Acts 2:40-46, “They Continued”

40] And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”  41] Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.  42] And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  43] Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  44] Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45] and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

46] So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47] praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. 

Verses 14 through 39 give us only a small portion of of what Peter said to the crowd who gathered as a result of the commotion surrounding the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  The thrust of what he said is found in v. 40, which says that with many words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.  His words didn’t fall on deaf ears as we read that three thousand souls were converted to the Lord.

The thing that I find interesting is the fact that they “continued” is mentioned twice, in vs. 42 and 46.  This is the great distinguishing mark of true believers in the Lord Jesus, for there are many who draw back unto perdition, Hebrews 10:39.  It’s the characteristic of His people mentioned by our Lord, John 8:31, Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”  He’s not saying that they remain His disciples, or that they become His disciples, but that they are His disciples.  This reminds us of an earlier incident in His life, recorded in John 2:23-25, Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what is in man. 

We have such a shallow view of salvation.  As long as one makes some sort of  “profession of faith,” or even might have, well, that seems to be enough.  I saw an example of this just the other day.  The media has been filled with the terrible events which happened in Las Vegas.  Of the man identified as the shooter, one pastor wrote, “Now it is possible that he was saved, that he had believed on Jesus at one point in his life.”  Then this pastor wrote, as this man was preparing to shoot, “in those moments, he was not right with God, regardless of his salvation.”

Now, I grant that, generally speaking, we can’t know for certain the spiritual condition of any particular person.  However, Scripture says, you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him, 1 John 3:15.  So, while it is “possible” that this man was “saved,” it doesn’t seem very likely.  He doesn’t seem to have been “continuing”.

We read of these early believers in Acts 2, that they continued, emphasis added.  Verse 42 gives us four examples.

1. apostles’ doctrine.  Since the apostles were still alive, this was possible.  The word translated “apostle” basically means “one who is sent.”  In that respect, any true Christian might say he or she is “an apostle.”  However, there are no “Apostles” in the sense that the twelve were Apostles.  There are no people giving new revelations of Scripture or “messages from God.”  Today, we have the Scriptures.  Our question must be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not what does this or that preacher or teacher say?  What does “the church” say?

What does God say, as given in His Word?

2. and fellowship.  This seems to be tied in with the first item:  “apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.”  There’s an old saying, which I’ve turned around somewhat:  “the feathers with whom you flock show what kind of a bird you are.”  What kind of people do we like to be around, to associate with?  That’s a reflection of who we are.  These is Acts 2 wanted to be with God’s people.

3. in the breaking of bread.  Perhaps what we call communion or the Lord’s Supper and ordinary meals were together.  Our Lord instituted His Supper at the meal of the Passover, Matthew 26:26.

4. and in prayers.  The hallmark of the NT church.

Verses 44, 45 tell of another aspect of the early church:  they were together, and all things in common, and sold their possessions and good, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  Karl Marx used these ideas as a basis for his views on government.  Many others have tried “communal” living of various sorts.  However, especially as it regards communism and other socialist ideas, there are some things to keep in mind about this “community of goods.”

1. It was voluntary.  There is no evidence that this was a “forced” sharing, as in communism.  The government wasn’t involved at all.  Nor does it have anything to do with the current idea of “making the rich pay their fair share.”  It was voluntary,

2. It seems to have been temporary.  We don’t read of this past chapter 6, though the NT is filled with efforts of Paul and others to relieve the necessities of the saints.

3.  It didn’t work, as we see in chapter 6:1, which tells us of the beginning of “deacons.”  We’ll have more about this when we get to that chapter.

It could be this came about because those early disciples believed that the Lord would return very soon.  They had no inkling of “the church,” at least as we know it, or of the time interval between the Ascension and the Return.  We still don’t know of that interval, though that doesn’t stop speculation.  Just a few weeks ago, there were two different such speculations of facebook, both saying that such-and-such was the date on which our Lord would return, and both were wrong.  You’d think, after nearly 2000 years of such misses, that folks would give up trying to figure it out.  He may come before I get done with this post.  He may not come until our grandchildren’s grandchildren are alive.  In the meantime, there are things for us to do.

