Daniel 2: Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream: Laying the Foundation.

When one builds a building, the first thing he does is prepare some sort of foundation.  Even if it’s just a shed out in the garden, there must be some sort of anchor for the building.  If he’s building a skyscraper, the foundation must go down to bedrock, perhaps dozens of feet, to provide a secure basis for the building.

This vision of Nebuchadnezzar’s is the foundation upon which the rest are built.  And except for his vision of the tree, all the prophecies in the book come together to form a fairly comprehensive picture of the future of God’s people, that is, the nation of Israel, cf. Daniel 9:24.

The occasion of the dream, 2:1, 28, 29.

In 2:29, Daniel told the king, As for you, O King, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed about what will come to pass after this.  Evidently, Nebuchadnezzar had gone to bed one night and began to think about all he had done, the magnificence of his capitol, and the success he had had politically and militarily.  But he knew he wouldn’t live forever, and so perhaps he began to muse and wonder what would happen after he had died.  What would become of all his accomplishments?  In that frame of mind, he drifted off to sleep, and a dream so disturbing that he awoke with a start, and couldn’t go back to sleep.

The purpose of the dream, 2:28, 29, 45.

God wasn’t using this dream merely to satisfy Nebuchadnezzar’s curiosity.  It is true that Daniel told him that “the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this,” but then  he said, “The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.”  This wasn’t simply to assure the king that the dream as given was correct, but rather to assure him, and us, that what is revealed will happen.

Furthermore, Daniel started his interpretation in v. 28 by saying, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days, emphasis added.  This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered this phrase, about which there is much discussion, and it won’t be the last.

The parts of the dream, 2:31-35.

In this dream, we see the development, deterioration, disintegration, displacement and final destruction of certain world powers, in a description of what our Lord would later call, “The times of the Gentiles,” Luke 21:24.

1. The description of a great image, or statue, vs. 31-33.

This is a straightforward description of a man’s form from head to toe.  It was a statue composed of several materials, from a gold head through silver, brass and iron down to a mixture of iron and clay in its feet.

2. The destruction of the great image, vs. 34, 35a.

There are three elements to this destruction.  A stone cut without hands, that is, of no human origin or effort, struck the image on its feet, with the result that the image collapsed into pieces.  Then the stone crushed the broken image into dust, which the wind carried away till there was no trace of them.

3. The displacement of the great image, v. 35b.

After the destruction and disappearance of the image, the stone…became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

The interpretation of the dream, 2:36-45.

Except for a couple of things, we’re going to leave out the perplexity of Nebuchadnezzar over his dream, and the resultant furor he caused among the court magicians.  There is some discussion over whether or not Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten the dream, but it doesn’t matter.  If he had forgotten it, he would recognize it when described by the magicians, and if he remembered it, he would know whether or not they were indeed able to describe it, and, therefore, as he thought, to interpret it.  We tend to believe that he remembered it, and this was simply a test.

Another thing of note is Daniel’s response to the decree to kill all the wise men.  He and his three friends prayed.  This is another example of his habitual prayer.

Finally, something the wise men said is interesting:  “There is [no one] who can tell the king’s matter,…except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh,”  vs. 10, 11.

It was this very point Daniel emphasized in his response to Nebuchadnezzar:  “but there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets,…and He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be….  The great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this,” vs. 28, 29, 45.

God is never afraid to meet sinful men on their own ground.  In referring to God’s defeat of Egypt before Israel’s deliverance, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, said, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them, Exodus 18:11, emphasis added.  In 1 Corinthians 3:19, 20, quoting Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11, Paul wrote, The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness,” and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of men, that they are futile,” emphasis added.

Here, then, is Daniel’s interpretation of the dream.

1. you are the head of gold, vs. 37, 38.

This dream was Nebuchadnezzar’s.  It had likely come while he was wondering what would become of his kingdom after he died.  It was fitting that the interpretation begin with him:  he is the head of gold, v. 38.

Daniel, however, emphasizes something generally ignored or overlooked by men.  He says, “the God of heaven has given you a kingdom….  He has given them [‘the children of men, birds and beasts’] into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all,” vs. 37, 38.  Certainly and truly, Nebuchadnezzar had conquered most of his world, but it was through that conquest, and not independently of it, that God had put him where he was.

