Acts 11 – Defending Ministry to the Gentiles
Videos for Acts 11:
A. A controversy in Jerusalem regarding ministry to the Gentiles.
1. (1-3) Peter hears objections to his association with Gentiles.
Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
a. Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God: The greatness of the work among the Gentiles in Caesarea could not be kept hidden. There was no desire to hide it, even though many Jewish Christians (those of the circumcision) would be confused and offended.
b. “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” The charges against Peter were simple: “You, who are supposed to be a faithful Jew, associated with Gentiles and even ate with them.” This offended these Christian Jews, so they contended with Peter.
i. And ate with them: Sharing a meal together was a special sign of fellowship in that time and culture. This was considered to be a significant compromise by these Jewish Christians.
ii. This reaction of the Christian Jews shows how significant the change was that God initiated in Acts 10. The change said, to the Gentiles, “You don’t have to become Jews first, and put yourself under the Law of Moses first. Repent and believe, and you can come to Jesus.” But it also said to the Jewish followers of Jesus, “Receive your Gentile brothers and sisters as full members of the family of God. They aren’t inferior to you in any way.”
iii. The objection of those of the circumcision was on the second point, not the first. They complained, You went into uncircumcised men and ate with them! At first, they were more concerned with what Peter did than with what God was doing with the Gentiles.
c. Those of the circumcision contended with him: When we see the reaction of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, we can see how wise it was of Peter to take six witnesses with him to Caesarea and his meeting with Cornelius (Acts 10:23 and 11:12).
2. (4-15) Peter explains his ministry to the Gentiles.
But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.”
a. Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning: This account is an obvious condensation from Acts 10:9-43. God emphasized the importance of these events by repeating the story.
i. “Peter did not flaunt his apostolic authority. Instead he began with a humble recitation of what happened. The Greek makes this particularly clear. It indicates that Peter began at the beginning and explained everything precisely – a very strong word – as it happened.” (Boice)
b. What God has cleansed you must not call common: At first, Peter thought God spoke this about food. But Peter came to understand the vision of the sheet and kosher and unkosher animals had to do with people, not food (Acts 10:28: God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean).
i. There is a sense in which the sheet represents the church, having both “kosher” (Jews) and “unkosher” (Gentiles) on it, with no distinction or dividing line between the two (Ephesians 2:11-18).
c. We entered the man’s house: This may have surprised Peter’s questioners, because it seemed like an admission of guilt – Peter admitted entering the home of a Gentile, something prohibited by Jewish custom and tradition (though not by the Law of Moses.). Yet Peter was careful to add that before he ever entered the man’s house, an angel had been standing in his house. If it was permitted for an angel of God to go into Cornelius’ house, it must be permitted for Peter also.
d. The Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning: This conclusion was important. It showed that God’s stamp of approval was on this work towards the Gentiles. Peter’s point to these Christian Jews (those of the circumcision, Acts 11:2) was clear: they could not withhold their acceptance when God had given His.
3. (16-18) Peter interprets these events by remembering the words of Jesus.
“Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
a. If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? If God was reaching out to the Gentiles, who was Peter that he could withstand God? Peter recognized the importance of sensing where God is going and heading that same direction, instead of trying to persuade God to go your direction.
i. It is important also to note these Christians would see this was all in accord with the Scriptures. They had both the word of the Lord Jesus, recorded in Mark 1:8, and the Old Testament promises that Gentiles would come to the Lord through the Messiah (in passages such as Isaiah 49:6).
ii. There are many today who look at some work or another and say, “Look what God is doing.” But activity alone isn’t enough to validate a work of God. It must also be in line with God’s Word. This work among the Gentiles passed both tests.
b. They became silent: The Jewish believers in Jerusalem (those of the circumcision, Acts 11:2) first reacted with a stunned silence. But then they glorified God, because they saw He was now at work among the Gentiles, also.
i. This is a powerful passage, demonstrating that the hearts of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were soft enough to be guided and corrected by God. It is a glorious thing when God’s people will allow their prejudices and traditions to be overcome by God’s Word and God’s work.
ii. The church in Jerusalem embraced these Gentile believers at first, but it would be a long time until all the objections of those of the circumcision were answered.
B. The Church in Antioch.
1. (19-21) The church in Antioch grows as Gentiles turn to the Lord.
Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
a. Preaching the word to no one but the Jews only: At first, Christians scattered over the Roman Empire preached only to Jews. But they eventually began to preach Jesus Christ to Gentiles as well.
b. Some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene…spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus: These unnamed disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene are genuine heroes. They began the first mentioned “mission to the Gentiles” (here called Hellenists) in Antioch.
i. In Antioch, we have the first example of Christians deliberately targeting Gentiles for evangelism, and this effort had great results (a great number believed and turned to the Lord).
c. When they had come to Antioch: Antioch was founded about 300 B.C. by Seleucus I, one of the inheritors of Alexander the Great’s empire. He liked to make a city and name them after his father, Antioch, and he did this about fifteen times. This city of Antioch was called “Syrian Antioch” or “Antioch on the Orontes.” In the first century it was a city of more than half a million people; today it is a Turkish city with a population of about 3,500.
i. Antioch was about 300 miles (480 kilometers) north of Jerusalem and about 20 miles (32 kilometers) inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Many considered Syrian Antioch the third greatest city in the Roman Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria. Antioch was known for its business and commerce, for its sophistication and culture, but also for its immorality.
ii. “The city’s reputation for moral laxity was enhanced by the cult of Artemis and Apollo at Daphne, five miles distant, where the ancient Syrian worship of Astarte and her consort, with its ritual prostitution, was carried on.” (Bruce)
iii. According to Hughes, when the ancient Roman senator Juvenal wanted to describe the decadence of Rome, he said that “The Orontes has flowed into the Tiber,” flooding Rome with wickedness.
iv. One might say that Jerusalem was all about religion; Rome was all about power; Alexandria was all about intellect, and Athens was all about philosophy. Adding to that, one might say that Antioch was all about business and immorality.
v. When the Gospel came to Cornelius and he became a follower of Jesus, it came to a man who was already a God-fearer. He had a respect for the God of Israel and lived a moral life. When it came to Antioch, it came to an utterly pagan city.
d. And the hand of the Lord was with them: Because God was with them, their ministry was blessed and multiplied, the result was that a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
i. A ministry can’t turn people to the Lord unless the hand of the Lord is with them.
· You can turn people to a personality without the hand of the Lord.
· You can turn people to a social club without the hand of the Lord.
· You can turn people to a church or an institution without the hand of the Lord.
· But you can’t turn people to the Lord without the hand of the Lord.
ii. The phrase, “believed and turned to the Lord” is a good description of the work of both faith and repentance.
2. (22-24) The ministry of Barnabas in Antioch.
Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
a. They sent out Barnabas: The church in Jerusalem sent an able man in Barnabas, previously known for his generosity (Acts 4:36-37) and his warm acceptance of Saul of Tarsus after he was converted (Acts 9:26-28).
i. “News was always getting back to Jerusalem, and I suppose it is always that way. Whenever anything is done, there is always somebody who will run to those who are supposed to be important and say, ‘Do you know what’s going on?’” (Boice)
b. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad: At the church in Antioch, when Barnabas had seen the grace of God, he was glad. There was something in the work and atmosphere among the followers of Jesus in Antioch that made Barnabas able to see the grace of God.
i. In whatever gathering of Christians we associate ourselves with, it is important that others be able to see the grace of God among us. They should not see an emphasis on self, on man-made rules, on human performance – but on the glorious grace of God. It will make them glad.
c. Encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord: Barnabas rightly focused on his main job as a leader of the congregation. He strengthened the church family itself, with the result that a great many people were added to the Lord.
i. This is the plan for church growth spoken of in Ephesians 4:11-16. Leaders in the church dedicate themselves to building strong, healthy Christians. As the saints are equipped for the work of the ministry, they grow into maturity, and do their ministry, and it causes growth of the body.
3. (25-26) Barnabas and Saul work together in Antioch.
Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
a. Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul: Barnabas remembered the precious brother Saul, and how he was sent to Tarsus for his own protection (Acts 9:28-30). Now Barnabas went and found him.
i. It’s not difficult to think of Barnabas being exhausted and overwhelmed by all the work and opportunities in Antioch, and then remembering Saul of Tarsus.
ii. To seek Saul is more literally to hunt him up; Barnabas had to do some looking. MacArthur says the original word “suggests a laborious search on Barnabas’ part.” Saul was so valuable to Barnabas that it was worth it for him to leave the work in Antioch for a season and search hard to find him.
b. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. Together, Barnabas and Saul taught a great many people, making the church in Antioch strong.
i. Saul had spent some twelve years in Tarsus since we last met him; these years were not wasted or lost, but spent in quiet ministry and preparation for future service.
ii. In all this Antioch because a center for great teaching and preaching. Antioch “had the greatest preachers – in the first century Barnabas, Paul, and Peter; in the second Ignatius and Theophilus; in the third and fourth Lucian, Theodore, Chrysostom, and Theodoret.” (Hughes)
iii. But it also had great informal preaching, which is often the best kind. Acts 11:20 reminds us that they spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. This combination of great formal teaching/preaching and great informal teaching/preaching made the church community in Antioch something special and world-impacting.
c. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch: It wasn’t until these years at the Church in Syrian Antioch that the name Christian became associated with the followers of Jesus.
· They had been called disciples (Acts 1:15).
· They had been called saints (Acts 9:13).
· They had been called believers (Acts 5:14).
· They had been called brothers (Acts 6:3).
· They had been called witnesses (Acts 5:32).
· They had been called followers of the Way (Acts 9:2).
· They would be called Nazarenes (Acts 24:5).
· Now they would be called Christians.
i. In Latin, the ending ian meant “the party of.” A Christ-ian was “of the party of Jesus.” Christians was sort of like saying “Jesus-ites,” or “Jesus People,” describing the people associated with Jesus Christ. Boice thinks the idea was that they were called “Christ-ones.”
ii. Also, soldiers under particular generals in the Roman army identified themselves by their general’s name by adding ian to the end. A soldier under Caesar would call himself a Caesarian. Soldiers under Jesus Christ could be called Christians.
iii. In Antioch, they probably first used the term Christians to mock the followers of Jesus. “Antioch was famous for its readiness to jeer and call names; it was known by its witty epigrams.” (Gaebelein) But as the people of Antioch called the followers of Jesus the “Jesus People,” the believers appreciated the title so much that it stuck.
iv. “Ironside says that when he was traveling in China years ago he was frequently introduced as ‘Yasu-yan.’ At first he did not know what the word meant, but he asked about it and learned that Yasu was the Cantonese word for Jesus, and yan was ‘man.’ So he was being introduced as a ‘Jesus man.’” (Boice)
v. First called Christians can also have the idea that they were called Christians before they were called anything else. Their first identity was now to be called Christians. Today, Christians must be willing to take at least the idea of the title “Jesus People,” and must also be worthy of the name. Instead of claiming any other title – Roman Catholic, Protestant, charismatic, whatever – we should be first calledChristians.
vi. Eusebius, the famous early church historian, described a believer named Sanctus from Lyons, France, who was tortured for Jesus. As they tortured him cruelly, they hoped to get him to say something evil or blasphemous. They asked his name, and he only replied, “I am a Christian.” “What nation do you belong to?” He answered, “I am a Christian.” “What city do you live in?” “I am a Christian.” His questioners began to get angry: “Are you a slave or a free man?” “I am a Christian” was his only reply. No matter what they asked about him, he only answered, “I am a Christian.” This made his torturers all the more determined to break him, but they could not, and he died with the words “I am a Christian” on his lips. (Eusebius, Church History)
4. (27-30) A prophetic word announces a famine.
And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
a. Showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar: We don’t know exactly how Agabus showed by the Spirit this famine was on the way. But the Christians took the word seriously, and generously prepared to meet the coming need.
i. “We know from other sources that Claudius’s principate was marked by a succession of bad harvests and consequent scarcity in various parts of the empire – in Rome, Greece, and Egypt as well as in Judaea.” (Bruce)
b. Then the disciples: You can tell these were truly disciples and Christians, because they gave generously to meet the need. They gave, each according to his ability.
i. This means that they gave according to the ability of their resources; those who had more gave more, probably referencing a proportional giving. It also means that they gave according to the ability of their faith, trusting that their gift to God’s work was a worthy investment in His kingdom, and not a loss.
ii. We also see they determined to give. If a person does not determine to give, they often never do.
c. Sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul: The high regard that Barnabas and Saul had among all was evident by the fact that they were trusted with the relief fund.
i. “As far as I know, this is the first charitable act of this nature in all recorded history – one race of people collecting money to help another people. No wonder they were first called Christians at Antioch.” (Boice)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 23 – Paul in Protective Custody, From Jerusalem to Caesarea
Videos for Acts 23:
A. Paul’s defense before the Sanhedrin.
1. (1-2) Paul begins his speech before the council.
Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.
a. Paul, looking earnestly at the council: The previous day Paul saw a great opportunity go unfulfilled when the crowd at the temple mount did not allow him to finish his message to them, but started rioting again. Now Paul had another opportunity to win Israel to Jesus, and perhaps a better opportunity. Here he spoke to the council, with the opportunity to preach Jesus to these influential men.
b. Men and brethren: According to William Barclay, this address meant that Paul was bold in speaking to the council, setting himself on an equal footing with them. The normal style of address was to say, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel.”
c. I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day: Paul probably thought this was an innocent enough way to begin his preaching. He didn’t mean that he was sinlessly perfect and that his conscience had never told him he was wrong. Rather, he meant that he had responded to conscience when he had done wrong and had set things right.
i. Nor would Paul ever consider a clear conscience a way to be justified before God. “Paul might well appeal to the testimony of conscience as he stood before the supreme court of Israel; it was on no righteousness of his own, however, that he relied for justification in the heavenly court. The purest conscience was an insecure basis of confidence under the scrutiny of God.” (Bruce)
ii. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 4:4 is relevant: For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.
d. And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth: Paul’s claim of a good conscience offended the high priest. He thought that someone accused of such serious crimes should never claim a clear conscience.
i. Or, perhaps, he was convicted in his heart by the inherent integrity of Paul’s claim. He was a man with a good conscience, and it was evident in his speech and countenance.
ii. No matter what his motive was, “This order was illegal, for the Jewish law said, ‘He who strikes the cheek of one Israelite, strikes as it were the glory of God,’ and ‘He that strikes a man strikes the Holy One.’” (Hughes)
iii. The Ananias who was high priest at this time did no honor to the office. He was well known for his greed; the ancient Jewish historian Josephus tells of how Ananias stole for himself the tithes that belonged to the common priests.
iv. “He did not scruple to use violence and assassination to further his interests” (Bruce). Later, because of his pro-Roman politics, Ananias was brutally killed by Jewish nationalists.
2. (3-5) Paul’s response to the punch in the face.
Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
a. God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! We wish we knew how Paul said these words. It would have helped to hear Paul’s tone of voice; was it an outburst of anger, or was it a calm, collected rebuke with that much more weight to it?
i. Whatever the tone, the rebuke was entirely accurate and justified. The man who commanded that a defenseless man be punched in the face indeed was a whitewashed wall; a white veneer of purity covering over obvious corruption.
b. For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law? Paul exposed the hypocrisy of the man who made the command.
i. The men of the council were supposed to be example of the Law of Moses. The command to have Paul struck was in fact contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the law. Deuteronomy 25:1-2 says only a man found guilty can be beaten, and Paul had not yet been found guilty of anything.
ii. God will strike you: “Paul’s words, however, were more prophetic than he realized. Ananias’ final days – despite all his scheming and bribes – were lived as a hunted animal and ended at the hands of his own people.” (Longenecker)
c. Those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” Paul instantly knew that he was wrong in his outburst, no matter how he said it. He agreed that it was wrong to speak evil of the ruler of your people (Exodus 22:28). Yet Paul excused himself, claiming that he did not know that the man who commanded the punch was Ananias, the high priest.
i. This isn’t unreasonable, since Paul had been away from the council and the high circles of Jewish authority in Jerusalem for more than 20 years. Probably, he simply didn’t recognize the man who gave the command to strike him as the high priest. However, some think he did not know because Paul’s eyesight was bad. This is an inference from Galatians 4:14-15 and 6:11, as well as from early written church traditions.
ii. Others think that Paul was sarcastic, with the idea “I didn’t think that anyone who acted in such a manner could be the high priest.”
3. (6) Paul’s clever ploy.
But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”
a. Paul perceived: Paul seems to have read his audience and saw they were not conducive to the gospel – the actions of the high priest and the attitudes of those present made this plain. So, Paul gave up on preaching the gospel, and did what he could to preserve his liberty before a council that wanted to kill him.
b. One part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees: Paul’s course was to divide the Sanhedrin among their party lines – to get make side (the Pharisees) sympathetic to him, instead of having them united against him.
c. I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: Knowing his audience, Paul referred to his heritage as a Pharisee, and declared, “concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged.” He knew this was a matter of great controversy between the two parties.
i. Of course, this was an essentially true claim. The center of Paul’s gospel was a resurrected Jesus. He was being judged over the matter of the resurrection of the dead.
4. (7-9) The council is divided.
And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection; and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”
a. When he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided: Paul picked the right issue. Framed in these terms, he immediately gained the Pharisees as an ally, and he let them argue it out with the Sadducees.
i. Sadducees were the theological liberals of their day, and denied the reality of life after death and the concept of resurrection. Luke rightly wrote of them, Sadducees say that there is no resurrection; and no angel or spirit.
ii. The Pharisees were more likely to find some ground of agreement with Paul, being the more the Bible believers in the Jewish world of that time. They took the Bible seriously, even if they did err greatly by adding the traditions of men to what they received in the Bible.
iii. Usually the Sadducees and the Pharisees were bitter enemies, but they were able to unite in opposition against Jesus (Matthew 16:1, John 11:47-53) and Paul. It’s strange how people with nothing in common will come together as friends to oppose God or His work.
b. Let us not fight against God: In saying this, the Pharisees recommended a return to advice of their great leader Gamaliel as recorded in Acts 5:38-39.
