but they could have ministered on a one-to-one basis, using their prophetic gift. Just as the Greek religion had its female “oracles”, so these women could have served in a similar capacity as godly sources of spiritual counsel and wisdom.

V 10  And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.

“Came down from Judea.”  Caesarea was actually part of Judea, but because it was the Roman capital, Jews considered it a foreign city. Agabus was the same prophet who in Acts 11:28 had predicted a “great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar”.

V 11  When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”

So shall the Jews… bind the man.” Was Agabus’ prophecy a warning to Paul that he shouldn’t go to Jerusalem, or was it just preparing him for what would happen? Well, it was both really. Even without the prophecy, it should have been obvious enough: if he had encountered so much trouble from Jews outside Israel, how much more trouble could be expected from Jerusalem, the very center of the Jewish religion? Since the determined apostle was not one to be dissuaded by circumstances or well-meaning counselors, the Lord Himself had to step in and try to dissuade Paul in this dramatic message given through Agabus the prophet.

Agabus’ prophetic ministry was reminiscent of that of the prophets in the Old Testament. This type of ministry had a higher profile back in those days, but in the days of the New Testament, the Church began to need more those spiritual gifts that would contribute to furthering the Gospel – gifts of teaching, witnessing, evangelizing, and so on. 

V12 -13  Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
     
 Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

“We… pleaded with him not to go.” When Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from heading into certain death in Jerusalem, Jesus had to rebuke the voice of Satan. But Paul’s counselors, unlike Peter at the time, were mature and Spirit-filled individuals whose counsel Paul should have been taking more seriously. The Holy Spirit was speaking through them, not the Devil, as was the case with Peter. (Matthew 16:21-23) There are times when it pays to give heed to godly counsel, just as there are times when one must ignore the voice of the skeptics and doubters. But it can be difficult sometimes to discern which is which.

When Jesus knew He was about to enter into the jaws of death, He didn’t want to do it: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me”. But He yielded to God’s will, praying, “Not as I will, but as You will”. (Matthew 26:39) By contrast, Paul’s outlook seems brashly over-confident. Paul’s willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice of dying “for the name of the Lord Jesus”, in different circumstances, might have been deemed as the greatest possible yieldedness to God. But here it wasn’t really yieldedness as much as Paul’s own headstrong spirit, and it was causing him to ignore the Lord’s warnings not to head to Jerusalem. We don’t know what was going on in Paul’s mind at the time, but perhaps he was hoping to emulate the Master, or Stephen (the man whose death he had witnessed and probably caused), by dying a martyr’s death himself.

It is doubtful that Paul’s trip to Jerusalem, knowing he might get imprisoned or killed, could be put on the same level as Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem, knowing He would get crucified. The Lord was not asking Paul to risk making that kind of sacrifice at this time. He was probably more interested in keeping Paul alive and free to continue with the work of spreading the Gospel than in having him make a premature sacrifice of himself.

This was not the same Paul who, years earlier, was so attentive to the Holy Spirit that he readily scrapped his own plans to go to Asia and Bithynia in order to follow the Spirit’s leading to head for Greece. (Acts 16) Paul seems now to be plowing ahead in his own strength, insisting that he go to Jerusalem, all the while ignoring the voice of the Spirit advising him otherwise.As was the case with many other great men of God, like Moses or David or Samson or Saul, after many years of successes, perhaps he had become a little too sure of himself. The Holy Ghost was very obviously leading him to avoid Jerusalem, but he brushed it off, relying perhaps on former victories as his guide, rather than on the leading of the Holy Spirit at that moment. Paul’s attitude, at this time, seems to border on foolhardiness, a repeat of the same attitude that almost sent him into the theatre at Ephesus where the mob of Diana-worshipers was ready to tear him to pieces.

The Lord had used Paul’s fearlessness and willingness to plunge headlong into danger to pioneer and bring the Gospel to numerous cities of the Roman empire. So there is much we can learn from his example of daring and courage. The downside to that kind of faith can be a temptation towards recklessness and taking for granted the Lord’s protection. This can be a great temptation, one that Satan even tried to use on Jesus. But Jesus stood on the Word, saying, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Matthew 4:7) Paul’s experience in Jerusalem, as we will see, was a good lesson about overconfidence and failure to give earnest heed to the Lord’s warnings of danger. There is a fine balance to be found between the necessity of taking risks in order to fulfill God’s will versus the need to exercise caution in order to be able to continue doing God’s will. We are far more useful to the Lord alive than dead, so it behooves us to yield to how He is leading in the different situations that come up in our lives.

       Don’t for one moment give yourself the credit… Because the moment you get the slightest bit proud of yourself, or you think you’re doing something or accomplishing something, watch out!
       God will really set you back on your heels and show you who’s Boss! God is the One who is doing all this, and if we follow Him we can’t fail! If we follow the Lord, it’s impossible for us to fail, because He is the One who’s doing it!
       
It’s only when you get big and powerful and popular and plentiful that you think you can make decisions on your own, and you think you know what to do, and you think you can get along without God. – And that’s where you run into a stone wall! That’s where you crash! That’s where you make your mistakes, and watch out for that.
       
(from lecture by David Berg – 22 Oct/1970)
 

        The biggest temptation for people who have a lot of natural talent, drive, dynamism and abilities is to just boom, boom, boom, push things through in their own strength! Such natural human force has its limits. “Men of force are men of faults,” and their biggest fault is when they keep on going in their own strength, their own force, instead of letting the Lord work through them!
        Having so much natural ability, strength and drive is often the very thing that stands in the way of the Lord showing His strength. It’s more difficult for such people to just depend on the Lord because they’ve got so much natural strength that they’re used to leaning on… My own Mother had a lot going for her in the natural, a lot of God-given natural talents, abilities, drive, personality, looks, etc. But look what she had to go through before He could really use it all! She was in bed and in a wheelchair for five years!… She didn’t have anything else left! – That’s when God was able to really use her. Of course, she still had the natural talents and strengths & abilities He’d originally given her, but she learned to lean on Him and let Him use them, and to then give Him all the glory for whatever got accomplished.
       
(compiled from lectures of David Berg – Aug/1989)

From the above passages we can understand what Paul meant in 2Corinthians 12:9-10: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Even Jesus said of Himself, “I can of Myself do nothing… I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” And He counseled us to “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 5:30, 15:4)

V 14  And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.”

Unable to dissuade Paul, his counselors had to leave the matter in God’s hands: “the will of the Lord be done.” God works with us and our faith. Sometimes we can force Him to go our way, and even if it’s not the best, it will still be “the will of the Lord” because He will still be working with us.

        (Jesus:) …. I work in the lives of My children in the ways that I know are needed and I will cause their decisions and experiences to bear fruit in the way that I know is best, both on Earth as well as in the hereafter. Not every decision that each of My children makes is for the best, but I cause all things to eventually work together for good in each of your lives, as we walk the path of this life together.
       I love each of My children, and even when someone steps outside of what I know would have been the best plan for them, I take them where they’re at and work with them and their choices to bring about the best possible outcome… I have all eternity to teach and guide My creations, and although they will each… face some setbacks along the way, wrong choices, mistakes, or stumbles, in My longer-term plan, I can ultimately turn each of these to good and accomplish My purpose in their lives.
       (from publication of The Family International – Nov/2009)

V 15   And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem.

“Up to Jerusalem.” Although Jerusalem was southeast of Caesarea, because it was elevated on a plateau, one had to travel “up” to get there. 

V 16   Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge.

“Mnason.” A Greek Jew who probably had spent part of his life outside of Israel. It was easier for Luke and other Greeks to stay there than with Jewish Jews. Being an “early disciple” means he might have been a valuable source of information to Luke, the probable author of the Book of Acts, as also were Philip and his four daughters. 

 V 17   And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

“The brethren received us gladly.” Arriving finally in Jerusalem, Paul and team brought with them a big blessing: the funds which they had been gathering for almost a year; also, to see the Greek converts was inspiring evidence to the Jerusalem church of the spread of the Gospel in the Roman world. The date was June,  A.D. 58, the time of the Pentecost feast, 50 days after Passover. 

V 18   On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

“James.” Brother of Jesus was head of the Jerusalem church. “All the elders.” It seems the apostles were not there, not even Peter. Likely they were gone evangelizing in other nations and had turned over administration of the Jerusalem church to others. 

V 19   When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

“Told in detail.” Paul was able to share many specific testimonies of “those things which God had done among the Gentiles”. 

V 20  And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;

“All zealous for the law.” Some Jewish believers, in fact “myriads” of them, were still observing the laws of Moses. However, they supposedly did not view the Law as a necessary condition for salvation, so they were a little different from the Judaizers who had earlier troubled the Gentile church, insisting that they had to get circumcised. (Acts 15:1)

V 21  “but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

You teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses.” This was only a rumor; although Paul had been preaching salvation through Christ without the Law among the Gentiles, he was not encouraging Jews to abandon their heritage; in fact, he himself was still observing Jewish customs: for example, he had circumcised Timothy (16:1-3) and had himself taken and painstakingly kept his Nazrite vow some four years earlier (18:18).

V 22  “What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.

“The assembly… will hear that you have come.” James and the elders knew they were going to have to explain to their congregation why Paul was being allowed to mingle amongst them. To this end they set forth a plan, which they felt would appease them. At this point Paul probably should have left Jerusalem as fast as he could; on his previous visit, it didn’t seem that Paul stuck around very long; from the sounds of the bare mention of it in Acts 18:22, he merely came, performed his Jewish religious duty, and left quickly without getting entangled in any unnecessary diversions.

V 23-24  “Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.
       
“Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.

“Four men who have taken a vow.” A Nazrite vow, symbolizing total devotion to God. (See note on 18:18) “Be purified with them.” Having just returned from a long sojourn in Gentile lands, Paul was considered ceremonially unclean, so he had to undergo ritual purification before he could join the other four men in the ceremony marking the end of their vows. “Pay their expenses.” Paul was to sponsor the vows of these four young men. That meant purchasing the sacrificial animals, going through the ceremony with them, and giving formal notice to the priest as to the date of the offering. Such acts were considered a mark of religious devotion; the hope was that this compromise would prove to the church Paul had not forsaken his Jewish heritage.

Some compromises can be helpful, such as Timothy’s circumcision, which aided Paul and team to preach the Gospel more freely. (Acts 16:3) This one, however, backfired, perhaps because it was too much an exercise in man-pleasing; furthermore, from the security point of view, it was too dangerous. Those several days in a very public place, the temple, gave Paul too much exposure in a city full of devout pilgrims committed to perpetuating old-style Judaism and its anti-Gentile prejudices. But now that Paul had landed in the situation, the expectations of the Church elders could not be ignored; at least it seemed that way; it seemed too awkward now to back out of this new set of social obligations. 

V 25  “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

“Concerning the Gentiles.” The elders make it clear that what they were asking Paul to do did not change the decision of the Jerusalem council regarding the Gentiles. (Acts 15:23-29) Although James and the elders were at peace with this agreement made with the Gentiles, it soon became evident that the rest of the Jewish people did not share that same feeling of sympathy towards them.

V 26-29  Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.
       
Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him,
       
crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”
       
(For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)

“Seven days.” Length of the purification process. “Jews from Asia.” Probably these were Jews from Ephesus since they recognized Paul’s coworker, “Trophimus the Ephesian”.

“Men of Israel, help!” Paul had managed to stay incognito all this time, but the temple ritual ceremony was too much public exposure, and just near the end of it, Paul’s cover was blown. The Ephesian Jews quickly pressed the panic button, sounding the alarm, and that was the end of Paul’s freedom for a few years.

“The man, who teaches… against the people, the law, and this place.” As noted already, Paul was not teaching Jews to forsake their heritage. As for the “law”, this was a sensitive issue; the Pentecost feast had, through the centuries, changed from a harvest time celebration to one of celebrating Moses’ receiving of the Law on Mt. Sinai; so at that particular season of the year, any kind of debate about the Law could easily turn into an explosive confrontation. As for the charge of defiling or blaspheming the temple, this was the same false charge that had been used against Jesus and Stephen.

“Brought Greeks into the temple.” Paul was accused of bringing Trophimus past the court of the Gentiles into the inner court where Gentiles were forbidden. This was certainly false; it would have been a foolish thing to do since the Romans had given the Jews permission to execute any Gentile who might defile the temple.

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V 30  And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.

 “All the city was disturbed, and the people ran together.” The mob spirit was brewing. “Dragged him out of the temple.” To kill Paul on the temple grounds would have defiled the temple. “The doors were shut.” The temple guards made sure to protect the temple from “defilement” but made not the slightest effort to rescue Paul from the crowd.

V 31-32  Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.
       
He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

 “Commander.” The tribune Claudius Lysias was the highest-ranking Roman official in Jerusalem. (The governor, Felix, lived in Caesarea.) “The garrison.” The 1,000-man Roman occupation force. Their headquarters, Fort Antonia, overlooked the temple complex, and from there sentries would have noticed quickly “that all Jerusalem was in an uproar”.

“Soldiers and centurions.” Since one centurion alone commanded 100 men, the tribune must have taken at least 200 men, and maybe more. The mob was “seeking to kill him (Paul), but again Roman authority saved the day: “when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.” 

V 33  Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done.

“Two chains.” Assuming, because of the tumult, that Paul must have been guilty of some horrendous crime, the tribune Lysias had him bound. 

V 34  And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.

Confusion reigned supreme, so Paul had to be herded into the safety of “the barracks” (Fort Antonia).

V 35-36  When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.
       
For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, “Away with him!”

“He was carried by the soldiers.” The soldiers had to carry Paul because of “the violence of the mob” who were yelling, “Away with him!” (or “kill him!” as in Acts 22:22 or John 19:15). The viciousness of the mob was almost more than the Roman soldiers could handle.

Mob

V 37  Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I speak to you?” He replied, “Can you speak Greek?

“Can you speak Greek?” Paul’s use of the language of educated people startled the chief captain who expected Paul to be an uncultured criminal.

V 38  “Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?”

“Are you not the Egyptian.” The chief captain Lysias mistook Paul for a certain false prophet, a Jew from Egypt, who had promised to drive out the Romans several years earlier. His forces were attacked and defeated by Governor Felix some three years before, but he himself managed to escape. Lysias assumed the “Egyptian” had returned and been captured by the crowd.

“Assassins.” These were the cutthroats and terrorists gathered by “the Egyptian” false prophet; their Jewish nationalism drove them to carry out assassinations of Romans and Jewish sympathizers of Rome. They often would stab their victim under cover of a crowd, and Lysias thought that now one of their leaders had been caught in the act.

V 39-40  But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.”
       
So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,

“A citizen of no mean city.” Tarsus was an important cultural center with universities rivaling those of Athens and Alexandria.

“Permit me to speak to the people.” Paul was about to get his last opportunity to win these, his Jewish brethren, who had already decided what they wanted to believe. To pacify a mob like this was an impossible task, unless one was willing to compromise and tell them only what they wanted to hear. That was what the “city clerk” had done with the mob in Ephesus. (19:35-41) But Paul was no city clerk, and, tactful as he tried to be, he was not able to refrain from telling them more truth than they were able to swallow.

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 22)

ACTS 20: Paul Raises the Dead! Solemn Farewell and Forewarning

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V 1-2  After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia.

“After the uproar… to Macedonia.” There was not much other choice now but for Paul to leave Ephesus; this was in 55 A.D. This time he had a better reason to leave than on the previous occasion when he went to fulfill his vow in Jerusalem (18:21). Although Paul was on his way now to Macedonia, this was only a stopover in his long-term plan “to go to Jerusalem”, and he looked even further ahead: “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (19:21.)

V 3    Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece
       
and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.

In Macedonia were the new groups of believers in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea established a few years earlier. (Acts 16:10-17:15) Paul and team went there again to strengthen them in the faith with “many words” (“much exhortation” in KJV). This journey may have included a side trip to “Illyricum” north of Macedonia (now the modern nations of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzogovina). According to Romans 15:19, Paul did go there, and this may have been the time when that happened. About this time Paul wrote his second epistle to the Corinthians. Then, after spending the summer and fall in Macedonia (1Cor 16:5-8), Paul and team “came into Greece”; that is, he left the Greek mainland of Macedonia and went south, most likely to Corinth.

“Three months.” The winter of 56-57 A.D. (1Cor 16:6) Not a long time because “the Jews plotted against him.” The Jews probably still hated Paul because of their humiliating defeat before Gallio a few years earlier and for his success in converting two of their prominent leaders, Crispus and Sosthenes.

“About to sail to Syria.” On the small ships of Jewish pilgrims going for the Passover Feast, it would have been easy for Paul’s enemies to murder him and get away with it. So Paul felt it best to abandon that more direct route, and instead, “he decided to return through Macedonia” via the land route; from there he would go by ship across the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor, then catch another ship from there to Jerusalem. The longer journey meant he would miss Passover but would still get there in time for the Pentecost feast, which it seems he was intent on doing, judging by what verse 16 says: “he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.”

V 4    And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia – also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.

The seven men mentioned here were leaders or representatives of different churches – of Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe, Asia. Why such a large delegation accompanied Paul is not clear. He may have needed them for the sake of protection, because of the Jews and because of the fact he was carrying a large sum of money for the Jerusalem church. Or he may have wanted to bring these representatives of far-flung churches with him as a way of establishing unity between them and the Jerusalem church.

V 5    These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas.

“Waited for us.” The first person “us” shows that Luke, the probable author of the Book of Acts, had re-joined Paul’s team after an absence of about six years. As a Gentile, Luke was able to stay in Philippi after Paul and Silas had been driven out because of their Jewish nationality. (16:20,39,40) The seven other brethren (Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timotheus, Tychicus, Trophimus) went to Troas first and waited there for Paul and Luke. We don’t know exactly what transpired, but it is quite possible that Luke used this time with Paul to gather and compile the records of Paul’s exploits over the last few years.

V 6    But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

“We sailed away from Philippi.” After a year’s time in Greece, Paul left from Philippi – most likely in April, 57 A.D.

“After the Days of Unleavened Bread.” That meant the Passover feast had already finished, and time was running out for Paul if he was going to make it for the Pentecost feast. The journey to Troas took “five days” - longer than usual – perhapsbecause of bad weather. 

V 7    Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.

“On the first day of the week.” The disciples liked to get together on “the first day of the week”, which was Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection – a custom that has continued right into the present day.

“Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.” In those days before electricity, that was fairly late. People rose at sunrise and went to bed not too long after sunset. It seems Paul, urgently wanting to get on with his journey and figuring he had only this one opportunity to minister to the believers here, was trying to make the most of it with his lengthy talk.

V 8    There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together.

“Many lamps.” The fumes from these oil-burning lamps may have created a drowsy atmosphere. “Upper room.” They met in people’s homes. Not until the 3rd Century did church-building construction begin.

V 9-10  And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
       But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.”

“Young man.” The Greek word (in verse 12) suggests he was between 7 and 14 years. His youth, the fumes, and the late hour caused him to doze off, fall three stories, and get killed (“was taken up dead”). Then Paul said, “His life is in him”. This does not mean he had not died. As a physician, Luke, who was likely present at this meeting, would have known whether the young man had died or not. Not only was he alive now, but it seems he wasn’t even injured. 

V 11-12  Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed.
       
And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.

“Talked a long while, even till daybreak.” Paul was truly gifted with much drive and eloquence to be able to go on preaching like this for such a long time. The dramatic recovery of the “young man” seems to have jazzed the atmosphere and spurred Paul and his hearers to continue for the rest of the night, for “they were not a little comforted” by the boy’s healing. 

V 13   Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot.

“We… sailed to Assos.” Luke and others of the team went by ship which had to sail around a peninsula to get from Troas to Assos. Paul chose to “go on foot”. Walking across the neck of the peninsula took about the same amount of time as going around it by ship. Paul may have used the walk as an opportunity to further teach the Troas believers who accompanied him, or maybe he just wished to get some quiet time and exercise.

V 14   And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene.

“Mitylene.” The next stop in the journey was the chief city of the island of Lesbos – a name which has become famous because of the Greek island’s legendary inhabitant, the poet Sappho (about 600 B.C.), and her lyrics expressing strong emotions towards women.

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V 15   We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus.

“Chios.” An island south of Lesbos, birthplace of the Greek poet Homer. “Samos,” another island near Ephesus, was the birthplace of Pythagoras, a famous Greek mathematician. “Trogyllium.” A promontory jutting into the Aegean Sea between Samos and Miletus. “Miletus.” A city in Asia Minor about 30 miles south of Ephesus. 

V 16-17  For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.
       From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

“Decided to sail past Ephesus.” Still trying to reach Jerusalem before Pentecost, Paul decided to bypass Ephesus and stop in the town of Miletus where he would meet only the elders of the Ephesian church.

“He was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.” One cannot help but wonder if Paul’s “hurry” was a symptom that the attraction to his old familiar Jewish culture and tradition was exerting too great a pull on him at this time. 

V 18-19  And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you,
       
“serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews;

       “When they had come to him.” When the Ephesian brethren arrived, Paul began an exhortation to them that continues for the rest of this chapter. This is the only example in the Book of Acts of a recorded address to Christian believers rather than to Jewish or Gentile groups who had not yet become believers.

“With all humility.” This is a crucial aspect of character for anyone with leadership responsibility amongst the fellowship of believers. Humility also marked an important difference between Paul and the “savage wolves” and false teachers that he foresaw would come after him. (verses 29-30)

“Many tears and trials, which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews.” From this we can gather that it was a monumental trial for Paul to have to bear with the vicious attacks from the people he loved the most, his own Jewish brethren. 

 V 20-21  “how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,
       
“testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Kept back nothing that was helpful.” Paul was a good example of love and concern for others.

”Publicly and from house to house.” Paul taught “pubicly” in the synagogue (three months) and in the school of Tyrannus (two years); besides that, he visited individuals and households. 

V 22-24  “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there,
       
“except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.
       
“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

“I go bound in the spirit.” Since the word “spirit” is not capitalized, we could assume that these plans of Paul’s were inspired quite a bit by his own mind and so would require some fine-tuning in further prayer and seeking the Lord about them. What Paul meant by this phrase “bound in the spirit” is not too clear, but perhaps it indicates the bull-headed determination he was feeling at the time about pursuing his goal of getting to Jerusalem.

“The Holy Spirit testifies… that bonds and afflictions abide me.” Here “Spirit” is capitalized because it is the Holy Spirit”. It was a clear warning given “in every city” of the danger that lay ahead. Was Paul being stubborn to insist on going to Jerusalem? Did his idea of being “bound in the spirit” mean he was following God’s way or his own way? This is a difficult question to answer, but considering the way things turned out, it seems in this case he was giving too much priority to his own burdens and leadings. Nevertheless, God made it so that the adventure did “work together for good”, as we shall see later on. (Romans 8:28)

Up to this time the Lord had used Paul’s determined, persevering nature to bring the Gospel to many lands in the Roman empire. But as with most of us, Paul’s biggest enemy was himself, and the downside to his great determination showed up here in a stubborn insistence to go his own way. It seems at this time he was struggling against this aspect of his own nature. In Romans 7:15-25 Paul makes an interesting analysis of this number one enemy we all have – ourselves. Following are some other quotes on this subject: 

       If you think the time’s coming when you’ll no longer have to fight self, and sin, and the “old man”, you’re mistaken! I’m still at it! How about you? That’s why we have so many victories: we have so many battles, and so much to fight against – mostly our own selves! (from lecture by David Berg – 13 Dec, 1970) 

       You can be your own worst enemy. In our school we used to have people complaining about evil spirits and demons and devils and, “The Devil did this and the Devil did that and he caused me this trouble and he was the one that delayed me, and I have so much trouble with the Devil.” I’d say, “Your problem isn’t the Devil! It’s our own spirit that we have the most trouble with. Our own spirit is the one that gives us the most trouble!”
        Don’t blame it on everybody else. You may have conquered all the rest, but your own spirit is the most difficult to conquer, and the only way you’re ever going to conquer it is not to conquer it, but to let Jesus conquer it. He’s your own best friend!
       
(from lecture by David Berg – June, 1985)
 

V 25   “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.

“See my face no more.” Foreseeing his trip to Rome and possible severe opposition in Jerusalem, Paul did not expect to ever return to the Asia Minor area again. (Paul did, however, make a 4th missionary journey after acquittal from his first Roman imprisonment, and it is fairly certain that he went to Macedonia and Crete; it’s possible he may have made it to Asia Minor also.) 

V 26-27  “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
       
“For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

“The whole counsel of God.” Paul had been faithful to feed the new believers with all the milk and meat of the Word they needed. He not only had won numerous converts, but also taught them to become disciples. And thus, he was “innocent of the blood of all men”. This stood in sharp contrast to Paul’s pre-conversion days when he had been responsible for shedding the blood of many innocent people. 

V 28   “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

“Overseers.” The Greek word stresses the leaders’ responsibility to watch over and protect their flocks, to shepherd the church of God”. 

This phrasing – “the church of God… purchased with His own blood” – portrays Christ as God the Son; Jesus is God, a member of the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

V 29-30  “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
       
“Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

“Savage wolves.” Paul may have borrowed this expression from Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15 – “ravenous wolves”. Paul foresaw that “after my departure”, outsiders would try to take advantage of his absence. This could have meant persecution from some quarter or the influence of teachers from the Jewish concision. In fact, it seems this was already happening in Galatia and Corinth. (Galatians 1:6, 2Corinthians 11:4)

“From among yourselves.” Even worse than outside attacks are the inside attacks, from leaders who go astray and defect.

“Perverse things.” In Greek this means “distorted, twisted”. That’s what false teachers do with the Word to exalt themselves in pride, or for gain, or whatever it might be.

Paul had already seen the beginnings of these problems with false teachers in the Galatian and Corinthian churches. A few years later, while in Rome and shortly before their martyrdoms, both Peter and Paul wrote epistles, which focused again on this ever-growing problem in the Early Church:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words.” (2Peter 2:1-2).
       “Charge certain persons not… to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations… Certain persons… have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1Timothy 1:3-7 ESV)
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” (1Timothy 6:3-4 ESV)
   
   “There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers… upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” (Titus 1:10-11 ESV)
       “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)

Several years later in John the apostle’s Book of Revelation, Jesus Himself chides the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira for harboring false teachers and doctrines:

“I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam… you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”(2:14-15)
       “I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” (2:20-KJV)
 

We may wonder, why was the Lord leading the apostles to concern themselves so with these doctrinal deviations? The answer probably has to do with the fact that the mind is where the will of man is and where he makes his choices. Satan’s power stems from his ability to deceive. For if he can deceive and get control of people’s minds, then he can hinder and prevent them from being fully possessed by God’s Spirit, which in turn prevents them from launching effective attacks against his kingdom. The mind truly is the battlefield where victories are won or lost. So the apostles knew it was their responsibility to expose and correct the doctrinal errors which they saw creeping in and infecting believers’ minds with doubt, unbelief, or unnecessary distraction.

From another point of view, however, there is such a thing as getting too embroiled in doctrinal disputation. There are many individuals or groups who have quirky doctrines; but nevertheless, are bearing good fruit. It seems that, as long as the important core doctrines are covered – and this is what the apostles of old were dealing with – then the Lord is not overly concerned about minor doctrinal issues that may loom larger in our minds than they need to.

Sometimes a minor doctrine relates to a current issue, and in such a case it transforms into a major doctrine that demands an accurate understanding. A current example might be God’s promises to the Israeli nation that they would have certain borders for their land. These are often used as doctrinal justification in our modern times for hostile acts of land-grabbing and oppression of the local Palestinian population who happen to be living in the land that Israelis think belongs to them by divine decree. In this case, there is a lack of accurate understanding: the promises to Abraham, Moses, and Joshua in the Book of Genesis were fulfilled long ago during the reign of king Solomon and do not apply to the present situation. Another one in the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 47, is meant for the future, the age of the Millennium, and also does not apply to the present situation. (For more information on this, see discussion under verse 7 of the Ezekiel 38-39 post.) The Scriptures hold great authority in the minds of many people, as they should. But when they are being pulled out of context in order to confuse and misdirect people’s minds, and to put a sacred veneer over policies that are contrary to the will of God, then this is a serious violation; and such contortions of doctrine need to get straightened out.

V 31   “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.

“Three years.” Length of time spent in Ephesus, including two years in the school of Tyrannus.

”With tears.” Unquestionably, Paul had great compassion and love for his flock. Jesus too wept over those He felt responsible for. (Luke 19:41, John 11:35)      

V 32   “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

“I commend you to God.” At some point the new trainees have to learn to stand on their own faith. Paul leaves them with a hopeful promise that the “word of His grace” would be “able to build you up”. Paul showed faith that they could manage without him as they followed and obeyed God’s Word. What was in use then for Scripture reading and inspiration, we don’t really know. Perhaps the Gospels were circulating by then. There was, of course, the Old Testament, especially the Book of Psalms, books of the Prophets, and history books – all very edifying. The gift of prophecy was another avenue also by which the Church could receive strengthening and guidance.

“Inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Heavenly rewards for those who, because of holding on to their faith, have joined the ranks of those who are “sanctified” – the overcomers who during their earthly lives made wise decisions to walk in paths that separated them from the ways and attitudes of the world, in line with one of Christ’s last prayers for His disciples: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 14:15-16). 

V 33-34  “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.
       
“Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.

“I have coveted no one’s silver.” As was characteristic of many false teachers. “These hands have provided for my necessities.” Paul sometimes worked to support himself, probably in those situations where he was interacting with a new group of believers who hadn’t yet come to fully understand the Gospel, and it was needful not to offend them by demanding support. 

V 35   “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

“Remember the words of the Lord.” This quote, “it is more blessed to give than to receive”, was either a direct quote of Jesus that never made it into the Gospels, or a paraphrase of something He said in the Gospels: “Give to him that asks you.” “Give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”  “Give, and it shall be given to you.” (Mat 5:42, 19:21, Luke 6:38)

Ephesus departure

V 36-38  And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.
       
Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him,
       
sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.

“They all wept freely… that they would see his face no more.” The Ephesian elders were deeply sorrowful because of their love for Paul, their shepherd of the last three years or so. Added to this perhaps was the burden of knowing that the responsibility Paul used to carry would now fall on their shoulders.

The departure from Ephesus brought Paul’s third missionary journey almost to completion; all that was left now was the voyage to Jerusalem. The three journeys starting from the first departure for Cyprus until this point are thought to have spanned 12 years from 45 to 57 A.D. During that time groups of believers were established in almost every major city of Asia Minor and Greece. This was the glorious end result of Paul’s and his team’s work over those past 12 years.

***      

The following excerpts recount the thoughts of David Berg who in 1970 left behind the churches he had established in the U.S. in order to scout out possibilities for expansion of the Jesus Revolution into Europe – similar to Paul’s experience of leaving behind the work he had launched in Ephesus: 

       Ever since I was a little boy, I always wondered why Jesus had to go away. Why couldn’t He have just stayed here with us after His Resurrection, personally? Wouldn’t that have been a lot better? Why did He have to go away and leave us? And what did He mean He couldn’t send the Comforter unless He went away? Why did He have to go away in order to send the Comforter – His Holy Spirit? Why couldn’t He stay here and still give us His Holy Spirit?
        This has always been one of the greatest mysteries in the Bible to me, and I never fully understood it until early this morning, when I was praying about you and your needs there…
        And suddenly, the Comforter Himself began to comfort my own heart with these words: “It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I depart, I will send Him unto you!”
        (from writings of David Berg – 22 Dec, 1970)

***

        It was said of Paul: “His letters are weighty and powerful: but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2Cor.10:10). …
        How do we have these words today? Because he had to go away and write them in his Epistles in his absence, or we might not have the record at all, and the millions who have benefited from them, would be left in the darkness, and only the pitiful few who profited from his physical presence would have enjoyed them and lived by them!
        Half the New Testament is the epistles of the men who had to go away – who had to be absent from them in body, that they might be present with them in spirit, and that their words might be recorded for posterity and generations of followers to come.
        … As long as my father or my mother were around, I always basked in their Glory. I reflected their light. I enjoyed their presence. I shared the fruit of their labors! And I never could have become what I am today, if they lived on, because I had to go beyond them… The memory of them, the truths they taught me, and the spirit they imparted to me, are more of a blessing to me today – help my ministry more today, than their physical presence did then! They had to go away, that I might live beyond them. “For the works that I do, shall ye do, and greater works also, because I go unto the Father.”
        (from writings of David Berg – 27 Dec, 1970)

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 21)

ACTS 19: Dark Arts Forsaken; Mob Violence Subdued

Ephesians Burn Books

V 1-3  And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples
       
he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
       
And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”

“The upper regions.” That is, the more highly elevated “region of Galatia and Phrygia” (18:23). After “strengthening all the disciples” there, Paul went on to Ephesus, fulfilling his promise made in the previous chapter, “I will return again to you, God willing.” (18:21)

“Ephesus.” As the world’s center of Diana worship, Ephesus was best known for its magnificent temple to the goddess – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ephesus was also an important political, educational, and commercial center with a population of about a quarter million people. It lay on the Imperial Highway, about halfway between Rome and the eastern borders of the empire. The training center established here was probably the most fruitful accomplishment of Paul’s ministry. It later became John the Apostle’s headquarters. The church in Ephesus likely got its start under Priscilla and Aquila after Paul left them there while on his way to Jerusalem. (Acts 18:19-21,26)

“Some disciples.” Followers of John the Baptist who didn’t fully understand the Christian faith. This little sub-group of believers, who existed also in other cities, actually continued right on until the 2nd Century A.D. Apollos may have been a member of such a group before meeting Aquila and Priscilla. The passage here about these disciples seems to show that John the Baptist’s message about Messiah’s soon coming had spread far and wide among the Jewish people throughout the Roman empire. 

V 4-7  Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
       
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
       
And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
       
Now the men were about twelve in all.

These “disciples” had already taken a step in the right direction by embracing the teachings of John the Baptist. John’s “baptism of repentance” ministry was designed to prepare the people for the coming of their Messiah: “he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17) John’s preaching helped to turn people away from their smug satisfaction about being followers of Moses and to search their hearts and consciences as to whether they were really following the spirit of the law. For example, he gave some very concrete advice on unselfishness: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none.” (Luke 3:11) This was not something the law required a person to do, but the people needed to learn to step beyond mere dutifulness to the law and to be guided by the spirit of unselfishness.

Obviously, there was great need for change in the Jews’ religion. Obeying the law of Moses did not mean that people had a heartfelt conviction to do the right thing. For this reason, God introduced the “baptism of repentance”, and later the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. These have been a great benefit to mankind, empowering us to listen more to our consciences, to feel a greater love for God and others, and to have a greater sensitivity to His Spirit to guide us.

So when Paul came along, these disciples of John the Baptist were more than ready to receive the Lord after being reminded (or informed if they hadn’t heard it yet) that “John indeed baptized… saying to the people that they should believe on Him (Jesus) who should come after him” ; and so “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”. They now became full believers, and their water baptism was a proclamation of their new-found faith. Then after this, “the Holy Spirit came upon them” when Paul “laid hands on them”. 

V 8   And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.

“Three months.” This was the longest time Paul was able to spend in a synagogue with the possible exception of the Corinth synagogue. “Reasoning and persuading.” Some Bible translations use the terms “arguing/disputing”, which is probably not accurate. Paul, as a wise spokesman, was teaching and contending for the faith without indulging in quarrelsome, provocative remarks; a negative approach like that would have undermined his efforts to bring the Gospel to this new group of potential believers. 

V 9   But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.

“Hardened.” This word in Greek usually referred to defiance against God.

“The Way.” Jesus said, “I am the way”. (John 14:6) He is the road to the Father and to eternal life. Likely, the unbelieving Jews were hardening themselves against certain aspects of the new “Way” that they didn’t like, such as inclusion of the Gentiles without recourse to the Law. Whatever it was, their attitude was a bad influence – they were even speaking out publicly “before the multitude” – and Paul realized there was no other course of action but to ”withdraw the disciples”. They could no longer “be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what… communion has light with darkness?” (2Corinthians 6:14) Thankfully, the Jews who had become “hardened” did not go so far as to raise persecution as far as we know.

“The school of one Tyrannus.” Tyrannus was either the owner of the lecture hall or the philosopher who taught there. If the latter, Tyrannus could have been a nickname given by the students – “our tyrant”. Perhaps Paul used the hall during the afternoon break – 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

V 10   And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

“Two years” in Tyrannus’ school, but total time in Ephesus was longer (at least three years according to Acts 20:31).