Verses 46 and 47 gives us a final summary.  The split between Jew and Christian had not yet happened.  As we said earlier, the early church was Jewish.  It wasn’t really until Paul that the Gospel really began to be preached to Gentiles – usually with Jewish opposition.  It was still a time of Apostolic miracle and ministry, a time of generosity and grace.  A time of joy and happiness.  A time of great salvation, as the last verse tells us.  It was a daily occurrence, no special meetings or anything, just apparently the result of the way these early Christians lived.

They continued.

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Acts 2:1-13: Pentecost…Fully Come

1] When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  2] And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  3] Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.  4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5] And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.  6] And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in their own language.  7] Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?  8] And how is it that we hear, each one in our own language in which we were born?  9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoing Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  11] Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”  12] So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”

13] Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” 

Acts 2 records a watershed event in the history of the church:  the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  Unlike those instances in the OT where the Spirit came upon God’s people for a limited time and a specific task, for example, 2 Chronicles 15:1, the Spirit came upon these believers to indwell them permanently.  Like the Crucifixion, it was a one-time event.  Christ doesn’t have to die for each new generation and the Spirit doesn’t have to come in such an overt way for them.  Christ has died and the Spirit has come.  He indwells each believer as a guarantee of each believer’s final arrival in heaven and as the “firstfruits” of our relationship with God as His children:

2 Corinthians 1:22, who [God] also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing [the victory of eternal life over mortality, vs, 1-4] is God, who also has give us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Ephesians 1:14, who [the Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

In these three verses, the KJV has “earnest” for “guarantee.”  I think I like this word better.  An “earnest” is a down-payment on something, or at least that’s what it used to be called.  At least to me “guarantee” doesn’t really have the same impact.  When my wife and I bought our present house, we had to give the owner some money to seal the deal, as it were.  It was our “earnest.”  This was our promise to buy the house, which we did.  It was also his promise to sell us the house.  By the grace of God, we now own it free and clear.

The Holy Spirit is God’s down payment, if you will, on the eternal blessings He has promised to His people.  But, unlike our lengthy time of paying for the house, the payment for our redemption was made all at once by the Lord Jesus on Calvary.  By the grace of God, salvation is ours, free and clear.

In the case of the house, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t “upkeep”.  I need to get out and mow the yard once more before winter gets here.  We recently had the house painted.  We’ve had the roof replaced and the sewer lines cleaned out.  But the house is ours.

So it is with salvation.  There is “upkeep”.  This does NOT mean that we have to “keep” it or else we might lose it.  It’s ours, free and clear.  But, as with the house, there are things to do as Christians:  prayer, Bible study, fellowshiping with other believers, faithfulness during the week and not just on Sunday.

On this first Pentecost, what happened to the believers?  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, v. 4.

“Other tongues.”  What does this mean?  Was it just gibberish, or “angel tongues,” or something else?   Luke clearly tells us.  In v. 5, the crowd drawn by the sound of the “rushing mighty wind,” v. 2, heard them speak in their own language, v. 6.  Then Luke lists 17 languages understood by those who heard the disciples.

This astonished the crowd because it was evident that these disciples were Galileans, v. 7.  Galilee was in the northern part of Israel, next to Gentile territory.  In fact, it was called Galilee of the Gentiles, Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:15.  Galileans were considered uncouth and ignorant, without learning and speaking even their own language clumsily and without grace.  Yet here were these men, speaking foreign languages, and, we might imagine, doing so quite fluently, though Luke doesn’t specifically tell us that.

This brings us to what they were talking about: the wonderful works of God, v. 11.

“The wonderful works of God.”

We’re not told which of these works are included, but I think there’s a lesson here, nonetheless.  Our world and culture is awash with skepticism and unbelief.  We’re told that this world just happened, that it evolved from nothing into the wonder we see all around us.  There is no God, no rhyme or reason for anything, it just happens.  The Bible is just another religious book, subject to human wisdom and scholarship.  There are no absolutes (except that one!), everything is just what culture and society say and accept.  We see the results of that teaching in the degeneracy and violence all around us.

