ACTS (PRACTICES) OF APOSTLES
Commentary by Philip G. Roets STL, SSL
The first point to discuss is the title. In English this writing is called “The Acts of the Apostles.” This title is misleading. It seems to say this is a book about all the apostles and their actions.
The Greek title is more defined. The Greek is “Practices of Apostles.” This title indicates the book is about some apostolic ways of acting in various circumstances. That is exactly what the book is about. The author does not intend to tell us everything that happened in those first years but only some of the highlights and how issues were decided or settled. The author wanted to show what they thought of Jesus, how they put their beliefs into action, and what were the immediate results.
In Chapter 16:10, is the first of “WE” section. The author began to speak in the first person plural. When all these passages are analyzed and the details put together, the only person who would fit the picture is Luke.
Luke was a Greek medical doctor of those days. Luke treated Paul until his death in 67 A.D. Luke was responsible for the third Gospel Story. He definitely edited some, and probably all, of the letters of Paul.
The description of the Christians in their daily life is given in 2:42-47. This is probably the most important bit of information for the continuing life of the church. It describes how the members of the church can be effective and why they will be noticed. There is a pattern of action that can be easily followed and, if followed, will be truly effective. If the plan is not followed, the work that Jesus proposed will suffer or be lost.
This Holy Spirit is so important in Acts that the book is frequently called the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit or Holy Spirit is not a mystery but a powerful understandable reality. The word “spirit” is the translation of the Hebrew word, “ruah” which means “BREATH.” This concept or reality was the most important part of the story of the first Adam. He was a lump of clay. God “BREATHED” into the clay the “BREATH of life” and he became a living being. “Breath” was used as a symbol or sign of the dependence of Adam, and all mankind, on God at all times. This “Holy Breath” established the “koinonia” or community or sharing which characterized the first followers of Jesus.
ACTS OF APOSTLES. PROLOGUE. Acts 1:1-5.
Luke dedicated or addressed this work to the same “Theophilus” that he mentioned at the beginning of his gospel. We have nobody in history who was called specifically by the name, and yet two major writings were dedicated to him. I think this is a “generic” name for a Christian. The word is a compound word in Greek and means “Lover of God.” So Luke was addressing his ideas to anyone who truly loves God.
Luke pointed out that the plan of Jesus was for the apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they were filled with this “Holy Spirit.” Luke said that Jesus made the comparison between the baptism by John Baptist and the apostles being baptized in this Holy Spirit. Remember the word, “baptism” is a Greek word which means the complete immersion into something. The apostles would not begin their mission until they truly understood and were completely immersed in this Holy Spirit. They would be filled with this Holy Spirit and would establish the new creation begun by and in Jesus Christ, the Second Adam.
THE ASCENSION. Acts 1:6-11.
This is the continuation of the gospel story by Luke. The apostles were outside the city with Jesus. They showed by their questions that they did not understand what Jesus had said. They wanted to know if this was the moment in which he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. They were looking for a resurrection of the physical, earthly Kingdom of David that had been destroyed in 587 B.C.
Jesus said they were not to bother about times and dates and temporal kingdoms and such. They were to be open to this Holy Spirit and then go out as witnesses of Jesus and his teaching throughout the whole world.
As Jesus was saying this, he was lifted up and taken out of their presence and sight. The apostles were standing - staring at the sky. Suddenly two men in white were beside them and asking, “Why are you standing here staring into the sky? Jesus has been taken up into heaven and he will come back in the same way.”
Background Information - Age of the Apostles:
In art down through the ages, the apostles have been depicted as old men at the moment that Jesus left them on their own. It is important to correct this notion. Jesus was about thirty when he began his public work. John the Baptist was six months older. Jesus picked men around his own age. One apostle, John, was a teenager and this is explicitly stated. He was 13 or 14 when called. Mark was a young boy at the time of the death of Jesus as we are told in his gospel. The other apostles were in their late teens or early twenties. Paul was twenty-four years old at the time of his conversion. Peter and Paul died the same year, 67 A.D., in Rome. Paul was age 57 at the time and Peter was about the same. This is not old by our standards, today, but would have been more so at that time. Life expectancy was shorter at the time.
THE JERUSALEM CHURCH. Acts 1:12-5:42.
THE UPSTAIRS APARTMENT. Acts 1:12-26.
After Jesus was gone, the little group returned to Jerusalem to the upstairs apartment where they were staying. The eleven apostles were first named: Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, Jude, son of James. Judas Iscariot was no longer with the group. There were also women, including Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and some of his cousins. If there is any question as to the equality of women in that early Church, here is the answer. Even though the world of the times saw women as second class people, Jesus and his followers did not.
Remember, Luke told us in the gospel, that the Mother of Jesus was filled with this “Holy Spirit” from the time she conceived Jesus. All through her life with him, she had learned and understood more and more of the work that he intended to establish. Jesus was gone and Mary was now the guide to the full understanding of Jesus’ teaching.
Mary, in no way, took over the group. She did just as she had done at the wedding feast in Cana (J.2:1-11). At Cana, she saw a need and went to Jesus and said, “The wine is gone!” Then, in spite of the seeming indifference or refusal of Jesus, she goes to the servants and says, "Whatever he tells you to do, that you do.”
I think Peter would take over and begin to talk immediately. He would gradually get this brashness under control but he would always speak first and then think about what he has said. The first order of business, as Peter saw it, was to replace Judas. Two candidates were in the running: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. They drew lots and Matthias was chosen to take the place of Judas.
The term, Pentecost, means “fifty days.” It referred originally to a Jewish feast, celebrated “fifty days” after Passover and commemorating Moses receiving and promulgating the Law on Sinai. Luke tells how the apartment was suddenly filled with a great hubbub. Individual tongues of fire rested above the heads of each of them. They were filled with this Holy Spirit and began to speak excitedly in foreign tongues. They received the gift of “glossolalia”- (Greek) to talk excitedly.
Much has been said of this scene. We are told they were amazed that they all understood what was being said even though they came from all these different countries. However, you must note that Luke says explicitly that all the people were Jews and converts to Judaism. Hence I don’t think we have to posit or explain how the apostles could speak all these different languages. All the people understood the native Jewish language that was spoken at the time.
The gospels stressed that this Holy Spirit could come after Jesus left. After Jesus went, he sent the Holy Spirit. In Acts, Luke described what happened on Pentecost. This story is a parallel, by contrast, to Genesis, chapter 11, and the famous Tower of Balal or Babel.
The Genesis story is the Bible’s account of the origin of all the different languages in the world. Originally, in the Genesis legend, everyone spoke the same language. Then after the flood, they decided to build a tower to climb right up into the clouds. If another flood was forthcoming, they could climb to the top of the tower and keep their feet dry.
God looked down on their audacity and false pride and decided to put a stop to such vanity with one stroke. He started the varying languages. The people could not understand one another and so they had to live as loners or small groups. The variety of languages and the impossibility of understanding each other were evidence of the disunity and disharmony of the human race.
Jesus had come to reestablish the unity and community of mankind, and the coming of this Holy Spirit was the starting point. Luke described the apostles as having the gift of tongues so that they could stand up and talk all different languages and people would understand them. This was the evidence of the gift of this Holy Spirit.