“All… in Asia heard the word.” That meant throughout Asia Minor, what is now western Turkey (although it’s quite possible the Word spread to more distant corners of Turkey as well). During Paul’s sojourn in Ephesus, churches in Colosse and Hierapolis were founded, and possibly some of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3. 

        (Jesus speaking:) Often it is in following My footsteps in the course of your day, simply doing what you know you should, being persistently faithful in that which I have called you to do, that you have great success. When I called Paul to Ephesus, I led him to settle down and teach, and it was difficult for this roving apostle of Mine to do so. But as he did, and as he spent two years there, doing the things I told him to do, many of those in Asia were reached through that school and those who passed through it, far more than if he had spent that time only traveling and personal witnessing (Acts 19:1–12). (from publication of The Family International – Nov/2007) 

V 11-12  Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul,
       
so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.

“Unusual miracles.” The meaning of “unusual” is “not ordinary” (from Young’s Concordance). Any miracle that the Lord does always seems out of the ordinary. However, it appears that at this particular time the Lord greatly augmented His power in Paul the apostle. It was an example of those extra surges of power that infills God’s servants at special times when it is needed. Jesus had promised, “I will give you the keys of heaven,” and it would appear that this was one of those occasions when Paul held the “key” to that boundless reservoir of heavenly power. (Matthew 16:19)

“Handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body.”In old time it was commonly believed that spiritual power could be transmitted in such ways. It seems as though God capitalized on this peculiar custom or “faith” to bring healing to people. He worked according to their faith. (Matthew 9:29) Examples are the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, or the people who were healed by the shadow of Peter. (Matthew 9:20-22, Acts 5:15) Of course, healing doesn’t have to depend on anything at all except faith. Several times Jesus healed without seeing the afflicted person. All He did was decide that it should happen, and it did. This happened especially for those people like the Centurion and the woman of Canaan, people who manifested great faith in Jesus’ power. (Matthew 8:13, 15:28) 

V 13   Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”

“Itinerant (wandering) Jewish exorcists.” In those days the mentally ill or insane, people who were pestered by evil spirits, were not locked away in institutions. Neither did there exist hospitals or advanced medical knowledge to care for those who were physically ill. This kind of social situation created a “market” for free-lance practitioners, those who had some knowledge of healing methods. And in those days that meant, not just knowledge of physical treatments, but a certain amount of spirituality, being able to invoke the aid of the supernatural. Because their “patients” were not locked away in institutions but scattered amongst the populace, these exorcists had to shift from place to place to carry on their trade.

These traveling exorcists were not in the same league as the higher-level “sorcerers” like Simon the magician (Acts 8) and Bar-Jesus (Acts 13). They may not have been as committed to the dark kingdom. Nevertheless, likely they tended to straddle that borderline territory between the Light and Dark kingdoms, simply because they were not very discerning where their “spiritual power” came from. Sometimes it came from good spirits, and sometimes from the dark side, depending on which direction their spiritual antenna was pointed. The name “Jesus” to them was just another charm, and it seems that it had become a new practice that the “Jewish exorcists took upon themselves” – to use the name of Jesus in the exorcism trade.

“We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Their faith was in Paul’s faith in Jesus, not their own – a rather weak faith. Nevertheless, some exorcists, if they were sincere enough, could have had success commanding demons in this way. Even in the Gospels, it appears that some exorcists had caught on to the power of the name of Jesus and had begun using it (much to the annoyance of the disciples): “We saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him… But Jesus said, Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side.” (Mark 9:38-40)

But no doubt some exorcists (like those mentioned in the next verse) fell more into the category of those like Simon the magician who, in Acts 8, was trying to buy the Holy Spirit so he could use the power merely for his own advantage. Needless to say, there was a big difference between those who were gearing their “spirituality” towards a vainglorious or money-making enterprise and those men and women of God, like Paul, who were on a genuine mission to reach the lost and were using their spiritual gifts humbly for the glory and cause of God. 

V 14   Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.

“Sceva, a Jewish chief priest.” Sceva was not the high priest of the Jews but was, it seems, a “chief priest” in that area. His “seven sons” may have been drawing on their father’s reputation. A little borrowed spirituality was always helpful in the business of exorcism. Perhaps their father was instigating them in the trade. 

V 15   And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”

“Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” “The evil spirit” knew that Jesus and Paul had the authority to command him. They were like powerful heavyweights in the spirit world, and the evil spirit was afraid of them. But the “seven sons of Sceva”, by comparison, were just pipsqueaks. Their ploy of using the name of Jesus didn’t work because they didn’t have the connection to the Source that was required. The disciples once said, “Even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” (Luke 10:17) But they were true followers. By comparison, these seven sons of Sceva were just opportunists – pretenders whose commitment to Christ probably extended no further than the monetary gain they hoped to acquire through using the name of Jesus in their exorcisms.

Perhaps because of their connection to the Jewish priesthood, the Lord had to let them be exposed as cheap fraudsters, not worthy of the people’s allegiance. It was wrong for those who knew the ways of the true God, and should have known better, to be dabbling in this low-level form of spirituality – with one foot in the Dark kingdom and the other in the Kingdom of Light. Had these sons of Sceva been non-Jewish and ignorant about the laws of the Old Testament, which clearly forbade dabbling in witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:9-14), the Lord might have turned a blind eye to what they were doing.

It seems that most exorcisms were done by persuading the bigger evil spirits to call off the lesser ones who were causing the sickness or insanity in their victims. This was what the Pharisees tried to accuse Jesus of. “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” (Matthew 12:24-28, Mark 3:22) Of course, it was a false accusation, but this does show that this manner of exorcising spirits was a known practice in those days. The Pharisees looked down on it because the practice did not glorify God; it only advanced the interests of the exorcists, and since the arts of witchcraft were being used, their activities were actually advertising the Devil and his work. Even if people did get healed, those involved in such “exorcisms” did not really move out of the Enemy’s sphere of control and were often healed only temporarily or partly. But through the influence of Paul, the people in Ephesus realized that the power of Christ was much stronger and more effective, for both physical and spiritual healing, and brought full deliverance from the power of the Enemy.

So, as soon as the “seven sons of Sceva” tried to invoke the name of Jesus, a name that the evil spirit truly hated, it flew into a rage. The spirit must have known they didn’t have the “backup”; they weren’t really the servants of the Almighty, so it wasn’t worried about attacking them. We don’t know the full story, but it is possible that the “seven sons of Sceva” who, as sons of a Jewish chief priest, had too much influence in the area and were drawing the Gentile Ephesians away from what Paul was teaching, just by their example if nothing else. As a result the Lord had to let them serve as a bad example; He could not bless them with His protection. The end result was that the people realized that these “seven sons of Sceva” were the wrong Jews to be following. It was time to get off the road of compromise and follow Paul’s example of wholehearted commitment to Christ. 

V 16  Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

“Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them.” The evil spirit knew they were just toying around with the name of Jesus, that he didn’t have to obey their command, so it imbued the man it was inhabiting with demonic strength to rough up the seven unfortunate brothers. (Evidently, this “evil spirit” was one of the more powerful demons in Satan’s realm.) And “they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (Mark 5:1-20 contains an interesting account about another person who also had superhuman strength until the Lord took authority over the demons that were possessing him.)

The exorcists could not claim the kind of heavy-duty spiritual power that Jesus and the apostles were using because they had the wrong motives and were not closely connected to the Source. Christ had promised His followers, “I will give you the keys of heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) But to unlock this kind of power that can work miracles (such as having authority over powerful demons) requires certain conditions: respect for God’s words; willingness to be instructed; sincerity of heart; deep love, dedication, and yieldedness to God (even in everyday life); proper sense of timing in accordance with God’s will (i.e. don’t expect to part the Red Sea unless the situation calls for that kind of miracle.) 

V 17  This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

“Known both to all Jews and Greeks.” It sounds as though Sceva and his sons were well known and as a result probably had much (too much) influence in the Ephesian community. In those days no distinction existed between Jews and Christians; both were assumed to adhere to the same belief system. The Ephesians may have thought it was fine to follow the watered-down example of the sons of Sceva (that is, continue to dabble in their “dark arts”) because, after all, weren’t the sons of Sceva on the same team with the apostle Paul?

“Fear fell on them all.” Getting a full frontal look at the maliciousness of the Enemy, while at the same time realizing the power of Christ through His true servant Paul, instilled “fear” among the Ephesians, but not the kind of fear that could be called a negative experience. 

        (Jesus:) Positive conviction and positive fear of the Lord will always leave you feeling shaken up, but still challenged and hopeful, and usually quite secure in My love for you. (from publication of The Family International – Feb/2004) 

This incident was reminiscent of what happened after the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira: “great fear came upon all the church”. (Acts 5:11) The exorcists’ sorry plight became big news in Ephesus and caused people to realize there was no middle ground. Like Ananias and Sapphira, the exorcist “sons of Sceva” were trying to have the best of both worlds, but it nearly killed them. It exposed the futility, even danger, of trying to combine the ways of the Lord with their “curious arts” (as the KJV puts it). For “what communion has light with darkness?” (1Corinthians 6:14)

People realized there was no point in trying to hang on to their old belief systems. The best thing to do was make a clean break. The believers knew that Jesus’ power was the real thing; they had seen it working vigorously in Paul. But now they realized that the name of Jesus could not be taken lightly or used for personal gain as the exorcists had done (and as Ananias and Sapphira had done some years earlier); they couldn’t expect to use God just for their own benefit, but they had to expect to let God use them for His and others’ benefit; it became clear that the new “Way” that Paul was teaching was in a totally different class as opposed to all the new fads, trends, and charms that had come and gone over the years. And as a result of this incident “the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” 

V 18   And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.

“Many… came confessing and telling their deeds.” It was a time of cleansing, and the believers desperately wanted to get their hearts right with the Lord. They could identify with the “sons of Sceva” who had tried having one foot in the Dark kingdom and one in the kingdom of Light. They saw that it didn’t work and were ready now to throw away their other “lifesavers” – their spells and charms and so on -  and hang on to Jesus alone. It is natural for people who have for years thrashed about in the waters of ignorance, fear, and superstitions to be hesitant to let go of their “lifesavers” of other gods, dark arts, or good works. But that hadn’t stopped Paul from ministering to the Ephesian believers. Eventually, the Lord honored his patient tolerance, and through the catalyst of the “sons of Sceva” incident, the new believers gained the inner conviction to abandon their former lifesavers as they clung, firmly now, to the only True Lifesaver.

Inevitably, we all face times of renewal during our lifetime. For believers this means getting their hearts right with the Lord, shedding the weights and sins that have been holding them back. The Corinthian church, which Paul had just finished pioneering, experienced such a time of renewal, as did the Ephesians; it was precipitated by an encounter with some false teachers. Many in the Corinthian church were swept off their feet by the eloquence and seeming wisdom of these “false apostles” and their minds had been, as Paul put it, “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2Corinthians 11:13,3). And most of the second epistle to the Corinthians dwells on what had become almost a mutiny in the church at that time.

The end result of Paul’s exhortations and admonishments resembled very much what happened to the Ephesians: a great repentance. To the Corinthians Paul said admiringly, “You sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2Cor 7:11)

In our spiritual lives there is a time for self-cleansing. But the purpose of such “inward focus” is not self-improvement only. The “outward focus” is just as important. Because it strengthens them spiritually, such times of inner cleansing and repentance empower individuals and the church to do a better job of engaging in their mission of reaching the world in whatever way they feel called to manifest the love and truth of Christ. In Psalm 51 king David asks God to “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity… Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts… Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” But then towards the end we learn the purpose of his desperate prayer for inner cleansing: “Then will I teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.” (Psalm 51:2,7,13)

Ephesians Burn Books

V 19   Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.

“Brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.” Burning the books was proof of the genuine repentance of those “who had practiced magic”.

“50,000 pieces of silver [drachmas].” Equal to 50,000 days’ wages for a common laborer, a huge sum (about $6 million in today’s currency), which indicates how widespread the practice of magic was in Ephesus. (Books, of course, were a lot more expensive in those days; they had to be copied by hand and used sheepskin for paper. To get rid of them was no small sacrifice.) Burning the books accomplished two things: it removed a major temptation to slip back into that corrupted spirituality; secondly, it protected others from getting ahold of the books and being led astray by their deceptive influence. 

V 20   So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

“The word of the Lord grew mightily.” The Ephesians’ inner cleansing had the desired outward results. Without the blockages of pseudo-spirituality in these magic practices, a great vacuum arose in people’s hearts for the truth, strength, and instruction of the Word. The “word of the Lord”  now “prevailed” instead of the various doctrines of “dark arts” that had once bedevilled the Ephesian church.  Great spiritual power was generated once the deadening effects of compromise had been uprooted. They had learned from the “sons of Sceva” incident how compromise might prevent them from having the kind of spiritual strength they would want to have when it would be most needed.

There is an interesting parallel here, by the way, to our modern cultural environment: the “curious arts” of the Ephesians could be compared to the wide array of “New Age” ideas and practices that have become popular in recent years. The world – the Western world especially – is heading in the opposite direction to how the city of Ephesus was moving back then under Paul’s guidance. It is falling away from faith in the true God, which has brought a corresponding rise in the amount of “New Age” spirituality to fill the spiritual void.

Sadly, many spiritual seekers have become disillusioned with what they have experienced in some mainstream churches – a lack of spirituality and dedication. This has caused them to feel the answers to their quest for enlightenment must be found elsewhere. Many Christians, in rejecting false spirituality such as what characterized the Ephesians, have gone too far in that direction and have limited themselves to a point where any form of spirituality is considered wrong. But it stands to reason that if there are evil spirits whom we must reject, there must also be good spirits whom we are supposed to accept and channel into our lives. In the Bible there are several examples of encounters with angelic beings, so it shouldn’t be thought surprising or wrong for believers to come into contact with and be guided by the good spirits of God, as well as the Holy Spirit. 

V 21   When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”

“Purposed in the Spirit.” This verse merely sets forth Paul’s future plans: “to go to Jerusalem”, but on a roundabout route back “through Macedonia and Achaia”. (He did this partly for the purpose of collecting money for the Jerusalem church – Romans 15:25-27, 1Corinthians 16:1-4.) And then after Jerusalem, “I must also see Rome”, a place of strategic importance for the church. Paul also wanted to use Rome as a jumping-off point for Spain. (Romans 15:22-24) Having done so much to evangelize the eastern Roman empire, Paul now wanted to forge ahead into the central and western portions of it.

There is no record of whether or not Paul ever got to Spain. If he had, it would have been very different and much less familiar territory for him. In the eastern part of the empire, to which Paul was well accustomed, the Romans were not able to impose much of their language and customs on the already well-established civilizations of the Middle East and Greece. But amongst the less advanced cultures that lay to the west, he would have had to operate much differently in those areas where the Latin language and Roman culture had taken over to a much greater extent. A similar kind of differentiation existed in the British colonial empire. English customs and language took over completely in the less advanced cultures of the Americas but made much less headway in more established societies like that of India. 

V 22   So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.

“Timothy and Erastus.” Nothing much is known about Erastus. In preparation for the journey (probably to assist in collection of funds), Paul sent them ahead “into Macedonia” while he stayed in Ephesus for the time being. The epistle of First Corinthians was written in Ephesus, so possibly, their mission included delivering that epistle to the church there. 

V 23   And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.

“A great commotion about the Way.” Besides giving the Ephesians a new set of beliefs, “the Way” had also led them into a brand new way of life, one in which there was no interest in idol-worship. The new customs threatened to affect negatively the fortunes of the Ephesus business community. Among Gentiles, very often the profit motive was the reason behind opposition to the Gospel – as was the case with Simon the magician and Elymas the sorcerer, and now with the Ephesian idol manufacturers; among Jews it was jealousy and envy.

V 24   For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen.

“Demetrius, a silversmith… brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” This suggests he may have been head of the silversmiths’ guild. He “made silver shrines of Diana.” Diana-worship, widespread throughout the Roman world, was centered in Ephesus, and her temple was known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. “Diana” was the Roman name for the Greek goddess of the Moon, Artemis. 

V 25-27  He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade.
       
“Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands.
       
“So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.”

As we might say nowadays, Demetrius knew how to “press all the right buttons”. He cleverly played on the craftsmen’s fears of financial ruin(“We have our prosperity by this trade… this trade of ours is in danger”); on their religious zeal (“this Paul has… turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands”);and their concern for the city’s prestige (“not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia… the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship” ). Money, religious zeal, and patriotism were all packaged together in this speech to the silversmiths.

“Saying that they are not gods which are made with hands.” These words spoken through the mouth of an enemy might have been an actual witness to some who were discerning enough and receptive to the truth tucked away in Demetrius’ distorted version of what were supposed to be the “subversive” teachings of Paul. 

V 28   Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

“They were full of wrath.” Demetrius’ words had the desired effect: the crowd, whipped into frenzy, started chanting, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” The ensuing riot likely happened during the annual spring festival in honor of Diana. 

V 29   So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions.

“The whole city was filled with confusion, rushed into the theater with one accord.” A mob spirit was brewing, and once it had gripped the crowds, the situation became very dangerous. Brutal passions were taking over; all reason and common sense had vanished. 

V 30   And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him.

“Paul wanted to go in.” Concerned for “Gaius and Aristarchus”, his “travel companions”, Paul would have entered the theatre, but “the disciples would not allow him”, out of concern for Paul’s safety and that his presence there would only make the situation worse. 

V 31   Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.

“Some of the officials of Asia.” Also known as “Asiarchs”, these men were members of the aristocracy who were dedicated to promoting Roman interests in Asia Minor. They were “friends” in high places whom Paul must have ministered to and favorably influenced. (This may be why no persecution from the Jews had arisen yet in Ephesus.)

Although only one Asiarch ruled at a time, this title was held by them for life. The fact that they were Paul’s “friends” shows they were favorable to his message and didn’t consider it criminal or threatening as did Demetrius and his followers. In fact, they may have pulled a few strings behind the scenes to protect the apostles’ work and restore order in the city, as we learn in the next few verses. They also would not allow Paul, a Roman citizen whom they were duty-bound to protect, to wander into the mouth of danger and counseled him to “not venture into the theater”.