Nebuchadnezzar was on the throne because God wanted him there, Daniel 2:21!  The present occupant of the White House, or the Kremlin, or 10 Downing Street, or leaders in the Middle East or Africa or South America – all are there because God has put them there, not independently of what they have done, but by means of what they have done.  It may seem chaotic to us, but everything moves in perfect accord with God’s purpose, Daniel 4:34; Ephesians 1:11.  It’s hard to understand sometimes, but Scripture says it is so.

2. after you shall arise another kingdom, inferior to yours, v. 39.

As silver is inferior to gold, this second kingdom would be inferior to Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar could do anything he wanted, but Darius, for example, was bound by the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter, 6:8, 12, 15.  The phrase, “does not alter” is, literally, “does not pass away,” which shows how foolish sinful men are.  There is only one King whose Word is settled forever, Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8.  At this time, nothing more is said of this kingdom.

3. a third kingdom of  bronze, which shall rule over all the earth, vs. 39.

Again, nothing more is said of this kingdom.  Note, however, that the various kingdoms decrease in “value” even as they increase in strength:  gold, silver, bronze, iron.

4. the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, (yet flimsy), vs. 40-43.

It will break in pieces all the other kingdoms.  The first three kingdoms are plainly identified in later visions of Daniel.  Though the identity of this fourth kingdom may be known from history as Rome, it is never mentioned by name, either here or in subsequent visions.  In the wisdom and providence of God, there is a reason for this omission, which perhaps we’ll see shortly.

God does say more about this fourth kingdom than He does the other three together.  Not mentioning the legs of the image, though their presence is implicit, Daniel calls attention to the toes, toes and feet which are a strange mixture of iron and clay.  He gives a two-fold interpretation of this conglomeration:

a. It will have great strength, v. 41, the strength of iron will be in it.  That kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others, v. 40.

b. It will have great weakness, v. 42, the kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile [brittle].  They will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay, v. 43.

5. In the face of human effort and failing, God Himself will set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever, v. 44.  This is the stone that struck the image [and] became a great mountain and filled the whole earth that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, v. 35.

But when will He do this?  Or has it already been done?  What does Daniel say?

a. When will God do this?  In the days of these kings, v. 44.

The question then becomes, “Which kings?”  The Reformation Study Bible (RSB) has this note on v. 44:  “The most natural interpretation is that the kings are the rulers of the four powers making up the image just described.  The other possibility is that they are a sequence of several rulers of the fourth kingdom,” (p. 1216).  Just in passing,  I  consider this version representative of current Reformed thought.  As such, I refer to it several times.

Let’s look at this note more closely.  Is there any evidence that God “set up a kingdom” during the Babylonian Empire?  The Persian Empire?  In Greece?  In Rome?  Especially a kingdom that destroys all the rest?  There is one possibility – in Rome, or, more accurately, during the preeminence of Rome.  It was during this time that the Lord Jesus came into the world and was crucified – by a representative of Rome.  In addition, on the same page, the RSB says, “This kingdom was inaugurated and preached at the First Coming of Christ (Mark 1:15; Matt. 12:28; 24:14).” According to this view, then, the kingdom was actually set up some time during the time represented by the middle of the image.  Since there is more said about Christ and His kingdom in Daniel, we’ll leave further remarks about this viewpoint until then.

Actually, we believe there is another possibility, from the text itself.  Here is where we have difficulty with Reformed interpretation of prophecy.  Because, according to them, prophecy doesn’t mean what it seems to say (that is, it’s not to be taken “literally”), close attention apparently doesn’t need to be paid to what it actually says.  The vision clearly shows that the image will be struck on its feet, v. 34.  It seems to me, then, that these kings refers to kings symbolized by the ten toes.  Then, what about them being “a sequence of several rulers of the fourth kingdom”?  I believe John has a reference to these kings in his Revelation: “the ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast,” Revelation 17:12, 16.  See also Revelation 12:3.  These kings are not sequential; they rule simultaneously.  We grant that John isn’t commenting on Daniel, but he and Daniel saw much of the same future.  Granted, some of what Daniel saw as future was history for John.  Further, these kings are later referred to as “horns” by Daniel himself, Daniel 7:24.

“Feet” would be foundational to any statue; destroy them and you destroy the statue.  However, this isn’t Daniel’s thought.  These kings aren’t “foundational” to the statue or to the governments it represents.  They are the final form of those governments, and it’s during their tenure that the God of heaven will set up a kingdom.

b. Who will do this?  The God of heaven, v. 44.