We need to return to a Biblically-based preaching and teaching.  This world didn’t just happen; in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1.  Man didn’t “evolve” from lesser creatures; he was created as a direct and unique act of God, Genesis 1:26, 27.  Death entered for no other reason than man sinned, Romans 5:12.  There are absolutes; man is accountable.  There are a heaven and a hell, and there’s only one way to enter the one and to escape the other:  faith in the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:12.

Some received the message, others mocked, saying, “These men are drunk!”

Lord willing, we’ll see Peter’s response to this jibe in our next post.  Continue reading

Acts 1:12-26, In The Upper Room

12] Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.  13] And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying:  Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot.  14] These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

15] And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16] “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17] for he was numbered with us and had obtained a part in this ministry.”

18] (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out; 19] And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20] “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it’;

and ‘let another take his office.’

21] “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22] beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

23] And they proposed two:  Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  24] And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25] to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”  26] And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.  And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Our Lord’s earthly ministry had ended.  He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Promise of the Father, v. 4.  There had been a question about the re-establishing of the Davidic kingdom, and He had replied that it wasn’t time for that, such was up to the Father, and that in the meantime there were things for them to do, namely being His witnesses world-wide, vs. 6-8.  Then He ascended, but not with sending an angel with the wonderful promise that He would return in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven.”  He didn’t tell them to look for signs or wonders, to check the news for evidence that “the end” was near, or to expect that folks would listen to them.  He simply told them to wait, after which they would be busy.

“To wait.”  That didn’t mean to be idle.  The eleven along with some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers, continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, v. 14.  It’s interesting that nothing is said about them praying to Mary or through her.  She held no place of importance among them.  There was no “veneration” of her.  She was just there as one of them.  And, evidently, His brothers had been converted after first rejecting Him, cf John 7:1-5.

It’s a shame prayer doesn’t have a greater place in our lives.  I’m guilty, too.  We get so busy with lesser things that we forget the important thing.  And I don’t mean just some repetitive formula,  or a few words hastily uttered before bedtime, but real communication with and intercession before God.  And it isn’t just about “asking and receiving,” as one author wrote.  That is certainly part of it, but God is not some heavenly Concierge just waiting around to tell Him what to do.  No, no, if we are believers, we are His children and as children love to be with their father – if he’s the right kind of father – so God’s children love to be around Him.  God is the right “kind” of Father!  If we remember who He is and what He has done and is doing and will do, we have a lot to thank and praise Him for.

There was something to be done while they waited.  One of their number had perished.  Now we don’t exactly what was going through Peter’s mind at this time.  He does say in v. 22 that someone must be chosen to “become a witness with us of His resurrection.”  Again, the importance of our Lord’s resurrection.  If Peter had been a modern preacher, he probably would have talked about witnessing of His love.  But the early church in the book of Acts never once mentioned the love of God.  In fact, the one occurrence of any Greek word for “love” is found in Acts 28:2, where the inhabitants of the island the shipwrecked survivors landed on showed them “unusual kindness.”

Perhaps Peter had in mind the Lord’s promise that the time was coming when the apostles would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30.  Since there were only eleven apostles at the time, one more was necessary.

Some have criticized Peter for not praying before making this statement.  However, those in the room had been in constant prayer, and it is possible, though not stated, that the lack of an apostle was part of that prayer.

There is a solemn thought in all this.  For three years, Judas had been an active member of The Twelve.  They had no inkling that he was any different from them; indeed they made him the treasurer.  True, Scripture tells us he was a thief and stole from their treasury, but they didn’t know that until afterward.  There was nothing outwardly to mark him as different.  As Peter put it, Judas had obtained a part in this ministry.”

But he was lost.

In Matthew 7, our Lord made a sobering statement:

“Many will say to Me in that day [the Day of Judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “ vs. 22, 23.

It’s a solemn thought.  Many in our time “prophesy” or “cast out demons” or do “wonders” or make much of “the Lord’s name.”  But our Lord rejects such things!  Why??  Read Matthew 7 again.  It’s all about what they have done!  Nothing about what He has done.  Cf. Paul in Romans 15:18, For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me…, emphasis added.  Not once did Paul take the credit for his ministry.  Christ used him, yes, and He uses others, but it is God who gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7.

