Acts 10:1-12:23: Times of Transition.

Actually, Acts 13:1 might be called a turning-point, although the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 is itself a landmark in early church history.  The Gospel had begun to be slowly diffused through the nations, but there was still a lot of ground to be covered in the disciples themselves.  They still had much to learn.  The conversion of Cornelius was one such lesson.

1. An Elect Gentile, 10:1-11:18.

Conversion of, 10:1-48.  This chapter shows us the opening to Gentiles of the door granting direct access to God.  The early church, made up of Jewish believers, had a very difficult time working through the idea that Gentiles could have such access.  After all, for centuries the Jews had been God’s chosen people and in order to come to God, one had to go through them, as it were. Over and over, Israel had gotten into trouble for mixing with other nations, and now, here was the Gospel message for them equally with Israel.  It was a tough nut to crack and took a direct message/vision from God to get it done.

In the conversion of Cornelius, we see God working both in Peter and Cornelius, vs. 1-33, and His witness in Peter’s message to Cornelius, vs. 34-43, and, finally, in the manifestation of the Spirit, vs. 44-48.

This incident forever refutes the idea that baptism is essential to salvation – unless one believes that unbelievers can receive the Holy Spirit.

Controversy concerning, 11:1-18.

1. Confrontation, vs. 1-3.  It seems terrible that believers would be upset over others receiving the Word of God, but we must remember the cultural and religious background of these people.  God Himself had forbidden religious and/or social admixture with other peoples and Jerusalem and the Temple had for centuries been the focal point of God’s worship.   As we noted above, the early church had great difficulty understanding this change in God’s dealing with mankind “one-on-one,” as it were, instead of through the mediation and channel of Jerusalem.  They failed to understand that a Person is the Way into God’s presence, not a place, John 14:6.

2. Recitation, vs. 4-17.  Peter gives a simple and straight-forward account of what happened, and then finished with the reasonable conclusion in v. 17 that since God was pleased to give “them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

3. Glorification, v. 18.  These early believers recognized the hand and will of God and submitted to it, even if they didn’t completely understand all that was going on.

2. Expanding Grace, 11:19-30.

The Gospel goes to Antioch in Syria and a second influential church is established.  With this church prospering, the church at Jerusalem recedes into the background as far as the divine record is concerned.

Growth of the church, vs. 19-21.  Here we pick up the record begun in 8:4 of the scattered believers.  Saul wanted to exterminate the church at Jerusalem, but all he succeeded in doing was extending the reach of the Gospel.  Note well v. 21.  See also Saul’s later testimony as Paul in Philippians 1:12, But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.

Grace of the church, vs. 22-24.  These verses record the last “investigation” we read of by a delegation from Jerusalem.  The church at Antioch was recognized as a true and independent assembly of believers.  There is no Scriptural support for the denominational and hierarchical structure we see in Christianity today.  There is no “holy city”  or “headquarters” in spite of what men might think.  Though they may choose to work together, no church has any authority over another church.  Each is to be autonomous and responsible only to her Lord.

V. 23 mentions a theme often recurring in Scripture:  the perseverance of the saints.  Cf. 13:43 and 14:22.  While certainly also teaching the preservation of the saints, Scripture also teaches the responsibility of the saints to act like it.

Gathering of the church, vs. 25, 26.  Barnabas became a key man at Antioch.  We saw him first in Acts 4:36, which tells us that he did what he could.  Here he was enabled to do much more, even to playing an important role in the early missionary efforts of Saul/Paul.

Gift from the church, vs. 27-30.  Nothing is said of this church having a “community of goods” as did the church at Jerusalem.  They did, however, have the same compassion and sent aid to relieve the poor saints at Jerusalem.