We do agree with the Reformed view that this kingdom will not come through political maneuvering or military power, as have other kingdoms.  There will be no vote to “approve” it.  We are not going to “bring in the kingdom.”  In fact, if I understand Scripture correctly, this kingdom will be the last thing humanity wants.

The question becomes, what kind of kingdom will God set up?  Ad we’ve already seen, He’s already in absolute charge of all that goes on, as Nebuchadnezzar found out the hard way in chapter 4.  So what kind of a kingdom can God set up that He doesn’t already have?  Perhaps we can find the answer as we go along.  Furthermore, since there is no place where God isn’t already in control, another question might be, where will He set it up?  And when will He set it up?  There’s a great deal of discussion about these questions.

c. What will it be like?  It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms.

Let’s think about this for a minute.  According to Daniel, God’s kingdom will destroy all these kingdoms.  Yet, as we look at history, Babylon wasn’t destroyed by God, at least not directly, but by the Medes and Persians.  The Persians were conquered by Greece, who in turn was defeated by Rome.  Rome as a political entity was finally destroyed by Germanic tribes invading from the North in 476 AD.  Pagan Rome was succeeded, if we can put it like that, by Papal Rome, “The Holy Roman Empire,” a political entity over which the Pope had control.  (It’s interesting that Papal Rome still uses the language – Latin – of Pagan Rome.)  Eventually, it split into east and west (hence, perhaps, the two legs of the image).  In 1870, the Pope’s power was limited to the Vatican, though the Roman church is still very powerful.  If we understand correctly, Papal Rome will continue until a confederation of ten kings under the rule of “the beast” destroys her, Revelation 17:16.

d. it’s endurance, v. 44.

1. It shall never be destroyed, as were all the kingdoms of the image.
2. It shall not be left to other people, that is, it won’t be given to or taken away by someone else, as kingdoms often are today.

e. It’s extent, It (as represented by the stone) became a great mountain and filled the whole earth, v. 35.

Not just some local kingdom, nor even an extensive empire, but a world-wide sovereignty over every part of this planet.  There is much discussion about this, which we’ll enter into shortly.  Not just a statue, but an awe-inspiring mountain, or perhaps a mountain range, which will make the Rockies or the Apennines look like foothills!  Everest will hang its head in shame at the splendor of this mountain!  Perhaps that seems a little too much, but God’s kingdom will certainly be far beyond anything this world has ever experienced.
_________________
It’s common for expositors to go ahead and tell us that the second kingdom is Medo-Persia, the third is Greece and so forth.  We’ve identified them like that ourselves.  However, the Holy Spirit didn’t see fit to have Daniel tell us, or rather, for Daniel himself to learn the names of these kingdoms until chapter 10.  Perhaps the Spirit wants us to focus on this vision and what it says.  We’ve already noted that the rise and fall of kingdoms, though perhaps accompanied by much confusion at the time, are all in tune with what God has told us beforehand.  Nothing catches Him by surprise.  He never has to say, “Oops!”  He has no “Plan B”.  He doesn’t need one.  ( As I’ve written elsewhere, I don’t know about you, but if God had to revise His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond Plan B!)  We grant this is contrary to much preaching today.  Nevertheless, “there is a God in heaven,” and there are a couple of things to emphasize from this vision.  First, God’s kingdom will supersede and destroy all human kingdoms.  Second, it will fill the whole earth.  These thoughts will be expanded in later visions.

Though we’ve mentioned it before and will have more to say as we go along, it’s again noteworthy that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was not interpreted as “principles” or “ongoing processes,” but as events, that is, things which would actually happen and which could be and, in many cases have been, individually and historically verifiable.  In fact, as we’ve already noted, there is so much detail given with such accuracy that unbelieving scholars deny that it is prophecy at all, but was written well after the fact by someone using Daniel’s name

Advertisements

“To Boldly Go…”

I’ve been a fan of science fiction all my life.  The adventures of John Carter on Mars from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the writings of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, the imagination of Hugo Gernsback with his Ralph 124C41, written in the early 1900s, yet foreshadowing many ideas which have actually happened.  I realize that most sf is indeed fiction and much of it has little “science” behind it.  Indeed, it’s all written from an evolutionary standpoint.  If life evolved on this planet, then no doubt it also evolved on numerous other planets, and so we have the pronouncements of a Jean Luc Picard opening the TV show “Star Trek, The Next Generation,” saying, “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.  Her mission is to seek out new cultures and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before….”