It was commendable that Paul wanted to “venture into the theater” for the sake of his friends who had been “seized”. Still, one cannot help but wonder if Paul was being a little overconfident in this situation. He was quite determined to jump into it, it would seem, and to dissuade him required the restraining hand of, not only the disciples, but also the officials of Asia. Having experienced the Lord’s hand in saving him from so many dangerous and dire circumstances, it would have been easy for him to take the Lord’s protection for granted and, like Samson of old, wander into a situation that could have seriously wounded or killed him. Fortunately, the Lord did not allow him “to be tempted beyond what he was able” andmade a “way of escape” via the firm warnings of his friends, the “officials of Asia”. (1Corinthians 10:13) 

V 32   Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.

 “Some therefore cried one thing and some another.” People were attracted simply because something exciting and controversial was going on. But “most of them did not know why they had come together.”  Like some kind of hyped-up political rally, no one understood the real issues. 

V 33-34  And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people.
       
But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

“Alexander… the Jews putting him forward.” Now the Jews were getting into the act. It seems their motive was to disassociate themselves from the Christians and thereby avoid any possibility of a massacre of the Jews. Whatever the Jews intended by putting Alexander forward only backfired, and the crowd shouted him down “about the space of two hours” in a mindless display of religious frenzy, chanting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians”. The whole situation, if it wasn’t for the danger, could be seen as a rather comical one.

Like it or not, the Jews were still being linked in most people’s minds with the new and growing movement of Christianity. It is ironic that many Jews, who did not know about Jesus or who had rejected Him, still ended up in the same boat, persecution-wise, as the Christians. Like the Christians, the Jews also were known by the crowd to be opposed to foreign gods. Of course, it wasn’t long before the distinction was made, and the Roman empire started persecuting Christians only. 

V 35-36  And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus?
       
“Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly.

“The city clerk.” The equivalent now of a city mayor, he was the liaison between the town council and the Roman authorities, and therefore responsible to explain this riot. Just as Demetrius knew how to incite the people to riot, this man seemed to know just what to say to calm everyone down.

“What man… does not know that the city… is a temple guardian of the great goddess Diana.” A little flattery helped to soothe the enflamed passions of the crowd and get their attention.

“Image which fell down from Zeus.” They believed that the image of Diana in the temple had descended “from Zeus”, the chief of the gods. (Whether the townclerk actually believed this or not himself, we don’t know.) Of course, if the image came from Zeus, that meant the image was not made with hands, and therefore, there was no need to be so upset about Paul’s teaching “that they are not gods which are made with hands”.

“These things cannot be spoken against.” Diana worship had such universal approval of the status quo and was so self-evident (they believed) that there was no need to feel threatened or get into such a frenzy about it. And if this is the case, the city clerk went on to say, “you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly”. 

V 37   “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess.

“Neither robbers of temples, nor blasphemers of your goddess.” Paul and company had not committed any crimes against the Ephesians’ religion. Of course, they did teach, as Demetrius had declared, that “they are not gods which are made with hands.” This could be seen as an indirect criticism of Diana worship, but it was a far cry from the offensive crime of blasphemy. Paul had been very careful in Athens not to offend the religious sensibilities of the people there, and no doubt he had continued the same wise policy here in Ephesus. 

V 38-39  “Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another.
       
“But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly.

“If Demetrius, and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open.” The city clerk correctly places the blame where it belongs. Demetrius and his crew should have followed judicial proceedings, going through the proper channels, instead of trying to take matters into their own hands. For personal grievances there were legal channels to follow. For “any other inquiry”, such as this one involving a public grievance, then the matter should be “determined in the lawful assembly” of the town council. (Of course, the Devil knew that course of action would never work to accomplish his purposes and tried everything he could to get around the usual legal proceedings.) 

V 40   “For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.”

“For we are in danger of being called in question.” The city clerk made the crowd aware of the danger they were putting the city in. The Roman authorities might, as a result of “today’s uproar”, decide to declare Ephesus a seditious city, to revoke its charter and whatever privileges the city had been granted. Here was one very good example of several in the Book of Acts where the advantages of the strong, well organized Roman administration were proven: the Lord used the Roman system to provide protection for the Early Church during those beginning, vulnerable stages of growth when the Devil was doing his utmost to prevent the new movement from launching out with the Gospel message. “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil… For he is God’s minister to you for good… he does not bear the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:3-4) 

V 41  And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

“He dismissed the assembly.” The crowd by now realized they could not carry on any further, for they had in fact gone too far already, and they were easily dismissed. With the specter of Roman retribution hanging over them, the crowd wisely came to its senses. As happened in Philippi, “Rome” proved to be quite effective in overriding the blustering passions of the people and protecting the Church in those crucial, early stages of its growth.

Map 3rd Journey

Map of Third Missionary Journey

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 20)

ACTS 18: Commercial Hub Becomes Epicenter for Christianity!

Map Corinth

V 1    After these things Paul departed from Athens, and went to Corinth.

“Paul… went to Corinth.” Corinth lay on a 4-mile wide isthmus that separated the eastern Aegean Sea from the western Adriatic Sea and connected mainland Greece in the north to its southern peninsula. It was the leading political and commercial center in Greece, capital of the Roman province of Achaia, which included even Athens. Corinth had become a hub of commerce in those days because so much north-south traffic had to pass through from the mainland to the peninsula. Even east-west traffic passed through Corinth: ships would actually beach there and go on rollers or skids across the isthmus rather than make the long and treacherous journey around the Peloponessian peninsula of southern Greece. Through history different rulers thought to build a canal across the isthmus, but that never actually happened until the late 19th century. A defensive wall was built in the early 400’s A.D. because of the fear of invasion by northern barbarian tribes. 

Because of being a trade center with many travelers passing through, the inhabitants of Corinth were known to be a rather unsettled bunch, somewhat wild and wooly in their ways. The temple of Aphrodite* (Greek goddess of love, desire, beauty, fertility, known as Venus by the Romans) was situated here, and each evening 1,000 priestesses (ritual prostitutes) would come into the city to practice their trade and solicit for the temple.

Map Corinth

∗Who was Aphrodite? A good guess would be, she was a spirit who appeared to certain people way back in an ancient time. The next question might be, was she a good or evil spirit? Judging by how she was worshiped in Corinth, one would conclude she must have been an evil spirit. But then if she was known as a goddess of love, one might wonder if she wasn’t actually a good spirit from God.
       
Here is an interesting thought to ponder – just a possibility of what may have taken place:
       
It is the way of the Devil to usurp and steal what really belongs to God – to imitate or pervert what God originated and turn it into something quite different and use it for his evil purposes. For example, consider Japheth, the founder of the European races. Japheth was a godly man, the son of Noah, who helped him build the Ark and survive the Flood. As time passed, and the stories of the Flood became less and less accurate, Japheth became, of all things, Jupiter in Roman mythology, the chief of the pagan pantheon of gods. Because of man’s tendency to revere and worship his ancestors, and with the Devil’s encouragement, mankind slipped into worshiping Japheth in the place of God, something Japheth himself surely never would have dreamed or approved of.
       
In the same way, could it be that the veneration for Aphrodite, possibly a good spirit from God, whose presence the ancients had sensed from time to time, distorted itself over time and transformed into something quite different to what was originally intended? As with “Japheth”, perhaps the Devil just borrowed the well-known, legendary name and used it to sidetrack mankind away from the true worship of God. Whether or not this is true is impossible to prove, of course… but it is some interesting food for thought.

***

        … He [the Devil] is not really a creator at all, he’s only an imitator and destroyer, a fake god! In fact, the Devil can’t do anything, he doesn’t know what to do, except to imitate God!–Because he knows what God does works! And so in everything he does he is trying to imitate the Lord. (compiled from lectures of David Berg – 25 Nov, 1977)

       (Jesus:)… Satan cannot create; he only imitates, falsifies and forges in his attempts to mimic the vast and limitless power of My Spirit and the awesome and intricate inner workings of My universe. For this reason his false system and fraudulent ways will come to destruction, as his evil deeds will come back on him not a hundred times, but a hundred times a hundred over as he reaps what he has sown. (from publication of The Family International – Feb, 1998)

V 2    And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.

“Aquila, born in Pontus… with his wife Priscilla.” Aquila and Priscilla became close friends with Paul, who in Romans 16:3-4 stated that they “risked their own necks for my life”. Aquila originally came from the region of Bithynia (“Pontus”) in northern Turkey where Paul and team had thought at one time to go but had been re-directed by the Holy Spirit to go to Greece. Aquila and Priscilla, who were living in Rome, happened to be in Corinth because “Claudius [the Roman emperor] had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome” in 49A.D. According to the historian Suetonius, the emperor made the decree because of the influence of “Chrestus” (probably the Roman name for “Christ”).

The historical facts are not too well known. We can be fairly sure though that the Gospel had already travelled to Rome after the Day of Pentecost, and that Christians in Rome had been active in their witnessing. This may have caused some big stir amongst the Jews. Perhaps, in trying to bring their case before the emperor, they only ended up annoying him – with the result that all Jews, whether Christian or non-Christian, were driven from Rome, at least until Claudius’ death in 54 A.D. 

V 3   So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.

“They were tentmakers.” Tents were used much more in ancient times for housing and were normally made of leather, a waterproof material. Now and then Paul’s skill in the tent-making trade proved useful. In this case, it gave him the opportunity to meet Aquila and Priscilla, as well as provide some needed income. It is said that physical work can be therapeutic, and after his demanding and stressful tour of the previous Greek cities, this break from the action may have been what Paul needed before moving on into the next big challenge. 

V 4   And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

“Greeks.” Gentile worshipers in the synagogue. 

V 5   When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.

“Compelled by the Spirit.” The return of Silas and Timothy gave Paul the extra boost in the spirit, even physical protection, he needed to come out more boldly in his witnessing. Perhaps by now, knowing all too well the predictable, hostile reaction of the synagogue Jews, Paul had been hesitant to proclaim the whole counsel of God, but now, with the support of his colleagues, he got down to business and “testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ”.  Regarding Silas and Timothy, later on as the Corinthian church became established, it seems they were sent from Corinth to help with other churches in Macedonia. 

V 6   But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

“When they opposed him.” Or, “When they set themselves in battle array”. These Jews outright rejected and fought against Paul’s clear presentation of the Gospel. “And blasphemed.” It is not likely they had any reasonable explanation of their own to give, so their blasphemy may have come in the form of crude, vulgar remarks of denial of Christ and of what Paul was teaching.

“He shook his garments.” This action belongs in the same category as the shaking off of the dust of the feet. (Acts 13:51, Nehemiah 5:13, Mat 10:14) It served as an expression of righteous indignation and a warning to the disbelievers of divine displeasure over their lack of receptivity. Paul then said, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean.” The Lord had said once in Ezekiel 3:18-19 that if you don’t speak “to warn the wicked from his wicked way”, then “his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you warn the wicked… you have delivered your soul.” Paul was faithful to deliver them the truth, so whatever divine displeasure they might encounter later because of their rebellion against the truth, they would only have themselves to blame.

By this time Paul was quite fed up with trying to witness to his unreceptive Jewish brethren and declared his preference to go now to those who would gladly receive the Word: “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Regarding these confrontations of the Early Church with the established religious system, this was not unique to the Early Church. Such confrontations have occurred at different times in history. The Reformation, for example, got its kickstart when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenberg in 1517. Although his challenge to the established system was not at all welcomed, eventually the Catholic Church made some needed changes. Luther’s challenge brought purification from the corruption that had overrun the Church of his day and resulted also in groups of dedicated believers who founded the various Protestant churches that we see today. As a result of this renewal, the Church’s activities could move from an inward to an outward focus; and she was better prepared for the global missionary ventures that followed in the years after the Reformation.

Now some 500 years later, the Church again is in need of challenge and purification. In our modern day an important step in this direction happened when the Jesus Revolution got underway in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was spearheaded by David Berg, who took a strong stance against the established system of his day. Like the Laodicean church of Revelation 3:14-22, many of the mainstream churches, especially in western countries, had become self-satisfied – “rich, and increased with goods”, having “need of nothing” – but in God’s eyes “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17 – KJV) There was a great need for change then, just as there was for Catholicism in the time of Luther, or for Judaism back in the time of Christ and the Early Church. And in recent times it was the Jesus Revolution that provided the “kickstart” needed to prod the modern Church into making positive changes over the last few decades.

David Berg’s ministry in the late 60’s and early 70’s, besides reaching the generation of hippie youth, served as a wake-up call to the churches – just as Paul’s ministry, besides reaching the Gentiles, was also a wake-up call to the self-satisfied Jewish religionists of his day. Like Paul and his Jews, David Berg had gotten fed up with his former church colleagues. “It was a time to refrain from embracing.” (Ecclesiastes 3:5) And like Paul and his Gentile followers, Mr. Berg often expressed his desire to go to the hippie youth of the day who were more open to God’s radical truths and new methods, and more willing to offer themselves in full dedication to God’s service than were the majority of people in the church.

It should be understood though that, since those early days, mainstream churches have changed a lot, having adopted many of the ideas and methods that David Berg had introduced. The Church has grown more passionate and dedicated in the face of the ever increasing anti-Christ darkness that is sweeping through the world. Many Protestant denominations and groups are casting off old methods and mindsets that were stifling growth and spiritual maturity. The Catholic church too is experiencing a great re-vitalization under its recent Popes. And the Orthodox church is showing signs of wanting to build bridges with its ancient rival, the Catholic church.

And certainly, when the forces of anti-Christ darkness arrive in full power, all branches of Christendom will find themselves under the same threat of organized persecution. Times have changed since the days of the Jesus Revolution. Instead of the confrontational approach against internal corruption that was the order of the day then, now is the day for cooperation and collaboration amongst the different branches of God’s people – “a time to embrace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:5) Re-vitalization in the Church should continue, of course, in preparation for the dark days ahead in the End Time. But much of that re-vitalization will be realized as Christian groups work together more.

For the battle lines are shifting. As the Church purifies herself and as the forces of Darkness grow stronger, she will have to focus more on outside threats of godlessness and persecution and on the need to reach out to a world desperate for the Light and Truth that is fast being extinguished in these modern times. 

V 7   And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue.

Justus.” A Roman believer who had been associated with the synagogue next door. 

V 8   Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

“Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord.” The conversion of this respected leader was a major breakthrough for the fledgling church… and a big setback to the unbelieving Jews. As a result “many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed.” 

V 9-11  Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent;
       
“for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”
       
And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

To encourage Paul to continue in Corinth, the Lord not only had raised up an influential new believer, Crispus, but also “spoke… to Paul in the night by a vision”. The Lord was faithful to encourage Paul against whatever fears and obstacles he was worried about: “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent… no one will attack you to hurt you.” After his most recent confrontation with the Corinthian Jews, Paul, likely, was anticipating another attack, the predictable persecution that always came after such incidents. This disagreement with the unbelieving Jews, it seems, was more strident than usual, and Paul may have felt a good deal of apprehension about what might soon happen. Unlike Athens, Corinth was a major commercial center, and the Jewish population there may have been larger, and more aggressive and influential than in other cities. However, the Lord was faithful and spoke to Paul “by a vision” that he could rest assured, that his protection was guaranteed, especially since he was in the place where God wanted him to be: “for I have many people in this city.”

“And he continued there a year and six months.” During Paul’s missionary journeys so far, this was the first time when, after a bout of persecution, he was able to continue afterwards in a city; and before he came to Ephesus and Rome, this also turned out to be his longest sojourn in a city. 

V 12-13 When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat,        saying, “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”

“When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia.” Gallio was the Roman proconsul over the area of southern Greece from July, A.D. 51, to June, A.D. 52.

“The Jews with one accord rose up against Paul.” This was certainly a major attack from the enemies of the Gospel.

“Judgment seat.” A large, raised stone platform in the marketplace, situated in front of the proconsul’s residence where he could try public cases.

“Contrary to the law.” While Judaism was not an official Roman religion, it was officially tolerated in the Roman world, and Christianity was still viewed as just another branch of Judaism. The Jews in Corinth claimed that Paul’s teaching did not belong to Judaism, and therefore, should be banned. This case was vitally important at the time, for had Gallio ruled in the Jews’ favor, Christianity could have been outlawed throughout the Roman empire. 

V 14-16  And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you.        “But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.”        And he drove them from the judgment seat.

“I do not want to be a judge of such matters.” Gallio was no fool and could see through the Jews’ plan. He refused to get caught in what he realized was just an internal squabble within Judaism and told them this case was not “a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes” but just “a question of words and names and your own law”. He rendered what is known in legal circles as a “summary judgment” – that is, a judgment made by the court prior to a verdict or trial because no factual issues existed. No crime had been committed, since the dispute was merely over semantics.

“And he drove them from the judgment seat.” Gallio threw the case out – a great victory for the Church at that time. It established an important legal precedent that Christians were innocent of transgressing Roman law merely for teaching and following Christian doctrine. A similar judgment was given by governor Festus (in Acts 25:19).

V 17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.

“The Greeks took Sosthenes… and beat him.” It is difficult to determine what exactly happened here. Sosthenes is mentioned in 1Corinthians 1:1 as Paul’s co-worker, but whether he was converted at this time or not, we don’t know. Like Crispus he was “the chief ruler of the synagogue”, perhaps a co-ruler or his successor. Whatever the case, since Gallio had said, “Look to it yourselves”, the Jews in their anger at being defeated took this as license to beat Sosthenes. They engaged some “Greeks” to do the dirty work for them (probably because it looked better if non-Jews were doing it).  It could be that Sosthenes was Paul’s protector at the time and so wound up the unfortunate victim of the Jews’ anger.

Gallio

V 18 So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow.

“So Paul still remained a good while.” The court case victory made it safe for Paul to continue in Corinth.

“Then he took leave… and Priscilla and Aquila were with him.” Aquila and Priscilla were initial pillars in the church at Corinth, but now, with new leadership emerging – Sosthenes, Justus, Stephanas (1Cor 16:15), Crispus – they could afford to leave town and accompany Paul.

“Shorn his head in Cenchrea.” To show God his gratitude for helping him through a difficult time in Corinth (as it appears from verses 9-10), Paul had taken a Nazirite vow – a special pledge of separation and devotion to God. (Numbers 6:2-5,13-21) The vow generally lasted a specific period of time (although Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist were Nazirites for life). In Paul’s day, if someone made the vow while away from Jerusalem, at the end of it he would shave his head, as Paul did, and afterwards present the hair at the temple within 30 days.