3. Escape From Death, 12:1-24.

Herod’s Murderous Design, vs. 1-4.  Perhaps this whole incident was politically motivated.  Herod was hated by the Jews.  V. 3 indicates at least that the arrest of Peter was done with the idea of getting on the Jews’ good side.  See in this the sovereign purpose of God.  He permits the death of one of His servants, v. 1, but then delivers another from death.  Why didn’t He deliver them both?  Only He knows.  Only He needs know.  Cf. Job 33:13.

Peter’s Miraculous Deliverance, vs. 5-19.  This is an unbelievable section.  Here is Peter, expecting to die.  Was he worried?  He was sound asleep!  He had witnessed the death of his Lord, had been reconciled to his risen Lord.  Death held no terror for him.

Herod’s Miserable Death, vs. 20-23.  One would think Herod might learn something from all this, but no.  How dense, how stupid we are, apart from the grace of God!

  

 

Advertisements

Revelation 1:19, 20: The Seven Churches

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands:  The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  (NKJV)

John had been so overcome by the vision of our Lord that perhaps he had missed part of it, that is, what the Lord was holding in His hand.  He held seven stars and was standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands.  Our Lord describes what these things mean:  the seven stars are the “angels” (“angeloi”) of the seven churches and the lampstands represent the seven churches themselves.

There’s some discussion about who these “angels” were.  Some believe the word is simply used in its primary meaning of “messenger.”  These are human messengers sent from the churches.  “Angel” is simply the transliteration of the Greek word into English.  And it’s true that angels often brought messages from God.  Another view is that they are actual angels, who watch over the churches.  We do read in Scripture of the activities of angels with regard to what goes on in this world, Psalm 91:11; Daniel 11:20, many others.  Others believe it refers to the actual pastors and leaders of the various churches.

I tend to the view that it does refer to the actual pastors and teachers.  It teaches us that pastors don’t belong to the church, or to the denomination or even to themselves.  They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  They are His and, though they have responsibility to the church they lead, they are ultimately responsible to Him.  There is no greater calling in this world than to stand before people and open to them the Word of God.  But there is also no greater responsibility than that.  Even the simple posts that I write for this blog have eternal repercussions.  Spurgeon used to say that it crushed him into the dust to stand before eternity-bound men and women with the Scriptures.  I’m afraid we’ve lost that sense of awe in this day of mega-churches and Christian “personalities.”

The churches are depicted by seven individual lampstands.  These were lamps which would have burned olive oil.  This compares to the single lampstand with seven flames which burned in the Tabernacle, Exodus 26:31, 32, 37.  I think these portray the distinction between Israel and the church.  As a nation or as a people, Israel was a single entity.  They had a single “holy city,” and a centralized religion with its headquarters in the Tabernacle, then, later, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Later on, in the various dispersions and such, the “synagogue” sprang up as a local focal point of instruction and worship.  But the Jewish heart was always with the land of Israel, regardless of where the body was.

I don’t think Gentiles really understand the attachment the Jew has for his homeland.  I worked for a few months as a janitor in a conservative Jewish synagogue and saw firsthand their love for “eretz Yisrael”.

In contrast to the unity of the nation, “the church” knows no such centralization.  We have no “holy city,” no “headquarters” on this earth.  There is no such structure to the church.  Each church is directly responsible, not to some earthly leader or body, but to the Lord Himself.

Scripture describes the church as both an organism and an organization.  The “organism” is called “the body of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 12:31.  True believers are members of that one body.  If you are a believer, though you and I may never meet in this life and might be separated by thousands of miles, live on opposite sides of the planet and have different languages and cultures, we are still related through the Lord Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters.  For lack of a better word, the body is “universal.”  There is only one.

But that one body functions in and through the local church, the local “organization.”  The problem comes in with the confusing of the organism and the organization.  There is no universal “organization,” no world-wide “church,” in Scripture.  Each local church is independent.  No other church can tell it what to do, and it can’t tell any other church what to do.  Certainly, churches can cooperate in various endeavors.  The problem is that the “endeavor,” whatever it is, tends to take on a life of its own and to overshadow the local church.