My interpretation of the scene is this. Luke wanted to point out the key to the success of the early church. It came from the sharing or community of the members in this “Holy Spirit” or this sense of oneness and harmony. It was the direct opposite of the spirit of disunity and fighting which had been characteristic of the first Adam.
Jesus, Second Adam, pointed out the new spirit that should permeate his followers. He pointed out the harmony and community that would flow from this spirit and the resultant conversion of the whole world. The human race would be restored to unity and community as planned from the beginning. This Holy Spirit was the secret of the power of the church in the world and all society in those opening years. The people lived by this spirit and fostered this spirit of sharing at all times.
This was the Spirit that Jesus gave in his act of leaving. It was the remembrance of his presence and the evidence of his power. It took the apostles a few days to get this lesson, but when they learned what Jesus meant, they cooperated willingly and the work of Jesus was on its way. This Holy Spirit was the firm conviction in each Christian of his/her individual worth and the willingness to share this worth with others. The two basic notions were stressed: What I have belongs entirely to me and I am willing and happy to share it with you.
The value of each individual person was maintained in all its reality. Jesus loved each person and had died for each one. To be real disciples of Jesus, the followers had to be convinced of individual rights and worth, and then be completely willing to share these with others.
Now Peter stood with the eleven around him and addressed the crowd. He gave a summary of the work of Jesus and the role of the followers in the continuance and spread of that work. When the listeners asked what they must do to share in this offering, Peter said two things: They must have a complete change of attitude and life, and they must be baptized.
The first verb, “metanoieo” is usually translated by “repent.” I do not think this English verb has a full enough meaning to translate the Greek verb. This Greek verb means “to have a complete change of life and outlook.” This meant they must turn away from errors and immoral practices and turn toward the teachings of Jesus.
Peter’s first sermon reached the crowds. Almost 3000 people were converted and baptized that day and became followers of Jesus.
To conclude this story of the first Pentecost, Luke summed up the type of life led by these first followers. The people were
1) faithful to the teaching of the apostles,
2) faithful to the common sharing (koinonia),
3) faithful to the breaking of the bread, and
4) faithful to the prayers.
They lived together and owned everything in common. They sold anything they possessed, put the proceeds in the common center, and used whatever they needed. But at no time did they deny the right of personal worth and private property. They put their things in common and shared with each other because they wanted to. As Peter stressed in chapter 5, this sharing was completely voluntary.
They went to the Temple, every day, as usual, but they met in their homes for the breaking of bread. They shared their food gladly and generously. Everybody noticed and admired them. Their example meant that more people joined the group each day.
There are several conclusions that must be drawn. First of all, the teaching of the apostles was the basis for all their beliefs. They could add to or adapt what had been said. It meant that the apostolic teaching had to be the foundation.
Secondly, sharing was essential. In a short while, this common life would not be practical because the bookkeeping would become an impossible task. Peter said explicitly that this sharing was voluntary. No one had to have property in common to be a good follower of Jesus.
Thirdly, the breaking of bread was the main meal of the day. This had none of the ritualistic double talk that is now the theology of the Eucharist. To break bread meant that the people had their one main meal together, each day. This was what we would call a “potluck” supper or dinner. At the end of the meal, they always had the Friendship Cup: a cup of wine was passed around the group and each person dipped his/her piece of bread into the cup and ate the bread. This last cup of wine was the symbol of their union with and into Jesus Christ. There was none of this Transubstantiation or Real Presence theory or dogma.
Finally, they had their prayers in common. This, too, would be a continuation of their life as Jews. The point that was stressed again was this constant, free sharing of all that they possessed with each other. This sharing or generous giving brought in the new converts daily.
CURE OF LAME MAN. Acts 3:1-10.
This is a dramatic story and fits so well with the personality of Peter. He now used his tendency for showmanship to good effect.
It was about 3:00 p.m., Peter and John were on their way to the Temple for prayers. When they came to this one gate, there was a man, crippled from birth, who sat and begged. He was there, day after day.
Peter and John stopped. Peter said, “Look at us.” The man looked up, expecting some big gift. Instead, Peter said, “Silver and gold I have none. But what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, arise and walk.” Then Peter reached out and took the man by the hand. The cripple came to his feet and began to jump and dance around and went into the Temple with them - jumping and dancing for joy. Everyone saw him. They recognized him for the crippled beggar but they did not know what had happened.
PETER ADDRESSES THE CROWD. Acts 3:11-26.
A crowd gathered in a hurry. So Peter talked to them. He gave them a short summary of life of Jesus and his resurrection. Then he said that he had cured this man in the name and power of Jesus. Peter went on to tell them that he did not hold the death of Jesus against them because they did not know what they were doing. However he urged them to listen now and to follow the teachings of Jesus.
PETER and JOHN -- SANHEDRIN. Acts 4:1-22.
This is a cleverly written action story. We see the qualities of leadership that Jesus had seen dormant in Peter and why he made Peter the foundation stone on which the whole Church was to be established.
There are aspects of the incident that irritated the whole priestly clan. First and foremost, they realized that Peter and John were not formally educated in their schools. Therefore, they were considered ignorant. They saw the hold that these men had taken on the crowds of people and everyone was babbling about the miracle and the power of Jesus seen in it. They decided a show of force and authority was necessary. They figured they could scare Peter and John into silence.
They called a meeting in Jerusalem among all the priestly families. Then they had the two prisoners, Peter and John, stand out in front as accused criminals. This should have been enough to intimidate uneducated peasants. However, Peter used the occasion to broadcast the power, teaching, and influence of Jesus and then pointed to the cured cripple as evidence of everything that he was saying.
The Jewish leaders were stunned at this exuberance and glibness of Peter. They agreed among themselves that they could not deny what Peter was saying because the cured man was standing right in their midst and everyone knew him. So they tried scare tactics. They told Peter and John to stop talking about Jesus completely.
Peter’s answer is classic: “To whom are we supposed to listen? You, -- mere mortals? Or God? We’ll preach!” The leaders had no choice. They had been faced down and any more talk would merely aggravate the situation. Then Luke added a point to the story that would interest him as a physician. The man who had been cured was over forty years old.
GENEROSITY OF COMMUNITY. Acts 4:23-37.
Now Luke gave a short description of the basic generosity that characterized the whole group. Peter said this generosity was the principal evidence of the “Holy Spirit” that Jesus gave them. No one claimed anything as his/her own. They put everything in common and then the needs of each person were fulfilled from the common supply.
Barnabas came in for special mention. He was a Levite from Cyprus. He had a piece of land. He sold it and gave the money to the apostles. He became a companion of Paul later on and very important to him. He would also go along with Mark for a while when Paul was disgusted with Mark’s “desertion,” as Paul labeled it.
GREED AND LIES BRING DEATH. Acts 5:1-11.
This was an important incident for the first Christians to show that the right of private property was respected. Luke had been praising the common sharing. It could easily be deduced that this was the only way in which the followers of Jesus could truly follow his teachings.
The people in this story were a couple, Ananias and Sapphira. They had a piece of land and they sold it. Then they salted away a portion of the sale price and turned the rest in to the common fund. They intended it to look as if this was all they had received for the property.