5. (10) Paul is rescued by the Roman commander.
Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.
a. Now when there arose a great dissension: The commander had to be certain that these Jews were crazy in their endless and violent disputes. Previously, they rioted over the one word “Gentiles,” now the distinguished men of the council fought over the one word “resurrection.”
b. The commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them: The commander removed Paul for his own safety, and left him in custody in the barracks.
i. Paul’s clever ploy rescued him from the council, but he could not have been happy with the result. He had the opportunity to preach to a huge crowd of attentive Jews on the temple mount and it ended in failure. Then he had the opportunity to preach to the influential Jewish council, and it also ended in a fistfight.
ii. Later Paul seemed to suggest that this tactic of bringing up the resurrection controversy in the way that he did was not good. He suggests that it was “wrongdoing” on his part (Acts 24:20-21).
6. (11) Jesus comforts Paul in the night.
But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”
a. But the following night: This must have been a difficult night for Paul. His heart longed for the salvation of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:1-4), and two great opportunities came to nothing. It would be no surprise if Paul blamed himself for the missed opportunity before the Sanhedrin. It could be said that his reaction to the punch commanded by the High Priest spoiled everything.
i. Perhaps with tears, Paul mourned these lost opportunities for God and how he might have spoiled them. At moments like these, one is often tormented with a deep sense of unworthiness and un-useableness before God. Perhaps this was his end of ministry.
ii. “Bold, courageous, fearless during the day, the night of loneliness finds the strength spent, and the enemy is never slow to take advantage of that fact.” (Morgan)
iii. It was in the darkness of that night when the fears came upon Paul; when his trust in God seemed to falter; when he worried about what God was going to do and if he was going to make it. It was in the darkness of that night that Jesus came to Paul and stood by him.
b. But… the Lord stood by him: Jesus’ physical presence (as it seems was the case) with Paul was a unique manifestation. But Jesus promised every believer to always be with them (Matthew 28:20).
i. Jesus knew where Paul was; He had not lost sight of Paul because he was in jail. When John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, was in jail, a man visited him and said, “Friend, the Lord sent me to you, and I have been looking in half the prisons in England for you.” John Bunyan replied, “I don’t think the Lord sent you to me, because if He had, you would have come here first. God knows I have been here for years.” God knows where you are today; even if you are hiding it from everyone else, God knows where you are.
ii. Paul was alone, but he wasn’t alone; if everyone else forsook him, Jesus was enough. Better to be in jail with the Lord than to be in heaven without him.
iii. Paul had been miraculously delivered from jail cells before; but this time, the Lord met him right in the jail cell. We often demand that Jesus deliver us out of our circumstances, when He wants to meet us right in them. We sometimes think we are surrendering to Jesus when we are really only demanding an escape. God wants to meet us in whatever we face at the moment.
c. Be of good cheer, Paul: Jesus was not only with Paul; He gave him words of comfort. The words be of good cheer tell us that the night brought with it an emotional and perhaps spiritual darkness upon Paul. Jesus was there to cheer His faithful servant after he had spent himself for Jesus’ sake.
i. Jesus would not have said be of good cheer unless Paul needed to hear those words. Paul knew his situation was bad, but he didn’t know the half of it! The next day, forty Jewish assassins would gather together and vow to go on a hunger strike until they murdered Paul. Paul didn’t know this would happen, but Jesus did. Yet He still could say to Paul, be of good cheer.
ii. You might think that things are bad right now, but you may not even know the half of it. But Jesus knows, and he still says to you, be of good cheer. Why? Not because everything is fine; but because God is still on His throne, and He still holds to His promise that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
iii. Anyone can be of good cheer when everything is great; but the Christian can be of good cheer when everything is rotten, knowing that God is mighty and wonderful no matter what the crisis of the moment.
iv. Be of good cheer is only one word in the ancient Greek, and is used five times in the New Testament – each time by Jesus.
· Jesus told the bedridden paralytic, Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you (Matthew 9:2).
· Jesus told the woman with the 12-year bleeding problem, Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well (Matthew 9:22).
· Jesus told His frightened disciples on the Sea of Galilee, Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid (Matthew 14:27).
· Jesus told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
· And here, in Acts 23:11 – Jesus told Paul, be of good cheer.
d. For as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome: Jesus remembered what Paul had done in Jerusalem, and told Paul that there remained more work for him to do in Rome.
i. Paul could have been discouraged about the lack of results from the sermon in Jerusalem. But the results were not his responsibility. His responsibility was to bring the Word of God and to testify of Jesus; the results were God’s responsibility. You have testified for Me in Jerusalem means that Jesus complimented Paul on a job well done.
ii. Yet, though Paul had done a good job, there was more to do. So you must also bear witness at Rome was Paul’s next assignment. The greatest words a faithful child of God can hear are “There is more for you to do.” Those words grieve the lazy servant, but bring joy to a faithful servant.
iii. It can be said to every child of God: There is more for you to do. More people to bring to Christ, more ways for you to glorify Him, more people to pray with, more humble ways to serve His people, more hungry to feed, more naked to clothe, more weary saints for you to encourage.
iv. “A divine decree ordains for you greater and more trying service than as yet you have seen. A future awaits you, and no power on the earth or under the earth can rob you of it; therefore be of good cheer.” (Spurgeon)
e. So you must also bear witness at Rome: The promise of more work to do was also a promise of continued protection. Paul had to live until he had finished the course God had appointed for him.
i. Paul really wanted to go on to Rome (Acts 19:21 and Romans 1:9-12). Sometimes we think that just because we want something a lot, it couldn’t be God’s will for us. But God often gives us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).
ii. The timing of this promise was especially precious. It didn’t look like Paul would get out of Jerusalem alive; much less make it to Rome. God not only knows what we need to hear; He knows when we need to hear it.
iii. Paul faced his enemies the next day with a smile, knowing that they were powerless against him, because God had more for him to do!
iv. “This assurance meant much to Paul during the delays and anxieties of the next two years, and goes far to account for the calm and dignified bearing which from now on marks him out as a master of events rather than their victim.” (Bruce)
B. Paul is delivered from the plot of assassins.
1. (12-15) Forty men vow to set an ambush and kill Paul.
And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
a. Saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul: In the days of Paul and Jesus, there was a secretive group of Jewish assassins who targeted the Romans and their supporters. They were dagger-men, because they often concealed daggers and stabbed Roman soldiers as they walked by. It seems that these same kind of assassins now targeted Paul.
i. They were so zealous that they made a vow to not eat or even drink until Paul was dead. This was a high level of commitment.
ii. These men lacked nothing in commitment or zeal. But their zeal was not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2). Zeal and devotion by themselves never prove that someone is right with God.
b. Suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him: The assassins wanted the chief priests and elders to lie to Roman commander, pretended they wanted another meeting with Paul.
i. Their lie was a sin; and men who should have been committed to the law of God were instead happy to sin against Him. They were zealous, but still willing to lie and sin to accomplish their supposedly godly goals.
2. (16-22) Paul’s nephew learns of the plot and warns the Roman commander.
So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.” So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.” Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him. But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.” So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.”
a. When Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush: It was no accident that this happened. God had to protect Paul because Jesus promised that he would go to Rome to testify of Him (Acts 23:11).
b. Paul the prisoner: Paul had committed no crime; yet he was a prisoner. Because the Roman commander suspected he might be a revolutionary of some kind, Paul had to be kept in custody until the facts of the case could be discovered.
3. (23-24) Paul escapes to Caesarea, with a full military escort and a letter referring his case to the provincial governor.
And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”
a. Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen: 470 trained Roman soldiers would escort Paul out of Jerusalem. It was as if God wanted to exaggerate His faithfulness to Paul, and show him beyond any doubt that the promise of Jesus was true.
b. Provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor: Not only did Paul escape Jerusalem alive, he did so riding a horse – actually, several mounts were made available to Paul.
4. (25-30) The letter from Lysias to Felix.
He wrote a letter in the following manner:
To the most excellent governor Felix:
This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council. I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains. And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him.
a. I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman: In his letter, Lysias implied that he learned of Paul’s Roman citizenship right away, and he said nothing of the way Paul was bound twice and almost scourged for the sake of interrogation.
b. Had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains: For Luke, this was the important line in the letter. It is possible that Roman officials reviewed the Book of Acts before Paul’s trial before Caesar. Here, Luke showed that other Roman officials had judged Paul “not guilty.”
i. “One of Luke’s prime motives in writing his twofold history is to demonstrate that there is no substance in this charge of subversion brought not only against Paul but against Christians in general – that competent and impartial judges had repeatedly confirmed the innocence of the Christian movement and the Christian missionaries in respect of Roman law.” (Bruce)
5. (31-33) Paul arrives in Caesarea.
Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks. When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.
a. Took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris: The 200 soldiers only went as far as Antipatris because the most dangerous part of the road was only up to this point.
i. “Up to Antipatris [about 25 miles] the country was dangerous and inhabited by Jews; after that the country was open and flat, quite unsuited for any ambush and largely inhabited by Gentiles.” (Barclay)
b. They also presented Paul to him: Paul made it out of Jerusalem and to Caesarea on the coast. The plot of the 40 assassins failed.
i. Some wonder if the men who made the vow of fasting died because they failed in their mission to kill Paul. This was probably not the case. Ancient rabbis allowed for four types of vows to be broken: “Vows of incitement, vows of exaggeration, vows made in error, and vows that cannot be fulfilled by reason of constraint” – exclusions allowing for almost any contingency. (Longenecker)
6. (34-35) Paul awaits trial in Caesarea.
And when the governor had read it, he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will hear you when your accusers also have come.” And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.
a. When he understood that he was from Cilicia: Perhaps Felix hoped that Paul came from someplace that required that someone else hear his case. Apparently, learning that he was from Cilicia meant that Felix would indeed be responsible to hear and rule on his case.
b. I will hear you when your accusers also have come: This would be Paul’s first opportunity to speak to someone at this level of authority (the governor). This was the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise made to Paul some 20 years earlier: that he would bear the name of Jesus to kings (Acts 9:15).
c. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium: This began a two-year period of confinement for Paul in Caesarea. After that he spent at least two years in Rome. Taken together with travel time, the next five years of Paul’s life were lived in Roman custody. This was a striking contrast to his previous years of wide and spontaneous travel.
i. Paul lived many years with great freedom, and had to trust the promises of God through those years. Yet he also had to trust the promises of Jesus in his years of little freedom – and to know that God could work just as powerfully through those more difficult circumstances.
ii. Paul needed to receive the promise of Jesus – both promises from 20 years before, and promises recently made – to receive them with confident faith, allowing those promises to make a difference in how he thought and even felt. Every believer must do the same.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 10 – Cornelius, Peter, and the Conversion of Gentiles
Videos for Acts 10:
A. God speaks to Cornelius about Peter.
1. (1-2) Cornelius, a Gentile who served God.
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.
a. A certain man in Caesarea: Caesarea was a predominately Roman city on the shores of the Mediterranean in Judea. It was the headquarters of the Roman governor of the province of Judea. Archaeologists have discovered a stone from a building in Caesarea inscribed with the name Pontus Pilate.
b. Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment: Cornelius was an officer in the Roman Army. A patriotic Jew of that day would naturally dislike or even hate him.
i. “Thirty-two such Italian cohorts were stationed in the different provinces of the empire. They were made up of Italian volunteers and were considered the most loyal Roman troops.” (Lenski) Because he was such a loyal servant of the oppressors of Israel, most every patriotic Jewish person of that day would naturally be prejudiced against Cornelius.
c. A devout man and one who feared God: Yet, Cornelius was a devout man; a man who feared God, who prayed to God always and who gave alms generously to those who were in need.
i. “As a typical Roman he had been exposed to the Roman gods – Jupiter, Augustus, Mars, Venus, etc. – but found they had been exposed to the enlightened concepts of Judaism and had become devoutly monotheistic.” (Hughes)
ii. Cornelius was in the category of what the Jews called God-fearers (one who feared God). These were Gentiles who loved the God of Israel; they were sympathetic to and supportive of the Jewish faith. Yet they stopped short of becoming full Jews in lifestyle and in circumcision.
iii. Jewish people of that time respected and appreciated these God-fearing Gentiles, but they could not really share their life and homes and food with them, because they were still in fact Gentiles and not full Jewish converts.
d. And prayed to God always: Because of the way the life and heart of Cornelius is described, we see a man who obviously had a real relationship with God. At the same time, he was not a part of the mainstream of Jewish life.
2. (3-6) God sends an angel to tell Cornelius to get Peter.
About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.”
a. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision: We are not told specifically here that Cornelius was praying, but it was the ninth hour (3:00 in the afternoon). This was a customary time of prayer for Jews. Also, as Cornelius related the incident to Peter in Acts 10:30, he specifically said he was praying (at the ninth hour I prayed in my house).
b. He saw clearly in a vision an angel of God: This was not a dream, nor did an angel physically appear to Cornelius. This was a vision that came in the “mind’s eye” of Cornelius. At the same time, it was so vivid that Cornelius would later say, a man stood beside me in bright clothing (Acts 10:30).
c. Cornelius! It is significant that God spoke to Cornelius directly, even calling him by name. It is also significant that Cornelius responded with a healthy fear of the heavenly and holy (he was afraid). This shows that Cornelius had a real relationship with God.
d. Send for Simon whose surname is Peter: Probably, Cornelius didn’t even know who Peter was. But he knew that he should do what God told him to do, and he could trust that God was speaking to this one named Peter also (He will tell you what you must do).
e. He will tell you what you must do: God sent an angel in a vision to Cornelius, but He used a man to preach the gospel to him.
i. “Angels may help to connect men with God’s appointed preachers, they are never allowed to do more.” (Lenski)
3. (7-8) Cornelius obeys God’s command and sends for Peter.
And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.
a. Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier: Apparently, the faith of Cornelius was contagious and there were those of his household and under his command who also honored the God of Israel.
B. Peter’s vision of the great sheet.
1. (9-10) Peter on Simon the Tanner’s housetop.
The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance.
a. As they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray: As God spoke to Cornelius, and as Cornelius sent the messengers to call Peter, God also spoke to Peter himself.
i. Typically, this is how God operates. He speaks to several people about a matter, not just one. Then confirmation is provided, and out of the mouth of two or three witnesses a word is established.
ii. “Two men are thirty miles apart. They must be brought together. In order that they may meet, while Joppa is busy with its trade, and Caesarea with its great shipping interests, and will know nothing of what is going on; God within the shadows keeping watch above His own, sends the angel to Caesarea, and grants the ecstatic trance in Joppa. They were thus brought together.” (Morgan)
b. Peter went up on the housetop to pray: In that culture, the housetop was normally used as a sort of patio. There was nothing strange about Peter going up on the housetop to pray.
c. Then he became very hungry: This often happens during prayer; distractions in our body come as we try to direct ourselves to God. However, God used these very distractions to speak to Peter, as he fell into a trance.
2. (11-16) Peter’s vision.
And saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.
a. All kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air: Peter saw all sorts of kosher and non-kosher animals prominently displayed on a sheet-like background (a great sheet bound at the four corners). Then, Peter heard a command: Rise, Peter, kill and eat.
i. When Peter became very hungry and wanted to eat during prayer, he no doubt regarded it as a distraction. Yet, God used it by speaking to him through a vision regarding food. His hunger perhaps made him pay more attention!
b. A voice came to him: We don’t know exactly what this was like for Peter. It is rare for God to speak in an audible voice. More often, God speaks to our inner man. As a vision can be “seen” by the “mind’s eye,” even so we can “hear” the voice of God with the “mind’s ear.”
i. “God does not need sound waves to fall on an ear drum to speak to a man. When it pleases him to do so, he can speak directly to one’s mind where all sound waves are finally interpreted.” (Lovett)
c. Rise, Peter, kill and eat: This obviously went against Peter’s commitment as a Jew, which was to never eat anything except kosher foods. Certainly, among the all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air there were non-kosher animals included.
d. Not so, Lord! Peter’s response was both absurd and yet typical of us. He said “no” to his Lord. The only legitimate answer to a request from our Lord is “yes.”
i. Peter had a bad habit of telling Jesus “no” (Matthew 16:22, John 13:8). Compare Peter’s response to God (Not so, Lord!) with Cornelius’ response to God (What is it, Lord?). On that day, it seemed that Cornelius was more responsive to God than Peter was.
ii. Peter had pretty much put God in a box of limitations, and now God was going to shake Peter up to change his thinking. He can do the same for us. “Shake yourself up a little, my brother. If you are too precise may the Lord set you on fire, and consume your bonds of red tape! If you have become so improperly proper that you cannot commit a proper impropriety, then pray God to help you be less proper, for there are many who will never be saved by your instrumentality while you study propriety.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Peter was saved, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, and Peter had been greatly used by God. At the same time, Peter was still Peter. God didn’t use him because he was perfect, but because he was in the right direction and he was available. We often fall into the trap of thinking that we must be perfected until God can really use us.
e. And a voice spoke to him again the second time: God responded clearly to Peter. What God has cleansed (declared clean)you must not call common (impure, unholy, unacceptable to God).
i. In Old Testament thinking, there was the holy and the common. The holy was made common when it came into contact with something common, and could only be made holy again through a ritual cleansing. When something was made holy it was called consecration; when it was made common it was called desecration.
ii. At this point, Peter believed that God spoke only about food. But shortly, God showed Peter that He was really getting at another point.
f. This was done three times: For deep emphasis, God repeated this vision three times. Peter was to regard this as important.
i. “By the time the drama had been acted out the third time, Peter must have begun to get the idea that God was trying to tell him something, even though he did not know exactly what it was.” (Boice)
3. (17-20) God makes Peter aware of the arrival of the messengers from Cornelius.
Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”
a. Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant: When the vision ended, Peter did not have it all figured out. That came in time, and it came as God spoke to Peter through the visitors just arriving at his door.
b. The Spirit said to him: Previously, in Acts 10:13 and 10:15, it was simply said that a voice spoke to Peter. Now, we are told that the Spirit spoke to Peter. This was God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, speaking to Peter.
c. Three men are seeking you…go down and go with them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them: At this point, God has not told Peter that his visitors were Gentiles. Normally, a godly Jew like Peter would not associate in this manner with Gentiles. Knowing this, and knowing Peter’s previous resistance (Not so, Lord!), God simply surprised Peter with the knowledge that these men were Gentiles. All Peter needed to know was that the Spirit said, “I have sent them.”
4. (21-23) Peter goes with the messengers back to Caesarea to see Cornelius.
Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?” And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
a. Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius: Peter must have been shocked when he opened the door and saw two servants and a soldier (Acts 10:7) at his door. He would have known immediately that they were not Jews, and he would have wondered why God told him to go with them and why God had sent them.
i. The idea that God could send and use Gentiles was entirely new to Peter. God was expanding Peter’s mind and heart.
b. To summon you to his house, and to hear words from you: The messengers from Cornelius came with an invitation. Peter was to go to the house of Cornelius, who wanted to hear words from you. Of course, this was an invitation Peter couldn’t pass up – or could he?
i. A Gentile – worse yet, an officer in the Roman army – wanted to hear the gospel from Peter. Peter never did anything like this before! How will he respond?
c. Then he invited them in and lodged them: We can see the change in Peter’s heart by the way he invited them in and lodged them. Lodged them is literally “to entertain as a guest.” Peter didn’t just coldly give these Gentiles visitors a room; he entertained them as welcomed guests, and he did this against every custom of the Jewish people of that day.
i. “Normally a Jew would have said, ‘Well, it is nice to meet you, but we need to stay out here in the street. You can’t come inside.’ Or he might have said, ‘If you go down the street a little way, I think you’ll find an inn where you can stay.’ No orthodox Jew would have invited Gentiles into his house. He would not have sat down at the same table with them. He would not have had fellowship with them. It was forbidden.” (Boice)
ii. By entertaining these Gentile guests, Peter went against the customs and traditions of Israel, but not against God’s Word. Possibly, at this very moment, God flooded Peter’s heart with an understanding that though the Old Testament said God’s people were not to become like their pagan neighbors, it also said God wanted His people to become a light to their neighbors who didn’t know the true God.
iii. “I think angels watched that house that night, with the despised tanner a fellow-disciple, the great apostle, the three Gentiles as they lodged there.” (Morgan)
d. On the next day Peter went away with them: Peter reached out in love to his Gentile neighbors, in obedience to what God told him to do.
i. Some brethren from Joppa accompanied him: “I suppose he anticipated what was to happen and the misunderstanding and opposition that would result, and he judged that whatever God was leading him into it would be good to have some of the other Jews along to verify the outcome.” (Boice)
ii. “Centuries ago another Jew had come to Joppa with a solemn message from his God, which he was commissioned to bear far hence to the Gentiles. Jonah, the prophet, took a ship from Joppa and refused obedience to the divine call.” (Gaebelein)
iii. Jonah ran from God’s call, thinking he could get away from the Lord, and he did not share God’s heart for the lost. Peter was willing to re-examine his traditions and prejudices in light of God’s word, and he shared God’s heart for a lost world. Some are more like Peter, some more like Jonah.
C. The meeting between Cornelius and Peter.
1. (24-26) Peter comes to Cornelius’ house.
And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”
a. Cornelius was waiting for them: Cornelius had a lot of faith in God. He waited for Peter to come, knowing that since God motivated him to call Peter in the first place, God would bring the plan to completion.
i. Cornelius sent servants to get a man he had never met, so that he could meet this unknown man. He only knew that the man was a pious Jew, who by tradition would have nothing to do with a Gentile such as Cornelius. Despite all that, Cornelius was waiting for them in faith.
b. Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him: Cornelius didn’t know Peter, but must have thought him to be a special man of God, so he fell down at his feet and worshipped him. This reaction was understandable, though wrong. Peter corrected Cornelius by saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” If Cornelius should not give such reverence to Peter, neither should Peter receive it.
i. Significantly, whenever in the Bible worship is offered to men or to angels (as in Revelation 19:10), it is refused. But Jesus received such worship freely (Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9). This proves that Jesus is more than a man, and greater than any angel (Luke 4:8).
ii. In the great St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, there is a huge statue of Peter, where people come and kiss the toe of the statue. This is undue and inappropriate reverence towards any man or angel. We might almost wish that Peter would visit the cathedral named after him and kindly correct such people.
iii. Peter and Cornelius honored each other. Peter honored Cornelius by coming all the way from Joppa to see him. Cornelius honored Peter by bowing low before him. They did just as Paul would later write, in honor giving preference to one another (Romans 12:10).
iv. “Peter refused both to be treated by Cornelius as if he were a god, and to treat Cornelius as if he were a dog.” (Stott)
2. (27-29) Entering Cornelius’ house, Peter explains why he came.
And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”
a. He went in: This is one of the shortest, yet most important passages of this section. Peter actually entered the house of a Gentile, something that Jewish customs and traditions strictly prohibited. By entering a Gentile’s home, Peter showed that his heart and mind had changed, and that he had learned the lesson of the vision of the great sheet.
i. “The principle subject of this chapter is not so much the conversion of Cornelius as the conversion of Peter.” (Stott)
b. Then he said to them: Peter had to explain why he, a godly Jew (who was also a Christian) had entered a Gentile’s house. So, he explained the message he received in the vision, realizing that God wasn’t only (or even primarily) talking about food in the vision (I should not call any man common or unclean).
i. In saying “I should not call any man common or unclean,” Peter understood that the vision was about people, not food. But the principle still relates to food. We understand believers are not under any obligation to keep a kosher diet. How we eat may be better or worse from a health perspective, but it doesn’t make us any more right with God.
ii. Jesus spoke of this principle: Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart, but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods? (Mark 7:18-19).
iii. Paul knew this principle: I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself (Romans 14:14). Therefore he could conclude, Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink…which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).
iv. Yet the connection between unclean persons and unclean foods was important. The idea of unkosher food was closely connected to the idea of unkosher people. “It was largely because of their lack of scruples in food matters that Gentiles were ritually unsafe people for a pious Jew to meet socially.” (Bruce)
c. Therefore I came: This confirmed it. If Peter had not received this vision, he would have never traveled with these Gentile messengers. God had to prepare Peter’s heart with the vision before Peter would come.
3. (30-33) Cornelius explains why he sent for Peter.
So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”
a. I prayed in my house: Undoubtedly, Cornelius prayed either generally to draw closer to God, or specifically that God would send the Messiah. God would answer this prayer through the gospel Peter brought to Cornelius.
b. I was fasting: The intensity of his prayer was evident. He sought after God so intensely that for a time, food became less important. He sought God diligently and God revealed Himself to Cornelius.
c. Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms are remembered in the sight of God: It is interesting to note that though Cornelius was not a Christian in the sense that he was not yet regenerated or born again, yet in this case God heard his prayers and remembered his generosity to others.
d. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God: Peter was living a preacher’s dream. His audience was attentive and well-prepared by the Holy Spirit.
i. The message Peter was about to preach had great preparation. Peter was prepared by the Holy Spirit, and those at Cornelius’ house were prepared to hear the message Peter brought. Our blessing is greatly increased when we prepare ourselves to hear the word of God.
ii. “When you go to church, do you want to receive a good message? If so, the best way is to come with a prepared heart. I know that the preacher must be prepared too. But when God prepares the messenger as well as those who are to hear him, then tremendous things happen.” (Boice)
4. (34-43) Peter’s short sermon to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ; He is Lord of all; that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
a. In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality: This is the foundation for Peter’s understanding that the gospel should now go forth to Gentiles. This statement goes completely against the prevailing Jewish thought at that time that God certainly did show partiality, towards the Jews and against the Gentiles. In essence, many Jews of Peter’s day thought that God loved the Jews while hating the Gentiles.
i. According to William Barclay, it was common for a Jewish man to begin the day with a prayer thanking God that he was not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman. A basic part of the Jewish religion in the days of the New Testament was an oath that promised that one would never help a Gentile under any circumstances, such as giving directions if they were asked. But it went even as far as refusing to help a Gentile woman at the time of her greatest need – when she was giving birth – because the result would only be to bring another Gentile into the world.
ii. If a Jew married a Gentile, the Jewish community would have a funeral for the Jew and consider them dead. It was thought that to even enter the house of a Gentile made a Jew unclean before God. Ancient Jewish writings tell us of a Gentile woman who came to a rabbi. She confessed that she was a sinner and asked to be admitted to the Jewish faith. “Rabbi,” she said, “bring me near.” The Rabbi refused and simply shut the door in her face.
iii. But the Gentiles could give as bad as they got from the Jews. Gentiles despised Jews as weird traditionalists, and believed that they were evil plotters who worshipped pigs. After all, they thought, Jews refused to eat pork, so they must worship pigs!
iv. All of this changed with the spread of the gospel. Christianity was the first religion to disregard racial, cultural and national limitations.
v. When the Jews showed this kind of partiality they were not being faithful to God’s heart as revealed in the Old Testament. The idea that God shows no partiality is also stated in Deuteronomy 10:17 and 2 Chronicles 19:7: For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe (Deuteronomy 10:17).
b. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him: Peter’s point was not to imply that men like Cornelius were already right with God and don’t need to become Christians. Instead, the point is that they need not feel excluded from God because of their national background.
i. We often think God sees color; He only sees the heart. God does not see economic status; He only sees the heart. He doesn’t see nationality or ethnic group; He only sees the heart.
c. He is Lord of all: Thisis a powerful phrase, showing the deity of Jesus. Peter could never say this if Jesus were not (and is not) God. Furthermore, He is Lord of all – meaning both Jew and Gentile.
d. Whom they killed by hanging on a tree…Him God raised up on the third day: Notably, Peter’s preaching to the Gentiles was essentially the same as his preaching to the Jews. He presented the person and work of Jesus Christ, with an emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus and our responsibility before God in light of these things.
i. Peter didn’t have one sermon for one group and another sermon for another. All people needed to be saved by coming to a living faith in a living Jesus Christ.
ii. Peter’s sermon was a wonderful (if brief and perhaps condensed by Luke) explanation of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth:
· Jesus was baptized in identification with humanity.
· Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.
· Jesus went about doing good and healing, delivering those oppressed by the devil.
· Jesus did this with the power of God, for God was with Him.
· Jesus did these things in the presence of eyewitnesses.
· Jesus was crucified.
· Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected in view of many witnesses.
· Jesus commanded His followers to preach the message of who He is and what He did.
· Jesus is ordained by God to be Judge of the entire world.
· Jesus is the one foretold by the prophets.
iii. Even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead: “Peter stresses eating and drinking with Christ because that is a way of saying that Christ’s was a real resurrection.” (Boice)
iv. He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead: “The apostle was not long in his address before he came to the doctrine of the judgment of all men by Jesus Christ. He says that he was commanded to preach it, and therefore he did preach it.” (Spurgeon)
e. Whoeverbelieves in Him will receive remission of sins: The brief sermon concluded with an understanding of the broadness of God’s promise of salvation. Note it carefully: Whoever believes! Jew or Gentile; slave or free; white or black; good or wicked; rich or poor – whoever believes.
5. (44-48) God-fearing Gentiles are filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
a. While Peter was still speaking these words: Salvation came when each one of these Gentiles responded to Peter’s message with believing faith in their hearts, so that they were actually born again as they listened and believed. “Oh that the Spirit of God would in the same manner interrupt us!” (Spurgeon)
i. While listening to Peter, these people made a secret and invisible transaction in their hearts with God, by setting their faith in Jesus Christ.
ii. The moment of a person’s salvation isn’t necessarily when they raise a hand or come forward at an evangelistic invitation. It is more likely at the moment they surrender to God and embrace with trust Jesus in the sincerity of their hearts.
iii. Peter allowed the Holy Spirit to interrupt his sermon. The Holy Spirit was doing the greater work in the hearts of those listening, and Peter went with the flow. He stopped and called for their baptism.
iv. These were likely not the first Gentiles to trust in Jesus and be born again. Gentiles had probably received salvation in the eight years since Pentecost (Acts 2). But those Gentiles were saved as they embraced Judaism as well as Christianity. Gentiles may have received salvation before this, but they were saved as Jews, not as Gentiles.
v. All before this, a Gentile could certainly trust in Jesus as Messiah and receive the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for them at the cross. Yet in doing so, he would first have to become a Jew – and then continue on in the Jewish ritual law. They would wear certain coverings for their head in church, they would eat only kosher foods, they would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the feasts, and they would observe dozens of ceremonial laws and rituals.
b. The Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word… they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God: Their filling with the Holy Spirit was accompanied by the demonstration of spiritual gifts. This was a filling with the Holy Spirit in two senses: First, in the sense that He indwells and abides in every believer; second, in the sense of a special empowering with gifts and graces from the Holy Spirit.
i. When they spoke with tongues, it was to magnify God, not to teach men. The audience was God, not man, as is consistent with the principle of 1 Corinthians 14:2.
ii. This was unique. It was not common in the Book of Acts or in subsequent Christian experience for those who were not previously converted (born again) to instantly be born again and receive such evident spiritual gifts. Yet it was good and even necessary on this occasion, to show that they received the exact same Spirit, the exact same blessing as the apostles and first followers of Jesus did on the morning of Pentecost (Acts 2).
iii. “The Gentiles are brought into an exactly parallel position, not merely with normal Jews (or even Samaritans) who had believed on Jesus, but with the apostles themselves.” (Boice)
c. Those of the circumcision who believed were astonished: The Jewish Christians present were amazed. They may have understood that God was now starting to love the Gentiles, but who would have thought God would fill Gentiles with the Holy Spirit in the same manner and degree as the Jews?
i. Peter made the point clearly when he noted that they received the Holy Spirit just as we have. It wasn’t just that God loved or blessed the Gentiles that astonished them. It was that God loved and blessed the Gentiles just as He loved and blessed the Jews, and He did it while they were still Gentiles.
d. He commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord: This showed their full acceptance into the community of those who followed Jesus. Their baptism showed they were accepted as Gentile followers of Jesus.
i. This entrance of Gentiles into the church was not a new plan, but something promised long before. The Old Testament looked for the day when a light would shine in the darkness of the Gentile world: Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)
ii. God promised Abraham and his descendants that the blessing that came through him would extend to all nations (Genesis 12:1-4). Here, we see Jesus – the greatest blessing from Abraham – extended to the nations.
iii. Remember Jesus’ promise of other sheep, not of this fold in John 10:16. Jesus also promised, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself (John 12:32).
iv. The first Gentile Jesus dealt with in His public ministry was a Roman centurion from Capernaum. When Jesus healed that centurion’s servant, He declared that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:5-13).
v. We should also see that Cornelius was an undoubtedly good man; yet he needed Jesus. Even good people, who are respectful towards God, still need to come to Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and put all their trust in who Jesus is and what He did for them.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 4 – Peter and John Face the Sanhedrin
Videos for Acts 4:
A. Peter preaches to the Jewish leaders.
1. (1-4) The arrest of Peter and John.
Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
a. The captain of the temple: This refers to the police force of the temple precincts. The captain, together with the priests and the Sadducees, all came together to arrest Peter and John.
i. Came upon them: Boice says that the emphasis in the original indicates that they stopped and seized Peter and John suddenly. “They must have said, ‘Enough of this,’ grabbed them, and taken them away.” (Boice)
b. Being greatly disturbed: The Sadducees would be greatly disturbed that Peter and John taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead; they did not believe in the afterlife or the resurrection at all.
i. We can say that they were arrested on suspicion of teaching dangerous ideas – such as that Jesus was raised from the dead, and for healing a man who had been crippled his entire life.
c. Put them into custody until the next day: Normally, this would be an intimidating experience for Peter and John. Suddenly arrested, greatly disturbed officials, handled roughly (laid hands on them), threats made against them (Acts 4:21 implies this), thrown into jail. The entire atmosphere was intended to make them afraid.
i. Acts 4:21 mentions further threats. If there were further threats, there must have been prior threats. “If you keep preaching we will arrest you and beat you.” “If you keep preaching we will harm your family.” “Remember what we did to Jesus.”
ii. By all outward measures, Christianity – the movement of the followers of Jesus – was very weak at this early point.
· They were few in numbers.
· They were inexperienced in leadership.
· They were commanded to not fight back; they were not militant.
· They were opposed by institutions that had existed for hundreds of years.
iii. Boice notes that Acts 4:1-6 lists no less than 11 different groups or individuals opposing these followers of Jesus.
· Groups: Priests and the Sadducees (Acts 4:1); Rulers, elders, scribes (Acts 4:5); and others from the family of the high priest (Acts 4:6).
· Individuals: The captain of the temple (Acts 4:1); Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander (Acts 4:6).
iv. “They were declaring: We have the power. If you are allowed to preach, as you have been preaching, it is because we have permitted you to do it… Anytime we want, we can arrest you and carry you off to jail.” (Boice)
d. The number of the men came to be about five thousand: Despite the opposition coming against the gospel, the number of Christians kept increasing, growing to 5,000 from 3,000 at last count (Acts 2:41). Opposition did not slow the church down at all.
i. Acts 4:4 shows that the power plays, the threats, the intimidation was all ineffective. More people started following Jesus, not less.
ii. In the Western world, Christians rarely face persecution. Satan instead has attacked us with worldliness, selfish pride, a need for acceptance, and status. The martyr can impress unbelievers with his courage and faith; the self-centered, compromising Christian is despised by the world.