Oh, that we would remember this.  No one praises the paint brush of a great artist or the chisel and hammer of a sculptor.

We are only tools in the hand of that One who designed the ages and brings His work to pass.  After all, He doesn’t need us.  He simply spoke the worlds into existence.  But He’s pleased to use us, imperfect though we are, not because of us, but because of His great mercy.

Thank you, Lord.

“Beginning at Jerusalem”: Preparation, part 1.

Scripture references:  Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:9.

When we get into the study of individual passages in Acts, we’ll return to printing them at the beginning of each post.  For now, we trust you will read the references yourself.  Remember, our attitude must always be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Introduction:  We cannot divorce the Book of Acts from what goes before it.  As we noted in our first post, Pentecost happened less than 2 months after what seemed to be the absolute crushing of the disciples’ hopes and expectations, cf. Luke 24:17-21.  We believe it will be helpful to see how the Lord instructed His disciples in the days between His resurrection and His ascension.  We have 5 records of such times.  Each record seems to have a different emphasis, so we’re going to look at each one of them separately over the next two or three posts.

1. Matthew 28:16-20, The Master’s Command.

The Master’s Authority.  Verse 18b reads literally, “has been given to Me all authority (“exousia,” the right to command, jurisdiction) in heaven and on earth.”  This emphasizes that it is the Lord Who has the authority.  Nowhere in Scripture is it said that He’s given or transferred it to anyone or anything else.  There is no “head of the church” on this world.

In some circles, we hear a lot about “church authority.”  I spent some time among folks like this in earlier days, and this seemed to be their whole thing.  If something wasn’t done under “church authority,” it couldn’t have been of the Lord.  Now, I’ll admit, I have some reservations about “para-church” organizations.  I know the rationale is that such organizations can do more than the local church, and that may be true, but it seems to me that the churches in Acts did pretty well without mission boards, Bible colleges or denominational hierarchies.  The problem with such things is that they take time, talent and money from the local church to support themselves.  I may be wrong, but it could be that if we’d quit depending on human wisdom and ingenuity and do things the way the Lord laid them out, we might be surprised at the results.

So what did the Lord “lay out” for His church?

The Church’s Ministry.  The church is to “disciple” all nations…..  We seem to understand that this simply means “to evangelize” all nations.  And, certainly, that’s where it starts.  The problem, it seems to me, is that is also where it ends.  But the word translated “disciple” means “student,” “learner”.   Cf. Matthew 11:28-30.  This doesn’t mean that every convert has to go to “Bible College,” but rather that, through the local church, they are to be taught by word and example what it means to be a Christian.

I admit.  Just a few month after I was converted, I left for Bible college.  And I’m thankful for that experience.  If nothing else, it indirectly led to the young woman I married nearly 47 years ago.  But there were many other things, as well.  But I was “adrift” in a manner, as well.  There were 800 students in the freshman class.  There was no one there to “mentor,” to “disciple” me, a young believer.  The NT pattern is that the older believers in the church teach the younger.  And there is the “gift” of pastor-teacher.  The man who stands behind the pulpit has an obligation which affects eternity as he teaches and preaches.  Spurgeon said that the idea of standing before the thousands in his church crushed him into the dust.  In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote to Timothy, And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed under the ministry of that godly elderly pastor – at least, he seemed elderly to me at the time.  

According to our text, “discipling” has three parts:

1. baptizing, v.19  Among other things, New Testament baptism is an identifying of believing sinners with their Savior, even as He was identified with them, Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 3:5, 6, 13-15.  I know there’s a lot of teaching about baptism and its saving power, etc., and it’s not really our purpose to get into all that here.  But baptism is supposed to be an evidence of our salvation and our willingness to obey our Savior.  It was never intended to be the means of being saved.

2. teaching, v. 20a.   This isn’t to be just some theoretical or academic exercise.  I have nothing against “books,” but the problem I see with most of our instruction is that it’s out of books, which are what some man says about the Bible.  These may be useful, but how much better would it be if we simply let Scripture speak for itself? Further, it’s to be some teaching that relates to life.  We do need to know about “doctrine,” what we think about God affects how we think about everything else.  But what does it say about marriage, about the family, about how I relate to God and to others?  And is this life “all there is”?