Peter made it clear that this was a wicked deed but also detailed exactly what was wrong. It was the LIE. Peter said: The property was yours. You did not have to sell it. If you sold it, you did not have to give the money to the common supply. It was still your money. The wrong was in giving a portion of the money and pretending that they had given all. This had been a lie to the “Holy Spirit.” This was a direct affront to the whole aspect of “koinonia” - sharing - that was the basis of their lives.
The story is told in a dramatic fashion. First, Ananias brought the money in and lied about it to the gathering of the apostles. After his lie, he dropped over dead and they carried him out for burial. About three hours later, in came Sapphira. Peter asked her: “Did you sell the land for such and such a price?” Sapphira said yes. Peter looked at her and asked why she, too, had tried to test the Holy Spirit, the community of the Christians. Then he told her that the men who buried her husband were just returning. They could bury her too. She also dropped dead.
The important notion to be drawn from this incident is the fact that the common life or community sharing that was practiced by the followers of Jesus was not imposed by any law. It was strictly voluntary and the people could give a portion of their possessions or all of them. The main point was that they had to be honest.
THE GENERAL ATTITUDE. Acts 5:12-16.
The whole group met daily on the Porch of Solomon. Nobody joined them or bothered them. However everyone noticed them and their example led to many conversions. The sick of every description were brought so that the apostles could touch them. The miraculous cures were numerous and stunning. The people even put the sick along the path where the apostles would walk so that their shadows would touch the sick and they would be cured. They were certainly attracting the attention of everyone.
ANOTHER ARREST ... GAMALIEL SPEAKS UP. Acts 5:17-42.
Now the High Priest and all his supporters stepped into the picture. They arrested the apostles and put them in prison. At night, the angel (messenger) of the Lord opened the gate and told the apostles to go out and tell everyone about this new life. This was the message of salvation.
The Sanhedrin was convened. They sent the guards to bring the prisoners. The guards came back in a panic. They reported that the prison was locked and guards on duty, but when they got to the cell, the prisoners were gone. As they were trying to decipher this news, a man arrived to tell them that the prisoners were in the Temple preaching to the people.
The captain and the guard went to fetch the apostles but they were afraid to use force because of the people. The High Priest demanded an explanation. He had explicitly told them to stop their preaching and here they were talking to the people again. Peter spoke immediately: “Is it better to obey God or to obey men? The God who raised Jesus up from the dead told us to preach. We’ll preach!”
The members of the Sanhedrin were infuriated. They wanted to put them all to death. However, a saner head, a man by the name of Gamaliel, spoke up. He recalled a few men of the immediate past who had spoken and gathered followers about them. However, in a short while, each of these movements folded of its own accord because it was truly human in origin. So if the apostles were proposing a new human scheme, let them alone. It would die a natural death. “However, if, as they say, their work is from God, then you had better act cautiously or you may find yourself in opposition to God and the work of God.”
The Sanhedrin listened to what Gamaliel had said. They called the apostles in and had them whipped Jewish fashion (not more than 39 lashes and no visible marks). Then they turned them loose. The apostles went out happy that they had been able to suffer for their work and then continued the proclamation of the Good News daily in the Temple and in private homes.
THE EARLIEST MISSIONS. Acts. 6:1-12:25.
SEVEN DEACONS APPOINTED. Acts. 6:1-7.
At this time, a bit of friction arose within the community itself. Some of the converts were from the Greek speaking world, known as Hellenists. The others were from the Hebrew-speaking world, known as Hebrews or Jews. There was nothing racial or problematic about these terms. The problem was in the distribution of the common supplies. The Hellenists maintained that their people always got a share after all the others. The result was that they were often short-changed. They wanted Peter to do something about the problem.
The problem was marvelous. It showed that these followers of Jesus were ordinary people with all the tendencies to selfishness characteristic of human beings. Their “koinonia” (sharing) was not a practice that was going to flourish immediately and remove all tendencies to selfishness. In fact, the society would have to regulate itself in some way.
Peter listened to the complaint, admitted its validity, and suggested a solution. He told the people that the material aspects of the community were growing because of the numbers involved. It would not be right for the apostles to desert the ministry of the Word for these material concerns even though they were legitimate. Therefore, the community should propose seven men to take care of these actions.
The people picked seven men and their names are given. Luke did not use the term “deacons” but used the word “diakonia” for the service rendered. Two of the men, Stephen and Philip, would be given special mention later. All seven of the men have Greek names and the last was explicitly said to be a convert to Judaism. So now, the Greek-speaking people of the community would feel they were properly cared for.
There was a simple ceremony of the laying on of hands and the prayer that officially designated these men for their work. Then the apostles continued with their ministry of the word. Converts continued to increase daily, and even a large group from among the priests accepted Jesus and the message of salvation.
STEPHEN, THE DEACON, ARRESTED. Acts 6:8-8:3.
This was the first tragedy for the small community. The incident gave rise to the technical term “martyr.” The word itself is simply the Greek word for “witness.” However, Stephen was a witness in a special way to the person and teaching of Jesus and so he received the title of “first martyr for Jesus” or “protomartyr.” Over the first few centuries in which the persecution of the followers of Jesus was so severe and prolonged, people who gave their lives for their faith in Jesus and his teachings were all called martyrs. The number was very large.
Stephen was one of the seven deacons. He worked miracles and great signs among the people. He was also eloquent. Some people from the Jewish population rose up to challenge his ideas. Stephen was too much for them and they decided other tactics were needed. So Stephen was arrested and accused of blasphemy against Moses, the Temple and the Law. They paid false witnesses to stand up and testify against him. As Stephen was being accused, the members of the Sanhedrin looked at him and his face seem to shine with an unusual light.
When the accusations had been made, Stephen was called on to affirm or deny what had been said. Stephen chose the occasion to give a well-ordered speech about the history of the Chosen People as recorded in their own scrolls. His ideas were irrefutable and the members of the High Court could accept everything that was said until the last paragraph. In this conclusion, Stephen applied all the sins of the past to the people sitting in front of him. He addresses them: “You stubborn people with your pagan hearts and your pagan ears. You always resist the Holy Spirit just as your ancestors did.”
This was more than enough for the judges. They gnashed their teeth to show the fury of their anger. Suddenly Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” With that blasphemy ringing in their ears, the judges rushed Stephen out of the court, out of the city, and stoned him to death. They put Stephen’s clothes at the feet of a man, named Saul, to indicate that he was in charge of the stoning. Stephen’s final words were: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this crime against them.” With that he died. His death was clearly another victory for the cause of Jesus and his way of life.
Special mention was made that Saul was in complete accord with this killing. Then we are told that a bitter persecution broke out against the Church in Jerusalem and all, except the apostles, fled to the outlying districts of Judea and Samaria. Some of the people buried the body of Stephen but Saul was really set to destroy this Church. He went from house to house seeking out the members to put them to death.
THE WORK CONTINUED: SIMON, THE MAGICIAN. Acts. 8:4-25.