As for any idea of “God,” in another show, Picard, in great anger, says that mankind got ride of that superstition (his word) a long time ago.  For all his ability and ingenuity, man is still “a fool,” Psalm 14:1.

Another show has the opening line, “Space, the final frontier….

I doubt that man will ever be able to really enter the frontier of space, let alone “cross” it.  Man may have left his footprint on the moon, and yes, I believe he did, but Scripture says that the heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s, but the earth He has given to the children of men, Psalm 115:16, emphasis added.  The moon may be within our reach, and even, in some yet unforeseeable way, the solar system or parts of it, but the nearest star, not counting our own Sun, is 4 light years away. Sf shows talk about some place in space as being 3 or 4 or so light years away, as if that’s nothing – just a couple of hours or days away – but that doesn’t really show the enormous distances involved.  A light year –  the distance a ray of light travel is said to travel in a year – is a little over 4 trillion miles.  That means the nearest star is 24 trillion miles away or 39 trillion kilometers! 

I used to drive for a living and figure I drove about 600,000 miles.  Counting all the years that I’ve been driving, or was simply a passenger in a car, train or plane, perhaps I’ve traveled close to one million miles.  But even that great distance is “only” 1/1000th of a billion, which itself is “only” 1/1000th of a trillion.  So, to look at it another way, I’ve “traveled” 1/1,000,000th of 1,000,000,000,000 miles.  At that rate, I’d have to live 1,848,000 years to get to the nearest star.  In computing space travel, we’re dealing with distances which are so vast that they are nothing we can relate to.  We have no yardstick to measure them.

But space isn’t really “the final frontier” men and women face.

In my reading the other morning, I read Ecclesiastes 8:8, There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war, (KJV).

Many folks have a document that says that they served in a particular branch of the Armed Forces.  It’s their “discharge”.

Until the Lord comes back, there is no such “discharge” in the “battle” of life.

According to Hebrews 2:15, part of the reason the Lord came the first time was to release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

What “fear”?  What “bondage”?

Hebrews 9:27, And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.

There is an innate knowledge that death is not the end of everything, that there is something beyond, something Hebrews calls “judgment”.  I grant that our “modern” culture has pretty much thrown out such “outmoded” ideas as God and salvation and judgment to come.  We worship “science,” not the Savior.  We see the evidence and result of such thinking every day in the newscasts on TV.

Nevertheless, death is an irrefutable “fact of life” and Scripture tells us that it is not the end of our existence, merely the turning of a page, as it were.

Our Lord came to prepare us for that event, that change.

How did He do that?

First, He came as a Substitute.  In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the Israelite would bring an animal to the door of the Tabernacle or to the Temple.  He would place his hand on the head of that animal, thus signifying that he himself deserved to die, but the animal was taking his place.  This was only a temporary arrangement and the countless animals that died during the centuries before our Lord bore eloquent testimony that they could never take away sin, Hebrews 10:4.

Second, He came as a Sacrifice.  Hebrews 10:11 says, This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sin forever, sat down at the right hand of God.

“One sacrifice for sin forever.”

One sacrifice.

Sin must be paid for.  Either you and I will pay for our sins with an eternity in hell, because we could never even ever pay for one sin, let alone the countless multitude we are guilty of, or someone must pay it for us.

That Someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.

His life and death are the only ones God will accept, because He is the only one whose life and death meet the requirements of a holy, righteous and just God.  His are the only ones without sin.

Those who receive Him as Lord and Savior escape final judgment for their sins because the Lord Jesus took their place as their Sacrifice.  I say, “final judgment,” because sin does have consequences.  God may forgive adultery without restoring the marriage that was destroyed by it.  He might forgive drunkenness without restoring the bodily damage that was done by it.  Sin does have consequences.  For the true believer, though he will give an account to God for the sins he committed in this life, and there might be consequences in this life, he can never be lost because of them.  Jesus took his place.

John 1:12 says, As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.  There is only one Name God will accept, only one life and death, only one way into heaven.  Contrary to a lot of modern thought, not everybody is going to a “better place.”  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me, John 14:6.

“No one.”

There is only one way into heaven and that is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, friend, have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?  Do you trust Him as the payment for your sins?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

The Missing Verse.