I admit, the Bible has a lot to say.  It takes a while to get around it – something I think isn’t possible in this life.  After all, Ephesians 2:7 tells us that its going to take God Himself the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  This means in no way that He will have difficulty in this, just that we’ll never get to the end of it.  There used to be a TV show that promised “a world of never-ending wonder.”  This is it. 

3. understanding, v. 20b.  This is about our understanding.  It’s simply to remind us that it is the Lord with whom we have to do and not simply with church or some religious organization.  It’s not about “us” as all.  But it’s also an encouragement – He’s always with us.  The task we’ve been given is truly a “Mission Impossible.”  I know we don’t really think that:  it’s just a matter of the right approach or the right atmosphere or the right something else, but it’s not.  As well go to a cemetery and tell the people there to live.  (If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I’m truly sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your sorrow.)  Especially with the lost, we’re talking to people who are spiritually dead and at enmity with God, Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7.  Even with believers, we’re dealing with people who are involved in many things which make it hard sometimes to concentrate on what really matters.  But He is with us to strengthen and encourage us. The battle truly is the Lord’s, 1 Samuel 17:47.

2. Mark 16:14-20, The Manifestation Commending the Churches.

I know there is a lot of discussion over the authorship of these verses.  We’ re not going to get into all that.  It’s enough for our purposes that they don’t disagree with the apparent intent of this Gospel and there are many who distort them to their own discredit and to the discredit of the Word of God.

There is a three-fold “manifestation,” if you will, in these verses.

1. through “preaching,” v. 15.  Again, the thought of Matthew 28:18-20 in intensive preaching of the Gospel, not just in “evangelism,” but in discipling.  Evangelism is only the start.

2. through “profession,” v. 16.  Some cults us this verse to “prove” their doctrine of salvation through baptism.  That’s not what it and the other NT verses about baptism are talking about.

Baptism is important, but not because that’s how we’re saved.  Remember, baptism is to be an identification with our Lord; we’re trusting Him with our souls.  In Matthew, He commanded believers to be baptized.  It’s the first step in the Christian life.  Many “believe” who “draw back to perdition,” Hebrews 10:38, 39; John 2:23-25.  There’s much more that could be said about this.  We did so in our study in Hebrews, but for now, baptism is one evidence, if properly done, that a person has truly believed.

This verse also goes against the Reformed view of infant baptism:  “The baptism [of an infant] becomes a seal of the blessing which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by an act of personal faith.  Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, p. 47, emphasis added.)  According to the Lord and the subsequent teaching of Scripture, baptism is the confirmation of faith, and not the other way around!  Baptism is our profession of faith.

3. through “proof,” v. 18.  This is the verse which causes most of the controversy, as some with more zeal than knowledge handle poisonous snakes and drink strychnine as “proof” of their “faith.”  This is not what the Lord meant.

Notice that these signs “follow” believers; they aren’t to be “sought out” by them or deliberately performed as “proof.”  Cf. Acts 28:3-6 and Paul’s experience along this line.

The teaching seems to me to be that there will be evidence that the message preached by the disciples is not just another religious message.  There were plenty of those in the Lord’s day and there are plenty of those in our day.  The Book of Acts abounds in miracles done to substantiate the message of the early church.  However, notice Acts 14:3; 19:11 and others.  These miracles were not “automatic.”  See also 2 Corinthians 12:12, where Paul speaks of the signs of an apostle. Evidently, miracles (and tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit) were apostolic only, and were not passed on by them.

Verse 20 seems to help our understanding.  If you notice, the word “them” is in italics, as not being in the original language, but added by the translators.  If we leave it out, the verse reads like this:  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Amen.  (emphasis added). There was abundant evidence of a supernatural power behind the message.  Now, we believe that the age of supernatural miracles has passed, but we also believe that when the Word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is evident, and the conversion of a sinner is as dramatic as any miracle in the New Testament.