The people who escaped the persecution were in no way frightened. They went from place to place preaching the Good News. One of these men was Philip, the deacon. He came to a Samaritan town. He preached, cured the sick and the cripples, and cast out unclean spirits. He filled everyone with joy at what they saw and heard.
One of the people was a man named Simon. He was known as a magician and had performed many a sleight of hand trick. He too was a convert to the teaching of Jesus. He went with Philip and saw what he was doing and was completely amazed. When the apostles heard of this success in Samaria, they went to pay a visit. They prayed that the Samaritans would receive the Holy Spirit because, so far, they had only been baptized.
This passage makes it quite clear that to receive the Holy Spirit means to be received into the Christian community. The Samaritans could not be received into the community because there was no community in Samaria as yet. When the apostles came, they received the people into the community. Simon the Magician saw what was happening to the people, especially with the laying on of hands by the apostles. He offered them money to buy a share of this power because he saw it as an enhancement of his trade as magician.
He received a stern rebuke from the apostles for his presumption and false ideas of the power of Jesus and the apostles. Simon had the dubious distinction of having his name attached to any illegal attempt to buy something sacred or holy. This sin or failure is called Simony.
Additional Information on Miracles:
From time to time, people will say that we should have all the miracles of the early Church in our world, today. Then the practice of Christian living and truth would be more vital and productive.
The age of miracles stopped after a very few generations. Jesus gave us the principle. The unusual actions attracted attention and gave a guarantee that the teaching and practices truly were from God. Jesus performed some of these miracles for this purpose in his own lifetime. However, when people started to demand more miracles, Jesus simply said “no” or left the area.
The only permanent sign intended by Jesus to bring his way of life to the eyes and ears of others is the actual living of his followers. The people roundabout are to see the way his followers live, see the happiness and harmony that exists, and because of what they see, they want to join or imitate. If the Christian way of life does not have this dynamic effect, then there is something wrong with the way in which it is being lived.
Sometimes, the true living of the Christian life arouses jealousy, envy and even hatred. If the people who have these antagonistic feelings are in authority, there will be a persecution which may last for a long time. This does not mean there is something wrong with the Christian way of life. It means, as Jesus himself says, that the basic teaching of love is opposed totally to the basic selfishness of the world about us. So, the only miracle that is required is no miracle at all. It is the full and happy living in harmony and peace with each other in Jesus Christ and his teachings.
PHILIP BAPTIZES THE EUNUCH. Acts. 8:26-40.
This incident was another of the conversion stories treasured by the first followers of Jesus. The characters in the story were Philip and an Ethiopian who had just made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He was a eunuch with the high rank of chief treasurer in the court of the Queen. He was riding along in his chariot reading from the book of Isaiah. Philip had been told by the angel (messenger) of the Lord to be traveling on that road. Now he came up to the chariot and he asked the Ethiopian if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch replied that he couldn’t understand unless someone explained. So Philip obliged.
The reading was from Isaiah 53:7-8. It was about a lamb being led to slaughter and not offering any objection. Philip explained how this passage was a description of the sufferings and death of Jesus. Then he told him the whole story. When he was finished, the chariot came near water and the eunuch asked to be baptized. As they came back from the water, Philip was suddenly whisked away and the two people never saw one another again.
FIRE OF PERSECUTION BECOMES ZEAL FOR CONVERSION. Acts 9:1-31.
Saul of Tarsus then entered the life of the early Church and had a major influence on its life, ideas, development and its future. We had met him before. He was in charge of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr. He had actively sought these followers of Jesus and arranged their deaths. He was definitely Public Enemy #1 to the nascent Church.
One day, Saul was on one of his headhunting forays when he was suddenly struck down by a blinding light. He heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The voice answers, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Get up, go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
The men who were with Saul could hear the voice but they saw nothing. They were petrified with fear. Saul got up and they saw he was blind. They had to lead him by the hand into Damascus.
Meanwhile, Ananias, a follower of Jesus in Damascus, was told to go to a certain house on Straight Street and find Saul. Ananias was hesitant and said as much to the Lord. He mentioned that Saul was looking for his followers to kill them. Jesus told him not to worry. Saul was to become one of his principal instruments in the work of conversion. Ananias went immediately, did as he was told, and imposed his hands on Saul. The scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again.
Saul stayed with the community in Damascus for a short while. Saul the persecutor did a 180-degree turn and became Saul the apostle. He began preaching in the synagogues; “Jesus is the Son of God!” The Jews were flabbergasted. They couldn’t figure out what was happening. Then they saw he was truly a follower of Jesus and decided to kill him. They guarded every gate but Saul was lowered in a basket from top of the wall.
Then Saul came to Jerusalem. The community was afraid to associate with him because they figured it was some sort of trick. Barnabas vouched for Paul and he was accepted. He went through Jerusalem preaching Jesus and his way of life. After the Greek speaking Christians listened to him, they were not happy and they were set on killing him. Some of the members helped Paul get to Caesarea and then they sent him to Tarsus. There was peace for a while and the communities in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee made steady progress.
STORY OF PETER RESUMES. Acts 9:32-11:18.
Peter was moving from place to place - busy in the ministry of the Word. He came to Lydda. A paralyzed man, named Aeneas, had been in bed for eight years. Peter said to him, “Get up and roll up your bed!” Aeneas did as told and the whole town was converted.
In Jaffa, a woman disciple was named Tabitha. She was always doing good deeds for others. She became sick and died. They prepared her for burial but some of the disciples heard that Peter was not far away. They sent messengers to him to come immediately. He came, saw the situation, sent everyone out of the room, and then knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the dead woman and said, “Tabitha, stand up!” Tabitha opened her eyes, got up and Peter called all the people back into the room. The word of the miracle spread and many people accepted the teachings of Jesus. Peter stayed on in Jaffa for some time.
CORNELIUS, THE ROMAN CENTURION.
This story introduced the most controversial idea of the day. Were Gentiles to be allowed to come into the community? Jesus had said that his teaching was for all mankind. However, the first converts were all from the Jewish people. They had been the chosen ones. Were they truly to bring gentiles into the Church with full membership?
Cornelius was a centurion, a high-ranking officer in the Roman army. He and his whole household were God-fearing people, gave generously to Jewish causes and prayed regularly to Yahweh. At 3:00 P.M., one day, Cornelius received a message from God. He was to send a messenger to Jaffa and fetch a man named Simon-Peter.
At the same time, Peter went on the roof about noon. He was hungry and was thinking about his meal. He fell into a trance. The sky opened and a big sheet was let down by its four corners. It contained every kind of food and the voice said to Peter: “Arise and eat.” Peter gave a firm negative. He did not eat any food that was unclean. Then the voice said: “Do not call unclean what God has made clean!” Three times this happened and then the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Peter was still puzzling over this picture in his mind, when the men from Cornelius arrived. The voice told him to go downstairs to meet them. They gave their message and the request of Cornelius. The next day, Peter accompanied them to the house of the Centurion. He told Cornelius of the law of separation between Jew and Gentile. However, Peter said, “I have been told that this law is no longer to hold.” Then Cornelius told Peter what he had been told in a vision.