My wife and I attended a funeral last week.  It was a gray, cold, windy, trying to rain, funeral kind of day.  The funeral was in a national cemetery and as the funeral procession wound its way past row after row of white marble headstones, I saw names of people who had served in WWI and WWII, old headstones showing the effects of 60+ years of weather.  I wondered if anybody remembered these people who had served their country so long ago.
The thing that sticks with me, though, was the message of the gentleman conducting the memorial service.  I don’t really know anything about him, just that he had been called in at the last moment because the original speaker couldn’t be there.
Part of his message was the 23rd Psalm, one of my favorites and the first Scripture I memorized as a youngster.  The thing is, and I don’t know why, he left out a verse –

He leads me in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.

Without that verse, the rest of the Psalm has no meaning, no comfort.  Without “righteousness,” there are no “green pastures,” no “still waters,” no cup running over, no “goodness and mercy.”
It’s true, the Psalmist lived under the Old Testament Law, in which there was provision for “righteousness.”  In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses told the people, “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”  Yet the sad truth is that Israel was never “careful to observe” those commandments; indeed, Moses wasn’t even down Mt. Sinai before the people were engaged in a drunken orgy, Exodus 32.
David himself, the author of Psalm 23, after the sad affair with Bathsheba, confessed his own sinfulness, Psalm 51, in which he said, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me,” v. 3.
But what about us?  We don’t live under that Law, that Covenant.  What then?  Are we better than they?  Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles] that they are all under sin, Romans 3:9.  No, no, if we’re honest, we have to agree with the assessment of Israel in Isaiah 64:6, all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  The word translated “filthy rags” referred to a cloth a woman might use during her monthly cycle or a leper might use to dress his sores – not a very pretty picture, but expressive of what God thinks of the best we can do, our “righteousnesses,” those things we think so much of and put down on the plus side of the ledger.
This is why the Lord Jesus came to this earth.  He came to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  He didn’t come just so we can pay lip service to Him at Christmas or Easter; He came to live the life we cannot live, and die the death we cannot die.  His life was one of complete obedience to the Father.  One time, He asked those who opposed Him, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.  He’s the only One who’s ever been able truthfully to say, “I always do those things which please Him,” that is, the Father, John 8:29.  And when He died on the Cross, He wasn’t dying because of His sins, like the two who died with Him; He was dying for the sins of you and me, His people.
The Lord Jesus came as a Substitute and Sacrifice for His people.  He lived a perfect, sinless life, satisfying all the provisions of God’s law and died a sacrificial death, satisfying the claims of that broken law.  To those who repent of their sins and trust Him alone for salvation, God credits what Jesus did to them.  The Psalmist said, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.  That’s because He dealt with the Lord Jesus “according to our iniquities.”  To those who receive Him as Lord and Savior, the Father treats us according to His righteousness.  Paul put it like this:  God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
That’s the righteousness, the only righteousness, that brings the comfort and blessings of Psalm 23.

Acts 5:12-28: In Trouble Again

12] And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.  13] Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.  14] And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15] so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.  16] Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17] Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadduccees), and they were filled with indignation, 18] and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.  19] But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20] “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

21] And when they heard that, the entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

22] But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23] “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24] Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome might be. 25] So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

26] Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27] And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28] saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”  (NKJV)

This portion seems like deja vu all over again.  Sometimes, instead of going away, trouble just gets worse.  This time, all the apostles were arrested.  However, God was pleased to intervene and the men were freed from their imprisonment, vs. 17-20.  They were told to resume their preaching.  Circumstances do not change responsibility.

We can well imagine the shock, astonishment and frustration caused by this deliverance.  To all appearances, everything was normal.  Gates were closed and locked; guards were at their stations, but “there was no one inside!” v. 23.

While the officials were pondering this unexpected turn of events, someone came and told them that the escaped prisoners were “standing in the temple and teaching the people!” v, 25.

Arrested once more, but peacefully because the people held them in high esteem, v. 26, the apostles were brought before the council.  The high priest reminded them that they had been commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, but, instead of obeying that injunction, the apostles had “filled” Jerusalem with their doctrine.  This is described in vs. 14-16.  He then blamed them for trying to fix the blame for the death of Jesus on him and his fellows.  By this, we see that he totally missed the point of the apostles’ preaching.  It wasn’t about assigning “blame” at all, but about revealing the purpose of that death, which was “to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins,” v. 32.

People today still “miss the point.”  As I write these words, we’re in the middle of the Christmas season, with all its festivities and frivolity.  But in the midst of all that, with the exception of an occasional Christmas carol or maybe a nativity scene tucked in among all the decorations, there is still no room for the Lord Jesus.