Through John, our Lord addressed each of the seven churches.  He didn’t have John give the message to some centralized authority, which then filtered it down to the various churches.

These were seven local, contemporaneous churches.  They all existed at the same time.  But “churches” are really just the people who make them up.  So our Lord isn’t just addressing some nebulous something out there.  He’s talking through them to you and me.  He’s giving each one of us counsel, warning, encouragement, promise.  We can find ourselves described in one of these churches, with the attendant counsel given by our Lord.

Jesus and His Revelation

This is the post I started to write under the title “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”  That’s not the first time this has happened – starting off in one direction and winding up somewhere else.  Not complaining, just commenting.

The point I was planning to make in that post, and in this post, too, was that we need to get away from all the inadequate views of the Lord Jesus that are floating around contemporary Christianity, and have been probably have been floating around in different forms since His life and ministry.  We need to get away from the “bumper sticker theology – ‘My boss is a Jewish carpenter'” kind of stuff.  And a lot of the stuff that gets posted on facebook.

Yes, He was a carpenter, although the word behind that translation simply means, “craftsman.”  Yes, He did walk among men and women.  As Hebrews 4:15 puts it, we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

He has walked in our shoes.

The thing is, we can never walk in His shoes.  We can never even begin to understand what it meant for Him to leave the glories of Heaven, to inhabit a body formed in the womb of His mother by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can never know what it must have been like for He Who gave men and women legs to have to learn how to walk; for the One Who gave them tongues to have to learn how to talk.  For Holiness to walk among sinners.

He never complained about it, though He did indicate a few times how it affected Him.  For example, in Luke 12:50, He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with [referring to His coming Crucifixion and all that accompanied it], and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (NKJV)  In Luke 22:15, He said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  His suffering was about to come to an end, even though the worst of it lay before Him.

So, even though a large portion of professing Christendom still has Him on the Cross, we’re not dealing any more with that One Who hung naked on a Roman cross, to the jeers of His enemies and the tears of His supporters.  We’re not dealing with a Christ Who still lies in the tomb or Who never actually existed.  That’s what the world thinks.

We’re not dealing with the incarnate Christ Who lived in obscurity, but with the glorified Christ, Who again resides in the heavenly splendor He left when He came to redeem us.

As we wrote in the other post, “the people to whom John wrote needed to know they served a Christ Who was greater than what they were going through.  They needed to know that what they were suffering, and were going to suffer, wasn’t just some ‘accident of history.’  They needed to know that when Satan did his worst, he was still a defeated foe and that his wouldn’t be the final word.”

So John describes the Lord Jesus as He is, not as He was.

I started this post a few days ago.  It’s been simmering on the stove since then.   In the other post, I divided the Revelation as “the revelation of Jesus Christ to the reader, to the churches and to the world.”  It occurred to me, though, that not only does “the reader” need to understand Who the Lord Jesus is, so do the churches!  Too often, we have more a Christ of sentiment or supposition or Sunday School than of Scripture.  That’s why, in chs. 2 and 3, in each letter to a church, there is reference to the vision of ch. 1.

I was going to write about each aspect of that vision in some detail, and still might, but the whole picture tells us what we need to know.  It all points to one thing.

In Revelation 1:13, John said he saw One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band, standing in the midst of seven lampstands.  This is somewhat reminiscent of the attire of the High Priest in Israel, and, indeed, it’s in that role that the Book of Hebrews presents Him – not only as Prophet, nor even yet as King, but as High Priest, interceding for His people at the right hand of the throne of God.

One of the duties of the High Priest was to make the lamps burn continually, … He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the LORD continually, Leviticus 24:3, 5.

So John presents our Lord as examining His churches to see if and how they are “burning”.  And He has a lot to say to each one of them.

But “churches” aren’t about buildings or denominations, but about people, the people who are their members.  Each believer can find himself or herself in the descriptions of the seven churches.  What the Lord said to them, He says to us.