Peter then made the statement that changed the history of the world. “I now realize that God plays no favorites. Anyone of any nationality that respects God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” The UNIVERSALITY of the message of Jesus was proclaimed in absolute terms. There are no separations of race, language, color or place. If the dispositions are there, the people are acceptable to God.
While Peter was still speaking, the people were filled with this Holy Spirit and carried on in another Pentecost. Peter baptized them all in the name of Jesus Christ.
When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the followers of Jesus criticized what he had done. Peter explained the whole picture and especially the joyful acceptance of the Holy Spirit as Peter was talking to them. This convinced the people in Jerusalem and they glorified God.
ANTIOCH. THE NAME: “CHRISTIAN” Acts 11:19-30.
After the death of Stephen, a persecution broke out and many followers of Jesus fled to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. Usually they approached only the Jews with their message. However, in Antioch they went directly to the Greeks and a large number listened and were converted.
The people in Jerusalem heard about this and sent Barnabas to check the situation. He saw immediately that these people had been offered the grace of conversion and had willingly and fully accepted. Then Barnabas left for Tarsus to look for Saul. They returned together to Antioch and stayed for a whole year, instructing the community.
A famine broke out in Judea and the community in Antioch sent material help to that community. Barnabas and Saul were sent as the representatives to take the relief supplies to the people in Jerusalem.
PETER ARRESTED AND DELIVERED. Acts 12:1-19.
This story fits the personality of Peter perfectly. Herod had started his persecution of the members of the Church. He had James, the brother of John, beheaded and saw that this really pleased the Jews. So he went a step farther. He had Peter arrested and tossed in prison.
Peter was manacled and slept between two guards. The gates were all guarded. Suddenly Peter was awakened. His manacles fell off. He was told to get dressed and come. He walked out of the jail and the city. The angel (messenger) disappeared and Peter realized this was not a dream.
He went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. When the servant answered the door and saw Peter, she was so surprised that she left him standing there and ran back into the house to tell everyone.
When day arrived, Herod looked over the whole situation. He blamed the guards for Peter’s escape and had them executed. Then he ordered that Peter was to be taken. He did not succeed in his plots.
HEROD DIES. Acts 11:20-23.
Herod had done mean and cruel deeds to many people. He was liked by no one. He died a miserable death - eaten away with worms.
BARNABAS, SAUL, MARK. Acts. 12:24-25.
The message of Jesus continued to spread and be received. Barnabas and Saul complete their task. They returned from Jerusalem and brought John Mark with them.
MISSION OF BARNABAS AND SAUL COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM. Acts 13:1-15:35
MISSION FROM ANTIOCH. Acts 13:1-3.
There is a list of the prophets and teachers in Antioch. The prophets were the men who interpreted how the present was fulfilling the ideas of the past or they pointed out the future of actions that were being performed right now. This did not mean they had some special revelation or insight. The teachers were the people whose primary concern was the application of the ideals and principles to the lives of the community.
The community decided that Barnabas and Saul should be set aside for special work. After fasting and prayer, the community “Laid hands” on these two men and sent them off. The “laying on of hands” was a symbolic gesture of unity, good wishes and mission- all in one.
CYPRUS: ELYMAS, A MAGICIAN. Acts 13:4-12.
Barnabas and Paul set out, taking John Mark along as an assistant. They sailed to Cyprus and traveled the whole length of the island.
At Paphos, there was a Jewish magician, a real faker. He was one of the attendants to the pro-consul, Sergius. Sergius was an intelligent man and was interested in the Word of God. He summoned Barnabas and Saul and asked them to explain their ideas.
Elymas wanted none of this and tried to stop the meeting with Barnabas and Saul. Then Saul (Paul) looked him right in the eye. He called the man a total fake, an impostor, a son of the devil, an enemy of all true religion. Then Paul told him that he would be struck with blindness for a time. The proconsul had watched this entire interplay. When the ideas of Jesus were explained, he became a convert.
At this point, Luke began to call Saul by his other name, Paul. It was a common practice for the Jews and eastern peoples, in general, to adopt a second name more in keeping with the Latin culture. From this point on, Luke used the name “Paul” in his writing.
Also, we should note that Paul now took the lead in this partnership with Barnabas or any other group he was with. From this point, the Acts will deal primarily with the work of Paul.
PAUL’S APPROACH TO THE JEWS. Acts 13:11-43.
Paul and his friends traveled on. When they arrived at Perge, John Mark went back to Jerusalem. The others proceeded on to Antioch in Pisidia. We should note something about this departure of John Mark. As told here, it seemed to have been a simple departure. In chapter 15:38, we learned that this was a much more intense situation. John Mark left for home because the work and demands were too difficult. Paul was angry and saw Mark as a “quitter.” Nothing was said about this aspect of the incident here, but it was explicitly stated in the later passage.
In Antioch, Paul and his friends went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As was the custom among the Jews, there was the reading from the Torah and then the president of the synagogue would invite visiting rabbis to offer their ideas. Paul, of course, was a rabbi, trained in the school of Gamaliel. They asked him to discourse on the Scriptures.
Paul stood up and rather dramatically held up his hand for silence and then began to speak. He gave a short summary of the main points of the Jewish history. He stressed their special place in the plan of God. Then he said that Jesus had come as the new David to establish the eternal kingdom, promised in David.
Then Paul said explicitly that the leaders of the Jews had put Jesus to death unjustly and knowingly. But God raised him from the dead and he appeared for many days in Jerusalem. Now it was the mission of the apostles, the community in Jerusalem, and Paul to spread the Good News that Jesus brought. They were all being offered forgiveness of all their sins and a totally new life.
The results were wonderful. They were asked to preach the same ideas the following Sabbath. Many Jews and devout converts joined Paul and Barnabas. Paul urged them to be faithful to the grace they had received.
PAUL PREACHES TO PAGANS. Acts 13:44-52.
The following Sabbath, almost everybody in town gathered to listen to Paul and Barnabas. At the sight of the crowds, the Jews were filled with jealousy. They used blasphemies to contradict everything Paul was saying. Paul stopped and said it was all right with him. Since the Jews did not want the teaching of Jesus, they would bring it to the gentiles. The gentiles were happy to receive Paul and his message. The whole countryside was aware of what Jesus meant and taught.
The Jews could not refute what was said. They could not stop the people from flocking after Paul and Barnabas. So they talked some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city to expel Paul and Barnabas from the territory. Paul shook the dust of the place off his sandals and went to Iconium. The believers were filled with this Holy Spirit and the joy that came with it.
ICONIUM VISITED. Acts 14:1-7.
We see a pattern begin to evolve. Paul and Barnabas went to the various towns. They went first to the synagogue to offer the message to the Jews. Some accepted the ideas and ideals willingly but, in general, the leaders saw Paul and Barnabas as the opposition. They did everything they could to thwart the work of the missionaries.
Finally, the leaders won enough support and decided to stone Paul and Barnabas. When the missionaries heard this, they left for Lycaonia and towns of Lystra and Derbe where they preached the Good News.
THE CRIPPLE HEALED. Acts 14:8-18.
There was a man sitting there who had been a cripple since birth. He listened to Paul and believed his message. Paul saw this and then, very dramatically, he called to the man: “Get up on your feet! Stand up!” The cripple jumped up and began to walk around.