2. (5-7) Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin.
And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 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. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”
a. Rulers, elders, and scribes… were gathered together: This was a scene of power and intimidation. This same group of leaders had recently condemned Jesus to death, and they wanted them to know that they had the power to do the same thing to Peter and John.
b. By what power or by what name have you done this? The ideas behind by what power and by what name are virtually the same. In their thinking, the power resided in the name, because the name represented the character of the person.
i. We can say that in itself, this was a legitimate inquiry. These were the guardians of the Jewish faith; they naturally were concerned about what was taught on the temple mount. How they did their investigation may be faulted (with pressure and intimidation); also what they did with the results of their investigation.
3. (8-12) Peter boldly preaches to the Jewish leaders.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known 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. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
a. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit: He was instantly filled with the Spirit again, evident by his supernatural boldness and ability to speak the gospel directly to the heart of the matter.
i. The filling of the Holy Spirit Peter experienced in Acts 2:4 (along with other disciples) was not a one-time event. It was something God wanted to continue doing in their lives.
b. If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man: The tone of Peter’s reply shows that he was not intimidated by this court, though humanly speaking, he should have been intimidated by the same court that sent Jesus to crucifixion.
i. For a good deed: Peter’s logic was piercing – why are we on trial for a good deed?
c. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth: Peter preached Jesus, the Jesus they crucified, the Jesus God raised from the dead, the Jesus who healed this man.
d. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders’: The quotation from Psalm 118:22 was appropriate. Jesus was rejected by men – by those leaders – but was exalted by His Father.
e. Nor is there salvation in any other: Peter didn’t merely proclaim Jesus as a way of salvation, but as the only way of salvation. The idea that there is no salvation in any other, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved is hard to accept for many, but is plainly stated.
i. “Oh, how the world hates such statements! If you want to be laughed at, scorned, hated, even persecuted, testify to the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.” (Boice)
ii. Instinctively, man responds: “Isn’t there some way that I can save myself? Isn’t Jesus just for those ones who can’t save themselves?” No. If you are going to be rescued; if you are going to be made right with God, Jesus is going to do it.
iii. Does this mean that everyone must make a personal decision for Jesus Christ to be rescued from eternal peril? What about the infant who dies? What about the person who has never heard about Jesus? We can say that God will deal with them fairly and justly, and those who are saved will be rescued by the work of Jesus done on their behalf, even if they lacked a full knowledge of Jesus. But what about you who have heard and perhaps reject?
iv. If someone wishes to believe that all are saved or that there are many roads to heaven or that one can take the best of all faiths and blend them into one; fine. Believe so and bear the consequences; but please do not claim this is the teaching of the Bible.
B. The Jewish rulers react to Peter’s sermon.
1. (13) What they saw in Peter and John’s character.
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.
a. They were uneducated and untrained men: In a sense, we should probably disagree with the opinion of the Jewish leaders judging Peter and John. Certainly they were uneducated in one sense – they, like Jesus, had no formal rabbinic education according to the customs and standards of that time. Yet they were educated in two more important ways: they knew the Scriptures, and they had been with Jesus.
i. The greater importance of these two things – more important than formal education – has been proven in the lives of God’s servants again and again. It has been proven true through such servants of God as Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, William Carey, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Hudson Taylor.
ii. Yet it is helpful to remember that God has used many who were greatly educated. Moses, Daniel, and Paul are all Biblical examples. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Billy Graham are just a few historical examples. It’s just as wrong to think that formal education disqualifies someone for effective service as it is to think that it automatically qualifies someone for effective service.
iii. “Men are too anxious to be ranked with scholars; and so when error, however deadly, wears the glittering serpent-skin of scholarship, it insinuates itself into the very chair of the teacher, and the pulpit of the preacher, and no one seems to dare to smite it with a bold blow!” (Pierson)
b. They saw the boldness of Peter and John: Because they had been with Jesus, they were naturally bold. When one is a servant of the all-powerful God, they have nothing to fear from the judgment of men.
i. “A few men unarmed, furnished with no garrisons, do show forth more power in their voice alone, than all the world, by raging against them.” (Calvin)
ii. “The word boldness means lucid and daring statement. In the Greek the word is parresia, ‘telling it all’.” (Ogilvie)
iii. “No one attribute is more needful to-day for Christ’s witness than Holy Spirit boldness due to Holy Spirit fullness.” (Pierson)
iv. It is interesting to note what the Jewish leaders did not do: they did not make any attempt to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. If it were possible to do, this was the time to do it; yet they could not. “Had it seemed possible to refute them on this point, how readily would the Sanhedrin seized the opportunity! Had they succeeded, how quickly and completely the new movement would have collapsed!” (Bruce)
c. They realized that they had been with Jesus: This means that the bold exclusivism of Acts 4:12 was coupled with a radiant love characteristic of Jesus. If we will preach no other name we should also make it evident that we have been with Jesus.
i. Sadly, when Christians became strong and powerful, and when Christianity became an institution, too often Christians were those who arrested people and told them to be quiet, threatening them with violence and sometimes carrying it out against them. That is not evidence that one has been with Jesus.
ii. People should go to Jesus directly, but often they won’t. The only Jesus they will see is what shines through us. We must work to make the fact that we have been with Jesus as obvious in our lives as it was in theirs.
2. (14) What they saw in the man who was healed.
And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
a. They could say nothing against it: This miracle was examined by doubters and stood up as a genuine miracle. This was not a case where the healing was “lost” in a few hours, as some claim happens today.
b. Nothing against it: Previously this man was completely lame, having to be carried wherever he went (Acts 3:2). Now he was completely healed. This contrasts many who get up out of wheelchairs at modern “healing services” who come with a limited ability to walk, but are able for a few moments to walk much better because of the hype, emotion, and adrenaline. Yet they tragically leave the arena in the wheelchair, having “lost” their healing.
3. (15-18) Taking counsel, the Jewish leaders command Peter and John to stop preaching Jesus.
But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 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.” And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
a. They conferred among themselves: Luke probably found out what the Sanhedrin discussed among themselves because a member of that Sanhedrin later became a Christian: Saul of Tarsus. Acts 26:10 gives us reason to believe Paul (Saul) was a member of the Sanhedrin to cast his vote against the early Christians.
i. If this is true, we can say that Peter and John had no idea they were preaching to a future apostle and the greatest missionary the church would ever see. It is an example of the truth that we have no idea how greatly God can use us.
b. We cannot deny it: The corruption of their hearts was plain. They acknowledged that a miracle had genuinely happened; yet they refused to submit to the God who worked the miracle.
c. So that it spreads no further among the people: Their fear of the preaching of Jesus was rooted in their own sinful self-interest, not in any desire to protect the people.
4. (19-20) Peter and John respond to the command to stop preaching Jesus.
But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
a. Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge: It was self-evident that they should listen to God instead of man. Peter made an effective appeal to this truth.
b. We cannot but speak: Peter and John must speak of the things which they had seen and heard. They had to, not only because of the inner compulsion of the Holy Spirit, but also because of the command of Jesus: You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8).
c. Speak the things which we have seen and heard: They did not originate this message; they merely relayed it as reliable eyewitnesses.
5. (21-22) Peter and John are released with threats of future punishment.
So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.
a. Finding no way of punishing them, because of the people: The Jewish leaders were completely unmoved by an obvious miracle from God, yet they responded to public opinion. This proves they cared far more about man’s opinion than God’s opinion.
b. They all glorified God for what had been done: This whole situation started out looking pretty bad. Peter and John were on trial before the same court that sent Jesus to Pilate for crucifixion. It was meant for great evil, but when it was all over, see what God did:
· 2,000 more people came to believe on Jesus.
· Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit again.
· Peter got to preach Jesus to the leaders of the Jews.
· Hostile examiners confirmed a miraculous healing.
· The enemies of Jesus were confused.
· Peter and John were bolder for Jesus than ever before.
· God was glorified.
C. The early church prays for boldness.
1. (23-24) Introduction: They acknowledge their God.
And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them.”
a. Reported all that the chief priests and elders had said: Peter and John had good news to report. We can picture them saying, “We got to tell them about Jesus! They realized we were like Jesus! They told us not to tell others about Jesus!”
i. In response, the early Christian community – their own companions, probably the apostles and some others – had a prayer meeting. Important events moved them to prayer.
b. They raised their voice: They prayed vocally. It is certainly possible to pray silently in our minds, but we focus our thoughts more effectively when we speak out in prayer.
i. Voice is in the singular. This means that they did not all pray individually, speaking at the same time. One person prayed and all agreed with that one, so that they were really praying with one voice.
ii. “With one accord they lift up their voice to God. This does not mean that they all prayed at once. That would have been confusion. Disorder in meetings, a number of people talking at the same time in a boisterous way with outward demonstrations, is an evidence that the Holy Spirit is not leading, for God is not a God of disorder.” (Gaebelein)
c. With one accord: They prayed in unity. There was no strife or contention among them. There wasn’t one group saying, “We should pray for this” and another saying, “we should pray for that.” They had the same mind when they prayed.
d. Lord, You are God: They began by reminding themselves who they prayed to. They prayed to the Lord of all creation, the God of all power.
i. This word Lord is not the usual word for Lord in the New Testament; it is the Greek word despotes. It was a word used of a slave owner or ruler who has power that cannot be questioned. They prayed with power and confidence because they knew God was in control.
ii. When we pray, we often forget just who it is we pray to; or worse yet, we pray to an imaginary God of our own ideas. The disciples had power in prayer because they knew who they prayed to.
2. (25-28) They pray in light of the Scriptures.
“Who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
‘Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the LORD and against His Christ.’
“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”
a. By the mouth of Your servant David have said: We don’t know specifically who said these words, but whoever did spoke for all the disciples (remember they prayed with one accord). They recognized that these words of the Old Testament from Psalm 2 were really the words of God. God had spoken by the mouth of [His] servant David.
i. It’s an important point. The apostles and disciples believed that the words of King David, recorded in Psalm 2, were actually the words of the Lord God, said by the mouth of King David. The earliest Christians had a high view of the Holy Scriptures.
b. Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? Their unified prayer quoted Psalm 2 because the disciples understood what happened by seeing what the Bible said about it. From Psalm 2, they understood that they should expect this sort of opposition and not be troubled because of it because God was in control of all things.
i. Psalm 2 expresses complete confidence in God and His victory. “He is the King. He is ruler in Zion. Servants you can bind, but the Word of God is not bound. And that unleashed, unbound, powerful Word of the gospel reached out from Jerusalem, that remote city of the Roman Empire, to permeate and eventually transform the entire world.” (Boice)
ii. When we pray, we must see our circumstances in light of God’s Word. For example, when we are in conflict, perhaps we need to know we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age (Ephesians 6:12).
iii. Seeing our circumstances in light of God’s Word also means seeing when there is a sin problem. Then, we should say with the Psalmist, “When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.” (Psalm 32:3-4, Peterson). Perhaps we are in the same place the Psalmist was, in sin and needing to confess and be made right with God.
iv. We also use Scripture in prayer to pray the promises of God. When we need strength, we can pray according to Ephesians 3:16: That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man. God’s Word will speak to our situation.
c. Do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done: Because they saw their circumstances in light of God’s Word, they could recognize that the wrath of man never operated outside of the sphere of God’s control; these enemies of Jesus could only do whatever the hand of God allowed.
i. This brings real peace, knowing that whatever comes my way has passed through God’s hand first, and He will not allow even the most wicked acts of men to result in permanent damage.
3. (29-30) They ask for more boldness, more power, and for more trouble.
“Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
a. Grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word: This request is consumed with God’s cause and glory, not the comfort and advancement of the disciples. They ask for things that will lead to more confrontation, not less.
b. By stretching out Your hand to heal: They did not ask to do miracles themselves. They understood that Jesus heals by His hand; and that He does it from heaven through His people.
i. It is a snare to long to be used to do miraculous things. It is often rooted in the pride that wants everyone to see just how greatly God can use me. I should be delighted in the power of God, not because He has used me to display it.
4. (31) Their prayer is answered.
And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
a. The place where they were assembled together was shaken: They were given an earthquake as a unique emblem of God’s pleasure. We don’t know the extent of the shaking; it may have been confined to the house itself.
i. “The presence of the Holy Spirit was so wonderfully manifested that even dead walls felt the power of the Spirit of life – matter responded to spirit.” (Pierson) Those walls didn’t change, nor did that become a special holy place where the Spirit of God always dwelt. In a similar way, a person can be shaken by the Holy Spirit without being transformed or indwelt by the Spirit of God.
ii. This earthquake is recorded in Acts 4:31. Someone pointed out that the significant 1994 Northridge earthquake happened at 4:31 in the morning. This means nothing; we can regard it as simply a curious coincidence, especially because there is nothing particularly inspired about the chapter and verse divisions of modern translations.
b. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit: They were filled with the Holy Spirit, again. The experience on Pentecost was not a one-time experience. For Peter, this counts as the third time he is specifically said to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
i. The idea that we are “Spirit filled” only at an experience known as the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is wrong, though there may be a wonderful and first yielding to the Spirit’s power. We must be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, and make our “immersion” in Him a constant experience.
c. They spoke the word of God with boldness: They received the boldness they asked for. “The word boldness means lucid and daring statement. In the Greek the word is parresia, ‘telling it all.’” (Ogilvie)
i. This boldness is necessary today; we need to tell it all. We often deliberately hide the work of God in our life from others who would actually benefit from hearing about it.
ii. Their boldness was a gift from God, received through prayer. It was not something that they tried to work up in themselves.
D. The sharing heart of the early church.
1. (32) Their attitude towards each other and towards material possessions.
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
a. Those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of things he possessed was his own: This unity was a wonderful evidence of the work of God’s Spirit among them. Because of their unity, they regarded people more important than things.
i. “This unity is not conformity, where everybody is exactly alike. It is not organizational, where everyone must be forced into the same denomination. The worst times in the history of the church have been when everyone has been part of one large organization. It is not that kind of a unity.” (Boice)
b. They had all things in common: They recognized God’s ownership of everything; it all belonged to God and His people. Because God had touched their lives so deeply, they found it easy to share all things in common.
c. All things in common: It isn’t accurate to see this as an early form of communism. Communism is not koinonia. “Communism says, ‘What is yours is mine; I’ll take it.’ Koinonia says, ‘What is mine is yours, I’ll share it.’” (LaSor)
i. “The Greek here does not mean that everyone sold their property at once. Rather, from time to time this was done as the Lord brought needs to their attention.” (Horton)
ii. There was also probably immediate reason for this significant sharing of all things in common. Since Pentecost there was a large number of those who believed and many of them were from distant lands. Without permanent homes and jobs in Jerusalem and Judea, those who stayed in Jerusalem to learn more about being followers of Jesus needed special support from the Christian community.
iii. Some think that this radical sharing of possessions among the early church was a mistake. They say it was based on the wrong idea that Jesus was returning immediately, and that it led to much poverty in the Jerusalem church later on.
2. (33) The effective witness of the apostles.
And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
a. With great power: This is both the result and the root of the attitude in the previous verse. Acts 4:32 shows they put God first, people second, and material things a distant third.
b. Gave witness to the resurrection: Notice again the central place the resurrection of Jesus held in the message of the first Christians. They preached a resurrected Jesus.
c. Great grace was upon them all. Grace is God’s favor, His smile from heaven, and it was upon them all. God’s favor was evident everywhere.
i. Great grace: Hughes says this is literally mega grace. Great power is mega power.
3. (34-37) Examples of early giving.
Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
a. All who were possessors of lands or houses sold them: This radical giving was absolutely necessary to meet the needs of this rapidly growing church. Remember, many of these Jerusalem Christians lived as refugees from abroad, having responded to the gospel on Pentecost.
b. All who were possessors of lands: People didn’t wait for others to give. When a need arose, they gave what they had to help others.
c. They distributed to each as anyone had need: Unfortunately, this generosity of the early Christians soon began to be abused. Later the Apostle Paul taught regarding who should be helped and how they should be helped. Paul’s directions were that:
· The church must discern who the truly needy are (1 Timothy 5:3).
· If one can work to support himself, he is not truly needy and must provide for his own needs (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, 1 Timothy 5:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:11).
· If family can support a needy person, the church should not support them (1 Timothy 5:3-4).
· Those who are supported by the church must make some return to the church body (1 Timothy 5:5, 10).
· It is right for the church to examine moral conduct before giving support (1 Timothy 5:9-13).
· The support of the church should be for the most basic necessities of living (1 Timothy 6:8).
d. Joses, who was also named Barnabas: One man named Barnabas was a notable example of this giving spirit. Joses was known for being generous with more than material things; he was so generous with encouragement that they called him Barnabas, meaning “Son of Encouragement.”
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 28 – Paul Arrives In Rome
Videos for Acts 28:
A. Paul’s ministry on the island of Malta.
1. (1-2) The islanders of Malta are impressed when Paul is miraculously unharmed by a snake-bite.
Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold.
a. They then found out that the island was called Malta: These experienced sailors would certainly have known the island of Malta, but not this side of the island. Almost all the traffic to Malta came to the main port, on the other side; they didn’t recognize this side of the island.
b. Made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold: Luke wrote as someone who experienced this, both the kindness of the Malta natives and the cold and wet of the storm. Malta could mean refuge, a fitting name.
i. The meaning of the name Malta is somewhat disputed, depending on if the name is rooted in the language of the ancient Phoenicians or the ancient Greeks. If the name is rooted in early Greek, it probably has the sense of “honey” because of beekeeping on the island. But if the name is rooted in language of the ancient Phoenicians, it probably has the sense of “refuge.”
2. (3-6) Paul and the snakebite.