“Cenchrea.” The eastern port of Corinth.

Acts 16 map

Map of Second Missionary Journey

V 19  And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

“He came to Ephesus.” This was a stopover on his way to Jerusalem. However, Ephesus was the most important city of Asia Minor (Turkey). Aquila and Priscilla stayed there while Paul continued his journey. But before going, he “entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews”. Although Paul had sworn in Corinth, “from now on I will go to the Gentiles”, perhaps because of the strong leaders who had dropped out of the Corinth synagogues, he felt it was still worth his while to visit the synagogues.

V 20-21 When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent,         but took leave of them, saying, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.” And he sailed from Ephesus.

“I must by all means keep this coming feast.” Although Paul had preached so much that keeping the laws of Moses was not necessary for salvation, his Jewish heritage was still very much a part of him. What “feast” he is referring to, we are not told, but likely it would have been either the Passover or the Pentecost feast.

“They asked him to stay a longer time.” Paul left the fledgling Ephesian church for the sake of keeping his vow. (He had a 30-day time limit to get to Jerusalem.) It is difficult for us in modern times to understand this sort of thing, but in those days vows were taken very seriously; so this was something perhaps the Lord just had to wink at. Anyway, after two or three years on this missionary journey, likely Paul was more than ready to return to his home base (Antioch) for a time of rest and recuperation. True to his word, Paul did return to Ephesus later. (19:1) 

V 22  And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch.

“And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up.” Although it is not mentioned, Paul likely went “up” from the coastal city of Caesarea to the more highly elevated city of Jerusalem and there “greeted the church”. He would have made this trip to Jerusalem in order to fulfill his vow. After that “he went down to Antioch”, the home base from where he had started. This marked the end of what is known as Paul’s second missionary journey. 

V 23  After he had spent some time there, he departed and went over the region of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.

“Some time there.” Possibly the summer of A.D. 52 to the spring of A.D. 53 was spent in Antioch. “He departed.” His departure for “Galatia and Phrygia” marked the beginning of his third missionary journey.

“Strengthening all the disciples.” Follow-up and consolidating the gains made in previous journeys was an important aspect of Paul’s missionary work.

         In Antioch ”it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people”, and at Iconium “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord”. In Corinth, “he continued there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God”, and also at Ephesus “disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus… by the space of two years”. (Acts 11:26, 14:3, 18:11, 19:10)
       
Jesus, Paul, and the early apostles put their major emphasis on big cities and had their greatest successes in the major centers of population like the ones named above, from which their converts there reached the surrounding territory themselves! As you can see by Acts 19:10, Paul spent only two years teaching in Ephesus, apparently without even leaving the school of Tyrannus, but the verse continues to say that “all Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10)
       
The procedure the apostle Paul practised, which resulted in the evangelising of all Asia [meaning Asia Minor, or Turkey]… before his death, by means of his own single-handed effort and that of a few of his friends, was by training his converts to witness and carry on after he was gone.
       D
uring his first missionary venture (Acts 13-14), it says after winning many converts in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra that, instead of deciding to gain more territory, Paul and Barnabas “returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, (and) ordained elders in every church.” (Acts 14:21-23)
       
Then, “some days after”, at the start of his second pioneering endeavor (Acts 15:40, 18:22), “Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the Word of the Lord, and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36)         Then again it says, “after he had spent some time there (in Antioch)” resting up for a third journey (Acts 18:23, 21:17), “he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.” (Acts 18:23)
       
…Paul’s method is best summed up in his counsel to Timothy: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2Timothy 2:2)        (compiled from lectures of David Berg – 8/74)
 

Paul did not get so busy gaining territory that he didn’t consolidate his gains by establishing the churches, appointing elders, instructing and training them until they could stand on their own. Only then did he leave them, knowing they could survive and carry on. And even after he was gone and in prison, Paul kept at it, writing them letters to help them stay on track.

Map 3rd Journey

Map of Third Missionary Journey

V 24-25 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.         This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.

“A certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria.” Alexandria, Egypt, was a major center of learning and of Jewish people; the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, was written there about 250 B.C. This would have been an ideal spot outside of Jerusalem to receive a good education in the Old Testament Scriptures. Apollos was “an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures”, “fervent in spirit”, and “taught accurately the things of the Lord”, even though he knew “only the baptism of John”, and at this point all his teaching was based on the Old Testament.

V26   So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Apollos came to the attention of Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus when “he began to speak boldly in the synagogue”. They “explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Probably they explained to him such things as the events and meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the responsibility to witness.

V 27-28 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace;         for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.

Later, after Paul arrived in Ephesus, he and Apollos worked together for awhile at which time Paul “strongly urged him to come to you [the Corinthians]. (1 Cor 16:12) This probably was when Apollos “desired to cross to Achaia [Greece].” He went with letters of commendation from the Ephesian church, and “greatly helped those who believed through grace”. His knowledge of the Word would have strengthened the new believers’ foundation of faith. Much of that strengthening had to do with countering any lingering doubts that the Jews were still propagating: “For he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.” To believe the awesome truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, was a struggle then for Jews and Gentiles both, and it still is. But a good understanding of the Word can greatly strengthen faith that is weak or wavering. From Apollos’ example we learn how helpful it is for believers to arm themselves with a good working knowledge of the Word.

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 19)

ACTS 17: Paul’s Gospel Juggernaut Makes its Way to Athens!

Berea

V 1   Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews.

“They came to Thessalonica.” While travelling southwest from Philippi, they “passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia”, two cities where they stayed overnight before reaching Thessalonica. All three cities were about 30 miles apart. Thessalonica, population 200,000, was the capital of Macedonia and a major port city and commercial center. During this new phase of the journey, the Philippian church generously supported Paul and his team. “In Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.” (Philippians 4:16)

V 2-3  Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
        explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”

“As his custom was.” As a Jew, the synagogues provided an open door to preach and introduce the Gospel, so they were Paul’s usual starting point in most of the cities he went to. Although the synagogues often caused his team a lot of trouble, nevertheless, several ready-made disciples came out of these places of worship – Jews with a good, solid foundation in the Word, along with sincere seekers from amongst the Gentile converts.

“This Jesus… is the Christ.” Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah that the Old Testament had predicted would come to Israel. In his messages to the Jews, Paul always had to explain “that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead”. That was always a point of confusion for the Jews since they had been expecting the Messiah to come in power and establish a great Israeli nation. They weren’t expecting His first coming “in the form of a servant of no reputation”; they were only looking for Him to come “with power and great glory”. (Phil 2:7, Mat 24:30) They were thinking mainly of certain Scriptures, like the following: “To Him [the Son of Man] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13) This great “everlasting dominion” will be established at Jesus’ second coming, but in the meantime we, His followers, have to bide our time, working to teach and prepare the world for this glorious event of His return to the earthly realm.

V 4   And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

“Some of them were persuaded… and a great multitude of the devout Greeks.” The usual pattern continues: the Gentile converts turned out to be more appreciative of the Gospel than the Jews. “Not a few of the leading women.” They had better success with these women from Thessalonica than with the “devout and prominent women” from Pisidian Antioch. (Acts 13:50) 

V 5   But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

       “The Jews… becoming envious.” Envy, and resentment over their loss of power and influence among their followers, again the root cause of persecution (as in Acts 13:45 and many other places in the Scriptures).

”Some of the evil men” (or in the KJV, “Certain lewd fellows of the baser sort”).Unable to refute the teachings of Paul, the unbelieving Jews resorted to underhanded methods to try to stop the new movement. “And gathering a mob.” As they often did, the unbelieving Jews used this tactic of enlisting the support of the mob, those who could  be easily persuaded and corrupted into doing the dirty work for them.

“Attacked the house of Jason.” Jason was likely a Jew with a Greek name with whom Paul, Silas, and Timothy were staying; or at least that’s where the crowd thought they were staying. 

V 6   But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.

“These who have turned the world upside down.” This saying certainly shows what a great effect the apostles were having. They were trying to bring the light of God into their world of darkness, but in the process that shattered too many old preconceptions and customs. Human nature tends to resist change, and rather than humbly receiving the truth and adapting themselves to the new Way, the unbelieving Jews started yelling and accusing them to the “rulers of the city” that they had “turned the world upside down”. The apostles were actually turning it rightside up, of course, and if these particular Jews had been honest, they would have admitted it was just their own personal world that was being turned upside down. To them the apostles were “disturbing the peace” – their peace, their false sense of security. So often stiff opposition results from the task of being a “peacemaker”. The apostles were bringing real peace, but those whose weaknesses were being exposed by the spotlight of truth would have none of it. 

V 7    “Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king – Jesus.”

 “Contrary to the decrees of Caesar.” One of the more serious crimes in the Roman empire was to acknowledge allegiance to any king but Caesar. “There is another king – Jesus.” Of course, their accusers failed to mention that this newcomer “King” was dwelling in the heavenly realm, and that His “Kingdom” (of Heaven) was not of this world. Although they were not to worship their earthly rulers, the apostles exhorted believers to “honor the king” and to “be subject to the governing authorities.” (2Peter 2:17, Romans 13:1)

V 8-10  And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things.
        
So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
       
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.

“Taken security.” This was some kind of court procedure by which Jason and friends made a bond or pledge (of money presumably), either to get themselves out of incarceration or to pledge responsibility for the good conduct of Paul and Silas; they would have to forfeit the money if Paul and his companions were to cause more trouble. There wasn’t much chance of no trouble happening; their very presence there was itself a source of trouble. Jesus had once advised His disciples, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” (Matthew 10:23) And so “the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea”. Berea lay to the southwest; it was an important town, but not on a main trade or travel route. 

V 11-12  These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
       
Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

 “These were more fair-minded [often translated as “noble”].” The Bereans “received the word with all readiness”.They were diligent in their study and “searched the Scriptures” to see “whether these things were so”. They didn’t just rely on past thinking, or carnal reasoning, or even on what Paul had told them. But they based their faith on the Word, with an attitude that was positive and open – “with all readiness” - seeking to understand why they should believe and accept the new Way. As Jesus brought out in His “parable of the sower”, it is wise to let the Word take deep root rather than just settle for a shallow acceptance of it (or even worse, look for excuses not to believe, as was the case with many of the Jews). As a result “many of them believed.” Again, as in Thessalonica, they were able to reach some of the elite circles, the “prominent men as well as women”.

Berea

V 13   But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

“The Jews from Thessalonica… came there also.” As on other occasions, the Jews from the previous city followed Paul and his team’s trail to the next. Repeating their tactics from Thessalonica, these envious persecutors “stirred up the crowds”, the uninformed throngs who are easily swayed by false propaganda. This has been a common tactic in history used either by rulers to retain power or by would-be rulers to grab power. 

V 14   Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there.

“Sent Paul away.” Since Paul was the main object of the Jews’ anger, the smartest move, in this case at least, was just to leave quickly. “But both Silas and Timothy remained there”, presumably to take care of any loose ends that needed tying up of the work in Berea. 

V 15-16  So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.
       
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.

“Athens.” Cultural center of Greece. Home of the most renowned philosophers in history: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. At that time the philosophers Epicurus and Zeno, founders of Epicureanism and Stoicism, exerted much influence. Although Athens had already passed its peak of historical prominence, it could still boast of having the greatest university in the ancient world. No surprise then that the famous temple, the Parthenon, was located in Athens and was dedicated to the worship of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Besides being the meeting place of the world’s intelligentsia, Athens also harbored a great pantheon of gods who were worshiped there: “He saw that the city was given over to idols.”

This combination of intellectual thought and superstitious belief posed a daunting challenge to the Gospel. Generally, the Athenians, still basking in the glory of past years, felt culturally superior to the rest of the world, so what could any outsiders tell them? Nevertheless, “his spirit was provoked [stirred – KJV] within him.” Paul sensed the emptiness of their religious life and their great need for the Gospel.

Acts 16 map

Map of Second Missionary Journey

V 17   Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.

“He reasoned in the synagogues… and in the marketplace daily.” Paul went witnessing, not just in the synagogue, but also in the streets, something that was probably easier to do in a more cosmopolitan center like Athens. 

(Jesus speaking:) As you step out to witness, to do the things you know you should do, I can open new and exciting doors and bring great opportunities across your path. Peter and John were on their way to the temple to witness when they encountered the lame man. Philip was going about his business in Jerusalem when I directed him to the Ethiopian eunuch. Peter was on a witnessing trip when he was led to Cornelius. My servant Paul was faithfully witnessing in Athens when I opened the door for him to reach the upper crust by a witnessing speech on Mars Hill, which led to a work there in Athens (Acts 17:16–34). (from publication of The Family International – 11/2007) 

V 18   Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

“Epicurean philosophers” taught that the chief end of man was to avoid pain. They were materialists who, although not denying the existence of God, believed He did not get involved in the affairs of men. At death a person’s body and soul disintegrated. So “eat, drink, and be merry” now while you can. The philosophy offered no hope of life after death – a bleak outlook to say the least, despite its appeal to the selfish nature of man to enjoy unrestricted pleasure.

 “Stoic philosophers” taught that life’s goal was to achieve a place of indifference to pleasure or pain; it was a form of self-mastery that appealed very much to man’s pride. Although their religion was mostly a moral philosophy, the Stoics also taught that the natural world was a material, reasoning substance, which to them was God.  Many eastern and New Age religions teach similar ideas.

“Babbler.” Literally “seed-picker”. Some of the philosophers were a little too high-minded to believe that Paul could presume to tell them anything. They looked down on him as an amateur who had no depth or ideas of his own but only “picked” among prevailing philosophies – like some sort of opinionated buffoon trying to make the most of a few scraps of knowledge he had picked up from here and there. The more religious types saw him as a “proclaimer of foreign gods”. 

V 19   And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?

“Areopagus.” This was a court named after the hill where its sessions were held, or used to be held; it was also known as “Mars’ Hill”. The place seemed to serve as a kind of informal meeting place or unofficial clearing-house for new ideas, attended by the more educated, elite circle of Athenian citizens. Paul was not being formally tried but only being asked to defend or expound on his teaching: “May we know what this new doctrine is?”

Mars Hill

V 20-21  “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.”
       
For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
 

“You are bringing some strange things to our ears.” The Athenians were mentally very curious about Paul’s ideas. Their outlook was open-minded; however, it seems their depth of interest was somewhat shallow for they “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” 

V 22   Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious;

“Very religious.” Or “in fear of the gods”. The phrase could have been understood in two ways: positively as a commendation for their piety, or negatively as an admonition for harboring absurd superstitions. 

V 23   “for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:

“TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” The Athenians were open-minded enough, and superstitious enough, to realize that maybe there were gods they hadn’t heard of yet – a sort of miscellaneous category that it would be wise for them not to overlook. It so happened once during their history (around 600 B.C.) that a plague was raging through Athens; after sacrificing to all their gods one after another for the staying of the plague, they were advised finally to loose a flock of sheep, letting them wander where they pleased, and, in the spots where they lay down, to build an altar; these altars were inscribed “To the Unknown God”. By so doing, the plague was stayed. Besides these, there were other similar altars to the gods of other countries (such as Israel), gods who were “unknown” to them.

In addition, many of the learned Greeks were bucking the tide of philosophical thought in those days. Instead of the materialist notions of the Epicureans and Stoics, they were entertaining the concept that supernatural powers intervened in the course of natural laws.* This was a step in the right direction, which made it easier for them to acknowledge the existence of a Higher Power beyond man’s comprehension who had made all things – some “unknown God” that was set apart from the rest of their idols and from the natural world. This awareness of theirs was the springboard Paul used to introduce them to the supernatural Creator of our natural environment who didn’t have to remain “unknown” any more but could now be made “known” to them.

At any rate, whatever the story behind it was, the altar certainly made a good starting point in the discussion. On the one hand, Paul wasn’t presuming to instruct them about some god they already knew, and on the other hand, he wasn’t imposing on them some totally foreign God since they were already honoring Him, albeit in a vague and veiled fashion. When witnessing to Gentiles, Paul could not use the same methods he had been using for the Jews, expounding to them from the Old Testament, but had to be flexible and adopt a new strategy: in this case, he built on the knowledge the Greeks already had in their own philosophy and writings and on their almost instinctive belief that behind the scenes of the natural world (the usual object of their worship), there still had to be a Higher Power that had created it; this was also how he had approached the people in Lystra. (Acts 14:15-17) 

*This trend of thought was given much impetus from Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.-50 A.D.), an influential philosopher of that era, a Greek Jew. He theorized that there was a “creative principle” at work in the universe, a supernatural power or mediator from God, who intervened in human affairs and in the natural world; this was called the “Logos”. This philosophical concept did much to prepare man’s thinking to be more open to accepting Jesus as the Savior of mankind. The word “logos” was a very common one in the New Testament, being the word we would use in English for “word, utterance, saying”. It was translated most often as “word” (having to do with words and speech) or sometimes as “Word” (a term for Jesus Christ). The Gospel of John, chapter 1, capitalizes on this aspect of Greek philosophy – this “Logos” – to identify Jesus as the embodimentof what was already understood by the Greeks in a rather abstract way as a supernatural power interacting with the earthly realm. John 1:14 puts it very simply: “the Word was made flesh.”
       
Otherwise the phrase “word of God” in the New Testament normally referred to the ways that God could speak to mankind – through the Bible, prophecies, visions, inspired teaching, etc. And so, just as the “word of God” meant God’s communication with mankind through various means, so also, Jesus Himself, by His coming in the flesh, became the ultimate “Word of God”, the ultimate communication between God and man. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  (1Timothy 2:5)  So that’s how this word “Logos”, when translated sometimes as “the Word” (with a capital “W”), could take on this extra dimension of philosophical meaning, as expressed in John 1:1-14, 1John 5:7, and Rev 19:13.

***

       When John was speaking of God the Son before He was born on earth, he referred to Him as the Word, not as Jesus. These verses show that the Word/Jesus had a hand in creation, as “all things were made by Him.” The word John used, translated into English as Word, was Logos in the original Greek. The term Logos was first used in the 6th century BC by a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus to designate the divine reason or plan which coordinates a changing universe. As such, to a Greek speaker at the time, Logos meant reason, so they would have understood the verses as “in the beginning was the reason or mind of God.” They would understand that before creation the Logos existed with God eternally. Therefore the Logos, the Word, God the Son, was in existence before any created thing—including time, space, or energy—existed.
       