The crowd went wild and immediately said that they were gods in human disguise: Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes (or the Roman god, Mercury.) Everybody started to mob them. When Paul and Barnabas heard this they were really upset. Paul quieted them down and stressed that this was the very thing they were trying to avoid. These “gods” were not gods at all. It was the true God who had been taking care of them, and now Paul and Barnabas were telling them how they should accept the Good News from Jesus to serve the real God.
The comparison to Zeus and Mercury (Hermes) is enlightening about the appearance or stature of these two men. Zeus was always depicted in sculpture as a large, tall muscular person. He could easily move the heavens and the earth of which he was supposed to be in charge in their myths. Mercury, on the other hand, was the messenger of the gods. He was supposed to get from one to the other with the speed of light. Hence he was depicted as a shorter person, thin and muscular, but equipped for speed and agility. Hence we are quite sure that Barnabas was a tall, well-built, slower-moving person, who couldn’t be pushed into sudden and unthinking action. Paul was more the quick actor. He often acted and then saw what he had done. However, he did not learn a lot from his hasty conduct.
MORE OPPOSITION. Acts 14:19-28.
At this moment, some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium. They roused the people against Paul and Barnabas. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town and abandoned him, thinking he was dead. Paul played it well until some of the disciples arrived. Then he stood up and went back to town. The next day they left for Derbe.
Paul and Barnabas continued their trip homeward. When they stopped at the places where they had worked, they encouraged all their followers because life was never going to be without hardship. In each of the churches they appointed elders to be in charge until their return. The term for elder is “presbyteros” which is translated as “presbyter” and then becomes the word, “priest.”
Finally they were back in Antioch, the starting point. They gave an account of all that had happened. They told how the door of faith had been opened to the Gentiles. They stayed here for a while.
IS CIRCUMCISION NECESSARY? Acts 15:1-35.
Circumcision was the distinctive mark of entry into the Chosen People. For centuries this practice had a deeply religious significance. Now the Gentiles were accepting the gospel but they were not circumcised. Some of the men came from Judea and insisted that the practice was required.
The apostles and the elders gathered to discuss the matter. Then Peter stood up to give the final decision. It is a marvelous summary. He called on their own history and then said simply: we are all saved in the same way, through the grace of the Lord Jesus. This satisfied everyone and then Paul and Barnabas described all the wonders that had happened along the way.
James spoke up. He stated that he agreed completely with Peter. Then he made a few practical suggestions. Don’t make it more difficult for the gentiles to turn to God. Send them a letter telling them to abstain from food offered to idols, from fornication, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
APOSTOLIC LETTER. Acts 15:23-29.
The apostles and the elders chose Joseph Barsabbas and Silas as companions for Paul and Barnabas. They gave them a letter in which they spoke to the gentile converts in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. They told them that the people who insisted on circumcision had no authority to speak. Judas and Silas were sent as official delegates with Paul and Barnabas. The decisions in this letter came from the Holy Spirit, the apostles and the elders. The substance of the letter was as James suggested.
After some time Judas and Silas returned to their home base. Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch and continued to make new converts.
PAUL’S MISSIONS. Acts 15:36-19:20.
PAUL AND BARNABAS SEPARATE. Acts 15:30-40.
Paul suggested that they go back to visit all the towns where they had already preached. He wanted to check on the followers. Barnabas suggested that John Mark be allowed to accompany them. Now we get a new light on the earlier incident.
In 13:13, Luke had said only that Mark had left them to go home. Now we find that Paul looked on this departure as a desertion and he absolutely refused to let Mark come again. There was a furious quarrel and the outcome was a split. Paul chose Silas to accompany him and Barnabas and Mark set off for Cyprus.
The important lesson to see here is that the first followers of Jesus retained their own individual temperaments. They did not always agree. Secondly, we get a good insight into the temperament of Paul. He had been successful for years because of the guiding hand and even temperament of Barnabas. Yet he does not hesitate to throw it all overboard in one flash of temper. This hot temper has to be remembered and reckoned with in Paul’s later work and especially in his letters. Luke tried to edit some of the fire out of his words but he did not always succeed.
TIMOTHY ON BOARD. Acts 15:41-16:5.
Paul and Silas traveled through Syria and Cilicia and bolstered up the courage of the communities. Then came to Derbe and Lystra. In Lystra, they met Timothy.
His mother was a Jewess and his father was a Greek. By Jewish law, he should have been circumcised eight days after birth but he had not been. Paul wanted Timothy as a companion and Timothy wanted to go with Paul. So, even though Paul opposed the imposition of circumcision on converts, he had him circumcised to avoid any hassles with the Jewish population later on.
Timothy was a close companion and worker with Paul. In fact, the last letter that Paul wrote was to Timothy. Timothy was a young bishop, and the older Christians were trying to push him around. Paul told him to take no opposition but to stand and speak boldly for what was right. Some of the specific details of Paul’s thinking are found in these letters to Timothy.
INTO ASIA MINOR. Acts 16:6-10.
This is an important short passage for three reasons. First, Paul was told by the Holy Spirit not to preach in certain places. This would be the group of Christians, close-by, who would best know the circumstances of people and place. Secondly, Paul had a dream that he should go to Macedonia to preach and he went. Thirdly, we find the first entry of the “WE” sections. As was said above, this indicated that the author of the book, namely Luke, was now a part of the missionary group. He would continue to the end of the book and story.
Lydia entered the picture. Paul and his group had stopped at several spots and then came to Philippi. It was a Roman colony and the key city of that particular district. On the Sabbath, they went outside the gates along the river where the Jews had gathered for prayers. Paul sat down and preached to the women who had come to the meeting.
One of the ladies was Lydia, from Thyatira. She was in the purple-dye trade which meant she had great skill and a good trade. She became a convert and then she invited Paul and the group to stay at her house. She indicated she would tolerate no refusal of her invitation.
PAUL AND SILAS IN JAIL. Acts 16:16-40.
One day, as they were going to prayer, they met a slave-girl who was a fortune-teller and lucrative for her masters. She started to follow Paul and his group, and shouted in favor of them. Paul stood the nuisance for a bit. Then he turned in anger and commanded that the spirit dwelling in her leave. It left at once and the girl was no longer of any financial use to her masters. These people were really upset. They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into court. They won a judgment against them and Paul and Silas were stripped and scourged, Roman fashion. Then they were thrown into the inner prison and their feet were put in stocks.
Late at night, Paul and Silas were praying and singing the praises of God. There was a great earthquake. The prison doors were opened. The jailer was on the point of slitting his throat because he figured all the prisoners were gone. Paul stopped him and said they were all there.
The jailer and his whole family were converted that night. The next day, the magistrates sent word that they were to release Paul and Silas. Paul would have none of it. They were Roman citizens. They had been scourged publicly, tossed into prison without trial, and now they were to sneak out of town. Paul demanded a full escort.
The magistrates were greatly dismayed when they heard they were Roman citizens. The magistrates came to Paul and Silas and begged them to leave. They left and went to the house of Lydia. There, they encouraged the brethren and then left.