But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
a. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks: The great apostle gathered wood for the fire, even though there were probably scores of people among the 276 passengers and crew far more suited for the job. Paul’s servant heart was always evident.
b. A viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand: Paul was faithful to God and living as a true servant. But this did not keep him from this trial. His humble service brought out a viper, and the viper didn’t just nibble on Paul – it fastened on his hand.
i. Paul didn’t let it bother him. He didn’t scream, “Why God? I can’t take any more of this!” or “Can’t You see I’m serving You?” Paul didn’t look at those sitting by the fire and say, “You lazy people! If you gathered wood instead of me, this wouldn’t have happened to me!”
ii. Paul’s reaction seemed calm and unconcerned: He shook off the creature into the fire.
c. No doubt this man is a murderer…yet justice does not allow to live: The natives were convinced that justice had finally caught up with this prisoner. Justice is actually a reference to the Greek goddess of justice, Dikee. The natives, knowing Paul was a prisoner, assumed he committed a great crime, and the goddess of justice would not permit Paul to escape unpunished.
d. And suffered no harm: God didn’t preserve Paul from the storm just to let him perish by a snake. Paul was protected. It was promised he would go to Rome (you must also bear witness at Rome, Acts 23:11), and Paul wasn’t to Rome yet. It wasn’t so much that nothing would stop Paul as it was that nothing would stop God’s promise from being fulfilled.
i. Paul could take God’s past faithfulness as a promise of future blessing and protection.
ii. By extension, we also see that “Divine Justice” had no more claim against Paul – it had all been satisfied by Jesus’ work on the cross. God’s justice could never harm Paul, nor anyone who has had all his or her sins paid for by the work of Jesus on the cross.
e. Said that he was a god: This is a typically human reaction. For these natives, Paul had to be seen in extremes. Either he was terribly evil or considered a god. In truth, Paul was neither a criminal deserving punishment nor a god. This is all the more reason we must be cautious about what others think of us, either for good or bad.
2. (7-10) Paul heals the father of Publius, and many others.
In that region there was an estate of the leading citizen of the island, whose name was Publius, who received us and entertained us courteously for three days. And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him. So when this was done, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed. They also honored us in many ways; and when we departed, they provided such things as were necessary.
a. The leading citizen of the island… who received us and entertained us courteously for three days: This was a great blessing and a strong contrast to the misery of the previous two weeks at sea. God gave Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus a season of relief and replenishment.
i. Leading citizen of the island: This “is the exact technical term for the person who represented Rome in that place; it is another example of Luke’s extraordinary accuracy.” (Boice)
b. The father of Publius lay sick of fever and dysentery: Some think this was a malady known as Malta fever, which comes from a microorganism found in the milk of Maltese goats. Its symptoms usually last about four months.
c. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him: God healed this man; yet it happened through the willingness and activity of Paul. God did the work, but Paul made himself ready and available for the work.
d. The rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed: Soon, the work Paul did went to many others. This word for healed is not the customary word for a miraculous healing. The word more literally means, “to receive medical attention.” It may be that Luke (who was a physician according to Colossians 4:14) served as a medical missionary on Malta.
B. Paul at Rome.
1. (11-15) The final part of Paul’s journey towards Rome.
After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island. And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days. From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli, where we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
a. After three months: They spent three months on Malta, gathering strength and waiting for the winter to end.
b. Landing at Syracuse: This was the first stop from Malta. Syracuse was a famous city in the ancient world, being the capital city of the island of Sicily.
i. Archimedes, the famous mathematician, had lived at Syracuse. When the Romans conquered the island, a solider put a dagger to his throat as he worked on a math problem, drawing in the dirt. Archimedes said, “Stop, you’re disturbing up my equation!” and the soldier killed him.
c. Rhegium… Puteoli… and so we went toward Rome: As Paul and the others made their way northward up the Italian peninsula, they spent time with fellow followers of Jesus they met along the way (we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days).
d. When the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as the Appii Forum and Three Inns: Eventually they were greeted outside Rome by Christians from city who came to meet them. They honored Paul by greeting him as the emperors were greeted when they arrived at Rome: they went out to meet him as he came into the city, walking the long journey (about 43 miles or 69 kilometers) to the Appii Forum to welcome Paul and his companions.
i. They had received Paul’s famous letter to the Romans a few years before, so they probably felt like they knew him already – and they certainly wanted to honor him. In light of the love and honor behind this greeting, no wonder that Paul thanked God and took courage.
ii. “Luke is far from giving the impression that Paul was the first person to bring the gospel to Rome… the presence of those Christians – the brothers, as Luke calls them – provides evidence enough that the gospel had reached Rome already.” (Bruce) There were Jewish people from Rome present at Peter’s preaching on Pentecost many years before (Acts 2:10), so there had probably been Christians from and in Rome from the beginning.
iii. One could say that they treated Paul as if he were a king. “It was a custom when an emperor visited a city for the people to go out and meet him and escort him back into the city.” (Horton)
iv. Yet, during his second Roman imprisonment, Paul was left alone and forgotten (2 Timothy 4:9-16), meaning that in some sense, the Christians at Rome didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) maintain their love and honor of Paul.
2. (16) Paul’s status as a prisoner in Rome.
Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.
a. When we came to Rome: Finally, the promise of Jesus was fulfilled. Paul determined that he would go to Rome as early as his third missionary journey (Acts 19:21, Romans 1:15). At Jerusalem, Jesus promised Paul he would make it to Rome (Acts 23:11) and repeated the promise during the two weeks of storm at sea (Acts 27:23-25).
i. “Now, at the very end of the book, the apostle comes to Rome. Thus Jesus’ prophecy that his disciples would be his witnesses ‘to the ends of the earth’ is fulfilled.” (Boice)
ii. When Paul came to Rome, the city had existed for almost 800 years. The famous Coliseum was not yet built; but the prominent buildings were the temple of Jupiter, the palaces of Caesar, and a temple to Mars (the god of war). At the time, Rome had a population of about two million – a million slaves, and a million free. Society was divided into roughly three classes: A small upper class, a large class of the poor, and slaves.
b. The centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: This was a happy moment for Julius the centurion, who fulfilled his duty and successfully brought all the prisoners from Caesarea (Acts 27:1) to Rome – with much help from Paul.
c. The soldier who guarded him: Paul wasn’t in a normal prison. He was allowed to dwell by himself and provide his own living space (a rented house according to Acts 28:30). Yet he was constantly under the supervision of a Roman guard, and often chained. The rotation of the guards gave him a constant supply of people to talk to.
i. “To this soldier he would be lightly chained by the wrist…the soldier would be relieved every four hours or so, but for Paul there was no comparable relief.” (Bruce)
ii. In Philippians 1:13, written from this Roman custody, Paul told of how his message reached the palace guards of Rome. Though he was the prisoner, he had a genuinely captive audience.
3. (17-20) Paul appeals to the Jewish community of Rome.
And it came to pass after three days that Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: “Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, wanted to let me go, because there was no cause for putting me to death. But when the Jews spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation. For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”
a. Paul called the leaders of the Jews together: Paul followed his consistent practice of going to the Jews first in every city he came to as an evangelist. It took him only three days to have a meeting with the leaders of the Jews in Rome.
b. Men and brethren: Paul wanted them to know that he had not forsaken Israel and that they were still brethren to him. As Paul explained to the crowd on the temple mount at the beginning of this ordeal, I am a indeed a Jew (Acts 22:3).
c. I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers: Paul wanted them to know that he was innocent of any crime against the law or the Jewish people.
d. When they had examined me, wanted to let me go: Paul wanted them to know that the Romans were ready and willing to release him.
e. Not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation: Paul wanted them to know that he did not make a counter-suit or accusation against the Jewish leadership that had accused him.
f. Because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain: Paul wanted them to know that he was a prisoner because of his belief in Israel’s Messiah, the hope of Israel.
i. As the year A.D. 70 approached, time was running out before an unparalleled national calamity struck a Jesus-rejecting Israel. In 10 years or so it would be clear that Jesus was the hope of Israel, yet a hope that many of them rejected.
4. (21-22) The Jewish leaders respond to Paul.
Then they said to him, “We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you. But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
a. We neither received letters from Judea concerning you: This demonstrates that the religious leaders who accused Paul in Jerusalem and Caesarea knew their case was hopeless. They made no effort to send ahead documents confirming their case against him.
b. Nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you: Paul wanted to know what they heard from Jerusalem about him. The Jewish people of Rome had not yet heard anything about Paul.
c. We desire to hear from you what you think, for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere: Though they did not know anything about Paul, they had heard that Christianity was unpopular among some, being spoken against everywhere. They should be complimented on wanting to hear the story from Paul himself.
5. (23-24) The Jewish community of Rome hears the gospel from Paul.
So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.
a. He explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening: In what must have been a wonderful time of teaching, Paul spoke of the kingdom of God, and gave an exhaustive study of how the Old Testament spoke of Jesus – from morning till evening.
b. Testified of the kingdom of God: In speaking of the kingdom of God, Paul undoubtedly taught what Jesus taught: That in Jesus God brought a spiritual kingdom that would take root in men’s hearts before it took over the governments of this world. Most of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day and of Paul’s day looked for a political kingdom, not a spiritual kingdom.
c. Some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved: In response to this remarkable, day-long teaching from Paul, some believed and trusted Jesus. Others did not, and disbelieved. Even the best teaching from the best apostle in the best circumstances could not persuade them.
6. (25-27) Paul explains the rejection of the gospel from Isaiah 6:9-10.
So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying,
‘Go to this people and say:
“Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand;
And seeing you will see, and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”’
a. When they did not agree among themselves: This suggests that those who were persuaded and those who disbelieved started arguing among themselves.
b. They departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers.” Paul understood that Isaiah prophesied of their hardness of heart. Certainly, Paul was happy that some received the gospel, but he was undoubtedly distressed if even one of them rejected Jesus.
c. Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand: Essentially, Isaiah said this in this passage from Isaiah 6:9-10: “If you reject Jesus, you can hear, but never understand; you can see but never perceive. You heart is, and will be, hard, your ears closed, and your eyes shut – because you really don’t want to turn to God and be healed of your sin.”
i. This is a message just as true today as it was when Isaiah first said it – or when Paul quoted it. Many hear and reject simply because they don’t want to turn to God and be healed of their sin.
7. (28-29) Paul tells them he will take the message of salvation to the Gentiles.
“Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.
a. Therefore let it be known to you: If some of them rejected the salvation of God, it did not make that salvation of no effect. It just meant that God would find those who would hear it – in this case, the Gentiles.
i. Paul plead for men to receive Jesus, but not as a beggar might plead. Paul ached not for himself, but for those who rejected – and solemnly warned those who rejected of the consequences.
ii. The preacher of the gospel really preaches two messages. To those who respond to the gospel with faith, he is a messenger of life. But to those who reject Jesus, the preacher adds to their condemnation. To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:16)
b. When he had said these words, the Jews departed: This mixed group – some who believed, some who did not – left Paul arguing with each other (a great dispute among themselves).
i. In just a few years after Paul’s rebuke of those Jews who rejected Jesus, the Jewish people of Judea were slaughtered wholesale and Jerusalem was destroyed. God’s judgment was coming, and part of Paul’s frustration was that he sensed this.
8. (30-31) Paul spends two years in Rome before his trial in Caesar’s court.
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
a. Then Paul dwelt two years: Paul spent more than two years at Caesarea waiting for his case to be resolved (Acts 24:27). Now he spent another two years waiting for his case to be heard before Caesar.
i. “The two years’ prolongation of Paul’s stay in Rome could be accounted for adequately by congestion of court business. It took that time for his case to come up for hearing.” (Bruce)
b. His own rented house: Probably, Paul continued his work as a tentmaker (leatherworker) to supply the rent for his house (as in Acts 18:1-2 and 20:33-35). Paul was always a hard-working man.
c. Received all who came to him: One example of someone who he received in Rome was a convert of Paul’s, a runaway slave named Onesimus (Philemon 1:10), who Paul told to go back to his master Philemon.
d. Preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence: Though Paul could not travel, he could teach and preach to all who came to him – and this he did. He also wrote letters; we have these two years of Roman custody to thank for the letters to the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians.
i. These two years were not wasted, and God didn’t waste Paul’s time in Rome. God never wastes our time, though we may waste it by not sensing God’s purpose for our lives at the moment.
ii. Paul eventually had his appearance before Caesar Nero. It’s entirely reasonable to believe that he boldly and powerfully proclaimed the gospel to him – as God had promised he would (Acts 9:15 and 23:11).
iii. It seems likely that Paul was acquitted of these charges, and by most estimates was free for another four or five years until he was arrested again, imprisoned, condemned, and executed in Rome at the command of Nero in A.D. 66 or 67 – as the historical traditions of the early church state.
iv. Probably, Luke did not record Paul’s appearance before Caesar because the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written to give the Roman court the background and facts of Paul’s case in his trial before Caesar.
e. No one forbidding him: This has the idea of completely unhindered. Paul’s chains and custody mattered nothing. The word of God was unhindered.
i. As Paul came to Rome, the sea, the soldiers, and the snake all threatened his life. But God delivered him from them all. Through Paul, God shows that God’s man, fulfilling God’s will, cannot be stopped – though all kinds of difficulty may come in the way.
ii. Finally, even the disbelief of some of the Jews – or anyone else’s rejection of Jesus – will not hinder the gospel. The gospel will go forth and find those who will believe.
iii. Matthew 22:1-14 is a parabolic illustration of the Book of Acts. God prepared a feast for Israel, and invited them to come (in the days of Jesus’ ministry), but they would not come. Then, He sent out a second invitation, after all things were ready. But they did not come then either; instead, they killed God’s servants who brought the message of the feast. Finally, God invited all that would come, including Gentiles – but they could only come if they were clothed in the garments of Jesus.
f. With all confidence, no one forbidding him: There is no end to the story, because the history of the church continues this story on and on through the centuries. Trusting in Jesus, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Father, the word of God will continue to spread without hindrance and continue to change lives for the glory of God. The Book of Acts really is a never-ending story.
i. “Now unto him, who is able to work so as none can hinder, be all honour and glory, dominion and power, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Poole)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 27 – Shipwreck on the Way to Rome
Videos for Acts 27:
A. From Caesarea to Fair Havens.
1. (1-2) Paul and his companions leave Caesarea.
And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment. So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.
a. Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment: We don’t know much about this specific Augustan Regiment (several held that title), but it was common for Roman soldiers to accompany the transport of criminals, those awaiting trial, and merchant ships filled with grain going from Egypt to Rome.
b. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us: Aristarchus and Luke (notice the us of verse 2 and beyond) accompanied Paul on this voyage. The favor Paul enjoyed from Julius (as in Acts 27:3) meant he was allowed to take these companions with him.
2. (3-8) From Caesarea to Fair Havens.
And the next day we landed at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care. When we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the shelter of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. And when we had sailed over the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing to Italy, and he put us on board. When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone. Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
a. Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care: The ship first sailed to Sidon, where Paul met with Christians and could receive care from them. The Roman commander gave Paul a lot of liberty because he wasn’t a condemned man (yet), but waiting for trial before Caesar. Paul’s godly character and display of Christian love were also helpful in gaining favor.
i. Paul was different from the other prisoners on board. The other prisoners were probably all condemned criminals being sent to Rome to die in the arena.
b. An Alexandrian ship sailing to Italy: This was a grain freighter, taking grain grown in Egypt to Italy. According to Hughes, the typical grain freighter of that period was 140 feet long and 36 feet wide. It had one mast with a big square sail, and instead of what we think of as a rudder, it steered with two paddles on the back part of the ship. They were sturdy, but because of its design, it couldn’t sail into the wind.
c. Along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra… off Cnidus… off Salmone… Fair Havens: The ship began to make its way west, eventually coming to the port called Fair Havens on the south side of the island of Crete.
3. (9-10) Paul’s advice to the captain and crew of the ship.
Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.”
a. Sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over: The Fast date in question here was probably October 5, which was the date of the Day of Atonement in A.D. 59. The idea is that as winter approached, the weather became more dangerous for sailing.
i. “The dangerous season for sailing began about September 14 and lasted until November 11; after the latter date all navigation on the open sea came to an end until winter was over.” (Bruce)
b. Paul advised them, saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives”: Paul did not necessarily speak here as a prophet of God, but perhaps as an experienced traveler on the Mediterranean, having already traveled some 3,500 miles by sea. Knowing the seasons and conditions – and perhaps with supernatural wisdom – Paul advised that they not go on.
i. 2 Corinthians 11:25 tells us that by this time, Paul had already shipwrecked three times. He, like most everyone, knew that sailing in this season was dangerous.
4. (11-12) The decision is made to sail on.
Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul. And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.
a. Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul: It isn’t a surprise that the centurion had more respect for the opinion of the chief sailor and the owner of the ship than for Paul’s opinion. They both had much to lose if the ship didn’t make it to Rome.
b. Because the harbor was not suitable to winter in: The name Fair Havens (Acts 27:8) was not entirely accurate – at least not accurate in the winter. The position of the bay made it vulnerable to winter winds and storms. It was not an ideal place to wait out the coming season.
i. It was also not a fun place to spend all winter, and the crew of the ship didn’t look forward to months in a small town. One commentator suggests that the local Chamber of Commerce named the place “Fair Havens.”
c. The majority advised to set sail from there also: Taking a vote of the crew, they decided to sail on to the harbor of Phoenix. The port at Phoenix was on the same island of Crete and only about 40 miles away. It didn’t seem crazy to them to make it to Phoenix and be spared a miserable winter at Fair Havens.
i. Yet they failed to properly regard the wise word from the Apostle Paul, which turned out to be prophetic: This voyage will end with disaster and much loss. They should have listened to Paul, and later told them so (Acts 27:21).
B. The stormy journey from Fair Havens to Malta.
1. (13-16) A good start is made from Crete, but the ship quickly encounters great difficulty in a storm.