“Beginning at Jerusalem”

With this post, we start a series on the Book of Acts.

1. Purpose of the Study.

We’re not interested in merely developing some “doctrine of the church.”  There may be a time and a place for such a thing, but in these posts we’re more concerned with “why” the church is than with “what” it is.  For example, when the Lord Jesus ascended, why did He leave only a small, powerless band of men who had no idea what was going on?  Further, what did He expect them to do?  The Book of Acts gives ample answer to these questions, as well as telling us why we have been left in a world increasingly hostile to the Lord Jesus and His message.

2. Some Things to Think About.

In some circles, we hear about a lot about “The New Testament Church.”  More than one group believes it can trace its roots back to Jerusalem, and so, of course, they are The New Testament Church.

An honest comparison between Acts and today shows such differences that it’s sometimes difficult to believe that there is any relationship between us and them at all.  Nor do we believe that it’s necessary to provide a “genealogy” for a church so as to put it in direct succession with the church at Jerusalem.  The only “link” that’s necessary is found in the Lord Jesus and not in some organization or group of organizations.

There are some things to keep in mind:

1. The “New Testament Church,” as such, is a concept, an ideal, that has never existed.  The disciples themselves were blatantly far from perfect and even the church at Jerusalem had its problems, as noted in Acts 5 and 6.  Indeed, most of Paul’s epistles were written to address problems and difficulties in “New Testament” churches.

At the same time, “New Testament churches” seek to be guided by principles of the New Testament and not by church edicts or dictates.

2. When we think of the New Testament church, though, we usually think of the first church, the church at Jerusalem.  A moment’s thought should serve to show that the church at Jerusalem would be absolutely impossible to duplicate today.

a. Many of the people in Jerusalem, both believers and unbelievers, had seen the Lord Jesus and had witnessed or participated in the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord.  Remember, the Lord was crucified less than two months before Pentecost.  Further, many Jews had seen His miracles or heard His teaching during the three or so years of His earthly ministry.

b. Pentecost, though not the “birthday” of the Church (a thought to which we’ll return later on), was the catalyst igniting it, as it were, and getting it going.   A second “Pentecost,” though some might earnestly long for it, is as impossible as a second Calvary.  It is no more necessary for the Spirit to be poured out as He was in Acts 2 than it would be for the Lord to be crucified.  Both were “once-for-all” events, though it is true that the effects and benefits of those two happenings must be individually applied and entered into.

3. Though many disagree, Acts records a final presentation of her King to Israel.  In Matthew 12:39-41, the Lord stated that Israel would be given one final sign that He was who He said He was:  He would only spend three days and three nights in the grave, no more.  He would physically and bodily rise from the dead.  Cf. John 2:19-21.  See also Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29, 30 (note “this generation” in v. 30).  This is why the preaching in Acts always mentions the Resurrection.

Finally, it is sometimes said that Acts is historical and “transitional,” and so we shouldn’t rely on it to teach “doctrine.”  Acts is transitional, but it contains some very strong doctrinal statements.  Now, these must not be isolated from the rest of Scripture, as some do, but neither are they to be ignored.  Acts shows the “transition” from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  Further, it shows the transition of Christianity from a local sect only in Jerusalem and Judea to an influence which moved the world of its day.

Revelation 18-19:10, It’s All About Perspective.


1] After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory.  2] And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place for demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!  3] For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”

4] And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.  5] For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.  6] Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her.  7] In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment will and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and not see sorrow.’  8] Therefore her plagues will come in one day – death and mourning and famine.  And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.

9] “The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, 10] standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!  For in one hour your judgment has come.’

11]  “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore:  12] merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; 13] and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle, sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.  14] The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all that things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all.  15] The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 16] and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls!  17] For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’  Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance 18] and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like this great city?’

19] “They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth!  For in one hour she is made desolate.’

20] “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!”

21] Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.  22] The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore.  No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore.  23]  The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore.  For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived.  24] And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.” 

19:1 After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia!  Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!  2] For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.”  3] Again they said, “Alleluia!  Her smoke rises up forever and ever!”  4]  And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, “Amen!  Alleluia!”  5] Then a voice came form the throne, saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!”