       John states clearly that the Logos, the Word, God the Son, became flesh and lived on earth. This means no less than that God the Son lived on earth for a time as a human being. It means that He, an eternal immaterial being, entered into His creation in time and space. This could only happen if God became incarnate, if He became man, which is exactly what happened when Jesus of Nazareth was born. He became the God-man, God in human flesh who dwelt amongst us.
       [“The Heart of It All: The God-Man (Part 1)” by Peter Amsterdam – April 19, 2011]
 

V 24-25 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.
       
“Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

“God, who made the world.” This teaching flatly contradicted both the Epicureans, who believed that matter was eternal and therefore had no creator, and the Stoics, who, as pantheists, identified God with the universe; according to that belief, since God was part of everything, He could not have created Himself. Paul wrote elsewhere about those, who “became futile in their thoughts [vain in their imaginations” - KJV] and “professing to be wise, they became fools… who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature [or creation] rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:21,22,25)

Nowadays, the philosophy of “evolution” echoes the ideas of the Epicureans and Stoics; it takes up where these ancient philosophies left off using a modern way of expressing the same beliefs in pseudo-scientific terms. This concept, whereby the creation takes on the role of God, is common also in the New Age movement of modern times. The Bible states clearly that this Being, whom we call God, is the supernatural Creator of the natural world.

“Does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands… since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” If God created everything, then it is absurd to confine Him to or identify Him with these things that are merely the works of men’s hands. By expressing it this way, Paul right away separated the truth of the Gospel from the confusing array of beliefs and religions in Athens that were all dependent on temples and man-made idols. As Jesus once said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:24) 

V 26   “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,

“Has made from one blood [often translated as “one man”] every nation.” In God’s sight no nation is more privileged or deserving than another, for all men were descended from Adam; there is no distinction in God’s eyes because of nationality, inherited bloodline, royal house or dynasty, or any such thing. This might have been a needed message to the Greeks, especially Athenians, who had a great deal of national pride and tended to look down on non-Greeks as lowly barbarians. 

V 27   “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

“Seek the Lord.” Here is God’s desire that we “might grope for Him and find Him”. Even though He is invisible to our physical senses, He is not “far from each one of us”. He is not a remote God, or an “unknown god” unconcerned about humanity, as they seemed to think, “for God is love”. (1John 4:8) 

The power’s always on. The message is always there. God’s Spirit is like a broadcasting station broadcasting all the time. You must learn to contact His power through prayer, a spiritual seeking of contact with His Spirit through obedience to the laws of His Word. The hand of faith turns the knob which makes the contact and throws the switch which turns on what little power you have. The hand of hope tunes with expectancy, feeling for the frequency upon which God is broadcasting, and suddenly His great broadcasting station booms in with tremendous positive volume and power and certainty – and the messages come through loud and clear! If you’ve got an open channel and tune in, the Lord will fill you – your mind, your heart, your ears, your eyes! (from “Let’s keep the connection strong…”, Daily Might 1:103, publication of The Family International) 

V 28-29  “for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’
       
“Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.

“For in Him we live and move and have our being.” A quote from the Cretan poet Epimenides. “For we are also His offspring.” Paul quotes another poet, Aratus, who came from his own native region of Cilicia. Adam was created by God, and thus all of humanity are “His offspring”. If God is the one who created us, it is foolish for man to turn around and work in the other direction, to try to create his own gods. We should not equate or debase the “Divine Nature” into images made of “gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising”.

Because of the irrational nature of superstition, it was easy for the Old Testament prophets to discredit the practice of idolatry – the worship of lifeless stone idols or other crafted images: “Those who make an image… shall be ashamed together… They do not know nor understand… And no one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it [the wood] in the fire, yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat  and eaten it; and shall I make the rest of it an abomination? shall I fall down before a block of wood?’” (Isaiah 44:9,11,18-19)

Despite its irrationality, the practice of idolatry did not die out fully in the western world until the Age of Reason in the 1700′s. It even existed in the church of that day in the form of worship of relics and images of saints and so on. But the rise of modern science and the rational way of thinking undermined superstition completely and discredited the use of crafted images in religion. In some ways, the new rational outlook was a big step forward; it succeeded in abolishing many of the foolish and harmful practices of superstition, including the belief that manmade crafted images could be objects of worship; the whole foundation on which idolatrous worship rested was starting to crumble.

However, the pendulum did swing too far in that direction, and the new wave of thought began to repudiate any form of supernatural reality; angels, the spirit world, and even God were explained away as mere figments of man’s imagination. By exaggerating the importance of man’s ability to reason, while at the same time downplaying faith in God, rationalism made way for a new set of false beliefs (or superstitions) to creep in: evolution, atheism, humanism and other such modern philosophies. Herein we find, covered by the mask of rationality, the new form of anti-God worship – the “idolatry” of modern times. 

V 30-31  “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,
       
“because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

“God overlooked.” God’s justice would demand that mankind should have been destroyed for their sins. But until Jesus came into the world, these were as “times of ignorance”.

“Who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.” (Acts 14:16) Mankind did not have the power of the Holy Spirit, nor the guidance from the Word, to be able to live according to God’s principles. So He has mercifully overlooked his wandering ways.

“But now commands all men everywhere to repent.” God is now expecting a greater degree of godly, loving behavior. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and His own living example, has set the standard of what is expected now from human society in contrast to how it was in the past. (Matthew 5-7)

“He will judge the world in righteousness.” This would have been a new concept to those who thought God was very distant, a mechanistic being or impersonal “force”, with little or no concern for what was going on in the world – as many of the Greek gods were, or as the Greek philosophers usually thought. Again, this line of thinking that was prevalent in ancient times continues nowadays in the New Age movement and is implied also in evolution theory.

“Raising Him from the dead.” This great event of the Resurrection was the “assurance” that Jesus would be the One whom God “has ordained” to “judge the world in righteousness”. (In John 5:17-29 Jesus expounds on this aspect of His divine authority.) Greek philosophy did not believe in bodily resurrection, however, and it seems that some choked on that doctrine. But it served the purpose of separating the sheep from the goats. “Some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again.’” (verse 32)

To “judge the world in righteousness” would not be possible unless humanity is to be raised from the dead, if not physically, at least in the spirit realm. That is to say, our existence doesn’t just come to an end at death as some Greek philosophers thought. This understanding about resurrection and accountability was an important concept for the world to grasp. It means “each of us shall give account of himself to God” for our lives on earth and will reap the benefits, or lack thereof, in the next life. (Romans 14:12) Without this understanding, there is no great motivation to live one’s life in a godly or responsible manner. 

V 32   And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.”

“Some mocked.” In the world of academia there have always existed those who do “not like to retain God in their knowledge”. (Romans 1:28) In the ancient city of Athens and in our modern day, the same heady, high-minded tune is being piped in our institutes of learning. Pride is a temptation that every man or woman faces. And in the realm of intellectual activity, there exists the danger of leaving the path of God’s truth and simplicity and of clinging instead to knowledge that is not from God, but knowledge that makes a person feel more brilliant than or different from others. And once the mind of man becomes exalted above the mind of God, then self becomes a person’s god, and rationality becomes his religion. (Colossians2:8). Not surprising then that a concept as “irrational” as the “resurrection of the dead” appeared to some of the Athenian professors as foolishness.

These teachers habitually exude a condescending spin on “religion”, portraying it as antiquated, irrational, old-fashioned, or meaningless, just a product of men’s minds - God a product of man rather than man a product of God. Indeed, some religious expression has become a product of man. And to expose hypocrisy and those who use religion for their own ends is needful. But it is a mistake to conclude from this that there is no such thing as genuine religion, to look down on believers, or even to reject faith in God altogether.

Sadly, these teachers know all too well how to mold young minds to their skeptical views – by hiding behind the seemingly benign masks of humanitarianism, free thinking, logic, or advanced reasoning. Such heady and high-minded attitudes catch on quickly – a mocking spirit that puts a condescending label on believers as deluded, mind-controlled, or too simple to broaden their minds.

This does not mean to say that one should not be flexible, open, and broad-minded in his or her thinking. The problem comes when “open-mindedness” becomes idolized to the point that no judgments can be made as to whether beliefs are right or wrong, whether or not they accord with God’s Truth and principles. In the Modern Age, for example, the atheistic philosophies of Darwinism and Marxism found fertile breeding grounds in the minds of intellectuals who were “open-minded” but not discerning or yielded to the mind of God. Did these philosophies benefit mankind? Hardly. Instead, they were the philosophical justification for the 20th century’s worst murderous crimes – from Hitler’s attempts to purify the Aryan race to communist genocides against those who wouldn’t follow the party line. “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:20) 

V 33-34  So Paul departed from among them.
       
However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

“Some men joined him.” Paul’s faithful witnessing got results. “Dionysius the Areopagite” was a member of the Areopagus court.

***

There is much to learn from Paul’s witnessing approach, such as how he adapted his message so well to those who had never heard about Judaism or the Old Testament. As he wrote in 1Corinthians 9, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some… to those who are without law, as without law.” (verses 22, 21) In the case of the Athenians, Paul tried to find points in common: the poets they were familiar with who had written godly material, or their belief in an “unknown god”, a supreme God who was set apart from all their “known” manmade gods; this assured his listeners that he wasn’t trying to introduce them to some alien god, but only giving them more information about the One they were already honoring. Then after winning their confidence and attention, he could point out to them the positive and hopeful aspects about his faith in Christ, things that were missing in the religious life of the Greeks. For example, the true God was a God of love, passionately concerned about mankind; forgiveness of sins could be found through Jesus’ sacrifice; resurrection into the heavenly realm was a genuine reality, and death was not something one had to dread; the reality of divine judgment gives meaning and purpose to this present life, as well as a sense of accountability; and so on.

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 18)

ACTS 16: Greece Pioneers – Prison Earthquake

Macedonian man

V 1-2  Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.
       
He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

“Then he came to Derbe and Lystra.” Lystra was the place where Paul and Barnabas on the previous journey had been mistaken for Zeus and Hermes (Mercury and Jupiter).

“A certain disciple… Timothy.” Timothy became Paul’s right hand man, taking over where John Mark left off. He was an ideal addition to the team of Paul and Silas, because he was “the son of a certain Jewish woman… but his father was Greek”; this kind of mixed parentage gave him access to both cultures – very useful in their missionary work. And so it was that, after Barnabas and John Mark had moved on to other ministries, Paul was not left without help, but the Lord raised up new helpers – Silas and Timothy. 

V 3    Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

“Paul… circumcised him.” It seems this was just a simple way to avoid needless problems, even persecution, from the Jewish community. The team could now expect unhindered access to the synagogues they would be visiting. If he had not gotten circumcised, the Jews would have assumed Timothy had renounced his Jewish heritage and had chosen to live as a Gentile, which for them would have been a major issue. 

V 4-5  And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.
       
So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

“They delivered to them the decrees.” This was the letter from the Jerusalem church declaring the official stance of the Church on the issue of salvation by faith through grace. (15:23-29) “So the churches were strengthened in the faith.”  The truth set the new Gentile believers free from the uncertainty and confusion created by the Circumcision faction in the Jerusalem church and their false doctrine of salvation by the works of the Law. 

V 6    Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.

“Through Phrygia and the region of Galatia.” The new team retraced the route that Barnabas and Paul had made on the previous journey. They were about to go to “Asia”, which meant cities along the west coast of Turkey, such as Ephesus, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Colosse, Sardis, Pergamos, and Thyatira but “were forbidden by the Holy Spirit”. As we know from Revelation 2-3, these later did become major centers of the Early Church, but for now the Holy Spirit had a different plan for Paul and his team. 

V 7    After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.
       
“Mysia.” The northwest part of the province of Asia Minor. “They tried to go into Bithynia” along the southern coast of the Black Sea.

“But the Spirit did not permit them.” Several translations say “Spirit of Jesus”, which recognizes the fact that the Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus (John 15:26 and 16:7).

And why did the Spirit “not permit them”? Perhaps it would have been too easy, or too dangerous, to reach the people there, or just too far off the beaten track. Not that those people weren’t deserving, but the priority at this point was to search for those who could become future leaders. And the best way to do that was to establish training centers in the cosmopolitan hubs of trade and traffic in the ancient world, and to places where people were apt to be less superstitious and mired in tradition than those who lived on the outskirts of the Roman empire. 

V 8    So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

“Troas.” Or Troy which 1,000 or so years earlier had been conquered by the Greeks in the famous war that featured the “Trojan horse”. Since they couldn’t go to Bithynia, the only place left in Turkey to go to now was Troas, which just happened to be the main jumping-off place for travelers going to Macedonia.

Macedonian man

V 9    And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

“A man of Macedonia.” Now and then God sends or allows a departed spirit to appear at crucial times to His children to serve as their guides or protectors. In this case, someone who, during his earthly life had lived in Macedon, appeared to Paul, beseeching him to bring the Gospel to Macedon. This land, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, lay across the Aegean Sea on the mainland north of Greece. (See map below.) 

V 10  Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

“Immediately we sought to go to Macedonia.” Paul and his team wasted no time in obeying what the Lord had shown them. Note the change from the third person to the first person “we”. This would indicate that the author of the Book of Acts – most likely Luke – had now joined the team. 

Some quotes on planning and being led of the Spirit (similar to how Paul and his team were operating):

            (Peter Amsterdam:) “If you’re organized, you’ll think ahead, you’ll plan ahead, you’ll schedule ahead – and that gives you time to hear from the Lord about those plans, and [to] make sure they’re right.” Being spirit-led means letting the Spirit lead you to the right plan, and then following the Spirit as you enact the plan.
            You should actively seek out the direction of the Lord’s Spirit in your times of planning.
            What you do have to be careful about is not locking yourself so tightly into your plan – even if it’s one that the Lord has confirmed – that you don’t leave yourself open to changing if circumstances change and the Lord is trying to lead you to do something differently. You can’t say, “Well, sorry, Lord, we have a plan already. This new open door doesn’t fit in with our plan.” [Twice Paul and team, following the direction of the Spirit, abandoned their plans - of going to Asia then Bithynia.]
            …You could liken it to being in a river – where the current is swiftest in the center and it moves more slowly at the edges. We need to be in the center of the current, flowing wherever it leads, no matter how fast it goes.
            … We have to diligently seek to find exactly where the Lord is moving, and then move along with Him.
            (from publication of The Family International – 12/2008) 

         You cannot look to your own wisdom, you cannot rest in your own understanding, you must look for the supernatural, miraculous and powerful leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s impossible to solve these problems on your own. Lean not to your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.
        Most of the time I don’t know what to do. We always have to ask God and look to Him for His direct revelation, or His impression, or His leading, or His burden, or His guidance, with it being confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses, or by His Word, or by some fleece, or by some revelation, or by some leading. God has always worked with us that way.
        We’ve tried to never depend upon our own wisdom, our own understanding, or what we think is the thing to do, but to look directly to Him and expect His direct revelatory, revolutionary, immediate guidance.
       
(from lecture by David Berg – 22 Oct, 1970)
 

       “Missionaries are expected to set goals, [make] action plans and work towards fulfilling them… I personally don’t mind putting things down on paper. Knowing what one is trying to achieve and working towards ministry goals brings a sense of direction and satisfaction. Only one problem, though: Year after year, only a small percentage of what is put down on paper happens as it was envisioned. We plan, but He leads. As He leads, we follow. More often than not, He leads in directions we had not anticipated.”
       
It has always been thus in missionary work – or any other ministry. When the Apostle Paul and his companions tried to go to Bithynia on one of their carefully planned mission journeys, “… the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” (Acts 16:7). Later, Paul had a vision of someone standing and appealing to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9b).
       
“What usually happens when our plans don’t come to fruition as envisioned is we double the effort, work harder and plow forward, insisting at all costs we be permitted into Phrygia and Bithynia,” Muse observes. “After all, Asia needs the Gospel and we know that it is just Satan that is standing in our way! But Paul didn’t blame Satan for not having been allowed to go to these places and do what he had planned. He understood it was Jesus who was calling the shots.”
       
Planning is good. Biblical, even. Just remember who calls the shots.
        (
Excerpt from “When ‘Plan A’ Fails” – by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press, Mar 10/2011)

Acts 16 map

Map of Second Missionary Journey

V 11-12  Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis,
       
and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days.

“Samothrace.” An island in the Aegean Sea about halfway between Asia and the Greek mainland. They stayed there overnight to avoid the hazards of night traveling. “Neapolis.” Port city for Philippi. So here they made the historic landing on the shores of Europe about to bring the Gospel from Asia to this new continent.

“Philippi… the foremost city… a colony.” Philippi lay  10 miles inland from Neapolis and was named after Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. It had become a Roman “colony”, meaning it had special status in the Roman empire. The city was given the right of freedom (that is, was self-governing and independent of the provincial government), had tax exemption status, and its citizens had the right to hold land in full ownership.

V 13   And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.

“We went out of the city… and spoke to the women.” Evidently, the required number of 10 Jewish men who were heads of households (the number that was needed to form a synagogue) did not exist in Philippi. The group were all womenfolk as well. So for their meetings they had to go “out of the city to the riverside”.

Phillippi

V 14  Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

“A certain woman named Lydia.” Lydia was “from the city of Thyatira”, Asia, in the Roman province of Lydia in what is now western Turkey. “Seller of purple.” Purple dye was extremely expensive and only the wealthy or royalty could afford purple garments. She already worshiped God but didn’t know yet about Jesus until “the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul”.

V 15   And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

“She begged us, saying, If you have judged me to be faithful.” Because of her newly gained understanding of what Paul and his team represented, Lydia considered it a great honor to host these “ambassadors” of the Kingdom.

“Come to my house.” Lydia likely had a prosperous business selling purple garments to important people, and along with that a large enough house that could be used to accommodate the missionary team.

V 16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling.

“A certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination.” “Divination” was the translation given for the Greek word “puthon” (a “python spirit”). In Greek mythology Python was a snake that guarded Pythia, the oracle/prophetess at Delphi, a city in Greece. As the priestess of Apollo (the Greek god of music, poetry, prophecy, and medicine), she was reputed to be a source of divine wisdom and prophetic counsel. The spirits of divination were associated with her and were known as “python spirits”. The “slave girl” whom Paul’s team encountered was a medium through whom one of these particular demons could tell fortunes, give special knowledge, etc. It was a lucrative business: the woman “brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling”.