Acts 4:34-5:11: …Greed

34] for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of that things that were sold, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

5:1] But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.  2] And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  3] But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?  4] While it remained, was it not your own?  And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?  Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?  You have not lied to men but to God.”

5] Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.  So great fear came upon all those who heard those things.  6] And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

7] Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8] And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9] Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?  Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  10] Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.  And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.  11] So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.  (NKJV)

We’ve already seen the general description of the unity, selflessness and generosity of the early church in 4:34-37, first with the believers themselves and then with a particular individual:  Joses, or as he was named later, Barnabas.  Right now, he’s just one of them; later on, God will single him out for special service.

No doubt, Joses’ gift was received favorably, but….

Among the believers was a couple named Ananias and Sapphira.  They, too, sold a possession, but brought only a part of the proceeds from it to the apostles.  We’re not told what their thinking was or why they did this, but it got them into trouble.

1. Their falsehood, vs. 1-3.

They brought only a part of what they had received from the sale of their land.  Apparently they made it seem as if they donated the whole amount, not just a part of it.

2. Their freedom, vs. 4.

As we mentioned before, this sharing of possessions was voluntary, not compulsory.  There was no requirement that it be done, or that any certain amount had to be given.  Peter said to Ananias that while he and his wife had owned the property, it was theirs to do with as they wished.  And even after they had sold it, they were in control of what they had received.  If they wanted to give only part of the proceeds, they could have.  There was no need to lie about it.

3. Their forgetfulness, vs. 4-9.

They forgot one important fact:  they weren’t just dealing with men.  They were dealing with God.  They hadn’t just lied to others about this sale; they had lied to God.  I think we’ve forgotten this to a large degree in our culture.  We go by current social or cultural norms instead of by the word of God.  Even in church, too often it’s more about tradition than truth.   We mold our beliefs by the catechism or confession of faith than from the Scriptures.  These may be useful and helpful, but we must always say, “What does the Scripture say,” Romans 4:3, not what does the catechism say.  Even as I write these posts, it isn’t or at least shouldn’t be just to get more visits to the blog or favorable comments.  Yes, they have their place, but if God doesn’t bless these efforts to those who read them, nothing of lasting value is accomplished.

4. Their fate, vs. 5-10.

God killed them for their presumption.

We don’t like that.  The god of contemporary Christianity loves everybody and wants to bless them.  Everybody’s going to a better place.  Everyone is a child of God.

That God is love is a wonderful Bible truth, 1 John 4:8, but it is not the only Bible truth.  Earlier in 1 John, he said, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.  He goes on to say, If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

Hebrews 12:29 puts it like this:  Our God is a consuming fire.  This after the admonition in v. 28, Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptable with reverence and godly fear.

“Godly fear.”

This leads to our next thought.

5. The fear, v. 11.

Great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but I think perhaps we tend to make too little of it.  A common definition of “the fear of God” is “reverential awe.”  Is that what these people who had seen or heard of Ananias and Sapphira being struck down for their sin – is that what these people felt?  Just “awe”?

Or was it an actual fear coming from divine judgment?

By this, I do not mean that we should come cringing into the presence of God, expecting Him to hit us up side the head if we don’t do everything just right.  He is the God who has saved us and brought us into His family.  He has exhibited a great deal of patience with our fallibility and fallenness.  He sent His Son to take our place.  That’s something we should remember this “Christmas.”  Jesus wasn’t born on that long ago morning so we could give each other presents, have family get-togethers and eat too much.  He was born into this world because there is not a single thing we can do to redeem ourselves.  Without that birth, there would be no death.  Without that death, there is no salvation.  God did all that, things way beyond our understanding, in order that sinners like us might be saved.

At the same time and for all that He has blessed us, God is God, not our buddy.

Acts 4:5-18, “No Other Name”

5] And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6] as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.  7] And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”

8] Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel:  9] If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made whole, 10] let it be know to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.  11] This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’  12] Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

13] Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.  And they realized that they had been with Jesus.  14] And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  15] But when they had command them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16] saying, “What shall we do to these men?  For, indeed, a notable miracle has been done through them, and we cannot deny it.  17] But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

18] So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

Chapter 4 divides into three sections:  the detention of Peter and John, vs. 1-4; their defense, vs. 5-20; their dismissal, vs. 21-23.  In the post today, we see that Peter and John have been arrested and we enter the courtroom where they are being questioned.