6] And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia!  For the Lord God Onmipotent reigns!  7]  Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  8]  And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 

9] Then He said to me, “Write:  ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”  And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”  10] And I fell at his feet to worship him.  But he said to me, “See that you do not do that!  I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus.  Worship God!  For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”  

This might seem a strange title, but I think it’s borne out by the text we printed above, which has several different viewpoints in it.  In verse 7, the woman says, “I sit as a queen and will see no sorrow.”  When she’s judged, the kings of the earth weep and lament for her, v. 9.  The merchants of the earth, who’ve been made rich by her – how much do you suppose it would cost to rebuild the Vatican? – lament at the blow to their bottom line.  Read the list of things they no longer will be able to sell her.  Most of them are luxuries.  Expensive.  The maritime world, with all its enormous cargo ships holding hundreds of shipping containers, is also devastated, v. 19.

The reaction in heaven?

“Rejoice over her…, v. 20.

The point is, we live in a time when there are no absolutes.  There is no “objective reality.”  For example, a biological man or woman can say they’re the other, and it is so – at least as far as the world is concerned, regardless of what they are genetically.  Indeed, reality has become simply a subjective idea.  It is what you or I think it is.  We have become the Creator.  And the idea that God might have something to  say about anything is as far removed from most people’s thinking as the far side of the moon.

This was the hook Satan caught Adam and Eve with – “you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” Genesis 3:5.

“You don’t need God.  You can decide for yourself what is good or evil.”

How has that worked out?

There are so many applications that could be made here, but we’ll leave it to the Holy Spirit in this case.

What does God say?

It matters.

Revelation 17: “Mystery, Babylon the Great.”

1] Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2] with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”

3] So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness.  And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.  4] The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.  5] And on her forehead a name was written:

MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.

6] I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  And when I saw here, I marveled with great amazement.

7] But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel?  I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.  8] The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition.  And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

9] “Here is the mind which has wisdom:  The seven heads are ten mountains on which the woman sits.  10] There are also seven kings.  Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yer come.  And when he comes, he must continue a short time.  11] The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.

12] ‘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.  13] These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.  14] These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

These verses describe a “woman,” but who is she?  John himself tells us.

In v. 5, he sees that she has a title:  “Mystery, Babylon the Great.”  But in v. 9, he goes even further:  the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.  What one city in the world is known for sitting on seven hills?  It’s Rome, the capital of Italy.  If you don’t believe me, google “city of seven hills.”  And in v. 18, she is described as “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

But what does Rome have to do with Babylon?  What’s the “mystery”?  (In Scripture, a “mystery” is not something to be solved, but something not previously revealed.)

We dealt at some length with this in our post of the letter to the church at Pergamos, so here let’s just say that the link between these two is found in the title Pontifex Maximus, the title held by the Popes since the time of Constantine, and before then by the High Priest of pagan religions, which originated in Babylon, hence she is the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.

In this chapter, John shows the final development of the Church, completely allied with the world.  The beast on which she sits is described as one who was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition.  While I won’t be dogmatic about it, it seems to me that this refers to what we’ve already seen in that the beast, in this case, the head of the final world government, who will die and be allowed to come back to life.

This will result in the world saying, “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him? Revelation 13:4.  Revelation 17:8 continues, and those who well on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they seen the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

I attended a Bible Conference with several hundred pastors.  One of the speakers had as his text Revelation 17.  As he read the chapter, he got to verse 8, and read the first part. Then there was silence for what seemed like a long time, but probably only a few seconds.  He skipped over the part of the verse we quoted in the last paragraph, went to v. 9 and read it and the rest of the chapter.  He never once read or referred to the part of the verse he left out.

I understand there’s a lot of controversy over the topics of election and predestination – the group to which I belonged at the time was very opposed to the Reformed view of them, but to skip over and not even read a portion of Scripture simply because it doesn’t fit a doctrinal viewpoint??

I’m not going to get into those subjects myself at this time.  I’ve done that enough in other posts.  Just remember, our Lord commented that the deception John prophesied would be so great as “to deceive, if possible, even the elect,” Matthew 24:24.