TROUBLE AT THEIR HEELS. Acts 17:1-15.
Thessalonika was the next stopping place. It was an important place because a group of people were converted there. It was also a place where the opposition and antagonism of the Jews really took off. Paul wrote two letters to these people even after he had visited them.
The next three Sabbaths, Paul preached Jesus in the synagogue. Some of the Jews understood and accepted the message and Jesus. Many other Greeks and non-Jewish people also flocked to conversion.
The Jews went to the market place and got a crowd to start a riot against Paul and his entourage. They went straight to Jason’s house but found only a handful of people and Paul was not among them. They dragged Jason and his group to the magistrate and made some wild accusations. They claimed that the Christians were setting up another emperor, named Jesus. This frightened the city officials and they demanded a deposit before they would let Jason and the others go free.
Paul and Silas were hustled off to Berea, after dark. They went to the synagogue when they arrived. The people were more open to their instruction and many Jews and Greeks were converted to Jesus. Their nemesis, the jealous Jews, came to Thessalonika to stir up trouble. Paul headed for Athens, and then sent word to Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as they could.
ATHENS: WE’LL LISTEN LATER. Acts 17:16-34.
Athens was quite an experience for Paul. The Athenians were always looking for new ideas. Paul was disgusted with the idolatry that held sway in the city. When Paul started to speak, they made fun of him, called him names, and said he represented some far-out gods.
They invited Paul into the Areopagus to give a full explanation of his ideas. His speech was clever and caught their attention until he came to the resurrection. Paul started by saying that as he walked around the city, he noticed that they were a “religious” people. They had altars and monuments everywhere - even an altar dedicated “To an Unknown God.” The Athenians were afraid they might miss a god and offend him so they put up this anonymous altar or shrine.
Paul said, “That God, whom you do not know, we do know and I am here to tell you about him. This God made the heavens and the earth and is not dependent on any shrines made by human hands. In fact, he is not dependent on human beings for anything since he made all of us. In him we live, and move and have our being. We are all his children. Now we must all change our lives completely and turn toward him, for he has set a day for judgment and has publicly proved this truth by raising Jesus from the dead.”
With this notion of a real resurrection from the dead, the Athenians burst out laughing in disbelief. Paul left. A few of the people accepted what he had to say.
CORINTH: NEXT STOP. Acts 18: 1-28.
Corinth had been rebuilt by Julius Caesar and was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. The population was mostly Latin-speaking but they carried on a good trade with everyone. There was quite a large Jewish colony there. The immorality of Corinth was almost proverbial. These details should be kept in mind when you read and study the two letters of Paul to the Christians of Corinth.
Paul was hauled into court again in Achaia. Gallio, the proconsul, stopped the Jewish accusers short. He saw that they were dealing with some small point of their law. He told them to go and quibble among themselves because he did not intend to waste the time of the court with their petty problems.
Paul traveled to several places now. One point of interest was his fulfilling the vow of the Nazirite. This is a promise in the law to have your head shaved completely. Paul had made this vow. We don’t know why or when but now he fulfilled the vow and had his head shaved.
We have a small insert here about Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew. He was learned and a good speaker. He lectured extensively and convincingly on the Way of the Lord and the people of the Way. Yet he had only received the baptism of John the Baptist. Priscilla and Aquila instructed him further in the knowledge of the Way. Then he went over to Achaia and talked convincingly about Jesus as the Messiah and publicly refuted the claims of the Jews.
Paul went to Ephesus. He began to talk to a number of disciples and learned that they were baptized only in the Baptism of John. So Paul gave further explanation about Jesus and the people were baptized into Jesus and his Way. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Paul went into the synagogue in Ephesus and spoke openly and clearly for three months. The attitude of some of the congregation was total opposition so Paul went over to a lecture room and continued on with his teaching. He worked here for two years and the result was a community made up of people from everywhere.
A group of Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of Jesus for their spells. This backfired and everybody was impressed even more by Paul. Then some of the magicians became converts to Jesus and they had a huge bonfire to get rid of all their books. These are circumstances to keep in mind when reading the letter to the Ephesians.
PAUL: PRISONER FOR CHRIST. Acts 19:21-28:31.
Paul went back to Jerusalem by way of Macedonia and Achaia.
THE SILVERSMITHS' RIOT. Acts 19:23-41.
A silversmith, named Demetrius, in Ephesus, had a thriving business. They made silver trinkets and shrines and medals of Diana, their goddess. Demetrius heard that Paul had said these gods were all empty idols and could do nothing. Paul was cutting into the silver trade right at its heart. A riot in honor of Diana broke out.
Paul wanted to get into the thick of the trouble and explained the stupidity of all the claims. Some of his friends convinced him that he should get out of the picture. He would just make matters worse.
They had a trial and set out to destroy this new religion. The town clerk finally got the podium and was able to talk some sense into the gathering and they dispersed.
PAUL LEAVES EPHESUS. Acts 20:1-6.
Paul left Ephesus after the disturbance and went to Troas. Luke accompanied Paul. We are given a long list of the people in Paul’s party and it seems he chose someone from each place where he preached the Good News. Timothy was one of the people in the party and Luke was Paul’s constant companion.
THE LONG SERMON. Acts 20:7-12.
We have all heard of sermons that were too long and put people to sleep. Paul set a new record for the times and probably for all ages. He was in Troas and kept on talking into the middle of the night. A young man, named Eutychus, was sitting on the window sill and fell asleep. He tumbled to the ground three floors below and was pronounced dead. Paul came down, felt the young man and said that there was still life in him. Then Paul went upstairs again and continued preaching until daybreak. They took the young man away - alive and quite happy.
Luke did not say for sure whether the boy was dead and Paul brought him back to life or whether the fall had not actually killed him. The fact was, Paul surely set a record for talking too long.
ITINERARY. Acts 20:13-18.
Luke and some of the group went on board ship at Miletus, the next stop. Paul wanted to go by land and see different groups. He did not want to stop in Ephesus because he wanted to be in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. He sent for the elders of Ephesus and met them in Miletus.
FAREWELL TO ELDERS OF EPHESUS. Acts 20:19-38.
Paul sensed that he was making a final trip. He had been threatened, opposed, beaten and left for dead. Now, he was certain that the end had come. He told the elders of Ephesus that his conscience was clear with regard to them and all the people he had worked with. He had presented the truths of the Good News exactly as Jesus wished. The rest was up to the people themselves.
He talked to the elders as shepherds. The people with whom they worked were the flock and were to be cared for in the same careful and devoted way. It is important to note that the leaders of the Christian groups from the very start followed the example of Jesus and called themselves “Pastors” or “Shepherds.” The reason was clear. This figure of a shepherd with his flock indicated the kind of authority that Jesus wanted in his Church. The leaders were always to be out in front presenting the example and ideal. They were to know their followers individually. They were to be in small groups, always manageable. The good of the flock was the only concern of the shepherd.
Paul stressed here that he had never accepted any financial support from the people he worked with. He did not deny that he could, because the laborer was worthy of his hire. However Paul did not want to be dependent in any way on the people with whom he worked. He supported himself by his tent-making work.
When he finished talking, the elders bade Paul good-bye. They were sad because Paul said they would not see him again. Then he boarded ship.
JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM. Acts 21:1-14.
Luke gives the itinerary for this trip. Paul was urged by the people along the way not to go to Jerusalem. However, they kept on going. When they arrived in Caesarea, they stayed with Philip, one of the original seven deacons. He had four unmarried daughters and they were all prophets. While they were in the house of Philip, a prophet, named Agabus, arrived from Judea. He took Paul’s belt and tied his own hands and feet. He made a statement. “This is what the Holy Spirit says. The man to whom this belt belongs will be tied like this by the Jews in Jerusalem and handed over to the pagans.” They begged Paul not to continue the journey to Jerusalem but he would not hear them. He was willing to die, if necessary, for the name of the Lord Jesus.
PAUL ARRIVES IN JERUSALEM. Acts 21:15-26.
Paul visited with all the Christians in Jerusalem and James gave him some advice. Paul had told them of the success he had in making converts from among the Jews. James said the Jews in Jerusalem were upset because they thought of Paul as a person who was deliberately undermining the Law of Moses. So James suggested that Paul take four of their people and go to the Temple and be purified with them and make the required offering. Paul did all this.
PAUL ARRESTED. Acts 21:27-40.
The Jews from Asia caught sight of Paul in the Temple. They thought he had brought some of the Greeks into the Temple with him. They started a riot and got the whole city stirred up. They would have killed Paul except that the Roman soldiers came quickly and took Paul away. The Jews were in an agitated state and wanted to take him away from the Roman soldiers. Paul spoke to the tribune in Greek and asked for permission to talk to the crowd. When everything was quiet he began to talk in Hebrew.
PAUL ADDRESSES JEWS IN JERUSALEM. Acts 22:1-21.
This speech is another summary of the life of Paul. He told of his educational background in the school of Gamaliel. He explained how his zeal led him to persecute the followers of the Way. In fact, he was on a trip to Damascus to bring Christians back to Jerusalem to be put to death when he was converted. Paul said that he was the man in charge of the killing of Stephen, the first martyr. Then, he received the mission from Jesus to travel the Empire and make converts in all the towns.
PAUL, A ROMAN CITIZEN. Acts 22:22-29.
The centurion was really getting exasperated with this whole scene and he ordered Paul to be examined under the whip. They stripped him down and Paul asked: “Is it legal to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and has not been given a fair trial?”
The centurion ran to the tribune to report this information. The tribune said, “It cost me a lot of money to buy my citizenship. And you say you are a citizen?” Paul said, “That's right! I did not buy it. I was born into it.” The centurion left the whole matter to the tribune and he did not know what to do. He had put a Roman citizen in chains without a trial. It could easily mean his job or his head.
PAUL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN. Acts 22:30-23:11.
Paul handled this scene beautifully. The tribune realized that he had no case against Paul. He called a meeting of the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court. Paul proclaimed his innocence. The High Priest commanded that he be struck in the mouth.
Paul called him a “whitewashed wall” - something that looked good on the outside but was rotten within. Paul was told he was talking to the High Priest. Paul apologized because of the dignity of the office. Then Paul turned tables on them. He saw that the group was Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, angels or spirits. The Pharisees accepted all three. The two groups were vehemently opposed on these points. When Paul said he was being persecuted because of his belief in the resurrection, he lit the fuse to a furor between the two groups. The tribune was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces in the verbal battle so he brought him to the fortress.
The next night, Jesus appeared to him and said, “Have courage! You have borne witness in Jerusalem, now do the same in Rome.”
THE JEWISH PLOT FOILED. Acts 23:12-22.
A group of Jews, more than forty in number, made a vow they would not eat, drink, or sleep until they had killed Paul. They went to the chief priests and elders and outlined their plot. The priests were to ask for Paul as if they were going to have another hearing. When he was on the way, they would grab him and kill him.
Paul's nephew heard of the plot and got word to Paul. Paul called a centurion and had the boy taken to the tribune. He told what was being plotted and the tribune told him to tell no one else.
PAUL TAKEN TO CAESAREA. Acts 23:23-35.
The tribune sent Paul off with a large guard. He sent a letter along to Felix, the Roman governor. He explained that there was no case against Paul but he could not just set him loose because the whole riot and attempt at murder would start again. Felix read the letter and said he would hear the case as soon as the accusers arrived.
THE CASE BEFORE FELIX. Acts 24:1-27.
This trial was a failure. The regular accusations prompted by fear and jealousy were made by the Jewish leaders. Paul defended himself and said that the only thing he was on trial about was the resurrection of the dead. Felix knew more about the teachings of Jesus than most people and he saw the complete picture.
He said he would refer the case to Lysias, the tribune, and ordered that Paul should be kept in custody but free of any restriction. His own people could come and see him if they wished. Felix was scared by the talk of the judgment and afterlife, and he also hoped to get some bribes from Paul. Paul was in custody for two years and then Festus succeeded Felix. Festus wanted favor with the Jews so he kept Paul in prison.
PAUL APPEALS TO CAESAR. Acts 25:1-26:32.
Festus came to Caesarea and had Paul brought before him. Paul proclaimed his innocence again and then appealed to Caesar. King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea and stopped to pay their respects to Festus. Festus told Agrippa of the whole story and Agrippa wanted to talk with Paul. Paul told his story again and elaborated a bit more than before. He stressed that he was of the strictest part of the Pharisees in his beliefs and practices, and in his own party he was considered strict. He felt it his duty to persecute the followers of Jesus. Then he was converted and we get another recounting of the incident. This time we get the famous phrase, “kicking against the goad.”
The goad was a long pole with a sharp spearhead on the end. When the oxen lagged, the driver would touch the point gently to the back of the oxen’s legs. Then the ox would kick back and really get a sharp stab. Kicking against the goad meant making matters worse for yourself.
Agrippa was so impressed by the speech and defense of Paul that he said it would not take much more to make him a convert. Agrippa agreed that Paul had done nothing deserving of imprisonment, and if he had not appealed to Caesar, he would be set free. However, now he would have to go to Caesar.
PAUL TO ROME. Acts 27:1-28:31.
They set sail for Rome. The centurion was kind toward Paul. The weather was against them. The sea became worse and worse. Paul had tried to warn them ahead of time but no one paid attention to him. Finally, they got to shore but lost the ship.
They landed on the Malta. The people were kind to the shipwrecked crew. Paul was gathering wood for the fire and a viper attached itself to his hand. Everyone expected him to drop over dead. The prefect of the island was Publius and his father was sick in bed. Paul said a prayer and laid his hands on the man and he was cured. Then they brought all the sick on the island and Paul and his people got special treatment.
At the end of three months, they continued on their way to Rome. When they arrived they were greeted by some of their fellow Christians. Paul was under a house arrest here.
Paul got a hearing with the Roman Jews. They were not opposed as the Jews in Jerusalem had been. Paul stayed on in Rome for two years in his own lodging. All during that time, he preached the message of Jesus with complete freedom and hindrance from no one.
That’s the way Acts of Apostles ends. There is a lot more to the story but we have no record of it in this writing. We will get more insight into the thinking and action of Paul in his letters.