(Incidentally, some scholars have interpreted this passage to mean that the young woman was a ventriloquist; perhaps, but it’s hard to see how that would tie in with the words “divination” and “fortune-telling” used in this verse to describe the woman’s gifts.)

V 17  This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”

“This girl followed… and cried.” “Cried” suggests the spirit was clamoring with a fairly loud voice.  It was proclaiming what they were doing: “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation”. What the Enemy was hoping to accomplish by this is hard to say, but since it was a demon speaking, the tone likely would have been a mocking one, and if nothing else, the woman was a distraction and irritation to Paul and his team; her pestering spirit was undermining and interfering with their work of spreading the Gospel. 

V 18   And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

Paul, greatly annoyed.” Paul had let this go on “many days”. Perhaps he suspected that confronting the demon would cause trouble in the city, or maybe there was some other reason for his delay. Had Paul let the demon continue, it would have appeared that the woman was his partner in spreading the Gospel; this certainly would have created the wrong impression in the minds of those Paul and his team were trying to reach.

Finally, Paul commands the demon “in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her”. Note that Paul spoke directly to the demon, commanding it to leave. This was the kind of spiritual authority that Jesus exercised and passed on to His disciples.

V 19-21  But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
       
And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city;
       
“and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”

 “These men, being Jews.” Anti-Semitism was rampant in the Roman empire around that time, so it was easy to use their Jewish nationality against them. The Emperor Claudius already “had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome”. (Acts 18:2) Thus, Paul and Silas were seized on trumped-up charges, whereas Timothy and Luke, who were Greeks, were spared.

“Teach customs… not lawful for us… to receive.” Technically, it was true that Roman citizens were not to engage in any foreign religion that had not been sanctioned by the state. It was not true, however, that they did “exceedingly trouble our city”. (v 20) But to abide in their calling, the apostles could not let the laws of the land stop them from carrying out their God-ordained commission of preaching the Gospel. 

V 22-23  Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods.
       
And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely.

“Magistrates.” Every Roman “colony” had two of them. They were supposed to uphold Roman justice, but these ones in Philippi failed to do so: there was no investigation of the charges, no holding a proper hearing or giving Paul and Silas a chance to defend themselves; they had not been convicted of a crime, so the beatings they received were illegal. It was an absurd chain of events caused by the simple fact that Paul and his team had dared to invade the Devil’s territory – this was the crux of the matter – and it made the Enemy so angry he whipped the city and the magistrates into a big frenzy over it. He instigated them to act quickly and irrationally before taking time to consider more carefully what they were doing: “the multitude rose up together… the magistrates tore off their clothes… laid many stripes on them.”

“Rods.” These were wooden rods that were used as symbols of the magistrates’ authority.

V 24   Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

“Put them into the inner prison.” The most secure part of the jail. “In the stocks.” In this form of punishment the legs were fastened into an uncomfortable, spread-apart position.

V 25-26  But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
       
Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.

“Paul and Silas praying and singing hymns  [praises – KJV].The two apostles rose above their dire circumstances, pulling out the weapon of extreme praise. And as a result “there was a great earthquake” and “all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.”

How amazing the power of praise! The two apostles simply called the Devil’s bluff. They knew their treatment was unjust; they knew they had a powerful God on their side, and they didn’t have anything to worry about. So they acted on their faith by singing praises to the Lord.

Their praise and attitude of faith, like some kind of magic potion, reached directly into the heart of God, releasing His power, which was soon followed by extraordinary results – the earthquake, something only God could have done – as He reacted forcefully to uphold and protect His servants. 

V 27-28  And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.
       
But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

“The keeper of the prison… was about to kill himself.” To the jailor this seemed a preferable course of action, rather than face a painful execution. A Roman soldier who let a prisoner escape paid for it with his own life. “But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.’”

Why the prisoners did not try to escape at this point we are not told. Perhaps after listening to the comforting words of Paul and Silas who were “praying and singing hymns to God” and then witnessing the earthquake, they came so under the spell of the two apostles that they were afraid to disobey their wishes. In those days people were very conscious of and respectful of the supernatural and of those who had power in that realm. 

V 29   Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.

“Fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.” The jailor was extremely grateful that the prisoners had not escaped.

Jailor1

V 30-34  And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
       
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
       
Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
       
And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.
       
Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

The jailor then “brought them out”. Having witnessed the miraculous earthquake and unlocking of the doors and shackles, he was more than ready to find salvation: “What must I do to be saved?” And the answer to that was very simple: “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And “he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” 

V 35-37  And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, “Let those men go.”
       
So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.”
       
But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.”

The magistrates had ordered to “Let those men go”. What brought on this sudden change of heart we are not told. Likely, the earthquake was regarded as an omen of divine displeasure, and this could have pricked their consciences. Or, if the jailor had given an account of what had transpired that night, this also would have affected the magistrates’ thinking.

“But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly [in the marketplace], uncondemned Romans… and now do they put us out secretly?” To inflict corporal punishment on a Roman citizen was a serious crime, especially since it was done without a trial. (The Romans were known in history for their superior system of laws and ideals of justice and would have taken a dim view of the magistrates’ actions.)

“Let them come themselves and get us out.” Paul and Silas didn’t just think, “Well, thank God, that’s over with. Now let’s get out of here fast while we can.” Rather than exit too quickly, Paul and Silas wanted to summon the magistrates first and make them feel somewhat accountable for their deeds. Rather than letting them off the hook too easily, Paul wanted the officials to realize the disciples were not pushovers and would fight for their rights if need be. This would have the effect also of making it clear to the Philippians that the apostles were not troublemakers or lawbreakers, which would thereby legitimize and protect the fledgling Philippian church.

       I’ll tell you, if you let people push you around you’ll never get anywhere in this kind of world! You’ve got to fight for your rights!… So the moral of the whole thing is: Don’t let people push you around. Fight! Even if you can’t win, fight just the same… What have you got to be afraid of? God’s on your side. You’re with the Lord. He’s the winner. He can’t possibly lose! (from lecture by David Berg – 5 Apr, 1980)

V 38   And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans.

“They were afraid.” The magistrates realized they were in danger of losing their offices; there was even the possibility that Philippi’s privileges could be revoked over this incident. In spite of her greater autonomy, the city was still under the dominion of an outside power; as a conquered territory, Philippi had to tread carefully so as not to offend the ruling power of Rome.

V 39-40  Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city.
       
So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

“They… pleaded with them.” The magistrates had to beg Paul and Silas “to depart from the city”. At this point Luke, the apparent author of the Book of Acts, stayed in Philippi and didn’t rejoin Paul’s team until six years later. (Acts 20:6) Of all the churches founded by Paul and his team, Philippi turned out to be one of the best.

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 17)

ACTS 15: Law versus Grace Confrontation!

Acts 16 map

V 1    And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

“Unless you are circumcised… you cannot be saved.” The justification for this false teaching was based on a rule which God Himself had instituted in the Old Testament (Gen 17:9-14). Circumcision had always been the ultimate sign (before Jesus’ coming) of one’s “worship” or commitment to the true God. But now that Jesus had come, and God was opening wide the door of faith to the Gentiles, that rule had become far too restrictive. John the Baptist declared plainly, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life.” (John 3:36) Faith is now the only precondition to finding acceptance with God, to finding salvation. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6) “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

[The 10th chapter of Acts about Peter’s meeting with Cornelius brought out a major weakness in the Early Church, that of] prejudice, tradition! The Church was already getting in a rut! All these new Gentiles were being saved & they weren’t getting circumcised! They were eating the wrong kind of meat and they weren’t observing the Sabbath. It got the Church all upset, so they had to have a big convention about it [which is what this chapter 15 is all about].
       
They finally had to come to agreement though, thank the Lord! The Holy Spirit got all this worked out, and they finally had to confess, “Well, how can we deny them membership in the Church if they’ve already been saved, baptised and filled with the Holy Ghost, and God is using them!
       
“They’re preaching the Gospel and performing miracles. Look what God is doing with them!” Now the Church had to admit them. They had to get rid of a lot of their prejudices and their traditions to follow the Lord! Praise God! Amen?
       
(from lecture by David Berg – 14 May, 1967)

This doctrinal issue arose around A.D. 48-49, some 15 years after the founding of the Church, and about 10 years after Gentiles had been accepted into the Church, starting with the conversion of Cornelius and his household. In Church history much effort has been wasted and needless division caused by fighting over minor doctrinal issues. Nevertheless, when a major issue like this one threatens to weaken and stall the growth of the Church, then it is needful to tackle it and set the record straight. Whether or not to enforce the Law of Moses was the first such issue to come up in the Early Church. The next one, referred to briefly in the Book of 1John and Revelation 2:24, was the infiltration of Gnostic doctrine (briefly summed up in Acts 8 study).

Throughout the history of Christianity, doctrine and interpretation of doctrine has played a major role, and often development of doctrine had to do with controversial matters that needed to be decided by the leaders of the church. Within the first decades of Christianity, when Paul and the apostles were alive, the early church leaders had to meet to discuss and settle issues which were bringing division.
     
 The problem [in Acts 15] was, at its root, a theological question. Jesus said the Gospel would be preached to the gentiles. He told His disciples, all of whom were Jews from Israel, to go everywhere and make disciples of everyone [Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15], which meant preaching to and converting non-Jews to the faith. Those like Paul, who preached the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, were converting gentiles right and left and weren’t requiring them to adhere to Jewish law; whereas some Christians of Jewish descent believed converts had to follow the laws of Moses. There was disagreement as to what should be expected of gentile believers, so elders of the church eventually had to get together to sort out both the practical and doctrinal side of things, which they did. The outcome was favorable to the gentile position…
       
Similar situations occurred as time went on, when controversies arose regarding Christian beliefs. There was disagreement, so the leaders of the church, initially called bishops and later referred to as the church fathers, got together in councils to discuss, debate, pray about, and decide what was true Christian faith based on Scripture. Many of these men are acknowledged as great men of church history by all Christians, including the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant faiths of today. The conclusions of these church fathers have been held as true since the time they were decided upon in the third to the seventh centuries, because their conclusions were based on Scripture and on truths taught in the Bible…
       
(“The Heart of It All: Introduction”  by Peter Amsterdam, April 12, 2011) 

V 2    Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

“No small dissension and dispute.” Having already confronted Jewish religious leaders who had opposed their work of bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles in central Turkey, Paul and Barnabas were more than ready to “contend earnestly for the faith” against this false doctrine which threatened to slow down the growth of the Early Church. (Jude 3) In the sphere of witnessing, usually it pays to be agreeable and kind in order to succeed in drawing people to the Lord, but there are times, like this one, when it pays to disagree.

I’ll say to you what my brother once said to me. He said, “Dave, don’t let others drag you down to their level. – You pull them up to yours!” – A leader will keep on course and try to keep others on course in the direction he’s going and pull them his way. But if you have a tendency to be pulled other ways by followers, then you’re not much of a leader, if you can’t buck the tide. Sometimes it pays to disagree, especially when you know it’s not good. (from lecture by David Berg – 23 Aug, 1980)

Probably these “certain men… from Judea”, because they had come from the mother church in Jerusalem, were regarded with great respect, and their opinions carried more weight than they should have. Because of the deep disagreement, they could only manage to agree on one thing – to “go up to Jerusalem” and get the matter ironed out with the ”apostles and elders, about this question”

So when you have a problem to handle or a decision to make, don’t be afraid to call your co-workers and fellow believers together for prayer, discussion and unanimous agreement. This is the way the Early Church was run, and the way any wise leader will operate.
       
The Early Church was not bound together by a dictatorial, hierarchical, centralised government, frozen together with formalities, but they were only united by His Spirit, governed by His Word, and melted together in love, with an absolute minimum of supervision by the apostles. Their unity was in the Spirit and in Love and in Doctrine, not in highly technical organisation.
       
Neither Peter nor Paul were popes, dictating every move. They were too busy running around doing their own jobs, fighting their own battles, starting their own churches and winning their own disciples.
       
They could only advise and counsel others from what they themselves had already learned, but the people themselves had to make their own decisions, with the help of the Lord by His Spirit.
       
(from lecture
by David Berg – August, 1974) 

In the past a decision like this might have come via the proclamation of a prophet, but the New Testament church employed more deliberation and counsel; this probably helped the church to make better well-rounded decisions with a wider basis of support and understanding.

V 3-4  So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.
       
And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

On their way to Jerusalem and in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas and company testified of “the conversion of the Gentiles” and “they caused great joy to all the brethren”. 

V 5    But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

In Jerusalem all was going well until ”some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up”, and then it came time to get down to business and settle the doctrinal issue that was threatening to split the Church. About 10 years earlier the apostle Peter had a remarkable and direct revelation that the Gentiles should be received without circumcision or keeping the Law of Moses, and the apostles and elders had given their assent to this (in Acts 10). However, there had arisen in the meantime this “sect” of Pharisee believers who persisted in teaching that circumcision was a necessary condition for salvation.

V 6-7  Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.        And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.

After there had been “much dispute”, Peter, whose authority was much respected, got up and gave a strong defense of salvation by grace through faith alone. He testified of the salvation of Cornelius and his household, for which God did not require circumcision, keeping the law, or any other ritual. (Acts 10:44-48, 11:17-18)

V 8-9  “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us,
       
and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

“Giving them the Holy Spirit.” By doing this, God showed that their salvation was genuine without any need for legalistic requirements. “Even as He did unto us.” The Jews were the first of God’s children to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. But just as children must learn not to be selfish with their toys or conceited about their status, so the Jews had to learn they couldn’t be exclusive nor begrudge the Gentiles being given the same favor from God that they had enjoyed for generations.

“And made no distinction between us and them.” This must have been difficult for some of the Jewish Christians to swallow since they felt their Jewish heritage had earned them higher status before God than the non-Jewish Christians.

V 10    “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

“Why do you test God by putting a yoke.” Peter’s challenge here to the legalists served notice to them about the risks they were taking: testing God’s patience by making Gentiles think that, in order to earn salvation, they would have to keep the laws of Moses. This was a heavy load that even the Jews, who were accustomed to the practices of the law from early childhood, were not “able to bear”. To lay such a burden on Gentile believers was almost a form of tyranny and threatened to hinder the spread of the Gospel. And of course, it contradicted what Jesus taught, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) The Laws of Moses had served their purpose to preserve the Jewish nation through centuries of political change and religious turmoil. It was designed to keep a lid on the people, to protect them from the corrupting influences that surrounded them. In those days a person’s righteousness could almost be measured by how diligent he was in following the Law. But now, as Paul later wrote, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:21) The Messiah had come. And with the “grace and truth” of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, believers were empowered to rise above their carnal nature (which the Law had helped to keep in check) and were driven by God’s love and power to reach the world outside the boundaries of Judaism, rather than hide behind the fortress of the Mosaic Law.

For the Law had its shortcomings. It was a rules-based model which tended to cause its adherents to focus on minor legalities while “neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23) Long ago the Lord had said, “Behold the days are coming… when I will make a new covenant… I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:31,33-34) The Law could only change people by imposing righteousness from without. But that kind of forced righteousness was ineffective when compared to the “grace and truth” of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, by which righteousness would spring from within. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

V 11   “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

 “Through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” That was the final summarizing statement. Grace, accepting God’s divine favor through Christ, this is the key to Salvation. Working to keep the laws of Moses, although it might be useful in a person’s life, would not be enough to earn acceptance with God. Perhaps to the Concision this new idea of salvation by grace would have seemed like a “yoke”, but only because it upended their whole sense of righteousness and feelings of superiority that were based on their dutiful keeping of the law. 

I didn’t need any further big doctrinal arguments to convince me [about salvation by faith alone, not works], and I couldn’t figure out why Paul had to spend so much time harping on the issue with the Jews until I got to Israel and had this revelation from the Lord. Paul knew his Jews! Even we modern Jewish Christians have always had the feeling we had a slight edge on the rest of the Christians! God had just a little bit more preference for us – just a little more respect of persons in our case, that we were just a little more Christian than any other kind since we had our salvation from both directions. Even though it plainly says, “There’s neither Jew nor Greek in Christ Jesus”, that we’re all one and all equal in Him, we Jewish Christians have always felt a little elite, for whom all other Christians should be very thankful and give due deference! Even the fanatically Jewish apostle Paul seems to have a hint of a hangover along this Jewish advantage kick in some places, but I guess we’ll have to forgive him for it. Just as we’ll have to forgive the rest of the Jewish Christians for their “behold, I am a Jewish Christian” attitude, because there’s no difference, except they were the first to hear and believe, first in chronology, in time, not in preference or prestige. – Which is what is meant by the phrase “to the Jew first.” [Romans 1:16,2:10] Their advantage was purely chronological and geographical, not in any way spiritual! (from lecture by  David Berg – 2 Feb, 1971)

V 12   Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.

”Then all the multitude kept silent” after Peter’s talk. “And listened to Barnabas and Saul.” The two apostles took the floor again “declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.” Their testimonies confirmed the truth of Peter’s declaration, and after this nobody cared to argue the matter any further. 

V 13   And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me:

Then it came James’ turn to offer his contribution to the debate. Like Peter, James’ authority was much respected. (He was head of the Jerusalem church and the Lord’s half-brother.) He was able to give a solid foundation to the whole issue by explaining it from the viewpoint of the Word. 

V 14-17  “Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.        “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:

‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the LORD who does all these things.’
 

James refers to a Scripture (Amos 9:11-12), saying that God “will rebuild the tabernacle of David… So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles, who are called by My name”. From this Scripture (and many others), it is obvious that God’s plan was to enlarge the “tabernacle of David” so that the future Kingdom of God on Earth would not be a Jews-only paradise but would include the Gentiles. Significantly, no mention is made in that Scripture about becoming Jewish converts. The coming of Christ was the event that restored “the tabernacle of David” ; it had “fallen down” during Old Testament times, but in the days of the Early Church, the “house of David” had become vibrant again and capable now of reaching out to the rest of mankind. 

V 18-19  “Known to God from eternity are all His works.
       “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,

“Known to God from eternity are all His works.” It’s like saying, “God knows what He’s doing, so who are we to insist on following our plan as if we know better than God?”

“Trouble” means “to throw something in the path of someone to annoy them.” The Judaizers were to cease from troubling and annoying the Gentile converts. And so ended for the time being the struggle between the two opposing views on what was required of mankind to find salvation and acceptance with God.