When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon. So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive. And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty.
a. When the south wind blew softly: The winds looked favorable, so they set out from Fair Havens. Just beyond Crete, the wind turned dangerous.
b. A tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon: This wind was feared among ancient sailors for its destructive power. Helpless to navigate with this wind in their face, all they could do is let her drive.
c. We secured the skiff with difficulty: The skiff was normally towed behind the boat, but taken aboard at bad weather – so they brought it in.
i. We secured the skiff with difficulty may be quite literal from Luke’s perspective. The doctor was probably pressed into service pulling ropes.
2. (17-19) Measures taken to save the ship.
When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven. And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands.
a. They used cables to undergird the ship: This was a normal emergency measure, helping to prevent the ship from breaking apart in a storm.
b. They struck sail and so were driven: The fear of crashing on the Sytris Sands (an infamous wrecking area of ships off the coast of North Africa) made them go with the wind and give up hope of navigating the ship in the storm.
c. They lightened the ship… threw the ship’s tackle overboard: These were the final two things done to help save the ship – first throwing over the cargo and then the ship’s equipment. Even with this, the ship continued to drive in the wind for many days.
3. (20) The hopelessness of crew and passengers.
Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.
a. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days: On the open sea they could only navigate with either the sun or the stars. Many days in this storm drove the crew to desperation. The great tempest drove them blind westward across the Mediterranean.
b. All hope that we would be saved was finally given up: Acts 27:37 tells us there were 276 people on board, both passengers and crew. It seems that they had all finally given up, and had no hope of survival.
4. (21-22) Paul tells the crew to take heart.
But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.”
a. After long abstinence from food: We shouldn’t think that the sailors fasted and sought God. Instead, their abstinence from food probably was due to the poor condition of the food and seasickness.
b. Men, you should have listened to me: Paul could not resist (rightly so) an “I told you so” moment. Had they listened to his wisdom at Acts 27:10, they would not be in this seemingly hopeless situation.
c. I urge you to take heart: As a messenger of God, Paul hoped to bring hope to these passengers and crew who had given up all hope. His point wasn’t simply to tell them he was right, but to bring them good news.
d. There will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship: This was a mixed message. The promise that no life would be lost was hard to believe if the ship were to be lost. It was also bad news to hear that the voyage would be a complete financial loss, with the cargo already overboard (Acts 27:18) and the ship to be lost.
5. (23-26) Paul tells the crew of the angelic visit.
“For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island.”
a. There stood by me this night an angel: God sent an angelic messenger to Paul to bring good, encouraging news when all else seemed hopeless. This wasn’t a direct appearance of Jesus (as in Jerusalem, Acts 23:11), but of an angel. God’s word came to Paul different ways at different times.
b. An angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve: The angelic presence was an encouragement; this was also. Paul remembered that he belonged to God and that he served God. God never forgets those who belong to Him and serve Him.
i. That doesn’t mean everything goes easy for those who belong to God and serve Him. Paul’s present calamity proved that. It does mean that God’s watchful eye and active care is present even in that kind of calamity.
c. Do not be afraid: There was a reason Paul needed to hear this. He was also afraid in the storm (at least some of the time). In his strong moments, Paul knew he would make it to Rome because God promised it. Yet in the storm (here, a literal storm) it was easy to doubt and Paul needed the assurance.
d. Indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you: This implies that Paul sought God for the safety of everyone on the ship. He already had a promise for his own safety, but that wasn’t enough for Paul. He labored in prayer for the safety and blessing of those with him, believers and not-yet-believers. Paul cared for them and loved them, and he labored for them in prayer until God granted the apostle their safety.
e. Therefore take heart, men: Paul encouraged them to take heart just a moment before (Acts 27:22). He repeats the encouragement again, this time in light of the revelation from God. “You have reason to take heart – God has given me assurance of your safety, and I believe God.”
i. Paul couldn’t keep his hope to himself. He had to pass it on to both the believers on board the ship and to those who had not yet believed.
f. I believe God that it will be just as it was told me: Paul’s confident word to the troubled sailors on a storm-tossed ship express the essence of what it means to put our faith in God and His Word. God said it to Paul (through an angel) and Paul said, “I believe God.”
i. Take note of what Paul said: “I believe God.” He didn’t say, “I believe in God.” Every demon in hell agrees with the existence of God. Paul declared his total confidence in God’s knowledge of his situation and His promise in his situation.
ii. Paul believed God when there was nothing else to believe. He couldn’t believe the sailors, the ship, the sails, the wind, the centurion, human ingenuity or anything else – only God. This was not a fair-weather faith; he believed God in the midst of the storm, when circumstances were at their worst. Paul would say along with Job: Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15). The storm and the danger were real, but God was more real to Paul than the dreadful circumstances.
iii. Paul was not ashamed to say that he believed God. “I would to God that all Christians were prepared to throw down the gauntlet and to come out straight; for if God be not true let us not pretend to trust him, and if the gospel be a lie let us be honest enough to confess it.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Paul’s unshakable confidence in God made him a leader among men, even though he was a prisoner of Rome.
g. However, we must run aground on a certain island: This was mixed news, and in these circumstances to run aground might be fairly called to shipwreck. Paul essentially said, “We’re all going to shipwreck on an unknown island, but everyone will be alright.”
i. A certain island means that God did not tell Paul everything about what was going to happen. Paul had to trust that God knew which island they would run aground on, even if Paul didn’t know.
6. (27-29) Drawing near land.
Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land. And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms. Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come.
a. When the fourteenth night had come: They spent two entire weeks in the misery and terror of the storm.
b. The sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land: Sensing land was near (probably by hearing the breakers in the distance) the sailors took proper precautions against being crashed against some unknown rocks (they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come).
c. And prayed for day to come: The threat of shipwreck and death made them men of prayer.
7. (30-32) Some sailors seek to escape from the ship.
And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off.
a. As the sailors were seeing to escape from the ship: These sailors didn’t care for the passengers. Seeing a chance to save their own lives in the darkness, they hoped to abandon the ship leaving the passengers.
b. Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Paul knew two reasons why they had to stay together. First, the ship’s passengers desperately needed the crew’s expertise, and it would be fatal if the crew abandoned the passengers. Second, Paul probably sensed that God’s promise to give him the lives of the whole ship’s company assumed that they would stay together.
c. The soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off: At this point, it seems the soldiers had great trust in Paul.
8. (33-38) Paul encourages the passengers and crew at dawn.
And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves. And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship. So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea.
a. Since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you: Paul had a word of faith and confidence from the Lord for the frightened crew and passengers. But this word only benefited those who believed it.
i. God has scores of promises of His comfort and care for us in desperate times, but they only benefit us if we believe them.
b. And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged: There are hints that Paul regarded this meal as communion at the Lord’s Table for the Christians present.
c. They lightened the ship: Throwing out the wheat into the sea reflected their great desperation. This was the last of the essential cargo of the ship, after they had already lightened the ship (Acts 27:18). This was a struggle for survival.
9. (39-41) The ship runs aground and breaks apart.
When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible. And they let go the anchors and left them in the sea, meanwhile loosing the rudder ropes; and they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made for shore. But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves.
a. They did not recognize the land: They did not know it at first, but they came to an island called Malta. The place where the ship came aground is now called St. Paul’s Bay.
i. “Only the rarest conjunction of favorable circumstances could have brought about such a fortunate ending to their apparently hopeless situation…all these circumstances are united in St. Paul’s Bay.” (Ramsay, cited by Bruce)
ii. “If they missed Malta, there would have been nothing for it but to hold on for 200 miles until they struck the Tunisian coast, and no one could have expected the ship to survive that long.” (Bruce)
b. The prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves: As the ship was stuck fast on shore, the still-stormy sea pounded the weakened vessel and started breaking it apart. All on board had to jump ship or be broken up with it.
10. (42-44) Leaving the ship and coming safely to shore.
And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, and the rest, some on boards and some on parts of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.
a. And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape: To the soldiers, it made sense to kill the prisoners, because according to Roman military law a guard who allowed his prisoner to escape was subject to the same penalty the escaped prisoner would have suffered – in the case of most of these prisoners, death.
b. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose: God gave Paul favor in the eyes of this Roman centurion, and that favor kept Paul and all the prisoners alive – in fulfillment of the word spoken to Paul, God has granted you all those who sail with you (Acts 27:24). God’s word never fails.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 26 – Paul’s Defense Before King Agrippa
Videos for Acts 26:
A. Paul speaks in his hearing before King Agrippa.
1. (1-3) Paul’s introductory words.
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself: “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.”
a. Then Agrippa said to Paul: Paul stood before the man whose great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby; his grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded; his father had martyred the first apostle, James. Agrippa’s family history made him unlikely to receive Paul warmly.
b. I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you: Though he was a prisoner, Paul was happy to speak before Agrippa. First, because he was pleased to have the evidence of his case examined closely by the highest officials, but also because he was pleased to preach the gospel to kings and rulers.
i. In the auditorium in the city of Caesarea Paul spoke to Festus, Agrippa, Bernice, commanders of the Roman Legion, and all the prominent men of Caesarea (Acts 25:23). This was a tremendous opportunity, and Paul was certainly happy for that opportunity.
ii. This was a partial fulfillment of what the Lord promised Paul at his conversion: Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. (Acts 9:15)
2. (4-5) Paul’s early life as a faithful Jew and Pharisee.
“My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”
a. My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem: Paul was born in Tarsus, several hundred miles from Jerusalem. Yet at a relatively young age he came to live at Jerusalem.
b. According to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee: Not only was Paul a faithful Jew, but was known as a faithful man among the Jews, living according to the strictest sect of the Pharisees.
3. (6-8) Paul as a faithful, believing Jew confronts Agrippa for his lack of faith.
“And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”
a. Now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers: Paul made it clear that in both his heart and mind, he remained a faithful Jew. His trust in Jesus was an outgrowth of his trust in the hope of the promise made by God and he argued that for this hope’s sake… I am accused by the Jews.
b. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead? Since Agrippa was an expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews (Acts 26:3), he should have understood the belief that God could, or would, raise the dead.
i. Why should it be thought incredible that God can do anything? As Jesus said, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Yet it should be especially easy for Agrippa to believe that God raises the dead, given some clear statements in the Old Testament (such as Job 19:25-27), the nature of God, and the intuitive grasp of the eternal among mankind.
4. (9-11) Paul explains that at one time he persecuted the followers of Jesus.
“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”
a. I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth: Before his conversion, Paul believed he must persecute the followers of Jesus. Some he imprisoned (shut up in prison), some he killed (they were put to death), and some he forced to renounce Jesus (compelled them to blaspheme).
i. Paul later speaks of the great regret he had over his prior life as a persecutor (1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Timothy 1:15). Perhaps the fact that he compelled them to blaspheme weighed especially on his conscience.
b. I cast my vote against them: This clearly implies that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, having a vote against Christians who were tried before the Sanhedrin (as Stephen was in Acts 7).
i. If Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, it also means that at that time he was married, because it was required for all members of the Sanhedrin. Since as a Christian, he was single (1 Corinthians 7:7-9), it may mean that Paul’s wife either died or deserted him when he became a Christian.
c. Being exceedingly enraged against them: Before his conversion, Paul was an angry man. His great rage showed that his relationship with God was not right, despite his diligent religious observance.
5. (12-15) Jesus reveals Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus.
“While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”
a. As I journeyed to Damascus: This is Paul’s fullest account yet of his experience on the Damascus Road. He first noted that he went on his mission of hate and persecution with the authority and commission of the same religious leaders who now accused him.
b. I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun: Paul literally saw the light before he figuratively saw the light. Paul went to Damascus supremely confident that he was right; it took a light brighter than the midday sun to show him he was wrong.
c. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads: Paul repeats the words from Acts 9:3-6. These words emphasize:
· The personal appeal of Jesus (Saul, Saul).
· The misdirected nature of his persecution (Me).
· The folly of persecuting Jesus (Why).
d. I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting: These words changed Paul’s world. He immediately understood that Jesus was alive, not dead. He understood that Jesus reigned in glory instead of being damned in shame. He realized that in persecuting the followers of Jesus he persecuted Jesus, and in persecuting Jesus he fought against the God of his fathers.
i. Paul had to repent – make a transformation of mind leading to transformed action – instantly. Paul lived a moral life, so he didn’t have to repent of immorality – but of misguided religious zeal and wrong ideas about God.
6. (16-18) Jesus commissions Paul on the road to Damascus.
“‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’”
a. But rise and stand on your feet: Jesus called Paul up to his feet. This was not because his humility wasn’t proper, but because he was sent to go somewhere, and he had to rise and stand on his feet if he was going to go anywhere. This was a way to say, “Come now, let’s be going.”
b. For I have appeared to you for this purpose: The religious leaders sent Paul to Damascus for a purpose, with authority and commission. Now he must choose anotherpurpose, the purpose of Jesus.
c. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness. Paul was commissioned to be a minister, which means he was to be a servant of the things which he had seen, and of the things which Jesus would yet reveal to him. The commission of the Christian is not to make the message or his testimony serve him; he is called to serve the message.
d. To make you a minister and a witness: Paul was also called to be a witness of those things. The commission of the Christian is not to create experience or create the message, but to witness it and experience it.
e. To whom I now send you, to open their eyes: Jesus described the work Paul would do. At that moment on the road to Damascus Paul was blinded by the great light from heaven. His eyes were not yet opened physically, but Jesus sent him to open the eyes of others (both Jews and Gentiles).
i. Jesus then told Paul of four results that would come from the opening of the eyes:
· Being turned from darkness to light.
· Being turned from the power of Satan to God.
· To receive forgiveness of sins.
· To receive an inheritance among God’s people.
f. Among those who are sanctified by faith in Me: This was how Jesus described His followers, His people, His family. They are sanctified (set apart from sin and self), and they are sanctified by faith in Jesus (not by works or spiritual achievement, but by their connection of love and trust to Jesus).
i. The auditorium where Paul spoke was filled with important people and dignitaries (Acts 25:23), but we may fairly imagine Paul speaking these words with special attention on and focus towards Agrippa. This was an invitation to Agrippa to become one of those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. His eyes could be opened just as Paul’s were on the road to Damascus.
7. (19-20) Paul’s obedience to Jesus.
“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.”
a. I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision: Given the experience Paul just described, this was logical. No one should disobey the God who revealed Himself so powerfully. Paul made a strong case before Agrippa and all there as to why he preached and lived the way he did.
b. That they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance: This is a neat summary of Paul’s message. Paul sets repent and turn to God close, understanding them as two aspects of the same action. One can’t turn to God unless they do repent – and actions will confirm true repentance (do works befitting repentance).
8. (21-23) Paul summarizes his defense.
“For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come; that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
a. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me: Paul plainly states the truth of the case. It was only because he sought to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles that the Jews seized him and tried to kill him. It wasn’t because he was a political revolutionary or because he offended the sanctity of the temple.
b. Having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great: During his more than two years of confinement, Paul did receive help from God. Yet to that point it wasn’t help that released him; it was help that gave him opportunity and ability to speak to small and great about who Jesus is and what Jesus had done.
i. This seems to have been fine with Paul. He was more interested in telling people about Jesus than in his personal freedom.
c. Saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come: Paul also stated his unswerving commitment to the same gospel, because that gospel was based solidly on the Word of God (the prophets and Moses) not on the traditions or spiritual experiences of man.
d. That the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. These were the three main points to Paul’s preaching: Jesus’ death, His resurrection, and the preaching of this good news to the whole world, without respect to either Jew or Gentile.
B. The response from Festus and Agrippa.
1. (24-26) Festus asserts Paul is mad, and Paul responds.
Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.”
a. Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad! Paul was obviously an intelligent man, a man of much learning. Still, at this moment Festus thought he was crazy, saying this with a loud voice among all present. Given Paul’s conduct at this hearing, there are some reasons someone like Festus might think Paul was mad.
· Though a prisoner in chains, he said he was happy (Acts 26:2).
· He insisted that God could raise the dead (Acts 26:8, 23).
· He experienced a heavenly vision and changed his life because of it (Acts 26:14-19).
· He was more concerned about proclaiming Jesus than his personal freedom (Acts 26:22).
· He believed in a message of hope and redemption for all humanity, not only Jews or only Gentiles (Acts 26:23).
i. The gospel, when properly proclaimed and lived, will make some people think we are crazy. Paul put it this way: the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18).
b. I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason: Yet, Paul knew that not only his gospel was true, it was also reasonable. God may sometimes act above reason, but never contrary to reason.
c. For the king… knows these things… none of these things escapes his attention: Festus recently came from Rome, and perhaps didn’t know much of what had happened with Jesus and the early Christian movement. Yet King Agrippa did know, and Paul appealed to his knowledge of the open, historical events that were the foundation for Christian faith – things that were not done in a corner.
i. Paul’s message was characterized by truth and reason, because it was based on historical events (such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus), things which were not done in a corner, but open to examination.
ii. The historical foundation of Paul’s message made it true. As for reason, it simply isn’t reasonable to ignore or deny things that actually happen. Who Jesus is and what He did must be accounted for.
2. (27-29) Agrippa is almost persuaded to become a Christian.
“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”
a. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe: Paul used Festus’ outburst to appeal to what King Agrippa knew (Acts 26:26). Then Paul brought the challenge directly to Agrippa, asking him: “do you believe?”
i. Paul didn’t first ask Agrippa if he believed on Jesus; he asked, “Do you believe the prophets?” Paul did this because he knew that if Agrippa did believe the prophets, truth and reason would lead him to believe upon Jesus. He wanted to connect what Agrippa already believed to what he should believe.
ii. With this, Paul brought the challenge and a point of decision directly to Agrippa. This is a good and often necessary part of the presentation of the message of who Jesus is and what He did for us – calling the listener to decision.
b. You almost persuade me to become a Christian: When Paul called Agrippa to faith in the prophets and in Jesus, Agrippa refused to believe and to say he believed. Paul almost persuaded him.
i. The literal idea behind almost is “in a little, you seek to persuade me to act a Christian.” The meaning of little could be “in a short time” or it could mean “there is little distance between me and Christianity.” However close Agrippa was to becoming a believer, it wasn’t close enough.
ii. If the sense is “almost,” Agrippa’s reply is especially sorry. Of course, almost being a Christian means that you almost have eternal life and will almost be delivered from the judgment of hell; but almost isn’t enough.
iii. Far from being admired for how far he did come, Agrippa condemned himself even more by admitting how close he has come to the gospel and how clearly he has understood it, while still rejecting it.
c. To become a Christian: We may say that Paul recounted the words of Jesus on the road to Damascus, saying what a Christian is (Acts 26:18). Agrippa didn’t want it.