1. The Court, vs. 5-7.

a. The Council, vs. 5, 6.  In the providence of God, it seems the whole rulership of the Jews was gathered at Jerusalem, perhaps still the result of Passover and Pentecost.  In this court, as it turned out, there was a confrontation of those who said they were the rulers of the Jews – and they were, and those who claimed to represent the King of the Jews.  The contrast must have been startling.  On the one hand – power, wealth, influence, position.  On the other hand, three men, one dressed in beggar’s rags, all of them dirty and disheveled from a night in a prison where “criminal rights” were still a fantasy of the far distant future.
b. The Question, v. 7.  Our Lord faced a similar question in Matthew 21:23, perhaps from some of the same fellows.  There is more to that incident than might appear on the surface.  Controversy had raged over whether or not the Lord Jesus was doing miracles by demonic power, cf. Matthew 12:24.  If such in any way could have been proven, He would have been discredited before the people and the rulers would have had legitimate and Scriptural ground to execute.  Indeed, they would have been obligated to do so.
Something of the same holds true here.  The word translated “power” is “dunamis,” from which we get the words, “dynamic,” “dynamo,” “dynamite.”  It refers to power to get the job done. If “magic,” that is, demonic power, had entered into this man’s healing, it would have been a capital crime, worthy of death.
I wonder if something else might not also be here.  After all, these two men were nobodies:  uneducated and untrained.  They weren’t the first to run afoul of the authorities, and they weren’t the last.  History flows with the blood of martyrs who were outside the “official” church.  I do respect the Reformers and, considering the times they lived in and the corrupt church they left, am surprised they did as much as they did.  At the same time, I wish they would have gone all the way back to the New Testament instead of stopping with the early church fathers.

2. The Confession, vs. 8-12.

Peter acknowledged that the healing of the lame man was the reason he and John were before the council.  However, he denies that they themselves healed the man, giving a three-fold answer as to who had performed the healing.  In each answer, there is a difference between seems to be and what actually is.  Each answers revolves around Jesus Christ.

a. The Risen Christ, v. 10.  3:12 echoes here:  “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this?  Or why look so intently on us, as though by our power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  Peter refused any credit before the crowd, and he refuses any credit before the rulers.  The crucified, risen “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”  In this description of the Lord, Peter offers positive proof of the resurrection.  The “name” of an ordinary executed criminal would have had no such power.  Peter did not say, “We serve (the memory of) Jesus and we did it,” but rather, by Him (that is, Jesus) this man stands here before you whole.  He did it, not us!

b. The Resurgent Christ, v. 11.  I admit this word also means “risen,” but it seems to me to convey much more than just that Jesus rose from the dead.  He didn’t just “barely” rise from the dead; He rose in complete triumph over sin, death, hell and the grave!  He conquered them, not just escaped from them!
By crucifying the Lord, the rulers, including at least Annas and Caiaphas, had vehemently rejected the claims of Jesus as to His Person – Deity – and to His office – Messiah, or Christ, Matthew 27:41-43.  The Resurrection vindicated those claims, cf. Romans 1:1-4.  Even though Romans hadn’t been written yet, Peter did know this truth, Acts 5:29-32.
This exaltation of Christ was prophesied in Psalm 110:22-24 and Isaiah 28:16.  After rebuking the chief priests and elders for their refusal to listen to Him, Jesus quoted Psalm 118 and it’s telling truth that their rejection of Him would only further God’s purpose of redemption.
Psalm 118:22, 23 is a clear example of the truth that NT truth is hinted at, though never revealed in the OT.  In Ephesians 2:29, after telling the Ephesian believers that they have been included in the people of God, Paul wrote, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…, emphasis added.
So it seemed to the rulers of Israel that this Galilean interloper had finally been silenced.  In truth, Peter told them, the fulfillment of all God’s promises and purpose rests in and upon Him, and even one’s eternal standing before God, as the Lord Himself taught in Matthew 21:44, hinges on this Crucified, Risen One, a truth which Peter emphasized as he continues to speak.