The most raging religious controversy the world has ever known has always been between the do-it-yourself religions and the God-alone-can-save-you kind. Man has always been trying to save himself with just a little help from God thrown in, so he doesn’t have to thank God too much but can give himself most of the credit, and do his own thing and go his own way.
       
This was the biggest church fight amongst the early Christians: whether you could just believe and be saved, or didn’t you have to keep the law too, to make it? The Jewish Christians just couldn’t help but believe that Jews were a little bit better than Gentiles, even amongst Christians. “Sure, we believe that Jesus is the Messiah,” they said, “but we still have to help Him save us by keeping the old Law…”
       
(from lecture by David Berg – 2 Feb, 1971) 

V 20   “but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.

“Write to them to abstain from.” James and the others had legitimate concerns.  Since Jew and Gentile would work together a lot more in the future, there needed to be some give and take. If Jews were not going to impose their laws of Moses and circumcision, then it was only fair that Gentiles refrain from some of their more extreme practices. He lists four major pagan violations of the laws of Moses that Jews would find particularly offensive.

“Things polluted by idols.” Food offered to idols would be sold later in temple butcher shops. Anything to do with idolatry, especially consuming such foods, was particularly repulsive to Jews.

“Sexual immorality.” Or “fornication” (KJV).This applied likely to associating with temple prostitutes and engaging in the orgies and sexual rites associated with the worship of pagan gods.

“Things strangled, and from blood.” These were dietary restrictions of the Jews. If anything was strangled, the blood had not drained from it. The Jews were particularly conscious about eating blood. All the way back in Noah’s day God had commanded, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (Gen 9:4) Since blood is the life of the flesh, it was given symbolic significance by the Lord, and it was through the shedding of blood in sacrifices that atonement for sins could be received. So eating blood – which was (and still is) a common practice in witchcraft – was a particularly strong prohibition in the Old Testament. There were also underlying health benefits to this practice, so, just from that point of view, it was a good rule to follow.

V 21   “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

 “Moses… throughout many generations.” It seems James was saying there was no need to promote the Mosaic law any more than was already being done. If anyone felt they needed to know about it, there were already plenty of preachers “in every city… in the synagogues every Sabbath day” to whom they could listen.

In his role as an administrator (of the Jerusalem church), James seemed able to analyze the situation fairly quickly and proposed a practical and workable solution to the growing crisis in the church.

V 22  Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.

“Judas… and Silas.” Not much is known of Judas. Silas accompanied Paul on his next missionary journey and later worked as Peter’s scribe for his first epistle. (1 Peter 5:12) The Jerusalem church had made sure to send their best people – leading men among the brethren” – with Paul and Barnabas.

V 23   They wrote this letter by them:

The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:

“Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.” Antioch was the capital of the areas of Syria and Cilicia, which were administered as a single Roman district. The churches in Cilicia (near to Tarsus) may have been founded by Paul after he fled Jerusalem. (Acts 9:30) 

V 24

Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” – to whom we gave no such commandment -

“Troubled.” A different Greek word from the one used in verse 19; it means “to deeply upset, disturb, perplex, or create fear”. “Unsettling” was used in Greek to speak of someone going bankrupt. Words are real things, and this false doctrine of the Concision was no small matter as it was already creating chaos in the Church. It had the potential to bankrupt the Gentiles’ faith and service for the Lord, to create fear and uncertainty during those impressionable, early stages of their new-found faith.

       For a few years as a young Christian I, too, was deceived by the delusive doctrine of… off-again, on-again, gone-again, eternal insecurity of the believer, and … religion of works, until one day as a teenager I was thrilled to discover the simple truth of John 3:36. After years of insecurity and lack of assurance, discouragement and defeat I found all I had to do was believe, and that did it! “He that believeth on the Son hath Everlasting Life.” – right now! – No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it… none of this sinless perfection of the sanctimonious self-righteous, holier-than-thou, so-called holiness saints! I just hadn’t been able to make it, and I knew it! It seemed like the harder I tried to be good, the worse I got! “Oh, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Rom 7:24-25] And that’s all there is to that – nothing else, no other way, no righteousness of your own, none of your own good works. – None of these can keep you saved any more than they can save you in the first place! Only Jesus can do it! He not only saves you, but He also does the works through you – and it’s all Jesus – none of your damn self or your own stinking self-righteousness – just Jesus! And boy was I relieved, ’cause I knew I could never make it otherwise! It had to be God! I just couldn’t do it! – So He did! That’s it! (from lecture by David Berg - 2 Feb, 1971)

V 25-26

it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Risked their lives.” As in Acts 13:50 and 14:19-20. The dangers they went through for the sake of spreading the Gospel had proven their faith and gave Paul and Barnabas a certain degree of righteous authority that the false teachers could not claim to have. In 1Corinthians 11:23-27 Paul lists the many perils and hardships he had to endure for the sake of the Gospel during his lifetime.

V 27-29

We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.
If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

“You will do well.” In other words, these were just recommendations, good advice, that was all; they were not meant to be viewed as conditions for salvation. 

V 30-35  So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter.
         When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words.
        And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles.
        However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there.
        Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

“They were sent off.” Paul and Barnabas, Judas and Silas journeyed to Antioch – the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey – and “delivered the letter” with its happy news of the Jerusalem church’s unanimous and official judgment in favor of salvation by grace, and the Antioch disciples “rejoiced over its encouragement”.

“Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also.” Like Paul and Barnabas, Judas and Silas were “prophets”, a word which in the New Testament came to mean more than just a foreteller of future events but one who is an inspired teacher, evangelist, or “public expounder” (Young’s Concordance).

Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch… with many others also.”This may have been the time when the apostle Peter made his Antioch visit, the one mentioned in the Book of Galatians. Shortly before this trip, Peter’s timely intervention at the Jerusalem conference had succeeded in turning the tide in favour of Barnabas and Paul and their stand on salvation by grace without the works of the Mosaic law. (verses 7-11)  But here in Antioch, it appears that Peter waffled quite a bit in his convictions. For when the Judaizers showed up – supposedly sent from James – Peter seemed to want to return to his old comfort zone.

By disregarding the new social situation he was now in, Peter wound up behaving in such a way that it looked as if he was supporting the Judaizers’ legalistic stance (that to attain salvation it was necessary to be circumcised and keep the works of the law). Paul makes mention of this incident in Galations: “for before certain men came from James, he [Peter] would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.” (Galatians 2:12) Peter was allowing himself to be pulled into the camp of the Judaizers instead of upholding the policy towards the Gentiles that the church had agreed on not very long ago. Herein we learn something about the price of leadership: every action is observed and copied by others, and “you are not your own”, but “you were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Because of Peter’s reputation, any deviation from the straight and narrow could tend to have an outsized negative influence in the church. And as a result of his careless conduct, “the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.” (Galatians 2:13)

Since it was such an important issue at the time in the Early Church, Paul had no choice but to publicly admonish Peter about the matter: [Paul] said to Peter before them all… Why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (verse 14) We all have our dark moments that we would rather forget if we could – Paul had his share of those as well – and for Peter this was no doubt one of them. But such “intolerable compliments” can have the great benefit of helping to keep us humble and steering us back on the right track.

Peter did indeed take the admonishment well and did not harbour any grudge against Paul. (2Peter 3:15) It seems also he didn’t hang around in Jerusalem any more after this. At least we know that when Paul returned some years later (Acts 21), James was there, but it seems Peter had left. Perhaps too much association with the Jerusalem church had taken its toll over the years, and it took this incident in Antioch to precipitate a much-needed change in Peter’s life. 

(Jesus speaking in prophecy:) When you compromise, when you don’t stand up for what you know is right, it’s often because of Lethargy. When you don’t do what you know you should, and you choose to just go along with the flow of what’s happening because you don’t want to deal with the repercussions, that’s Lethargy… Lethargy silences your resolve to stand up and be counted… 

It seems that Peter was probably trying to avoid such “repercussions” – criticism, even hostility – from the legalists by disassociating himself from the Gentiles.

The danger with long-term service for Christians is that of allowing their life to go into remote control…
     
 
Lethargy is one of the long-term weapons that the Enemy tries to use on Christians to wear them down and cool off their lifelong service for Me. – To get them to settle down, lose the urgency and the fire of their service, to become comfortable and laid-back. But My Spirit never grows old. Though your flesh may grow old‚ My Spirit never ages; it’s always the same. When you have My Spirit in you, then the things I inspire and empower you to do are as exciting and fresh and alive and electric as the day you got saved!
       
The secret is to stay plugged in and moving with the heat and fire of My Spirit! If you do, you will never cool off or give in or succumb to the hazards of long-term service, whether it’s lethargy or tiredness or burnout or cooling off…
       
(from publication of The Family International – 11/2003)

V 36   Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”

“Let us… visit our brethren in every city… and see how they are doing.” It was vital to consolidate their gains, that is, follow-up on their newly-won brethren and continue to teach and strengthen them in the faith.

V 37-39  Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.
       
But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.
       Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus;

“The contention.” Paul and Barnabas had a falling out over the issue of John Mark. Barnabas wanted to bring him, his cousin, on the next journey, whereas Paul no longer trusted him after his desertion in Pamphylia. (13:13) Later it seems Paul and Barnabas reconciled and worked together again in Corinth. (1Corinthians 9:6)

V 40  but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.

“Paul chose Silas.” Silas was a Jew, which gave him access to the synagogues, and was also, like Paul or Barnabas, a Roman citizen, so he was quite free to travel in the Roman empire. Because of his reputation as a respected leader in the Jerusalem church, Silas could help to reinforce Paul’s teaching (that was under attack in those days) of salvation by grace through faith.

V 41    And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

“Strengthening the churches.” Again, they “went through Syria and Cilicia” to continue the important task of following up on and strengthening their new disciples.

Acts 16 map

Map of  Second Missionary Journey

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 16)

ACTS 14: Central Turkey Journey Continues; Paul and Barnabas Mistaken for Jupiter and Mercury!

Map 1st journey

V 1    Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.

 “Iconium” was a cultural “melting pot” type of city full of Greeks, Jews, Roman colonists, plus the native Phrygians, located 80 miles southeast of Pisidian Antioch.

V 2    But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.

“The unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles.” As in Antioch the Jews again “stirred up” persecution, using deceitful words and “poisoned their minds against the brethren.” Throughout history the established order has used this tactic against those of whom they disapproved. Also known as propaganda, this old tactic has been perfected nowadays into a fine art through the application of the principles of social psychology. As long as the established order can control the media outlets of newspapers, radio, television, the internet, and so on, then it is easy for them in the modern day to sway the masses in whatever direction they please.

V 3    Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

“They stayed there a long time.” Rather than leaving at the first sign of trouble, Paul and Barnabas continued “speaking boldly in the Lord” who granted “signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” We don’t know exactly what the apostles did, but their miracles were the Lord’s way of “bearing witness” – confirming that these were His words being spoken by Paul and Barnabas.

V 4    But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles.

“The city was divided.” Jesus had once told His disciples, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51) And John 7:43 states, “So there was a division among the people because of Him.” Jesus also said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Paul and Barnabas were bringing the peace of God, hoping to help their fellow Jews break out of their old ways. But they would none of it. As wonderful as the new way of the Prince of Peace was, the apostles could not bring Him to those who refused to change.

David said once about his enemies, “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.” (Psalm 120:7) And that was the situation that Paul often had to face. Much as he would have liked to bring peace, his efforts only brought division. But his and Barnabas’ efforts did initiate the process of change, and eventually Asia Minor (Turkey) became a major center of Christianity – the Orthodox Church, and even the state religion of the Byzantine (east Roman) Empire (from A.D. 325 to 1453).

“Apostles.” This word means “one who is sent”. In a stricter sense it was used to refer to those had seen Christ and were sent by Him; Paul would have fallen into this category since he had seen Christ on the Damascus road. But in the general sense, anyone who is sent by Christ to communicate the Word of God is an “apostle”. 

V 5-7 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them,        they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.         And they were preaching the gospel there.

“Stone them.” This confirms that the “unbelieving Jews” were the instigators; stoning was their method of execution, especially for blasphemy, which is what they thought Paul and Barnabas were guilty of.

“They… fled.” But not until they had done much work there; they stuck to the job and called the Devil’s bluff, ignoring the empty threats and criticisms. They only fled when they knew their enemies were about to make “a violent attempt… to abuse and stone them”. “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” By following the Lord’s direction, they didn’t flee prematurely; they were steadfast yet flexible enough to pull up stakes before the situation spiraled out of control.

“Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia.” Lycaonia was a district in the Roman province of Galatia*, to the southeast of Iconium. (* After a failed attempt to attack Rome in the 3rd Century B.C., some tribes of the Gauls fled from Gaul, now France, to the plains and mountains of central Turkey, which became known as Galatia.)

Map 1st journey

Map of First Missionary Journey

V 8-10 And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.        This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed,        said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.

“In Lystra.” Only 18 miles from Antioch. They started preaching there without going to any synagogue, which probably meant the Jewish population there was fairly small. However, Lystra was the home of Paul’s future team member, Timothy. (Acts 16:1)

“A cripple from his mother’s womb.” In other words, a hopeless case that only a miracle could heal. ”Seeing that he had faith to be healed” – often a prerequisite for healing. When healing people, Jesus often made remarks to this effect: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “According to your faith let it be to you” “Your faith has made you well.” (Mat 9:28-29, Lk 17:19) If you see someone has faith in your power as a man or woman of God, take advantage of it. Their faith can act like a magnet that draws out the power of God. 

V 11-13 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”        And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.        Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

“In the Lycaonian language.” Not understanding their language, the apostles were unable to guess the intentions of the people.

“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” According to local legend, the gods Zeus and Hermes (Latin: Jupiter and Mercury) had visited Lystra incognito once upon a time, asking for food and lodging but were turned away. In vengeance the gods drowned everyone in a flood except for one peasant couple who had received them. Not wishing to repeat their ancestors’ mistakes, the people, who believed Barnabas and Paul to be the same two gods, set about to honor and worship them. (Sounds like the plot for a situation comedy.)

Lystra

V 14-16 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out        and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,        “who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.

Paul and Barnabas “ran in among the multitude” and declared, “We also are men with the same nature as you.” They had to show that they were just ordinary men who happened to be worshiping an extraordinary God.

“They tore their clothes.” A Jewish way of repudiating blasphemy, which they would be guilty of if they were to accept the people’s worship of them. How different was the apostles’ reaction compared to that of king Herod when the people applauded him with shouts of “the voice of a god and not of a man!” (12:22)

“Living God, who made heaven, the earth, the sea.” Because the crowd did not know the Old Testament, Paul and Barnabas dropped their usual jargon about the “God of Abraham etc.” and adjusted their message to what the people could understand. Paul said later in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” The Creation itself bears testimony to the existence of a Creator.

But the tendency of mankind, when he is unable to see God or know about Him through His Word, is to worship His Creation, which is all they can see and understand about God. Nevertheless, people know, almost instinctively, that there has to be a Supreme Being behind the scenes who created the natural world. But since He can’t be seen, it is easy to turn instead to the things of the natural world that can be seen. So, to make their message understandable to the people of Lystra, Paul and Barnabas made mention of the visible things of nature, which the people were caught up in worshiping, and tried to shift their focus onto the invisible Creator behind it all. In modern times we have a similar tendency to worship the things of nature: the theory of evolution is the modern equivalent to the “pagan religions” of old and, like them, promotes worship of the Creation instead of the Creator. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen are not made of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3)

“Allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.” Since the days of Noah, mankind went on a downward spiral into ignorance of the true God. Only the Hebrews possessed the Word and the right understanding, and even they had trouble following it. Romans 1:18-25 describes well the process of man’s fall into unbelief.

V 17  “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

“Did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good.” The creation and God’s care for mankind bear testimony to His existence.

 V 18  And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.

“Could scarcely restrain the multitudes.” It is man’s nature to want to have someone in the flesh to worship. But “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)

V 19-20 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.        However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

“Jews… persuaded the multitudes.” They were a rather fickle bunch. Those who are too steeped in superstition can be hard to win over, and it seems they switched sides very quickly. As the Jews in Jesus’ day were disappointed that He did not overthrow the Romans, so these people in Lystra were disappointed that Paul and Barnabas did not live up to their superstitious expectations. They were unwilling to forsake their traditional belief system and so became easy prey for Paul and Barnabas’ Jewish enemies.

“They stoned Paul.” Again, this method of execution by stoning shows the unbelieving Jews were the main instigators of the persecution.

“He rose up.” It was not the Lord’s time to end Paul’s work, so even though they “stoned Paul”, even “supposing him to be dead”, it seems the Lord helped him to recover very quickly.

“To Derbe.” A city 40 miles southeast of Lystra.

V 21-23 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch,        strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”        So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

“Preached the Gospel… made many disciples.” It seems Paul and Barnabas didn’t suffer persecution here in Derbe, maybe because their enemies all thought Paul was dead.

“Returned again to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.”They were able to re-enter the cities they had been kicked out of. Their approach was more low-key this time because they came with a different purpose, that of “strengthening the souls of the disciples”. It would have been easier to take a shorter route southeast straight to their home base, but they preferred the longer route, re-tracing their steps in spite of the danger, for the sake of their new converts.

“Through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Paul and Barnabas had to let their new converts know that just because they were now saved did not mean their problems would come to an end. In fact, they might have more than before, but now they had the power to rise above, to receive the divine help needed to solve any problem. Likely, they were also teaching the concept of obtaining a full reward in the Afterlife. Revelation 2-3 has many references along this line: “To him who overcomes will I give to eat from the tree of life… the crown of life… the hidden manna… power over the nations… the morning star… confess his name before My Father and before His angels… write on him My new name… sit with Me on My throne.” (2:7,10,17,26,28, 3:5,12,21)

“Appointed elders.” It was important to leave behind a group of believers that was organized and had some leadership structure.

V 24-25 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.        Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

“Pisidia.” A mountainous, rugged region they had to pass through before getting back to the district of Pamphylia on the coast where they “preached the Word in Perga”. 

V 26-28  From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.        Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.        So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

Paul and Barnabas, leaving from Attalia, returned to their “home base”, Antioch in Syria. There they got the church together and testified of “all that God had done” and “that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” – a major breakthrough and step forward in the advancement of God’s work in the earth.

“A long time.” About one year they stayed in Antioch.

(Continue to ACTS, chapter 15)

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