· He didn’t want to turn from darkness to light.
· He didn’t want to turn from the power of Satan to the power of God.
· He didn’t want to receive forgiveness of sins.
· He didn’t want a place among God’s people.
· He didn’t want to become one of those set apart by faith in Jesus.
d. You almost persuade me to become a Christian: What stopped Agrippa short? Why did he only almost become a Christian?
i. Why was Agrippa only almost persuaded? One answer was the person sitting next to him – Bernice. She was a sinful, immoral companion, and he may have rightly realized that becoming a Christian would mean losing her and his other immoral friends. He was unwilling to make that sacrifice.
ii. On the other side of Agrippa sat Festus – a man’s man, a no-nonsense man, a man who thought Paul was crazy. Perhaps Agrippa thought, “I can’t become a Christian. Festus will think I’m also crazy.” Because he wanted the praise of men, he rejected Jesus. “Alas, how many are influenced by fear of men! Oh, you cowards, will you be damned out of fear? Will you sooner let your souls perish than show your manhood by telling a poor mortal that you defy his scorn? Dare you not follow the right though all men in the world should call you to do the wrong? Oh, you cowards! You cowards! How you deserve to perish who have not enough soul to call your souls your own, but cower down before the sneers of fools!” (Spurgeon)
iii. In front of Agrippa was Paul – a strong man, a noble man, and man of wisdom and character – but a man in chains. Did Agrippa say, “Well, if I became a Christian, I might end up in chains like Paul; or at the least, I would have to associate with him. We can’t have that – I’m an important person.” “O that men were wise enough to see that suffering for Christ is honour, that loss for truth is gain, that the truest dignity rests in wearing the chain upon the arm rather than endure the chain upon the soul.” (Spurgeon)
e. I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains: Paul declared his continued trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did not retreat from his stand one inch, despite his long imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.
f. Except for these chains: With a dramatic gesture, Paul showed that even though he was in chains, he had more freedom in Jesus than any of the royalty listening had.
3. (30-32) Agrippa admits Paul’s innocence, yet forwards him to Caesar.
When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
a. When he had said these things, the king stood up: Paul’s direct challenge was too much for Agrippa, Festus, and the others on the platform. It was getting too close, to personal, and they felt they had to end it quickly by standing up and ending the proceedings.
b. This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains: Agrippa also saw there was no evidence offered to support the accusations against Paul, and he respected Paul’s great integrity even while rejecting Paul’s gospel. So, Agrippa and the others pronounced a “not guilty” verdict.
c. This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar: Yet, Paul could not be set free, because he had appealed to Caesar. It seems that once an appeal was made, it could not be retracted.
d. Appealed to Caesar: It seems that Paul might have been set free here if he had not appealed to Caesar. So, was Paul’s appeal to Caesar a good thing or a bad thing?
i. Some people believe it was a bad thing, and that Paul was trusting in the power of the Roman legal system instead of in the power of God. They say that Paul might have been set free by Agrippa if he had not appealed to Caesar.
ii. However, we should see the fulfillment of God’s plan through all these events. By his appeal to Caesar, Paul will have the opportunity to preach to the Roman Emperor the way he had to Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, thus fulfilling the promise that Paul would bear My name before…kings (Acts 9:15).
iii. The appeal to Caesar, and his subsequent journey to Rome at the Empire’s expense, were also the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit’s purpose that Paul should go to Rome (Acts 19:21, 23:11). This also answered a long-standing desire in the heart of Paul to visit the already present Christian community there (Romans 1:9-13).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 25 – Paul’s Trial Before Festus
Video for Acts 25:
A. Paul appeals to Caesar to avoid a plot against his life.
1. (1-3) When Felix is replaced, Paul’s Jewish accusers decide to re-try the case against Paul.
Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem; while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.
a. Now when Festus had come to the province: Acts 24 ended with the transition from the governorship of Antonius Felix to that of Porcius Festus. Felix was undoubtedly a bad man, but history tells us Festus was a basically good man. He governed well, despite all the problems left him by Felix.
i. The statement, “after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem” hints at the good and energetic leadership of Festus. Upon arriving at Caesarea, the capital of the Judean province, he immediately made the trip to Jerusalem, probably the most important city of the province.
b. Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul: Though it had been two years, the case of Paul was still important to the religious leaders. They hoped to make Paul appear before them again in Jerusalem.
i. We can see that Paul’s generous imprisonment in Caesarea was actually a providential provision of protective custody against the murderous intentions of the religious leaders. It was also a season of rest and replenishment after his years of hard missionary service, preparing him for the challenges in the years ahead.
c. That he would summon him to Jerusalem; while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him: The religious leaders knew that Paul would be acquitted in any fair trial. Therefore, they didn’t really want Paul to be put on trial again; they wanted to ambush and murder him before the trial could take place.
i. These were religious men, religious leaders. Their actions show the danger of religion that is not in true contact with God. If your religion makes you a liar and a murderer, there is something wrong with your religion.
ii. “We see a growth of corruption. In Acts 23, where the plot to murder Paul was first launched, we find that it was the zealots who were responsible. Now, in Acts 25, we find that the leaders are initiating the very thing they were only tangentially involved in earlier.” (Boice)
2. (4-6a) Festus refuses to put Paul on trial again in Jerusalem.
But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly. “Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.” And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea.
a. Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea: We don’t know if Festus knew the intentions of the Jewish leaders or not. Either way, he refused to grant their request for a change of venue, and this was another way that God protected Paul.
b. Let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him: Festus was willing to put Paul on trial again, to resolve the matter. Yet he insisted that it would happen in Caesarea, not in Jerusalem.
3. (6b-8) Festus re-opens the trial in Caesarea.
And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought. When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.”
a. Sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought: Once again Paul was on trial before a Gentile ruler, accused by religious leaders. As before, Paul’s life was in danger should he be found guilty.
b. Laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove: As before, the religious leaders made accusations without evidence against Paul. In response, Paul confidently rested on both the evidence and his apparent integrity.
i. Many in the Bible were the target of false accusations (such as Joseph and Daniel). Yet in another sense, every follower of Jesus is the target of false accusations by the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). Thankfully, Jesus is our defense against condemnation and false accusation (Romans 8:33-34).
4. (9-12) Paul appeals his case to Caesar.
But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?” So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”
a. Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor: Though he was a good man, Festus also understood that it was important for him to have and keep a good relationship with the Jewish people of his province.
b. Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things? Festus found it difficult to decide the case. Paul’s standing as a Roman citizen apparently prevented Festus from commanding the trial to be moved to Jerusalem, so he asked Paul about this.
i. It’s interesting to wonder if Festus knew of the plot to murder Paul or not. If he did know, then he knowingly asked Paul to walk into an ambush and be murdered. If he did not know, then he merely thought that this would please the religious leaders to have the trial in Jerusalem.
c. So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged…I appeal to Caesar.” Paul saw through the plot against his life. Perhaps it was through supernatural knowledge, or perhaps through God-given common sense and deduction. Therefore, he demanded to stand trial before Caesar.
i. Rightly and wisely, Paul wanted to avoid martyrdom if he could. He wasn’t afraid to face the lions, but he didn’t want to put his head in a lion’s mouth if he could avoid it.
ii. Paul’s appeal made sense. He was convinced that the evidence was on his side and that he could win in a fair trial. He also had reason to wonder if his current judge (Festus) was sympathetic to his accusers, the religious leaders among the Jews.
d. I appeal to Caesar: It was the right of every Roman citizen to have his case heard by Caesar himself, after initial trials and appeals failed to reach a satisfactory decision. This was in effect an appeal to the supreme court of the Roman Empire.
i. “God, who has appointed courts of law, also gives his people liberty to use them lawfully.” (Calvin, cited in Hughes)
ii. Paul appealed specifically to Caesar Nero, who was later an notorious enemy of Christians. But the first five years of his reign, under the influence of good men around him, Nero was regarded as a wise and just ruler. Paul had no reason at this time to believe that Nero would be anti-Christian.
B. Paul’s hearing before King Agrippa.
1. (13-14a) Herod Agrippa and Bernice visit Caesarea.
And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king,
a. King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea: Herod Agrippa II ruled a client kingdom of the Roman Empire to the northeast of Festus’ province. Agrippa was known as an expert in Jewish customs and religious matters. Though he did not have jurisdiction over Paul in this case, his hearing of the matter would be helpful for Festus.
i. Of this King Agrippa, his great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby; his grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded; his father had martyred the first apostle, James. Now Paul stood before the next in line of the Herods, Herod Agrippa.
ii. Bernice was Agrippa’s sister. Secular history records rumors that their relationship was incestuous.
iii. Herod Agrippa II didn’t rule over much territory, but he was of great influence because the emperor gave him the right to oversee the affairs of the temple in Jerusalem and the appointment of the high priest.
b. Festus laid Paul’s case before the king: Festus, new to his post and perhaps unfamiliar with Jewish traditions and customs, seemed to be somewhat confused by Paul’s case. Therefore, even though there was not enough evidence to convict Paul, his investigation continued.
i. The case was probably confusing to Festus because of the lack of concrete evidence. But, of course there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Paul of the accusations against him, because he had done no wrong! This was reason enough for acquittal.
ii. This appearance before King Agrippa was really a hearing, and not a trial; Agrippa did not have jurisdiction in the matter. Yet he could have an important influence upon Festus.
2. (14b-22) Festus explains the case involving Paul to the visiting King Agrippa.
Saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him. To them I answered, ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’ Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”
a. Asking for a judgment against him: The religious leaders hoped that Festus would decide against Paul without ever hearing Paul’s defense.
b. It is not the custom of the Romans: Festus appealed to the strong tradition and system of law. He would not condemn Paul without a fair trial.
c. They brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed: Festus was surprised, thinking that their accusations against Paul were unimportant. Their accusations focused on matters of their religion and a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.
i. It is amusing to think of the religious leaders protesting to Festus that Paul won’t stop talking about the risen Jesus, and hoping that the governor would make Paul stop.
ii. The words “a certain Jesus” show that Festus didn’t know much about Jesus. It is good to remember that the great and important people of Paul’s day didn’t know much about Jesus, and they had to be told. “Brethren, this is why we must keep on preaching Jesus Christ, because he is still so little known. The masses of this city are as ignorant of Jesus as Festus was.” (Spurgeon)
d. A certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive: The limited knowledge Festus did have regarding Paul’s preaching shows that in his preaching, Paul emphasized the death and resurrection of Jesus.
i. By implication, it also shows that Paul emphasized the cross. It’s hard to believe that Festus knew that Paul preached that Jesus died, without also hearing about how Jesus died.
e. I also would like to hear the man myself: Agrippa’s curiosity meant that Paul would have another opportunity to speak God’s truth to a Gentile ruler. This would be the third such opportunity for Paul in Acts 24-26 (Felix, Festus, and now Agrippa).
3. (23) Paul the prisoner is brought before Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus.
So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.
a. When Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp: This was more than a hearing of evidence; it was an event. It was held in an auditorium, and all the commanders and the prominent men of the city were there. This was another tremendous opportunity for Paul.
b. At Festus’ command Paul was brought in: Surrounded by the important and powerful people of Caesarea and beyond, Paul came into the auditorium. All the pomp and pageantry was meant to communicate who was important, and who wasn’t important.
i. Most everyone present – excepting, possibly, the Apostle Paul – was wrong in their estimation of who was important and who was not. Paul had an authority and a dignity greater than any of the important people at this hearing.
ii. “All these very important people would have been greatly surprised, and not a little scandalized, could they have foreseen the relative estimates that later generations would form of them and of the prisoner who now stood before them to state his case.” (Bruce)
4. (24-27) Festus makes an opening statement at the hearing of Paul before Agrippa.
And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him. I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”
a. When I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death: It was important for Luke to record these words of Festus. They clearly state that Festus understood that Paul was innocent.
b. So that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write: Festus wanted to use this trial to prepare an official brief for Paul’s upcoming trial before Caesar.
i. Festus simply could not send Paul to Caesar with a letter that said, “I really don’t know what this man is accused of and he is probably innocent of any wrongdoing, but I thought I should send him to you anyway.” That was no way to be popular with Caesar.
c. It seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him: Paul was so innocent that Festus could not actually describe or specify the charges against him.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 24 – Paul’s Trial Before Felix
Video for Acts 24:
A. The accusations against Paul.
1. (1) The Jews assemble their case against Paul.
Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.
a. Now after five days: The Jewish leadership (Ananias the high priest and the elders) brought a man named Tertullus – a skilled lawyer – to present their case.
b. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul: The presence of all three (Ananias, the elders, and a skilled lawyer) at the court of Felix reminds us of how serious the Jewish leadership was about obtaining a conviction against Paul.
2. (2-4) Tertullus introduces his accusation against Paul with flattery towards Felix.
And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: “Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.”
a. Most noble Felix: Antonius Felix began life as a slave. His brother Pallas was a friend of the emperor Claudius; through such influence, he rose in status – first as a child gaining freedom, and then through intrigue he became the first former slave to become a governor of a Roman province.
i. But his slave mentality stayed with him. Tacitus, the Roman historian, described Felix as “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king with the spirit of a slave” (Historiae 5.9, cited in Longnecker).
ii. “The picture drawn by Tacitus of Felix’s public and private life is not a pretty one. Trading on the influences of his infamous brother [Pallas, a favorite of the emperor Claudius], he indulged in every license and excess, thinking ‘that he could do any evil act with impunity’ (Tacitus, Annals 12.54).” (Williams)
b. Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight: These were lies presented as flattery. Felix did not bring peace or prosperity to those he governed.
i. “In reality he [Felix] had put down several insurrections with such barbarous brutality that he earned for himself the horror, not the thanks, of the Jewish population.” (Stott) In particular, he ordered a massacre of thousands of Jews in Caesarea, with many more Jewish homes looted by the Roman soldiers.
ii. Flattery is an often-neglected sin, one that the Bible speaks about more often than one might think. Romans 16:18 speaks to us of those who do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. Jude 1:16 speaks of those who mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.
iii. Four different times the Book of Proverbs connects flattery with the sin of sexual immorality. Many people have been seduced into immorality through simple flattery.
iv. Proverbs 20:19 says, He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; there for do not associate with one who flatters with his lips. This means that we aren’t to make flatterers our close friends.
v. Psalm 78:36 says we can even flatter God: Nevertheless they flattered Him with their mouth, and they lied to Him with their tongue. When you give God insincere praise, it is flattery, and God doesn’t want it.
vi. “I suppose that even Felix was shrewd enough to have listened with tongue in cheek. What is it that these Jewish leaders are after that they should come all the way from Caesarea and flatter me in this fashion? he must have wondered.” (Boice)
3. (5-6) Paul’s accusers state their specific charges.
“For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law.”
a. For we have found this man a plague: The charges against Paul were essentially that he was politically dangerous (a plague… a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes) and that he had profaned the temple.
i. Ancient Judea was filled with would-be messiahs and revolutionaries against Rome. Tertullus wanted to put Paul in the same group with these kinds of terrorists.
b. A ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: The reference to Paul being a Nazarene was intended to connect him to a generally despised and lowly place. It was term of slight scorn used for the followers of Jesus. Nazareth had a poor reputation as a city (John 1:46).
c. Among all Jews throughout the world: Here, Tertullus gave an unintended compliment as he described the extent of Paul’s work in the Roman Empire.
d. He even tried to profane the temple: This was the only really specific charge against Paul; but Tertullus gave no evidence for this charge because there was no evidence. This was a fabricated charge based on rumor only (Acts 21:26-29).
i. Paul had nothing to fear from the truth; but he knew that the truth does not always win out in a court of law.
ii. Significantly, the same man who found it so easy to flatter also found it easy to accuse with no evidence. The two almost always go together; the person who flatters today will likely tomorrow accuse without evidence.
4. (7-9) Tertullus concludes his accusation against Paul.
“But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.” And the Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.
a. The commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands: The Roman commander Lysias, who rescued Paul, was here put into a bad light. Clearly Paul’s accusers regretted that the case had come this far, having preferred to settle it with mob justice.
b. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him: Tertullus did not even pretend to offer outside evidence of the charges. His only hope was that Paul would incriminate himself under examination by Felix.
i. “His oration has been blamed as weak, lame, and imperfect; and yet, perhaps, few, with so bad a cause, could have made better of it.” (Clarke)
c. The Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so: The other Jewish accusers present (the high priest and the elders) agreed with the charges, but they also offered no supporting evidence.
B. Paul’s defense.
1. (10-13) Paul exposes the weakness of the case against him.
Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered: “Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself, because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.”
a. I do the more cheerfully answer for myself: Paul was happy to answer for himself, knowing that the facts of the case were in his favor – and notably, Paul used no flattery in his address to Felix.
b. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me: Even though it had been no more than twelve days, and many witnesses could be easily found, Paul’s accusers gave no witnesses to prove that he was in fact in the temple disputing or inciting the crowd. There was simply no proof for their accusations.
2. (14-21) Paul explains his ministry, and why he was arrested.