In v. 12, John explains the meaning of the ten horns.  There’s a lot of discussion about who they are, some trying to find them in historical figures, some finding them in consecutive forms of government or rulers.  But John says they’re all contemporaries of the beast and will with one mind yield their power to him.  They will be at the forefront of the “battle” when the Lord comes back, having gathered together with all their armies to invade and conquer Israel.

There’s an interesting description of those who will accompany the Lord Jesus when He returns:  they are called, chosen, and faithful, v. 14.

1. They are called.

This is a common designation of believers, especially in Paul’s epistles.  Cf. Romans 1:6; 8:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 9, 24, 26, chapter 7, to name just two of them.  Then there’s Romans 8:28, a favorite verse of many, and a comfort to believers:  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (emphasis added).

There are those who look at the word “foreknew” in v. 29 and say that God simply looked down the corridors of time and chose those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  On that basis, He chose them.

The Scripture itself uses that picture.  Psalm 14:2 says, The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.  If the “foreknowledge” view is correct, we’d be told that God saw some folks who would receive Him.  Is that what we’re told?

Not at all.

Psalm 14:3 says, They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none good, no, not one.  Paul quoted this portion in Romans 3:11 as he shows the complete and utter corruption of mankind, concluding, There is no fear of God before their eyes, v. 18.

2. They are chosen.

What does this mean?  We’ve already commented on “called.”  Our Lord put “called” and “chosen” together when, in the parable of the wedding feast, He said, “For many are called but few are chosen,” Matthew 22:14.

I heard a pastor quote that as, “Many are called, but few choose.”

There’s a common mindset that just simply cannot wrap itself around the idea that God chooses people to be saved.  But without that “choice,” there would be no one saved.  In Romans 9:29, Paul wrote, And as Isaiah said before:  “Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah.”

While it’s true that Paul was referring to Israel, it holds equally true for us Gentiles as well, for there is no difference [between Jew and Gentile], for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  If God didn’t choose us, we would never choose Him.

But there’s a final word describing these believers:

3. They are faithful.

There’s a charge made against those who hold the doctrine of God’s sovereign election that we can live as we like and don’t have to worry about holy living.  And it’s true that some do live just like the world, but that’s not a result of the doctrine, but of a misunderstanding of it.  Ephesians 1:4 says that He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him.

In vs. 16-18, John closes his description of this wicked woman and her surroundings.  “The waters” are simply the nations of the world over which, with their rulers, she holds sway, v. 18.  The “ten horns,” whatever kind of alliance that turns out to be, will turn on her and destroy her.  Perhaps this will be because she does claim to represent God, and the beast will himself claim to be God – and will allow no competition.

V. 17 again reminds us that God is overseeing and superintending what goes on in this world.  It also answers the common idea that we must be “willing” before God can work with us.  Here are godless, wicked rulers and yet God has no difficulty putting it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose,…until the words of God are fulfilled (emphasis added).  It’s their purpose, but it’s God’s as well, cf. Genesis 50:20.  A lot of people are bothered by that idea, as Daniel, or rather Nebuchadnezzar, put it, in Daniel 4:35:

“He does according to His will in the armies of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ ” 

But why is God so opposed to this “woman”?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the golden cup she holds.  What is the central part of her worship?  Is it not the Mass?  And what is the central part of the Mass?  Isn’t it the offering of “the unbloody sacrifice” of the Lord Jesus in that bread and wine, which are said to be transformed into His actual body and blood?  In this way, what the Lord Jesus Himself did on the Cross is negated and the efficacy of His sacrifice is made to depend on the utterance of a few words by a priest.  This is presumption of the highest order.

There is no salvation in such things.

We cannot, we dare not, try to add to what He did or to say that men must come to Him through some ritual or ceremony as part of a church service, whether it’s the Mass or an altar call.

There is only one way of salvation, and that is through faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross.  There is nothing to be added to it.  Indeed, such “additions” only subtract from what He did.

Is your hope of heaven in what some man has done?

In what you have done?

Or, in what the Lord Jesus Christ did?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.