c. the Redeeming Christ, v. 12.  Little did the chief priests, scribes, and elders realize the truth of what they said as they mocked the crucified Lord, “He saved others…,” Matthew 27:411, 42.  Peter said the same thing.  There are two thoughts in what he said.
1. Christ is the particular Redeemer.  Peter said it twice, “There is not any other, there is no other” Savior.  In this day of diversity and “inclusiveness,” this is not a welcome idea.  If the idea is even accepted that we need to be saved, there are any number of ways, of saviors, to get us into heaven.  So it is said.  Peter said otherwise.  So did our Lord.  He said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, except through Me,” John 14:6, emphases added.  There will be an enormous multitude at the Last Day who will find out to their everlasting dismay and loss that they’ve been lied to by their priest, teacher, prophet, preacher, imam, holy man, guru or whatever.  There is only one way into heaven:  faith in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus.  He saved others.”   There are no other “saviors”.
2. Christ is a personal Savior.   Peter said, “…we must be saved”  He included himself.   In some circles, there is a vigorous debate about “the extent of the atonement,” which is not our purpose to enter into in this post.  In the matter of our salvation, that discussion is irrelevant.  By faith, the true believer is able to say, in wonder, “Christ died for me.”  That is the only “extent” which really matters.  Salvation has always been “one-on-one:”  Christ dying in the place and for the sins of the individual sinner; the individual sinner accepted, forgiven and restored in and because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Psalmist exclaimed,

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
  Psalm 103:10.

That’s because He dealt with the Lord Jesus according to them.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Acts 4:1-4, The First, But Not the Last.

1] Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2] being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.  3] And they laid hands on them, and put them into custody until the next day, for it was already evening.  4] However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

The chapter continues from chapter 3 and gives a second result of the Peter’s sermon beside the conversion of about five thousand men:  he and the disciples get arrested.  The chapter may be divided into three sections:  their detention, vs. 1-4, their defense, vs. 5-20, and their dismissal, vs. 21-23.
The title of the post refers to the arrest described in our verses.  It was the first arrest in the history of the church, but it certainly was not the last.

1. The Captors, the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees, v. 1.
The priests were responsible for procedures for the offerings and sacrifices brought into the Temple.  The captain of the temple was what we might call “the head of security.”  The Sadducees were the liberal wing of Israel’s leadership and, as Matthew 22:23 and Acts 23:8 tell us, say there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit.  The Pharisees were the conservatives and believed in both the resurrection and angels.  Paul turned that difference to his advantage in one of his trials, Acts 23:6.  There was a third party, “the Herodians,” who, to one degree or another, allied themselves with Rome.  Perhaps they thought, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

2. The Controversy, v. 2.
There were two things which bothered these officials:
a. they taught the people.
This may seem strange to us, but we shouldn’t overlook it.  The attitude of these leaders, along with the Pharisees, was one of disdain and contempt for the “little people,” John 7:45-49, as well as any idea that any but themselves should “teach the people.”  They were the spiritual leaders of the nation.  The common people might listen to this interloper into the spiritual affairs of the nation, but they themselves were far above such things.  It’s interesting that while we do read of Pharisees who came to the Lord, Paul being the notable example, there is no record of any Sadducee doing so.
Sadly, that attitude is still around.  In my own experience, I’ve heard a seminary graduate lament that “you can’t really teach much at the ‘Sunday School’ level,” and another brother, looking forward to teaching in a “Bible Institute,” rejoiced that now he would really have to study for “those” people because the folks in the church he was pastoring didn’t require much study or preparation(!)  And, yes, I really did hear these men make those statements.
I recognize the need for advance training for some, to counter the unbelief and skepticism of so-called “higher education” in our day, although the early church did alright without it, and do not necessarily say that we should do away with seminaries and such.  I do deny that “the church” is in any way inferior to the seminary.  The local church was intended to be the center of evangelism, and  instruction, to raise up faithful men, who will be able to teach others also, 2 TImothy 2:2; Matthew 28:18-20.  There is no provision in Scripture for the numerous “para-church” organizations which have sprung up.  In fact, I believe that disregard of this Biblical principle has led to the deplorable and apostate condition of much of “Christianity” today.
b.  they preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
For the Sadducees, at least, this was the disciples’ main offense.  Not only were Peter and John teaching people these men thought to be incapable of learning, they were preaching heresy!  It seems from the phrasing that they weren’t just proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, but through Him the resurrection of everyone, as Paul later taught 1 Corinthians 15.
The Resurrection of our Lord was the message of the early church, Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33; 17:18, 32; 24:15, 21.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:17, 19, If Christ is not risen from the dead, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.  If there is no resurrection, the sin question has not been answered.  Scripture has firmly established that there is an “after” as far as death is concerned, that it is not the end of our existence, and that much of what happens in this life will not bear fruit until then:  Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.  Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden, 1 Timothy 5:24-25.
Death might come as an interruption to this life, but really, it is only an intermission, as it were, between two acts:
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.