“But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men. Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me. Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council, unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, ‘Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.’”
a. According to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers: Paul made it clear that he had not abandoned the God of my fathers or the Law and the Prophets. Instead, he acted in fulfillment of them both.
i. Tertullus called Christianity the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5) Paul called it the Way.
b. That there will be a resurrection of the dead: This was believed by many or most devout Jews of Paul’s day, though not by the Sadducees (Acts 23:8). Paul’s belief that there will be a resurrection was connected to his specific trust in the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15).
c. Both of the just and the unjust: Paul clearly believed in a resurrection for both the righteous and the unrighteous. The idea of soul-sleep or annihilation for the unrighteous is not accurate according to New Testament teaching.
d. I came to bring alms and offerings: This refers to the collection Paul made for Judean Christians among the Gentile churches of the West (Galatians 2:10, Romans 15:26, and 2 Corinthians 8-9).
e. They ought to have been here before you to object: In this, Paul reminded Felix that there was no eyewitness testimony to prove the charges of his accusers.
i. “This was a strong point in his defense: the people who had raised the hue and cry in the first instance, claiming to be eyewitnesses of his alleged sacrilege, had not troubled to be present.” (Bruce) Because Paul was in the right, he consistently called the case back to the evidence, the very thing his accusers avoided.
ii. Christians should never be timid about or ashamed of the truth or of the evidence. If we are truly following God, the truth and evidence are our friends, not our accusers.
C. Felix’s decision in the case.
1. (22-23) Felix avoids making a legal decision.
But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.” So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.
a. When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case: Felix avoided a decision under the pretense of waiting for more evidence through the Roman commander Lysias. But Felix clearly had enough evidence to make a decision in Paul’s favor (having more accurate knowledge of the Way).
b. Let him have liberty: Yet, knowing Paul’s innocence, he granted Paul generous liberty even while he was held in custody.
i. Felix tried to walk a middle ground. He knew Paul was innocent, yet he did not want to identify himself with Paul’s gospel and the Christians. So he made no decision and kept Paul in custody.
2. (24-25) Felix avoids making a spiritual decision.
And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
a. Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ: Felix wanted his wife to hear Paul’s testimony, either as a curiosity or so that she could advise him. After all, he claimed to have insufficient evidence for a decision.
b. With his wife Drusilla: This woman was the sister of Herod Agrippa II and Bernice mentioned in Acts 25. Drusilla was beautiful, ambitious, and about 20 years old at this point. Felix seduced her away from her husband and made her his third wife.
i. “The lax morals of Felix and Drusilla help to explain the topics on which Paul spoke to them.” (Stott)
c. He reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come: These were the three points Paul used when he spoke to Felix and Drusilla. These are three points many modern preachers would avoid speaking about, especially in speaking to a high figure like Felix.
i. We don’t know exactly how Paul developed these three points, but we can speculate on something like this:
· The righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ.
· The need for Christian ethics (self-control) that was evidently lacking in the life of both Felix and Drusilla.
· Eternal accountability before God (the judgment to come).
ii. We admire Paul’s bold preaching, directed right to the issues of Felix’s life: “Are there not some to be found, who think the highest object of the minister is to attract the multitude and then to please them? O my God! how solemnly ought each of us to bewail our sin, if we feel we have been guilty in this matter. What is it to have pleased men? Is there aught in it that can make our head lie easy on the pillow of our death? Is there aught in it that can give us boldness in the day of judgment when we face thy tribunal, O Judge of quick and dead? No, my brethren, we must always take our texts so that we may bear upon our hearers with all our might.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “But some men will say, ‘Sir, ministers ought not to be personal.’ Ministers ought to be personal, and they will never be true to their Master till they are…But now we poor craven sons of nobodies have to stand and talk about generalities; but we are afraid to point you out and tell you of your sins personally. But, blessed be God, from that fear I have been delivered long ago. There walketh not a man on the surface of this earth whom I dare not reprove.” (Spurgeon)
d. Felix was afraid: Hearing this message made Felix afraid. Knowing something about his life, at least we can say that he probably understood it. The gospel should make those who are intent on rejecting Jesus afraid.
e. Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you: However, Felix was unwilling to declare his decision against Jesus. Instead, he rejected Jesus under the pretense of delaying his decision.
i. Many respond to the gospel in this way; they express their rejection through delay, by delaying their decision to commit to Jesus Christ – but it is rejection none the less. The Bible tells us to come to Jesus in repentance and faith today: Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
ii. It is foolish to trust in a convenient time to repent and believe. “Thou sayest, ‘Another time.’ How knowest thou that thou wilt ever feel again as thou feelest now? This morning, perhaps a voice is saying in thy heart, ‘Prepare to meet thy God.’ Tomorrow that voice will be hushed. The gaieties of the ball-room and the theatre will put out that voice that warns thee now, and perhaps thou wilt never hear it again. Men all have their warnings, and all men who perish have had a last warning. Perhaps this is your last warning.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “God to-day is pulling the reigns tight to check you from your lust; perhaps, if to-day you spurn the bit, and rush madly on, he will throw the reigns upon your back, saying, ‘Let him alone;’ and then it is a dark steeple-chase between hell and earth, and you will run it in mad confusion, never thinking of a hell till you find yourself past warning, past repentance, past faith, past hope.” (Spurgeon)
iv. The claims of Jesus are never convenient for us. If we insist on waiting for a convenient time, we will wait for an eternity – an eternity spent in agonizing separation from God.
3. (26-27) The motive of Felix’s heart is revealed: greed.
Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.
a. He also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him: Though Felix met often with Paul, it was not honest seeking. He hoped to be paid off with a bribe.
b. After two years: Under Roman law, the type of custody Paul was in could only last two years. Felix showed that he was willing to break Roman laws by keeping Paul for more than two years.
c. Felix… left Paul bound: Felix refused to release Paul, though he knew that he was innocent. He did this for the same reason Pilate condemned Jesus while knowing His innocence. They both acted out of pure political advantage (wanting to do the Jews a favor).
i. In a way, people like Felix and Pilate are the guiltiest of those who reject Jesus Christ. They know what is right but refuse to do right purely out of the fear of man. They have an eternally fatal lack of courage.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Acts 22 – Paul’s Jerusalem Sermon
A. The sermon to the crowd in Jerusalem.
1. (1-2) Paul begins his message to the mob.
“Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now.” And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent. Then he said:
a. Brethren and fathers, hear: Paul began his great defense before the Jews the same way Stephen did: Men and brethren and fathers, listen. (Acts 7:2)
i. “Paul gave a magnificent defense. He actually used the word ‘defense’ (Acts 22:1). In Greek it is the word apologia, from which we get our word ‘apology.’ It refers to a formal defense of one’s past life or actions.” (Boice)
b. They kept all the more silent: Once the wild crowd heard Paul address them in Hebrew (Aramaic), they became quiet and ready to listen.
i. At the end of the previous chapter, Paul’s audience for this sermon had just tried to kill him, thinking that he had profaned the temple by sneaking a Gentile in past the Court of the Gentiles.
2. (3) Paul tells of his Jewish upbringing and background.
“I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.”
a. I am indeed a Jew: Paul spoke as a Jew unto Jews. He was careful to lay the common ground between them. With this, Paul began telling the story of his life before Jesus Christ and then his conversion.
i. Luke told the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. After that, Paul told the story in some way at least four more times in the New Testament, each with its own intention.
· Acts 22: Telling the story to persuade the Jews.
· Acts 26: Telling the story to persuade the Gentiles.
· Philippians 3: Telling the story for theological understanding.
· 1 Timothy 1: Telling the story to give encouragement.
b. Born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel: Paul noted that though he was born outside of the Promised Land, he was brought up in Jerusalem, and at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most prestigious rabbis of the day (Acts 5:34).
c. Taught according to the strictness of our father’s law, and was zealous toward God: As Paul stated in another place, he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5). To the smallest detail, Paul kept the law as understood by the spiritual elite of his day.
d. Zealous toward God as you all are today: It’s as if Paul searched for the nicest thing he could say about a mob that had just tried to murder him. “Well, I can say that you are zealous toward God.”
3. (4-5) Paul tells how he persecuted Christians.
“I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.”
a. I persecuted this Way to the death: This was evidence of the zeal mentioned in the previous line. Paul was so energetic as a persecutor that he, in some cases, was responsible for the death of some followers of Jesus. Paul communicated to the crowd, “You tried to kill me, but I succeeding in killing many.” This had to be surprising news to many in the crowd.
b. Binding and delivering into prisons both men and women: Paul didn’t kill every Christian he met; some were simply bound and imprisoned. But he was unsparing, persecuting women as well as men.
c. The high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I received letters: Paul did his work of persecution with the official approval of the religious leaders.
d. Went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there: Paul was energetic enough to carry on his campaign of persecution beyond Judea, into Syria and the city of Damascus.
i. The message is clear: “I understand why you have attacked me. I was once an attacker also. I understand where you are coming from.” Paul had been a Christian for more than twenty years, but could still relate to those who were not Christians.
4. (6-11) Paul describes his supernatural experience on the way to Damascus.
“Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.”
a. Suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me: Paul was a determined persecutor of Christians and Jesus until this heavenly light shone on him. It is as if Paul said: “I was just like you all, until I had an encounter with Jesus. Jesus met me and my life was dramatically changed.”
b. I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting: Paul also came to understand he was persecuting Jesus Himself, the shining Lord of glory, brighter than the noonday sun. He didn’t really know who he was persecuting until this.
c. And since I could not see for the glory of that light: The brightness of that light made Paul blind. In persecuting Jesus he was spiritually blind, and then he was also physically blind – and had to be humbly led by the hand into the city of Damascus.
5. (12-16) Paul describes his response to the supernatural experience in Damascus.
“Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’”
a. Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews: Paul noted that it was Ananias, a man with credentials as a good Jew who received him into the Christian family.
b. The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will: In Paul’s speech, we see that both he and Ananias both simply acted like good Jews. They did not resist God nor deny their heritage.
i. Paul wanted them to know that he still served the God of his fathers. He had not rejected Judaism. Instead, many in Judaism had rejected God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
c. The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth: Acts 22:14 is a wonderful capsule of the duty of every one before God: To know His will, to see the Just One (Jesus), and to hear the voice of His mouth (His word).
6. (17-18) Jesus speaks to Paul in a trance at the temple in Jerusalem.
“Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’”
a. When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple: Paul told them about something that happened about 20 years before, when he had been a follower of Jesus for 2 or 3 years. Even though he had been a Christian for a few years, yet he still came to Jerusalem to pray in the temple. He wanted the crowd to know that even though he trusted in Jesus, he was not against all Jewish ceremonies and rituals.
b. I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me: Paul had an impressive vision of Jesus while in the temple; yet he never referred to this vision in his letters, and seems to only mention it now out of necessity. Paul’s Christian life was founded on God’s truth, not spiritual experiences, and he didn’t even like to talk a lot about his spiritual experiences.
c. Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me: This word from Jesus probably was a surprise to Paul. With good reason, he probably thought of himself as the perfect one to bring the gospel to his fellow Jews. Nevertheless, Jesus gave him this warning, even telling him to make haste.
7. (19-20) Paul answers Jesus
“So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’”
a. Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You: This was Paul’s gentle objection to the warning Jesus just gave him in his vision. Paul’s idea is, “Lord, they will listen to me. They know I used to persecute Christians, so my story will be powerful and persuasive to them.”
b. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death: Paul thought his early, energetic persecution of the church gave him more credibility with the Jewish people who were against Christianity. He tried to explain to Jesus why he should really stay in Jerusalem and work to tell the Jewish people about Jesus.
8. (21) Jesus replies to Paul’s response.
“Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’”
a. Then He said to me, “Depart”: Jesus didn’t agree with Paul’s response. Jesus knew that it was not Paul’s time and place to preach to the Jewish people the way Paul wanted to. Instead, for his own safety, 20 years before this, Jesus told Paul to simply depart from Jerusalem.
b. For I will send you far from here to the Gentiles: When Paul was touched by God in Damascus, he was told then of his call to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), so the words from Jesus to him in the temple at Jerusalem were not new. However, we can see that in his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, it would have been easy for Paul to care so much for the conversion of Israel that he would want to concentrate on that – that’s why Jesus gave him the reminder in the temple.
i. Paul made it clear that it wasn’t his idea to preach to the Gentiles; this was God’s plan, not his. He hoped it also explained to the crowd why he seemed so friendly to the Gentiles: Paul was simply obeying Jesus and His word to him.
9. (22-23) The crowd riots in response to Paul’s message.
And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air.
a. And they listened to him until this word: The crowd that had tried to kill Paul, and had then listened intently to his whole sermon, erupted into rage over the saying of one word. That one word was “Gentiles.” (Acts 22:21) This Jewish mob was outraged at the thought that God’s salvation could be given freely to believing Gentiles.
i. The mob listened carefully up to this point. In their minds, they didn’t mind this talk about Jesus, but they could not stand the idea that God might save Jews and Gentiles alike and in the same way.
iii. The message of Jesus – that both Paul and the New Testament preached – is this: You may come to God just as you are – Jew, Gentile, foreigner, high, low, rich, or poor – but you must come to Him through Jesus Christ.
iii. These Jews of that day did not have a problem with Gentiles becoming Jews. But they were incredibly offended at the thought of Gentiles becoming Christians just as Jews became Christians, because it implied that Jews and Gentiles were equal, having to come to God on the same terms.
b. Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live! This outraged, violent response was over one word: Gentiles.
i. In Acts 22, the Jewish mob expressed their hatred of others through violent rage. Others express their hatred of the perishing through indifference. We may not riot like what the mob in this chapter did, but we may say much the same thing by our inaction.
B. Paul in Roman custody.
1. (24) The commander demands an explanation of the riot.
The commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him.
a. The commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks: It must have been a strange sight for the Roman commander. He saw Paul passionately address this huge crowd in a language he didn’t know. He saw the crowd in rapt attention, until suddenly, they erupted into a riot.
i. But when it was explained to him, he must have thought it absurd and offensive: All this rioting springing out of the hatred of Gentiles, people just like the commander himself.
ii. From now until the end of the Book of Acts, Paul will be in Roman custody. As far as this book is concerned, this was the end of his time as a free man, though not the end of his witness or his usefulness to God and God’s people.
b. Examined under scourging: It is suggested that Paul be beaten with a scourge. This was quite different from being beaten with a rod or a normal whip (which Paul had experienced, 2 Corinthians 11:24-25). Men often died or were crippled for life after a scourging.
i. “This was not the normal Jewish flogging, which was bad enough, but the dreaded Roman flagellum. It was a beating so severe that in some cases it resulted in the death of the victim.” (Boice)
c. He should be examined under scourging: This was brutal, yet customary in that time – but only upon people who were not Roman citizens.
2. (25-26) Paul reveals his Roman citizenship.
And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.”
a. As they bound him with thongs: Paul had his hands tied with leather straps so his hands joined around a wooden pole and his back was totally exposed. He was ready for a brutal beating, one that would not stop until he confessed to the crimes he was suspected of.
b. Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned? At that moment Paul announced his Roman citizenship.
c. Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman: When this became known, the reaction was immediate. It was a serious violation of Roman rights wrong to even bind a Roman citizen without due process, and they had already violated Paul’s rights by binding him in Acts 21:33.
3. (27-29) The commander questions Paul about his citizenship.
Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.” The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.
a. Tell me, are you a Roman? The penalty for lying about one’s Roman citizenship was significant. It wasn’t the kind of thing people commonly lied about, so the commander could simply ask Paul directly.
i. “The verbal claim to Roman citizenship was accepted at face value; penalties for falsifying documents and making false claims of citizenship were exceedingly stiff – Epictetus speaks of death for such acts.” (Longenecker)
b. With a large sum I obtained this citizenship: Because of all the commotion and the beating Paul had received, he probably looked terrible. The commander wondered how someone who looked like this could purchase his citizenship.
i. “Something of this sort may have been in the tribune’s mind as he said, It cost me a very large sum of money to obtain Roman citizenship – the implication being that the privilege must have become cheap of late if such a sorry-looking figure as Paul could claim it.” (Bruce)
ii. According to Stott, Roman citizenship could not be bought for a fee, only for a bribe. Normally, only right or reward granted it. “The point was not that the tribune doubted Paul’s claim, but rather he was implying that anybody could become a citizen these days!” (Marshall)
c. But I was born a citizen: Paul’s parents (or grandparents) must have been awarded the rights of citizenship for some good done on behalf of Rome.
i. “How the citizenship was acquired by Paul’s father or grandfather we have no means of knowing, but analogy would suggest that it was for valuable services rendered to a Roman general or administrator in the southeastern area of Asia Minor.” (Bruce)
ii. Paul was an extremely rare individual. It was uncommon to find such an educated, intelligent, devout Jew who was also a Roman citizen. God would use this unique background to use Paul in a special way, even as he wants to use your unique background to use you in a special way.
d. The commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him: Knowing what he now knew about Paul, the commander was very concerned for his own sake.
4. (30) The Roman commander arranges a hearing of the charges against Paul before the Jewish council (the Sanhedrin).
The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
a. He wanted to know for certain why he was accused: Luke presents the Roman commander as a fair and upstanding man. Though he did not know the details of the dispute between Paul and the religious leaders, he seemed to work hard towards a fair resolution.
i. The Roman commander “must have thought that once he had a concrete accusation he would be able to decide what to do.” (Boice)
b. And commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them: Paul received what he probably thought of as a dramatic second chance. The opportunity to preach to the mob on the temple mount ended in another riot, but he would speak before the Sanhedrin (their council) the next day.
i. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish congress or parliament. Paul would be given the opportunity to speak before the group that he was once a member of. Acts 26:10 clearly says that Paul had a vote – usually, that would be used as a member of the Sanhedrin.
ii. Paul would logically think this was the opportunity of a lifetime, to preach to those he loved so much and knew so well.
iii. God had revealed a plan to Paul right at his conversion. Paul was a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake (Acts 9:15-16). Paul knew the general plan; but just like us, he didn’t know how it would all work out. He had to trust God, just like every believer.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
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